Kilz vs Zinsser Primer (Which One is Better?)

When it comes to paint primers, there are two popular brands; Zinsser and Kilz primer. So what’s the difference between both paint primers?

Zinsser paint primer on one hand is ideal for a variety of painting tasks because the primer coating is strong and thick. Kilz primer on the other hand is not thick. Kilz primer paint is thin which makes the primer coating easier to stir and apply than Zinsser primer.

Also, the thick nature of Zinsser paint means it has better coverage and can prevent bleed through better than Kilz primer.

But that’s not all. There is more to know about both primer paints and this post digs right into the topic. So let’s dive in. First, let’s check out Zinsser primer and it’s uses.

What is Zinsser Primer?

What is Zinsser Primer?

Zinsser primer is a white-colored paint primer. The paint primer is made from different ingredients and there are even different types of Zinsser primer.

The primer comes in water-based, oil-based, and shellac-based primer coating. Most Zinsser primers have a thick consistency and flow which gives the primer coating improved coverage.

The thickness also gives the primer coating proper coverage. In most cases, a coat of Zinsser primer is enough for proper coverage. Zinsser primer is also universal meaning that all types of paints, oil or water-based will stay on a Zinsser primer coating.

What is Zinsser Primer Paint Used For?

Zinsser primer paint is common:

1) For Covering and Controlling Mold Growth

Zinsser primer is usually formulated with fungicides to help curb the growth of mold on wood and other porous surfaces. You should know that not all Zinsser primers have mold control.

2) For Sealing Pores

Zinsser primer due to its thick consistency and flow helps to seal pores and hairline cracks in the wood.

3) For Preventing Bleed Through

Zinsser primer also helps to stop bleeding through. If used on a stained surface, the primer coating will prevent the stains and oils on the surface from showing through the top coat.

Zinsser shellac primer especially is an effective stain blocker known to stop bleeding through and stains.

4) For Priming New Furniture

Not all paint primers work well on new furniture. Fresh wooden surfaces are usually riddled with stains, pencil marks, nail holes, and sometimes glue. You’ll need a strong primer to seal the holes and cover the furniture. Zinsser primer does this perfectly.

5) For Waterproofing

Zinsser primer is one of the few waterproof paint primers. This means it’s ideal for kitchen cabinets, countertops, and tables that are more likely to experience moisture.

However, Zinsser paint primer has a flaw. Most primer coating release strong fumes. The Zinsser B-I-N paint primer for instance has a strong odor that doesn’t make the primer ideal for large areas.

Now, let’s check out Kilz paint primer and it’s used.

What Is Kilz Primer?

What Is Kilz Primer?

Kilz primer is a water-based paint primer. The primer coating is known to be thin based on its water-based nature. Kilz primer is common for indoor use gives its low fumes and easy usage.

The primer can be sprayed or applied with a paintbrush which isn’t what you can say about most primer paints. Kilz primer also dries fast since the water (or the base) in the primer coating evaporates quicker.

What is Kilz Primer Used For?

1. For Changing Colors

Kilz primer is perfect for when you want to change the color of a finish. The primer coating is deep enough to cover deep and light colors to prevent them from showing through the paint.

2. For Blocking Interior Filth and Stains

Kilz primer is perfect for blocking indoor and household stains like oil spills, moisture, ink, tannin, pencil marks, and the likes. You should know that Kilz primer is not ideal for outdoor stains.

3. For Penetrating Paints

If you want to use paints that seep into the wood, you should use Kilz primer. The thin nature of the primer means that it allows the paint to bite better in the wood than thicker primers.

4. For Multiple Coats of Paint

If you are using paints that require many coats, you should use Kilz primer. Since the primer is not thick, it can allow more coats of paint to stick better. You can apply up to 5 coats of water-based paint on Kilz primer.

5. For Touch-ups

Kilz primer can help cover corners and small spots. It’s also very easy to work with making it ideal for small-scale tasks, touch-ups, and fixes.

So which of the two paint primers is better? Let’s find out.

Kilz Primer vs Zinsser Primer

To know which of these paint primers is the best, we’ll compare both based on the features of a good paint primer and see which stands out. Let’s begin with…

The Primer Base

This refers to the solvent or thinner in the primer coating. This is what prevents the primer from solidifying in the can.

Kilz primer is a water-based primer meaning that the primer uses water as its solvent. Zinsser primer is oil-based.

The oil-based nature of Zinsser primer is why the primer coat is thicker than Kilz primer. You should know that most of the characteristics of both primers depend on the paint’s base.

The Dry Time

Kilz primer dries faster than Zinsser primer. Again, this is because Kilz primer is water-based. For the primer coating to dry, the solvent needs to evaporate.

Since Kilz primer uses water as the solvent, the primer will dry enough for paint application within an hour because water evaporates faster. Zinsser primer takes longer to dry because it takes longer for oils to evaporate


Zinsser primer is stronger and more durable than Kilz primer. This is because Zinsser primer is oil-based. Since the primer is oil-based, it dries slower than Kilz primer which is water-based.

The slow dry time of Zinsser primer means the primer has enough time to dry and cure. So the coat will be harder and more durable than Kilz primer when dry.

The Adhesion

Zinsser primer paint sticks better to a surface than Kilz primer. One reason for this improved adhesion is the paint’s base. You can even apply some Zinsser primer products over a surface without sanding.

As long as the surface is clean, Zinsser primer will stick but you’ll need to clean and sand before you can apply Kilz primer. This doesn’t mean that Kilz primer doesn’t have good adhesion. It’s just not as good as Zinsser primer.

However, you should know that Zinsser and Kilz primer will not stick to a filthy or greasy surface.


Kilz primer has good coverage but Zinsser primer has better coverage. Since the paint is thicker, you get to cover more area. Also, the thicker primer coating helps to cover holes and cracks in the surface better because it can fill those holes.

Kilz primer wouldn’t fill the holes very well. The primer will most likely be sucked in the holes and cracks. So Zinsser primer has better coverage.

Bleed Through?

Zinsser and Kilz primer are both great at preventing stains and bleeding through in paint. The difference is with Kilz primer, you’ll need more coats to prevent bleed-through while with Zinsser primer, you usually don’t need more than 2 coats.

You should also know that Kilz primer is more suited to stopping household stains and bleeding through. Kilz primer can’t cope with large or heavy stains but Zinsser shellac-based primer paint will seal and stop large stains from bleeding through the paint.

Mold Resistance?

Kilz primer doesn’t prevent or stop mold growth. Before you can put Kilz primer over a mold-affected surface, you must have killed the mold and wiped the surface with vinegar (a mild acid).

This is to prevent mold growth and allow the primer to stick. Zinsser primer is better at killing mold. The Zinsser mold-killing primer stops mold growth. You should know that other types of Zinsser primer will not prevent mold.

The Cost

Kilz primer is cheaper than Zinsser primer. You can get a gallon of Kilz primer for as low as $8 while a quart of Zinsser primer will cost the same or more than that.

There are four quarts in a gallon. So 1/4 gallon of Zinsser primer might cost you as much or more than a gallon of Kilz primer.


With Zinsser primer, you have a broad range of products to pick from. You can pick the oil-based, shellac-based, rust-protection, or even mold-killing primer. You don’t get that many options with Kilz primer.

Primer Paint Application

Kilz primer is easier to apply and work with than Zinsser primer. This is because Kilz primer is water-based and thinner so you can apply more coats and clean up easily. Kilz primer is suited to beginners.

Zinsser primer on the other hand is thicker meaning that it’s not as easy to work with. Also, thick primer can be difficult to control. However, you can thin the Zinsser primer before applying it. Zinsser primer is more suited to professionals or experienced DIYers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Zinsser and Kilz Primer (FAQs)

How Many Coats of Zinsser Primer?

This depends on the surface. For smooth and clean surfaces, a coat of Zinsser primer is enough for good coverage. If the surface has cracks, you’ll need two coats to properly fill and seal the cracks.

How Many Coats of Kilz Primer?

You’ll need about 2 coats of Kilz primer since Kilz primer isn’t thick. You can apply up to 3 coats on cracked surfaces.

Will Zinsser Primer Kill Mold?

Zinsser mold-killing paint primer is advertised to kill all types of mold. But, I’ll advise you to kill the mold manually or at least wipe the surface with vinegar before applying the mold-killing primer.

This will help prevent mold growth in the future. You should also ensure to check why you have mold. If it’s a leak in the walls for instance, the mold will still grow even after killing it because you haven’t fixed the leak.

Can You Use Kilz or Zinsser Primer as Final Coat?

You shouldn’t leave any of these primers as the top coat. These primers are designed to be painted or sealed. Leaving them unsealed means the primer coating will get ruined easily.

Can You Use Kilz Water-based Primer With Oil-based Paints?

Yes, Kilz primer is an all-purpose paint primer that can be used to prep for oil and water-based paints.

Final Words

Overall, both primers are great and either will make your paint job come out better. Your choice will depend on your budget and needs.

Remember to use Kilz primer on indoor objects. Zinsser primer can be used on outdoor surfaces and kitchen cabinets since the primer is water-resistant.c

Leave a Comment