Kilz vs Zinsser Primer (What’s The Difference?)

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 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. 

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, 1 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 formulated with fungicides to help curb the growth of mold on wood and other porous surfaces. However, 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.

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 if 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. However, 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

These two primers come with a lot of differences. Here we will compare both primers based on different features:

The Primer Base

The primer formula 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. 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 apply some Zinsser primer products over a surface without sanding. As long as the surface is clean, Zinsser primer will stick.

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.

Both, 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 into 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.

Kilz primer is more suited to stopping household stains and bleeding through. Kilz primer can’t cope with large or heavy stains. However, 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 remove 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 removing mold. The Zinsser mold-remover primer stops mold growth. However, 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.

Rust Inhibition

Before you paint over a metal surface, you need to apply a primer that has rust inhibition. The rust inhibition protects the metal from corrosion and helps the paint to stick better. Both primers come with rust inhibition in their formula, but the Zinsser has better rust prevention qualities. 


Both, Zinsser and Kilz primers have almost the same number of products. Both of these primers come with basic primer, oil-based and water-based primers, plus some custom ones such as wood primers. 


How Many Coats of Zinsser Primer?

This depends on the surface. For smooth and clean surfaces, 1 coat of Zinsser primer is enough for good coverage. If the surface has cracks, you’ll need two coats of primer 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 Remove Mold?

Zinsser mold-killing paint primer is advertised to remove all types of mold. But, it’s better to remove the mold manually or at least wipe the surface with vinegar before applying the mold-remover 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.

Final Words

Overall, both primers are great and 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.

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