Do I need to prime walls before painting?

Written by stevie donald
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Do I need to prime walls before painting?
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Knowing when you need to prime your walls before painting and when you can do a professional quality job without priming can save you both time and money. When you do use a primer, make sure it is the appropriate one for your particular paint job.

Bonding Primer

Bonding primers create an adhesive bond between a hard, slick surface and the final coat of paint. They are usually oil based or pigmented shellac. Use a bonding primer when painting with latex over glossy oil-based paint or when painting over any wood or vinyl panelling. A bonding primer is not necessary when using latex paint of any sheen over glossy latex paint; however, you should use two coats of your final paint if it is a different sheen than the existing surface.

Stain Blocking Primer

Some primers are used to block bleed-through from water damage and tannin staining from cedar and redwood. Often they have the same qualities as stain-blocking primers. A good example is Kilz Original pigmented shellac primer (see Resources). These primers are also effective at sealing crayon, smoke, magic marker and many odours. For instance, a stain blocking primer will seal both the discolouration and the smoke odour from rooms that were occupied by a heavy smoker.

Drywall Primer

Drywall primer creates a uniformly absorbent surface for the final coat of paint and should always be used as a first coat on new drywall or large drywall patches. It is inexpensive and high-hiding (meaning it will hide the grey or green colour of the underlying wallboard), and it sets the stage for a more durable, washable finished surface.

Tinted Primer

Some tinted primers will reduce the number of coats needed for red and other strong colours. Ask the paint store representative whether you need a colour primer for your finish paint. It depends on the particular base and colourants used. Tinted primers are often grey.


A misconception is that dark walls require primer before being painted with light finishes. Most whites, taupes, beiges and off-whites will require just two coats of paint over even the darkest coloured surface. Even if you use a primer, you probably would still need two finish coats.

Should you really want to use a white primer to cover a dark surface, avoid all purpose primers because they are often quite thin. Ask at the paint store for a high-hiding primer.

Expert Insight

Any time you are changing the sheen of the wall paint--such as from satin to flat or from semi-gloss to eggshell--you will need two coats for uniform sheen. Since most primers have a flat finish, put on two coats of your final paint (unless it is a flat paint).

You should never need more than one coat of primer.

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