Prime Before Painting? When It’s Necessary & My Top Primer Choices

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Always a big question, especially with chalk mineral or DIY furniture paints, is when to prime before painting? It can often be confusing to know when it’s necessary to prime. So in this blog post, we’ll talk about when it is necessary, when it’s preferred and what primers are the best.

Click the link here to learn more about chalk mineral paint basics for painting furniture.

zinsser BIN Shellac Based White Primer

So, when do you prime before painting?

The quick answer is that it is most often best to prime before painting. Especially if in doubt about whether or not your makeover requires it.

And it is almost always necessary to prime when painting a light color. Honestly really any paint colors except maybe deep reds or oranges, dark blues, or blacks need primer first.

In my experience it is super frustrating to paint a piece of furniture and then later see stain spots creep through that paint finish! The fact is that oils and tannins will eventually show through your paint finish.

Tannins come from man-made stains on previously stained or painted furniture. But tannins are also found in natural unpainted wood, originating from the sap within the wood itself. These tannins typically looks brown, pink, or red when they peep through your stain finish.

This is called “bleed through” or “bleeding”.

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What Is Bleed Through On Painted Furniture?

Some woods or stains are notorious for “bleed through”. Cedars and pines are bad for causing bleed through, especially pine with lots of knots. These knotty areas allow the tannins to show up faster.

Also very old vintage furniture, often painted with a cherry or mahogany finish, will almost always bleed through, especially if you sand them down before painting.

How To Test For Bleed Through Or Bleeding?

When you are cleaning your furniture to prep for painting you can check for potential bleed through.

Use a white cloth and a good cleaner, like Dixie Belle White Lightening. If you wipe across your furniture to clean and you see pink, tan, brown, or red colors on your white cloth, I guarantee that you have a “bleeder”.

This little technique often helps to know when to prime before painting.

Honestly, I prime most all my furniture. Even if I think that I am going to paint a very dark color. Maybe with my darkest navys or blacks, it may not be necessary. But I usually do prime anyway just in case.

It’s a simple step that is fairly easy and prevents many issues in the long run. So, we’ve talked about when to prime before painting.

Therefore next, let’s talk about how to prime furniture for painting. Which primers work best and how to use them?

When To Prime Before Painting & A Few Tips About My Favorite Primers

Zinsser BIN Shellac-Based Primer – White

When To Prime & My Top Primer Choices: Zinsser BIN Shellac-Based Primer
Zinsser BIN Shellac-Based Primer in White

Zinsser BIN Shellac-Based Primer is a great stain and odor blocking white primer. It is especially useful when painting white or light colored finishes. It provides great coverage and prevents bleed through of any tannins or oily stains.

Safety Precautions With Oil-Based Products

However it is thin and stinky and because it is oil-based it is flammable. So you must take some precautions when using this primer. Always use this primer either outdoors or in well-ventilated areas.

Oil-based products are flammable as are any cloths or brushes soaked with the product. So never use them near heat or flame. And any soaked cloths, brushes or other applicators need to be laid out to dry before disposal.

I use this primer typically either outside or in my garage with the garage door open. And it is best to wear gloves and wear eye protection when using in case of splatter, but this goes with any paint product. You can clean your brushes with a paint thinner. But I just use a cheap brush that I can toss out.

Also because this product is thin it can splash easy or splatter especially when rolling on. Use eye safety protection goggles and use a respirator mask if you are sensitive to odors or have any asthma or breathing issues.

How To Apply Zinsser BIN Shellac Based Primer To Furniture

To apply this primer, I pour out desired amount in a paper plate. Using a 4 inch roller I apply the primer to the flat areas. I use the tip of the roller to get into grooves and details. And I also use a cheap 2 inch synthetic brush for those areas that the roller won’t reach.

This primer is messy! So I recommend wearing old clothes and protect your work surface from splatters. It is water thin and splatters everywhere! Since I work mostly in the garage I don’t worry too much about that. But, you may wish to use a drop cloth to protect any surfaces from splatter.

Another important tip about this primer is that it dries super fast! Like 10-15 minutes fast. Almost as soon as you roll it on it begins to dry and gets sticky. So try to apply it in one area and then move on to other areas.

Basically avoid going back over previously painted areas. Because it dries so fast and you can re-coat in 30-45 minutes or sooner. I usually do 2-3 coats for coverage.

Zinsser BIN Shellac – Clear

This product is very similar to the previously discussed white primer, except that it is clear. It goes on similarly. Also it comes in spray form which many people prefer. Generally if I am looking for a clear primer, I choose Dixie Belle BOSS in clear. I’ll tell you more about BOSS below.

As with any oil-based primer, Zinsser Shellac must be use with ventilation and never near heat or flame. And, take precautions to dispose of soiled applicators carefully only after they dry out completely. Also safety eye protection goggles and a respirator mask is necessary with these products.

Bulls Eye 123 Primer

Zinsser BullsEye 123 Primer; When to Prime? My Top Primer Choices

Bulls Eye 123 Primer, unlike the other Zinsser products discussed, is water-based. Therefore it is not very odorous and can be used safely indoors. However, it’s always good to have ventilation and take precautions with eye protection when using any paint product.

But this product is water-based so you can clean up your brushes with soap and water. One thing I like about this primer is that it sticks to any surface without sanding. So, you can use this on glass and slick surfaces like laminate. I

t is a good choice when you need a primer or stain blocker, but also desire a slick-surface prep product.

I used Zinsser Bulls Eye 123 on my kitchen cabinets before I painted with General Finishes Milk Paint. It worked great and I have had no issues with my paint coming off!

If you’d like to read more about my Kitchen Cabinet Makeover, check out my post on how to Paint Kitchen Cabinets.

Kitchen Cabinets Updated With General Finishes Milk Paint

Prime Before Painting With Dixie Belle Boss

This product is another one of my favorites! One great thing about BOSS is that it is water-based and has no odor. It can be used safely indoors and is non-toxic, low VOCs.

Clean up of brushes and applicators is very easy with soap and water. And BOSS comes in white, clear and now gray! So many choices!

This is typically my go-to primer when I need a clear primer rather than white. And I love the new gray color choice as well.

When To Prime Before Painting? And My Top Primer Choices Dixie Belle BOSS

BOSS is easy to use. The downside if that it takes about an hour to dry, so a little longer than the shellac-based white primer. But is a nice super creamy, self-leveling formula that goes on smoothly and it is not sticky when drying.

It is great at blocking both stains and odors, and since you can use it indoors, so it is great for use in winter! Dixie Belle recommends two coats for full stain and odor blocking capabilities. After 1-2 hours you can apply your paint color of choice.

I love how all the water-based Dixie Belle products work together, including their paints, waxes, topcoats, and the BOSS primer.

Let’s also talk about When To Prime With Dixie Belle Slick Stick Before Painting

I’m including Dixie Belle Slick Stick in this post, as it is a type of primer. But Slick Stick is also more of a prep product. Slick Stick comes in white and it is used as a prep to bond paint to slick surfaces, such as glass, slick plastics, and laminates.

Slick Stick goes on like paint, nice and creamy and “sticks” to the slick surface.

Dixie Belle recommends applying two coats of Slick Stick and then let it dry overnight. Once thoroughly dry apply the paint color of your choice.

Dixie Belle Slick Stick

I use Dixie Belle Slick Stick often to paint mason jars and other glass items. Without Slick Stick, paint can easily be scratched off of glass. This is not the case when prepped with Slick Stick.

Painted Mason Jars – Primed With Slick Stick

If you’d like to check out those painted mason jar posts, you can find them here:

Another great benefit is that Slick Stick is water-based so clean up is easy with soap and water.

I like to apply Slick Stick with either my Dixie Belle Synthetic brushes like the Oval Medium and Mini-Angle or the Dixie Belle Premium Chip Brushes. Purdy XL Cub is a great brush also and is available at your local hardware store such as Lowe’s and Home Depot.


Here is a little tip about Slick Stick:

Slick Stick is good stuff. It dries really hard and I have more than once had trouble getting the lids off. I am not the neatest painter and it’s hard to keep paint from getting into the threads of the containers.

So I have found the best way to store Slick Stick is in a Fifo bottle. These bottles work great for your most used paints.

SUMMARY: When To Prime Before Painting & My Top Primer Choices

I hope this post has been helpful to you in sorting out all the primer choices. And more importantly, on helping you know when to prime before painting.

Honestly you can’t go wrong with Dixie Belle BOSS primer since it can be used indoors and is more safe than the other oil-based options.

However, I’ll admit that I do use the Zinsser BIN Shellac-Based white primer often, especially when I want a super quick drying product and can work outdoors.

If you have any questions at all about primers or other chalk style paint products, feel free to send me a DM on Instagram, message on Facebook, or use the contact email on my blog.

And if you’d like a bit more info on the chalk mineral paint basics and how to chalk paint you can check out these posts by clicking those links.

XOXO Happy Painting, Abbey

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