Skip to Content

The Best Primer for Kitchen Cabinets: Our Top 5 Picks

Painting kitchen cabinets is one of the most effective ways to update your home. As with nearly all painting projects, success depends on how well you prepare your surfaces before you begin painting.

Finding the best primer for kitchen cabinets ensures that your paint job will last for years to come. Read on for our top 5 recommendations.

Best Primer for Kitchen Cabinets

Our Top Picks

Best Overall:
INSL-X Stix

Best Hybrid Primer:
Zinsser Smart Prime

Best Value:
Zinsser Bulls Eye 123


Best Overall

INSL-X Stix

This primer stands out because of its unique formula. INSL-X Stix is a urethane acrylic. The urethane helps the primer seal the cabinet surface and form a hard, protective coating. The acrylic makes the primer easier to use, helping the product level out and creating a nice, smooth surface.

Because of its unique ingredients, you can count on INSL-X Stix to work on lots of different surfaces. INSL-X bonds to typical cabinet surfaces like wood, laminate, and melamine as well as tile, glass blocks, and glossy paint.

INSL-X SXA11009A-04 Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer, 1 Quart, White

Using INSL-X Stix primer for kitchen cabinets also gives you a range of options for your topcoat. Most primers can only support latex or urethane finishes. With this primer, you can expand your options to include alkyds and epoxies.

If you are looking for the best primer for kitchen cabinets that suits a wide range of materials and topcoats, INSL-X Stix is the one for you.

Pros

  • Adheres to glossy surfaces
  • Self-leveling
  • Dries to hard finish

Cons

  • Difficult clean up compared to water-based primer
  • High VOCs
  • Expensive compared to other primers

Best Hybrid Primer

Zinsser Smart Prime

A hybrid primer is formulated to combine the qualities of a water-based primer with those of an oil-based primer. DIY painters no longer have to choose between the stain-blocking and bonding properties of oil-based primer and the easy clean-up and low VOCs of a water-based primer. Hybrid primers allow painters to have the best of both worlds.

ZINSSER 1 qt 249727 White, Smart Prime Water-Based Interior/Exterior Primer/Sealer

Of all the hybrid primers on the market, Zinsser Smart Prime is the best primer for kitchen cabinets. This product has the lowest possible VOC, making it the most environmentally friendly option. However, it still bonds like an oil-based primer, making it a great choice for covering stains and sealing oak cabinets.

Pros

  • Seals in tannins from oak cabinets
  • Can be used on laminate and mdf surfaces
  • Easy to sand after curing

Cons

  • Thicker than other primers
  • Requires more sanding to get a completely smooth surface
  • Does not level as nicely as other primers

Best Value

Zinsser Bulls Eye 123

Finding the best primer for kitchen cabinets can be an expensive task. Granted, it’s important to invest in primer and paint that will stand the test of time. However, if you’re looking for a primer that will guarantee the biggest bang for your buck, we recommend Zinsser Bulls Eye 123.

ZINSSER 1 qt 02004 White, Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Stain Blocking Primer/Sealer

This water-based primer has all the leveling and stain-blocking properties you would look for in a primer for kitchen cabinets. It also has a lower cost per fluid ounce, allowing you to save some money without skimping on quality.

Pros

  • Blocks stains and smells
  • Levels nicely
  • Easy cleanup because it is water-based

Cons

  • May take more than one coat to get enough coverage.
  • Harder to block wood tannins than other primers
  • Not as effective in covering dark colors and finishes

Kilz Adhesion

Changing the color of new stock cabinets means you’ll have a slick, factory-finished surface to contend with. A light sanding won’t be enough to give the paint something to grab on to. You’ll need a primer with superior adhesion to guarantee that your painted topcoat will be just as smooth and flawless.

KILZ Adhesion Primer, Interior/Exterior, 1 Gallon

In this case, you’ll want a primer that bonds well to smooth materials and provides a surface that paint will stick to easily. Kilz Adhesion is the best primer for kitchen cabinets with slick surfaces. This latex-based primer can even bond to glass or tile, so you can trust it will adhere to your cabinetry.

Pros

  • Low VOCs
  • Works well on semigloss or lacquered surfaces
  • Blocks stains and seals porous surfaces

Cons

  • More difficult to spray, best to apply by roller or brush
  • Less effective than other primers at protecting from tannin bleed through
  • Less effective at filling and leveling than an oil-based primer

Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer

No discussion of the best primer for kitchen cabinets would be complete without a nod to shellac-based primers. Sometimes, we’re faced with refinishing cabinets in very poor condition. Really greasy cabinets and thin veneers over melamine could be politely termed “problem surfaces.”

Rust-Oleum Corporation 271009 Advanced Synthetic Shellac Primer, 1-Quart, White

The best primer for problem surfaces is Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer. This product will adhere well to a variety of tough-to-coat materials. Additionally, the shellac will seal any stains and odors, preventing them from showing through your topcoat. Because this primer levels well, you’ll also be able to effectively cover dings, nicks, and scratches on the wood.

Be prepared that the hidden cost of this wonder-working primer is in the VOC count and harsh odor. You’ll definitely need a well-ventilated area and a mask when using this product. However, if you need to repaint cabinets that have seen a lot of hard use, this primer can give you a professional-quality finish.

Pros

  • Great adhesion with difficult and greasy surfaces
  • Fast dry time
  • Levels well

Cons

  • High VOC
  • Harsh odor
  • Thin consistency that splatters easily while painting

How to Choose the Best Primer for Kitchen Cabinets

Even if you’ve used a primer for kitchen cabinets with great success before, be sure to consider the needs of your current project. The same primer that works miracles on old, stained cabinets might peel straight off of new laminate!

Also, most DIY painters will be tackling this project in their homes, so consider how your primer will affect your household. Do you have the garage space to set up a spray-painting center? Do you have the ventilation to take on a primer with a strong odor?

Trust us, your family members will appreciate you considering these factors before you break out the paint brushes.

Odors & VOCs

Almost all paint and primer will have a distinctive smell. However, it’s much easier to tolerate strong odors and VOCs in kitchens that are easily ventilated. The best primer for kitchen cabinets in small kitchens or open-concept floorplans will have low odor and low VOCs.

Also consider who will be living in the home throughout the painting process. If you have young children or family members with respiratory issues, consider their needs before choosing primer for kitchen cabinets. This DIY project takes time to complete, so keep your household safe and comfortable with low odor and VOC options.

Stain Blocking

Water stains, smoke damage, and even grease marks may be par for the course when giving used cabinets a facelift. It’s important to effectively seal in these stains so that they don’t show through your new paint job.

You will have the most success with a shellac-based primer for kitchen cabinets with tricky stains, such as smoke or grease. Oil-based primers and urethane acrylics also have the strength to effectively cover stains and leave a hard, protective finish.

Even in new, unused cabinets, be aware that solid wood may have staining issues. Tannins, an acidic chemical in tree sap, can be drawn out of the wood by water. This makes a yellow or brown stain that can be visible through the topcoat of paint.

Prevent tannin staining by properly sealing the wood with a primer made specifically for this purpose. Choose a hybrid primer for kitchen cabinets made of oak or other solid wood.

Surface Adhesion

Think of primer as the glue between your original cabinets and your beautiful painted topcoat. The best primer for kitchen cabinets will have strong surface adhesion.

Priming Kitchen Cabinets

This means that the primer will form a tight bond with the cabinet surface, sealing the material and leaving a hard finish. Then, when the topcoat is applied over the primer, the paint will bond tightly to the primer. Strong adhesion means your final coat of paint will stand up to daily use instead of flaking or chipping off.

Some materials, such as veneer or laminate, are notoriously difficult to paint because they are so slick. However, sanding these materials could reveal a core of MDF, which swells if it becomes wet. The best primer for kitchen cabinets made of these materials will have especially strong surface adhesion. This bonds the paint tightly to the cabinet without compromising the integrity of the material.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to roll or brush primer on cabinets?

When you’re applying primer for kitchen cabinets, it’s important to leave a smooth, streak-free finish. This is easier to accomplish by rolling with a low nap roller rather than brushing. A 4″ foam roller will allow you to get in tight spaces without leaving behind a textured surface.

However, brushes work well for cutting in the edges of your boxes and details on cabinet doors. Work carefully and sand your primer coat well to remove any texture left behind by your paintbrush.

Can I use a paint sprayer?

Yes, using a paint sprayer is a great way to apply primer for kitchen cabinets! There is a learning curve for using this tool. However, spraying primer will give the most even, factory-like finish.

Painting Kitchen Cabinet Doors

Paint and primer often need to be thinned with water in order to work in a paint sprayer. Read the manufacturer directions carefully to determine how much to thin your chosen primer.

If you’re looking for a paint sprayer to apply your paint and primer for kitchen cabinets, check out our list of the best cordless paint sprayers for DIY projects.

Can I hide wood grain on kitchen cabinets?

Even the best primer for kitchen cabinets can’t remove all traces of wood grain on its own. The key to hiding wood grain for good is all in your prep work.

The best method for hiding wood grain is to apply joint compound to the surface and then sand smooth. Next, do a “flood coat” to hide any remaining wood grain. Spray or roll on twice the amount of primer you normally would. Then you can sand the surface completely flat.

Read more about applying the joint compound and flood coating here: How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like A Pro – DIY Painting Tips


Wrapping Up the 5 Best Primers for Kitchen Cabinets

If you’re looking for the best primer for kitchen cabinets, you can’t go wrong with our #1 pick, INSL-X Stix. Using this hard-working primer will give you excellent adhesion on a variety of surfaces. Plus, the hard enamel finish will protect your hard work from daily wear and tear!

Ready to get started? Visit our hub page for everything you need to know about painting kitchen cabinets.