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Zinsser Smart Prime Review

Primers are easily the most essential, and often most over-looked step in painting. Get the primer wrong and you may have a disaster on your hands as your paint begins peeling, allowing bleed through, or easily chipping off.

Get your primer right, and you’ll have a great looking and long lasting paint job for years to come.

Zinsser Smart Prime is one of the newest primers on the market from one of the best known brands for paint primer, Zinsser.

Ready to start your project? Purchase Zinsser Smart Prime here.

Painted Kitchen Cabinets

What To Consider When Looking For a Primer

Primers are extremely important in painting. Choosing the right or wrong primer (or skipping to use one altogether) can make or break a paint job and vastly impact the longevity of your paint job.

A good primer will help make sure that your top coat adheres property to your substrate, give you a more even/better looking final sheen, hide stains, give a smoother finish, and prevent stains from bleeding through.

There are many benefits to using a primer and if you are ever questioning if you should prime a surface, I always tell people that its better to use a primer when you didn’t need to than to not use one when you should have!

There are 5 main categories you need to consider when looking at primers:

  • How well they seal surface to block stains from bleeding through.
  • How well they bond to surfaces. This prevents future peeling and chipping.
  • How well they sand. This helps create a smooth surface for top coats.
  • How well they level and flow. This helps create a smooth surface for the final coat.
  • Safety. How high of a VOC content do they have?

Often times when you’re painting, you need to figure which one of the categories above is most important and choose your primer accordingly.

But occasionally, we find a product that not only does well in each category, but actually beats the competition in nearly every category.

For me, this has been Smart Prime by Zinsser. This primer is amazing and has become my go to product for priming kitchen cabinets, exterior spot priming (I use Peel Bond for peeling houses), priming ceilings, water stains, sealing wood tannins, and more.

Zinsser Smart Prime

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

Zinsser Smart Prime is a water based modified acrylic. This follows the trend that we have been seeing in the painting industry to capture the benefits of oil based finishes in a water based product. These types of products are often called hybrids or water based alkyds.

In simple terms, these are water based finishes that look like oil base finishes and have all the features and benefits of an oil based finish without the high VOCs and paint thinner clean up.

Zinsser Smart Prime has taken this idea and improved upon it greatly. Not only is Smart Prime a water based finish, but it has an even lower VOC content than almost every water based primer I’ve used while out performing both water based primers, oil based primers, and even other hybrid primers on the market.

Zinsser Smart Prime Uses

I’ve been using Zinsser Smart Prime for roughly a year now. My main use for Smart Prime is for priming kitchen cabinets before painting.

Kitchen cabinets can have all kinds of problems and priming is extremely important. First off, they are often coated in a layer of food and hand grease. I always wash and sand my cabinets, but I still need a primer that can handle the grease in case of missed areas or left behind residue.

Oak, which is one of the main woods I paint over when painting kitchen cabinets, is notories for tannins that bleed through. Tannins are basically tanic acids that come out of the wood when moisture is present and looks like brown stains in your paint finish (most noticeable on white finishes). In the past, water based primers could not properly seal these tannins in and I had to use an oil based primer to prevent tannin bleed through. Smart Prime does a great job of sealing in these tannins.

Smart Prime is also great at bonding to glossy surfaces, another issue with kitchen cabinets or any other wood trim (such as windows and doors) that you are painting in your home. A primer that doesn’t bond well to glossy surfaces will end up causing your top coat to easily scratch off and chip.

Smart Prime is also great for hitting water stains on ceilings or on kitchen/bathroom walls before painting.

I personally don’t use Smart Prime on exterior surface all that often. I’ve only used it for spot priming and typically go with Peel Bond when priming exterior surface as it is the best primer around for preventing exterior peeling.

How To Apply Smart Prime

Brush and Roll

The easiest way to apply Smart Prime is with a bush and roller. Apply it as you would any other paint.

My Favorite Brush For Kitchen Cabinets: Purdy Clear Cut Elite

HVLP Sprayer

You can also easily use an HVLP sprayer to apply Smart Prime. This is actually my preferred method when spraying kitchen cabinets. To get a perfect atomization with my Titan Capspray 115, I like to thin Smart Prime with 20% water. So if I measure out 50 oz of primer, I add in 10 oz of water and it sprays perfectly.

My personal favorite HVLP sprayer is the Wagner Flexio 5000.

Airless Sprayer

Airless sprayers can easily handle Smart Prime straight from the can unthinned. I’ve sprayed many ceilings with smart prime using my Graco Magnum Pro X17 and Graco Magnum X5.

Features And Benefits

Interior and Exterior Use

Having a primer that can be used on both interiors and exteriors is fantastic. I always keep Smart Prime on hand but still go with Peel Bond on many exterior priming projects.

Amazing at Stain Blocking (especially oak tannins)

One of the most important jobs of a primer is to block out stains such as water, oil, oak, cedar, grease, crayon, rust, and tannins. I can confidently say from experience that Smart Prime does a great job of this.

Fast Drying and Recoat

Having a product that dries fast and can be recaoted quickly is essential when painting for profit. Smart Prime typically dries in minutes if humidity isn’t too high and can be recoated in an hour. The higher the humidity, the slower the dry times.

Great Adhesions – Even To Glossy Surfaces

Many people don’t want to sand due to releasing dust particles or even lead into the air. So having a product that can bond well to un-sanded glossy surfaces is important. While I haven’t personally tried to paint over glossy surfaces without any sanding, I can say that Smart Prime has out performed all other water based and hybrid primers that I have used when it comes to bonding. This is one area that I have noticed that a true oil primer still outperforms.

Mold and Mildew Resistant

Mold and mildew resistant is an important feature when using primers and paints in bathrooms, kitchens and basements.

Cleanup with Water

One of the best features of any hybrid primer is the fact that you can clean it up with water. Busting out paint thinner to clean an oil based primer is awful and you need to dispose of the paint thinner properly when done, not fun.

VOC Content & Smell

I was absolutely shocked to read just how low of VOC content Smart Prime has. It also has minimal smell. I’ve used Smart Prime on construction sites and occupied projects and nobody even knows I am painting.

Smart Prime has 25 grams of VOCs per liter. So that you understand just how amazing that is, here are a few comparable products:

  • Kilz Original Oil Primer: 442 grams per liter
  • Kilz 2 Water Based Primer: 100 grams per liter
  • Benjamin Moore Stix: 87.6 grams per liter
  • Sherwin Williams Multi-Purpose Water-Based Acrylic-Alkyd Primer (very comparable): 31 grams per liter.
  • Benjamin Moore Advance Primer (very comparable product): 44 grams per liter.

As you can see, Smart Prime has about as low of a VOC content as you could hope for in a primer.

Volume of Solids By Weight

Volume of solids by weight is an overly simplistic way to tell the quality of a paint, but it does give you a good idea of the quality of a product.

Volume of solids refers to how much of a paint is solids and how much is liquid. The solids are what is left behind when the product is dry, so in theory, the higher the solids, the better the paint.

  • Zinsser Smart Prime: 50% Solids
  • Sherwin Williams Multi Purpose: 40% solids
  • Benjamin Moore Advance Primer: 41.5% solids
  • Kilz 2: 30% solids
  • Benjamin Moore Stix: 40% solids

Alternatives To Smart Prime

Benjamin Moore Stix

Stix is a water based bonding primer and it is fantastic. If you’re looking for a primer that offers great bonding capabilities, you won’t go wrong with Stix.

Purchase INSL-X Stix Here
Read My Full Review Here

Benajmin Moore Advance Primer

Advance Primer is Benjamin Moore’s version of a water based acrylic alkyd (hybrid) primer and is the accompanying product to their amazing hybrid enamel Advance. Advance is my absolute favorite finish when painting kitchen cabinets. It is all I use and recommend. The primer is also great and I’ve never had issues. But Zinsser is cheaper and has the slight edge in performance.

Read my review on Benjamin Moore Advance Kitchen Cabinet Enamel
Purchase Benjamin Moore Advance Here

Kilz 2 Water Based Primer

I actually use Kilz 2 a lot. I use it a lot because it is incredibly cheap and performs good enough for a lot of projects. For example, I recently used it on a 5000 square foot home where the previous owner was a smoker. I primed every ceiling, wall and sub floor in the house and it took roughly 60 gallons. At roughly $13 a gallon, I saved nearly $1,020 by using Kilz 2 instead of Smart Prime. I did have to hit a couple of bleed through spots by hand afterwords, but it was completely worth it.

Purchase Kilz 2 Here
Read My Full Review here

Kilz Original Oil Based Primer

I don’t use original Kilz anymore. I value my health too much and I no longer have any situations where I am ok using this product. As you can see above it’s VOC content is huge.

Purchase Kilz Original Here


Zinsser Smart Prime is one of the best, if not the best primer on the market in my opinion. I have no affiliation with Zinsser and have no affiliate links to the product in this post. I honestly just believe this is the best primer on the market at the moment. I use it on all of my kitchen cabinet projects, anywhere a high performing primer is needed, and I recommend it to all my friends and family.

Zinsser Smart Prime

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

Ready To Learn More?

Check out our Painting Kitchen Cabinets hub page for everything you could want to know about cabinet painting including costs, how-tos, reviews, and more.


Friday 25th of November 2022

Hi Ryan,

Thank you for the good product recommendations. I have started working on my raised panel merrilat cabinets that were redone 15+ yrs ago with a dark stain and polyurethane top coat.

I used Krud Kutter cleaner and then Krud Kutter de-glosser. I did not sand except for the areas where I plugged the hardware holes. Using Smart Prime, I brushed on the 1st coat with the intention of adding second coat. After 14 hours, I am able to scratch off areas the primer with my fingernail. Some areas are fine and do not scratch off, but there doesn't seem to be a pattern, some areas it's thicker and it scratches off and some are thinner and they scratch off and yet, other similar sample areas do not scratch off. The only place where it consistently bonded were the areas where I sanded.

I used the Smart Prime to avoid sanding but at this point, I'm not sure how to proceed, sanding or not...Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


Graeme Allan

Saturday 19th of November 2022

Does “Smart Prime” come in as a black base? If so, can I get it in New Zealand. And what quantities?

Lanai Yelverton

Wednesday 19th of October 2022

Hi do I need to use a primer if I’ve previously painted my cabinets and I NEVER cook. So therefore, no grease lol. Thanks!


Wednesday 19th of October 2022

I wish I would have read this post before I started painting! I am painting my cabinets and have primed it with Kilz original interior oil based primer.

Two questions: Is it okay to paint with a water base or hybrid paint?

Do you recommend adding polyurethane to the paint?

Thank you!

Nicole Ampi

Wednesday 20th of July 2022

I’m really loving your information! Quick question on spray nozzles…I purchased the Fuji Semi Pro 2 sprayer (on your recommendation and some research), and the user guide recommends using a 1.8mm nozzle for paints, primers, ir other thicker consistencies. It only comes with a 1.3 so I’m a little worried that when I use my sprayer tomorrow, I’ll have problems. I will be thinning the Primer with water, but I am worried it won’t turn out like I’m hoping. Any thoughts on this? Thank you!