Zinsser primer comes with a little bit or German magic in each can. How do they differ? Which one is best? Water, oil or shellac? Do you even need a primer? Here is what you need to know about each one.

I can answer that last question straight away – a good primer is a necessity. Old, stained, or hard to adhere surfaces? Smoke damaged, knot bleed, metal, plastic, or laminate furniture – you need a primer, luckily you will find a version to suit your needs.

Zinsser primer comes in three forms;

Zinsser 123 (water based)
Zinsser Cover Stain (oil based)
Zinsser BIN (shellac based)

So first up Zinsser 123;

Zinsser’s 123 Primer can be used on pretty much all surfaces and has a dry time of one hour. The low odor and water cleanup make it ideal for use indoors. I would recommend it for use low traffic items, but not recommended for unfinished wood like raw MDF because the water content will cause swelling. If you are painting over really smooth or glossy finishes such as laminate IKEA cabinets I’d look to Zinssers other offerings as they will offer a stronger adhesion. Clean up is with go old H20 which makes life easy, you can easily clean it off your skin and your brush will come out in good condition and live to fight another day.

Next up Zinsser Cover Stain;

This is my go to stain block product. Water stain on your ceiling that you cant get rid of? This is the product from the Zinsser primer range I would recommend. Again, drying time is one hour but this can be used both internally and externally. It sits in the middle of the price range so offers good middle ground if you don’t want to fork out for the BIN.

The downside is as it’s the oil based out of the three Zinsser primers you need to use in a well ventilated are as it does have quite a strong odour, after prolonged use you can almost taste it in the back of your throat. It’s the thickest out of the three but you can thin it down by adding a bit of white spirits to it, always do a little tester with this though before thinning a full 5l tin. It doesn’t clean up as well as 123, you need to use white spirit and your brush won’t quite be the same again.

Lastly Zinsser BIN;

This has the fastest drying time out of all three Zinsser primers at 45 minutes. It is the toughest of the three and will adhere to any surface. It’s very thin and easy to apply although it can be drippy so you have to be careful. This is my go to for turning old varnished woodwork in to nice modern painted woodwork. Being alcohol based it does smell very strongly, it’s not quite as bad as Cover Stain but its best to open a window if using it inside. You will need to use mineral spirits for clean up.

Summing up:

All three Zinsser primers are very high quality, you just need to know which one to use for which application.
Zinsser 123 is great for surfaces that are easier to adhere to and has low odour. Zinsser Cover Stain provides durability and adhesion on glossy glossy surfaces. It’s especially good on raw wood or MDF removing the risk of swelling that you could get with the water based 123 primer. Zinsser BIN is the toughest with the highest adhesion although it does have the highest price tag.

My three top tips;

Always give the surface a rub down with sandpaper, especially if it’s glossy.
Cover stain is ideal if you have water marks on your ceiling.
BIN is ideal if you are painting wardrobes or kitchen cabinets and likewise if you are turning varnished wood to painted wood but make sure you open a window.

All three can be purchased from Screwfix at a competitive price.

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