Best Drywall Primer & 4 Simple Steps for Priming

drywall ready for primer
For newly constructed walls, the best drywall primer is not the most expensive primer. For new walls (with no stains etc) you do not need a stain-blocker or a hole-filler.
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The Best Drywall Primer for the Money

New walls: Zinsser has a very good primer for new walls: this is our top choice for new walls. If you need a lot, here is the 5-gallon size that we buy. Primer keeps for years, even if you do not use it all, these are both equally considered to be the best interior primer.

Water (or other) stains? Drywall primer won’t block them. Kilz Original is the go-to stain blocking primer check this very good product.

Even the best interior primer does not have a lot of firepower (explained below). But we don’t believe in cheap paints: they cost more in the end: so just get what you need to do it right and save your money for the cool shops in Acapulco.

  1. We like the Zinsser Drywall Primer Interior Latex. See the Zinsser primer here
    Rust-Oleum Corporation Low VOC 01501 Drywall Primer, 1-Gallon, White
    ×
    Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on https://www.amazon.com/ at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.
  2. A really great deal is Benjamin Moore’s Drywall Primer Interior Latex . 
    Benjamin Moore ULTRA SPEC Prep Coat Hi-Build Interior Primer White - 5 GALLON
    ×
    Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on https://www.amazon.com/ at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

Remember many primers and paints use toxic ingredients. Read the label and read more in my post about the deadly VOCs.

GJH One Aluminum Platform Drywall Step Up Folding Work Bench Stool Ladder 5HD EN131
GJH One Aluminum Platform Drywall Step Up Folding Work Bench...

Saves leg muscles - like a very wide step ladder

$98.98
The best drywall primer is less expensive than other serious primers.

  • Why you need it
    The drywall paper and the drywall compound (“mud”) are both porous surfaces but they absorb paint at different rates. If you do not equalize them with a primer made for this new wall, you will see the difference and it looks sloppy.
  • Why you don’t need to overdo it
    High-quality primers are not that expensive and do not contain additives that are expensive. Buy just what you need, as overkill will just be a waste of money.

Important tip: With your drywall primer, use a quality roller like this one, not a low-cost one! Cheap rollers shed lint onto your wall which will cause your wall to feel (and look) like sandpaper. Not only that but rollers are easy to clean. You can soak a good roller cover for days in water and let most of the primer fall to the bottom of your bucket. You can then rinse and even put back on your roller frame to spin it dry. Easy.

We use Purdy and Wooster wool/poly blend rollersThe wool gives it absorbancy and the polyester gives it longevity. We use a single roller all day, day after day.

Rust-Oleum Corporation Low VOC 01501 Drywall Primer, 1-Gallon, White
×
Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on https://www.amazon.com/ at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

How to Prime Drywall in 4 Steps

Step 1: Inspect the walls and fix cracks

You can always apply drywall compound to a crack, wait for it to dry and re-sand. We normally use  quick-dry spackle or quick dry caulk as we cannot wait.

Step 2: Clean

After the joint compound is all sanded the first thing to do is to dry brush the dust off the walls (it clings). Then, without stirring up too much dust, gently sweep the floor. You can use a Shop-Vac with a paper filter, (not your house vac: it will die), then mop the floor.

Step 3: Priming drywall

Apply 1 coat of your chosen drywall primer sealer (see below).

Step 4: Wait until the primer is dry

All drywall primers are relatively fast drying. Drying time depends on lots of factors like ventilation and humidity.

You only need to apply 1 coat of drywall sealer primer. Don’t delay too long after it is dry before the next coat or before painting.

How to Prime Drywall in Detail

walls ready for 3 coats with best drywall primer
Walls ready for best drywall primer

New drywall requires 3 coats? Mostly yes, and the first must be a drywall primer sealer. There is good news coming below, however about that primer. Having said that, painting brand new walls is the only time I’d consider using a paint and primer in one, which may save you one coat of paint. See the section on Paint and Primer in One below. This is definitely not the best drywall primer. If you do, buy quality paint and primer in one: use Kilz, a very good name in drywall sealer, and for sure one of the best paint and primer in one. I would trust this product, it is also a primer with low VOCs.

For you traditional 3-coaters, the first good news is that you don’t have to buy some exotic or expensive primer (assuming you have no mold or stains) for priming drywalls. You don’t need oil-based primer either. The best drywall primers are the lowest-cost primers, as they contain only what is needed: a normal drywall sealer do not need ingredients to seal stains, odors, mold, etc. If your unpainted drywall has been waiting for a long time, especially in a basement, it may have sprouted some mold or mildew. In this case, you’ll need a little more firepower. If so, you’ll need to read the last section of this post.

Why not just put on 2 coats of paint? One word: Flashing. Because you will see the seams (and screw holes, tape and bead) where the joint compound a.k.a. ‘mud’ meets the paper that is the outer face of the rock. The paper and the drywall compound are a similar porous surface but they absorb paint at different rates (this goes for every coat of regular paint that you might apply without a drywall primer sealer).

Yours Truly learned the hard way: I know you can end up with terrible flashing! So the drywall primer sealer is designed with just the right sealants to stop the different rates of absorption and there will be no difference in sheen or color changes in your finish paint.

Warning:
Some painters say leftover flat (and only flat) paint is as good as the best drywall primer and will give a good result. Hmm. Proceed at your own risk. I have never found this to work out but I need to make the job perfect: perhaps you don’t.

More good news: you do not have to apply a normal heavy coat of paint as you will with your top coats; you just need to give the new wall a drink, and the job is done. Get the can of primer well shaken (or stirred, Mr. Bond). This coat can be very fast: you will be done in half the time of painting one of your top coats. Calculate that into your expected quantity (but all paint seller accept unopened cans in return). Even the very best drywall primer does not have to be a heavy coat: just a film will do.

 

 

paint roller cover to use with the best drywall primer
bradthepainter’s collection

 

Important first step: clean the room before you paint! After the joint compound is all sanded the first thing to do is to dry brush the dust off the walls (it clings). Then, without stirring up too much dust, gently sweep the floor before painting. You can use a Shop-Vac with a paper filter (not the kind that just has a hollow can for debris unless you like clouds.)

Do not use your good vacuum: this dust will kill it !!

Then after the floor is mostly clean, mop it. Yes, mop. You don’t want to be kicking around the dust as you finish your paint. This fine dust seems harmless but it will stick to freshly painted walls and turn your new project into vertical sandpaper: ick.

Wear some kind of mask. For non-toxic dust, a honeycomb mask will be fine.

Nurse sweeping. Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

 

Paint and Primer in One: not the best drywall primer!

Probably ok for your home use, but I cannot say for sure that with paint and primer in one you will not see the difference in the sections of the wall: joints vs. paper, but feel free to try. It is not the best drywall primer solution, but for walls in good new condition, some paints do promise to equalize the surfaces at the same time they leave your color.

I understand you may be very tempted because you have painted before and you want to cut out a whole coat. But remember that the result will not be the same as a traditional 3-coat job using the best primer for drywall. Here a more complete post on paint and primer.

Some common questions on how to prime drywall:

  • Can I use regular house paint as a primer?
    Yes, but no. You will have the blotchy look we discuss above, but you will save the cost of the new primer. Don’t use exterior paints though, as they are very toxic inside a house. If going this way, try to use flat paint.
  • Can I spray?
    Yes, and we do this in large newly constructed rooms. This means renting or buying a sprayer, but it can save loads of time. You need to know what you are doing or be ready to get stuck in a time sink. This is especially fast for highly textured walls.
  • Can I use spray cans?
    Yes for small areas: if you find some imperfections on your wall after you paint and you’d like to quickly prime it, a small can of spray primer may be just the thing. Be aware that most spray primers contain more than you need to seal drywall and will be very hard to clean off if they go astray in the air so mask the floor etc.
  • Can I use drywall primer on wood?
    No, you probably need a shellac in our first coat product. Most wood will have sap (which will bleed through a simple primer like drywall primer and every coat of paint you put on after that. Also, the wood’s tree rings that absorb at different rates (the dark ring vs the light ring). Why is that bad? The softer ring will expand differently as the primer dries and you will not be left with a smooth surface. We use  BIN alcohol-based prime, a white shellac, when priming almost all woods. For that, you need rubbing alcohol for clean-up.
  • How long do I have to wait after priming drywall to paint?
    Especially with drywall, you will find that the ‘mud’ and the paper of the main sections dry at different speeds. You can easily tell when the last of the primer is dry, usually an hour or two. Don’t rush this step! All drywall primers are relatively fast drying.
    Some paint makers will say you must paint within 48 hours after letting the primer dry, but I have never seen any problem waiting longer with the best drywall primer. Dust clinging to the wall while you delay is the only real problem: just use a broom and vacuum and/or mop (see above).
  • Can I use a primer (or any paint for that matter) to fill small cracks?
    Not really. Some high hiding primers exist and they will fill more cracks than other primers, but at what cost? Drywall primer is cheap so we just fill cracks by hand. If you do manage to have some very small cracks go away after painting, you will find they re-crack quickly in time.
    Remember that the wall will have the same contour after it is painted as it did before. Cracks can be caulked (usually just for corners) or spackled (some quick dry spackles will not shrink-they cost more but they are all we use). You can always apply drywall compound to a crack, wait for it to dry and re-sand.We normally use  quick-dry spackle or quick dry caulk as we cannot wait.
  • Can I tint my drywall primer?
    Definitely, we do this if we are in doubt about the chosen color’s ability to cover in two coats. That tinted primer is very smart as long as the paint store folks do not ruin the primer’s properties by over-tinting it. You will not get your top-coat color because the paint store folks will not be able to add as much tint as they would with paint. (Don’t tint it yourself!)
    Especially if you are about to paint with a red, and that includes red-browns, tint your primer gray. Red is notorious due to the colorants that are used to achieve your color, almost all shades of red do not cover well. For some reason a chemist can tell you, the gray primer allows the coverage to maximize.
  • How can I achieve a Level 5 Drywall finish?
    You may have heard of different levels of finish, including Level 5 drywall (the smoothest) or skim coating, and so on. A great website for all you ever need to know and more is drywall101.com. It’s all well described on youtube: if you can afford it, this is the very best drywall for your home. This goes beyond the best drywall primer for sure.

Mold or Mildew on Interior Walls

If you just put normal drywall primer sealer over mold (or the black type called mildew), it will continue to grow and that is a two-way street—mold grows into and behind the wall and moves around anywhere that air can penetrate.

So if see mold and you have started painting, you must stop seal it as soon as you see it. Try my system of buying a cheap paintbrush, cutting the handle so it fits in a small jar. Pour some of your primer in that jar and use that for your spot priming. The best primer for drywall, in this case, is the BIN we mentioned above. (Read about mold resistant paint).

If you have chemical sensitivities, you should call a professional as this is hazardous work.

Bleach is the unfortunate first step. You will need a chemical respirator and/or a very well ventilated room because bleach is deadly. Make your solution about 1 part bleach to 4 parts water and apply with a sponge. Let the excess water fall down onto an old towel or cloth that will be throwing away. If the area is very black with growth, you may need a stiff bristle brush to get it loose. Let the area dry before primer is applied. A dehumidifier may be helpful here.

You proceed in the steps of how to paint a room just like any other room which we have written about.

Edward Tools Paint and Mud Mixer for drill in 1 to 5 gallon buckets - Fits all standard drills - Zinc plated steel - Reinforced weld - Hex head for non slip - Easy to clean - Paint mixer attachment
×
Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on https://www.amazon.com/ at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

A cool tool to keep your drywall mud stirred and ready: it attaches to any drill or screw-gun and hangs from the ceiling when not in use. Cool.

Walls ready for drywall sealer
Walls ready for drywall sealer
Let’s get dirty!

 

All you ever needed to know about the difference between sealers, primers, and undercoats in one short article from some good kiwi people in New Zealand.

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27 thoughts on “Best Drywall Primer & 4 Simple Steps for Priming”

  1. Brad, thank you for all the great info on primer, paint, and applying them. You are a plethora of information, that’s a good thing and if I was to hire a first class painter, you would be my 1st and only chose, if you want the best you have start with the best, you and I have made all the mistakes, now we think we are a well oiled machine *$*@+(/*& strike that, we know we are a well oiled machine! One more thing, I’m a finish carpenter, and a level 5, again thank you. This is a saying that a old man laid on me a long time ago and it will stand the test of time. THE BITTERNESS OF POOR QUALITY LINGERS LONGER THAN THE SWEETNESS OF A LOW PRICE…..

  2. If I am skim coating a textured wall with all purpose compound, for the purpose of installing wallpaper, do I need to use any of the recommended primers before wallpapering? The skim coating left behind a dusty feel to the wall that the wallpaper is not adhering to very well. I haven’t been able to find information on the proper primer to use over the skim coat. Thank you!

    • Hi and thanks for writing. Yes, although I did very little paper professionally, it sounds to me that you need a bonding surface and if it is powdery or chalky, your paper will probably not last long. Go with the low-cost drywall primer on this ‘Best Drywall Primer’ post. Good luck!

  3. New drywall against lip of new stand up shower install. What’s the order for these next four steps? I’m thinking caulk, prime, texture, paint. Thanks. Dan.

    • Hi Dan, thanks for writing.
      You have it almost right… just do the primer before the caulk. The sealed drywall can grab better than the porous paper of the drywall.

      But….

      If your texture material is porous also, do that before priming. If it is ‘drywall mud’, it will need primer. Write again if not sure, and good luck!
      Brad

  4. My house is 7 years old and all the walls are textured finish and painted in cottage cream. I want to repaint ceilings and walls. What are your recommendations for primer, wall paint and ceiling paint and how many coats. Thank you.

    • Whether your ceilings are textured or not… I’m guessing not?…. if they have staining or discoloration, yes use a primer. If not discolored, then probably no primer.
      It’s all in this post which explains primer in almost all cases. At the top of that post, click ‘medium powered primer’. This will stop any staining. Perhaps you can get away with just priming stains/spots. Do some testing to save A LOT of work. Good luck,
      Brad

  5. Dear Brad, I have some sloping ceiling drywall that was primed 6 or 7 years ago, and never painted. Would it be best to re-prime it before painting? Thanks, Judith

    • Hard to say without seeing it. Since you don’t want to put an expensive ceiling paint (use the best and you’ll only need one coat) and then see stains bleeding through, perhaps you should do a primer coat. I would. Probably less work in the end. Dust with broom, prime with roller only…probably no brushing in corners for primer, then use the Ben Moore ceiling paint. No doubts then. Good luck!

  6. I have a newly sheetrocked bathroom in green board i want to prime and seal these walls as best i can because ship lap will be covering the walls as a decorative look. Also the ceiling of the shower is green board. What is my best option for primer/ sealee to avoid mositure/ mold thanks

    • Hi. The ordinary drywall primer is made for green board too, but if you have any concern about it getting wet, go with the oil. It’s much nastier, though they say ‘no odor’…still wear a respirator please. We have a respirator post that simplifies that too.

      Key is to seal out the moisture from getting under your tile/shower etc.
      Good luck,
      Brad

  7. Hello Brad,
    I just got done priming a finished basement ceiling with milk paint with a bonding agent. The suggestion that the milk paint company gave was: “do not use primer, milk paint should be applied directly to the material so that it can penetrate”.
    Milk paint is twice as expensive as a water-based primer and the coverage is significantly less per gallon; as well it requires mixing and waiting.
    I know that this is a long shot because you are probably wondering just exactly is milk paint, but, do you know if milk paint will ‘adhere’ to primed sheetrock walls?
    It makes sense that it would because milk paint itself, is applied in two (at least) coats, and certainly ‘adheres’ to itself. But I would like my theory confirmed.

    Thanks,
    Pete

    • Hi.
      I’ve never used it, but a quick google search agrees with you…you can put on drywall without primer. I have seen that brand around the internets… Is there any problem?
      Sorry for the delay….
      –Brad

  8. Thank you for this nice article. I’m finishing my basement and I drywall it with the brown paper inside (i know – never drink and finish a basement). I spray it with RX35 last night and was wondering if I need a second Coat of the RX35 from Roman or I should be focused on 2-3 primer coats. What primer do you recommend?
    Thank you!

    • Hi. Did the paper wrinkle up? I would think it’s all gooey now…but if not, don’t just start painting, get a brush in the finish paint and do a square foot and be sure to cross a seam to see if the seam is different from the middle of the rock board. Let me know here? A photo would be helpful to future readers. Funny story, but you should definitely drink and paint! So many mornings in paint stores I could smell it on the breath of hungover painters: they have a bad rep for that for good reason. SOmehow I escaped that trap! Good luck!

  9. I spoke to someone at ‘Real Milk Paint’, and he told me that ‘their’ milk paint will adhere to Zinsser Bulls Eye 123. I found that an article in their web site confirms this as well.

    Problems- Priming with milk paint costs $50/ gallon.
    Coverage is poor- 3 gal./450 sq ft.

    After painting the basement ceiling of my project with it and burning up 3 gal. with my new airless sprayer (which may well be part of the problem), I decided that I need a different approach, such as priming with a water-based primer before coating with milk paint. Or perhaps rather, forgetting about milk paint on the ceiling and walls (or even just the ceiling), and using regular water-based.
    I NEED the milk paint for the cabinets; I love the finish I get with it by sanding/burnishing, and refuse to burn it all up on the ceiling.
    The appeal of milk paint? Totally natural, you could probably drink some. I am basically sick of things that are man-made if there is another, natural option. I have read that the pyramids were coated with milk paint.

    Question- How does one avoid the initial Burst/Blast of paint when depressing the trigger on the sprayer when spraying a large surface?

    Thank you for your timely response to my first question
    Pete

    • Yes, I saw that about milk paint but never heard that about the pyramids. I did hear they probably used water and floats to lift the blocks! Anyway, spraying takes a touch. The thing to do is to keep the tip moving quickly when you first squeeze and then when you reverse direction to give a quick flip of the wrist. Practice with water on your house or just into cardboard etc. Milk paint is going to get a post here in the future I think now based on your comments. Thanks for all that and good luck!!

  10. Thank you Brad – the RX did 80% of what was supposed to do – but not on the whole area – i still have some spots where i might sanded too ruff so paper looks like bit damaged than the rest – anyway – added 1 cote of prime last night but left early so i didn’t have time to check it- will cote one more time and if not good then i might try High Build primer to see if it will smooth it out. I’ll post some pictures with before and after – for sure more ppl like me out there 🙂

  11. Loved the article! We are finishing out our basement and leaving the ceiling exposed. We are going to paint the ceiling with a dark color for the industrial look, but we are on the fence of whether or not we need to use primer before using the paint / primer combo. We will need to Prime the new drywall on the interior walls, so we’re thinking about just using Drywall Primer for the ceiling and the walls. What would you do, Brad?

    • Hi. It’s not clear what the exposed ceiling is: rafters? Pipes? If drywall rock, yes prime even if black later. If pipes, yes, metal primer to block rust. If rafters…hmmm. Hard to know if the pine resin will show in the dark paint. Drywall primer will NOT take care of that…You would use the Kilz Original or BIN, but the BIN is alcohol based: the nuclear option. If I did not cover it, write here again as to what the ceiling really is: if you can send me a photo, that is worth 1000 words, but takes one million times the memory…ha ha…geek joke. Good luck! PS you dark color is not clear either, and how dark is important. —b

      • Update: She replied with this and a photo:
        Hi Brad,

        Thank you so much for your response! I could not see where I could attach a picture on the website, so I’m writing my reply back here. We absolutely do not want to use a primer that will give off a strong odor since we have a small child, and my husband is extremely sensitive to chemical smells. Our original plan was to simply use a primer and paint combo on the ceiling and then use the Drywall Primer for all of the walls. We are using a paint sprayer for all of the painting so thought it would not be too much more work to simply use the Drywall Primer on the ceiling as well for added paint stability. Given the attached pictures and our limited choices for primer, do you think that we need to use the Drywall Primer to prime the ceiling or simply use a paint/primer combo? Also, the ceiling will be painted Sherwin Williams cyberspace.
        My reply is below your photo: A basement ceiling that will be painted as is: drywall primer? Paint and primer in one? What would Leonardo do?

        Hi again. Now I see. A photo is worth a thousand words, so I’ll keep it short. NOT drywall primer. There is no stain blocker in it and it will allow all the pine and spruce resins in your rafters to bleed through. You are putting up a very dark color, but you still want to block those stains. I’d suggest one of 2 things: yes, give paint and primer a try. Modern products have glass beads that settle very closely and block stains. Yes, glass. Since you are spraying, a sure-fire way is to spray Kilz Original, which will do the nasty work. Test it first: apply on the rafter, then coat with WHITE to see if any stains come thru. White will show easily. You’ll need a healthy 2 coats of the final coat… Good luck. Please send me a photo when you are done? I’m excited, but I get to sit here and watch… 🙂

  12. Hi, What types of primer and brands would you recommend for a old garage walls? I have both
    new and old drywall (yellowing). All the walls are unpainted. Do i need to tsp the walls? Thanks

    • If you have mildew, yes TSP. To block stains, regular drywall prime will not do: it’s for new rock. I’d go with Kilz original. Look at the very top of this article for the link: it’s my go-to/always carry primer for wood knots, water stains, smoke, etc. Good luck!!

  13. Hey Brad. I’ve got some questions about a project I’ve got going on (DIY noob here). I’ve skimmed my walls using joint compound (some three layers of it) to get rid of some old texture the wife and I didn’t like. Now that I’m ready to start sanding and looking into painting, here are the questions I can’t seem to get straight answers to:
    – Do I need to prime the newly skimmed walls BEFORE sanding? There’s some conflicting info out there on this topic.
    – What do you recommend for cleaning the ungodly amount of dust from the joint compound? Luckily I’m using dust control… which still produces lots of dust.
    – Your stud covers drywall panting for new drywall thoroughly. Any recommendations to prep the walls for paint after sanding?

    Thank you in advance!

    • Hi. It’s a common question, so for all who read this, the sequence is always:
      – Joint compound on tape, holes etc including skim coats of j.c. Dehumidifiers are helpful to dry in one day if humidity is high in your area.
      – Sand (I start with 80 grit and move to 100, then 150: this uses less labor. Orbital sanders and pole/drywall sanders are helpful here…it’s what the pros do. Sometimes a quick patch is needed as the sanding goes too far, but that is dry the next day before you prime).
      – Prime with the least expensive of all primers: drywall primer. It will not block any old stain like water damage, but just seals the new rock/mud to prevent flashing of tape/mud/patches. Old paint you have around as a primer will not prevent the mud/rockpaper boundaries from ‘flashing’.
      – Paint 2 coats. Always 2 unless you use a very good white or off white.* Reds/yellows may need 3 (synthetic pigments do not cover as well as earthy ones: don’t ask me why!)
      Relax in your chair and stare at your gorgeous walls.
      –brad
      *some primers can be tinted a bit without ruining the properties you are paying for. This is usually gray, and if your final color is a very similar gray, and if you buy good paint, you may only need one coat over the gray primer: ask your paint store.

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