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Do you Really Need Primer Before you Paint?

By E. E. Kane

Why do you need primer before you paint? The best answer to that question is another one: Do you want a good paint job? Many people are suspicious of primer, suspecting it is an unnecessary step and another way for paint stores to make money. In reality, primer saves you time, money, and ensures a strong paint job.

Primer Covers

The wall is Techno Blue, and you've chosen Cotton Blossom white. How many coats of Cotton Blossom will it take to cover the green? Even if the paint can says "one coat coverage" don't count on it, class. Primer covers rich colors, allowing you to use less Cotton Blossom (or whatever color you choose).   

Just as there are different types of paint for different types of jobs, primer comes in types, too. Look for a quality primer that targets color or stain blocking. Do you need to cover mold or smoke stains? Make sure the primer you buy specifies those conditions. Most latex (acrylic) primers will do a great job of covering and allow you to clean up with water, but some stains, like later or mold, need an oil-based primer to keep the stain from leaching through.

Primer Saves Time

Primer is ready to be recoated in about an hour. Regular white flat paint requires at least two hours drying time before you can recoat, and glossier sheens require longer. Primer is well worth the 'extra step' - even though it's not really an extra step.

Primer Saves Money

Generally speaking, a can of primer costs less than a can of finish paint. This depends on the paint brand and the job the primer has to do (mold and smoke blockers cost a bit more). If you choose a primer from the same line of paint as your finish coat, you should be spending less on primer - sometimes as much as ten dollars less per gallon. You can also have primer tinted the color of the finish coat to cut down further on top-coat paint.

Primer Bonds

You want a paint job that lasts, but if you paint without primer you may see your hard work bubble and peel, or crack and flake off. This is especially the case if you paint over a glossy finish or when you want to cover oil with latex. Primer is formulated to hold the new paint to the old surface.

Primer Fills Porous Surfaces

Did you patch a hole in the wall? The patch material is chalky and porous, and paint will seep in. In some cases the color will be different, and in others the patch will look duller than the surrounding area. Primer sinks in and allows the finish coat to look uniform.

Is there ever a time you don't need primer? Sure, when you want to cover a light, matte-surfaced wall. Good quality primer is well worth the extra time, money, and cleanup, especially when you are covering color, stains, or glossy sheens, painting drywall for the first time, or painting or refinishing wood. Don't skip the primer!