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Do I have to paint over Zinsser primer?

Zinsser primers are exceptional paints, so good in fact that you may wonder if you even need to paint over them at all. There is no easy answer to that and my go-to response would be the classic “it depends”.So let’s have a look at all of the different circumstances and see if you do have to paint over Zinsser primers.

Do I have to paint over Zinsser primer?

Yes, you should always paint over a primer. Primers are not designed to be used as finishing paint. They may struggle with being exposed to the elements leading to a degradation of the paint. They can also often struggle with exposure to UV leading to colour changes in the paint.

Potential Problems

So as you can see above, I wouldn’t recommend using a Zinsser primer as your top coat of paint. There are some circumstances where you may be able to get away with it, which I will talk about in more detail later on, but in general, my advice would be don’t do it.

Designed to be Bonded to

One of the biggest issues with not painting over Zinnser primer is that a primer paint is designed to be painted over. Why is this a problem? Well, in order to promote a good “bond” between the primer and the topcoat the primer has a flat finish designed to promote adhesion.

This is great when used normally and allows the topcoat to stick to the primer really well. If you don’t use a topcoat though then all it means is that dirt sticks to the primer well.

The finished surface that is designed to promote adhesion will still do the same thing, just with dirt rather than a top coat of paint.

No UV Protection

I have not tested this myself to be 100% sure, but it does make a lot of sense to me so is worth a mention here. Primers are designed to be hidden under another layer of paint.

For this reason, it wouldn’t make much sense for them to have any protection against UV as they should, in theory, never be exposed to it. What this means is that they will change colour quickly when exposed to continuous sunlight.

Getting away with it

As I mentioned earlier, there are certain circumstances where you will be able to get away with using Zinsser primer as your topcoat and you won’t need to paint over it.

What this tends to boil down to is simply, is it in an area you can see?

What do I mean by this? Well simply, is the area you want to leave with just Zinsser primer out in the open or is it hidden? For instance, if you are painting the inside of a cupboard then let’s be honest, you really don’t need to paint over it.

it might not be the best finish ever, but if no one is ever going to see it does it really matter. Also a lot of problems with using a primer as your topcoat disappear if it is in a sheltered hidden spot.

So the primer might not stand up well to the elements, the colour may change if exposed to the sun, it might attract dirt more easily. But if it is in a hidden spot, like the interior of a cupboard, then all of these issues suddenly matter a lot less.

So if your finished surface is going to be hidden then I don’t really see the problem with not painting over a Zinsser primer, if it is anywhere else though then I would really recommend painting over it with a suitable paint.

Recommend Topcoats

speaking of suitable paints, here are some of the paints I would recommend painting over Zinsser primers with. Suprise, they are all Zinsser paints. I have always found these paints to be really high quality, and if you are using Zinsser primers then why not go the whole hog and use Zinsser topcoats too?

Water Based Satin
Zinsser Perma-White Interior Water-Based Satin 1 Litre
£16.99 (£16.99 / l)
  • guaranteed to prevent the growth of mould and mildew on the paint film for at least 5 years
  • bonds to existing solvent-based or glossy paints

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07/05/2022 12:05 am GMT

Perma white is one of the best interior paints around, yes it isn’t cheap, but you do get what you pay for. I highly recommend it if you have the budget for it.

This paint stays white, as the name suggests. You even get a 5-year guarantee against degradation!




Thursday 24th of March 2022

I appreciate the heads up that Zinsser primer will attract dirt without a top coat. That 'sealed' the deal for me to add a top coat. Thanks again