Kilz vs Zinsser: Which Primer Is The Best For Your Next Painting Project?

Bob Thomas


Hey there, fellow DIY enthusiasts! Bob Thomas here, your painting and decorating guru.

If you've ever embarked on a painting project, you know that a good primer is key to a successful outcome.

Today, I'll be discussing two popular primer brands: Kilz and Zinsser.

Both brands have their pros and cons, and choosing the right one can make all the difference in your project.

Quick Summary

If you're in a rush, here's the skinny: Kilz and Zinsser are both 1) reliable primer brands. Kilz is known for its 2) stain-blocking abilities and is a good choice for blocking odors. On the other hand, Zinsser offers a variety of primers that are great for 3) tough-to-paint surfaces. The choice depends on your specific project needs. Now, if you've got a few more minutes, let's delve deeper into these two brands.

The Main Differences


Kilz is a well-known brand that offers a wide range of primers suitable for different surfaces and purposes.

It's my go-to choice when I need to tackle stains or unpleasant odors.

Remember the time when I was refurbishing an old, smoke-stained coffee table?

Kilz's oil-based primer saved the day by effectively sealing in the odors and stains, providing a clean slate for the topcoat.

Pro Tip: When using Kilz's oil-based primer, make sure to use a natural bristle brush for smooth application.


Zinsser is another trustworthy name in the primer industry. It offers a range of primers, including oil-based and water-based options.

What sets Zinsser apart is its ability to adhere to tough-to-paint surfaces, such as glossy finishes or tiles.

Back when I was revamping my bathroom, Zinsser's Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Primer adhered perfectly to the old, glossy tiles, making them ready for a new splash of color.

Table: Kilz vs Zinsser Comparison


Stain Blocking



Odor Blocking






Drying Time

1 hour (approx)

30 minutes (approx)


Mineral spirits (oil-based) / Soap & water (water-based)

Soap & water

Choosing the Right Primer for Your Project

Your project's specifics will ultimately determine whether you should go for Kilz or Zinsser.

If you're dealing with stains or odors, Kilz might be your best bet.

However, if you're painting over a glossy or tricky surface, Zinsser could be the better choice.

Additional Tips

  • Always ensure the surface is clean and dry before applying either Kilz or Zinsser primer. Dirt or moisture can affect the primer's adhesion and effectiveness.
  • When dealing with porous surfaces like bare wood or drywall, consider using a primer to ensure a uniform, smooth finish.
  • Always allow the primer to dry fully before applying the topcoat. This usually takes anywhere from 1 to 3 hours but can vary depending on the specific product and environmental conditions.

Personal Experiences 

As a qualified painter and decorator, I've used both Kilz and Zinsser primers in various projects.

I've found that both brands offer reliable carry on from here products, but there are differences that can make one more suitable than the other depending on the task at hand.

In one of my memorable projects, I had to cover up heavy smoke stains from years of cigar use in an old study room.

I used Kilz oil-based primer for this task and was impressed by its performance.

The stains were effectively sealed, and it provided an excellent base for the topcoat, resulting in a transformed room that bore no traces of its smoky past.

On the other hand, I've also had a project where I was dealing with a bathroom that had some mildew issues.

For this, I turned to Zinsser's Perma-White Mold and Mildew-Proof Interior Paint.

It not only did an excellent job of covering the existing mildew stains, but it also helped prevent future growth, a feature that is quite beneficial in damp environments like bathrooms.

Remember, it's not about which brand is superior overall. It's about choosing the right primer for the specific needs of your project.

Frequently Asked Questions Secretion (FAQs)

Q. How do Kilz and Zinsser perform on different types of surfaces?

  A: Kilz has a slightly thicker consistency and is excellent for rougher surfaces, such as concrete and stucco.

On the other hand, Zinsser is often preferred for smoother surfaces, like drywall, due to its more fluid application.

Q. Can I use Kilz or Zinsser to prime over wallpaper?

  A: Yes, both Kilz and Zinsser can be used to prime over wallpaper. Zinsser's Shieldz Universal Wallpaper Primer is specifically designed for this purpose, but Kilz can also do a fine job.

Q. What are the VOC levels in Kilz and Zinsser?

  A: Both Kilz and Zinsser offer low-VOC and zero-VOC options. It's important to check the specific product's label to understand the VOC content, as this can vary.

Q. Are Kilz and Zinsser safe to use in poorly ventilated areas?

  A: While both Kilz and Zinsser offer low-VOC options, it's always recommended to use any primer or paint in a well-ventilated area. This helps to disperse fumes and speed up the drying process.

Q. Can I use Kilz or Zinsser on exteriors?

  A: Both brands offer exterior primers. Kilz's Premium High-Hide Stain Blocking Interior/Exterior Latex Primer and Zinsser's Cover Stain Oil-Based Primer are suitable for exterior use.

Always check the product label to confirm suitability.

Q. Can I use Kilz and Zinsser on metal surfaces?

  A: While both brands are suitable for metal surfaces, Zinsser's Bulls Eye 1-2-3 is a popular choice for its rust-resistant properties.

Q. What are the dry times for Kilz and Zinsser?

  A: Dry times can vary depending on the specific product and environmental conditions.

However, most Kilz and Zinsser products dry to the touch within 30 minutes to an hour.

It's recommended to wait at least an hour before applying the next coat.

Q. Are Kilz and Zinsser primers sandable?

A: Yes, both Kilz and Zinsser primers can be sanded once fully dry. This can be beneficial if you're looking to achieve a super smooth finish.


In the Kilz vs Zinsser debate, the winner isn't one-size-fits-all.

Both brands offer high-quality, reliable primers designed to tackle a variety of painting challenges.

Your unique project requirements—be it stain-blocking, odor-sealing, or mildew resistance—will guide your choice.

Remember to always prep your surfaces well before priming, and you'll be on your way to a successful painting project.

Finally, as a veteran painter and decorator, I can assure you that no matter which brand you choose, both Kilz and Zinsser won't disappoint. 

Suggested Products:

  1. KILZ 2 Multi-Surface Stain Blocking Interior/Exterior Latex Primer/Sealer: This water-based primer is a versatile option suitable for both interior and exterior applications. It's great for sealing porous surfaces and providing a base for latex or oil-based paint.
  2. KILZ Restoration Maximum Stain and Odor Blocking Interior Latex Primer/Sealer: This primer is a reliable choice for tackling tough stains and persistent odors. It's perfect for use in restoration projects, delivering a robust and uniform finish.
  3. Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Based White Interior/Spot Exterior Primer and Sealer: This primer offers excellent adhesion preventing peeling and blistering. Its shellac-based formulation is perfect for blocking tough stains from fire damage, water, and more.
  4. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Interior and Exterior Primer: This water-based primer is a great all-around choice for interior and exterior surfaces. It offers excellent adhesion without the need for sanding and resists rust and mold/mildew growth.

About the author 

Bob Thomas

A fully certified interior decorator and house painter , Bob Thomas brings immense expertise and knowledge amassed from many years of hands-on experience with residential, commercial and specialty painting and decorating projects of all sizes and scopes.

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