Best Water Based Primers

Selecting the perfect primer among all of the other furniture painting tools and supplies you have to choose from might often feel like navigating through an endless sea of options. That’s why we have curated a list of the best water based primers that will help your paint adhere better, provide even coverage, and even block those stubborn stains.

Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, choosing the right primer for your furniture painting project can be a game-changer. The right primer can create a smooth, even finish and long lasting paint job among other benefits.

photo of different brands of water based primers with text overlay

But with so many options available, it can feel daunting to select the one that’s just right for you. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the top water-based primers for furniture, helping you make an educated choice for your next project.

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If you aren’t working on furniture, this post will also help guide you in the right direction for any indoor wood or laminate type surface you are painting.

Buckle up, and let’s dive into the world of primers.

Do You Have to Prime Before Painting?

Painting furniture is more than just adding color; it’s a process that requires proper surface preparation for a flawless finish. And that’s where primers come to the rescue!

Primers play a crucial role in the painting process. They act as a preparatory coating, helping the paint adhere better and making sure your masterpiece lasts longer.

Not only do they create a smooth surface, but they also hide any stains or imperfections on your furniture, giving you a clean canvas to work with.

Sometimes, certain stains or knots can sneak through the paint, ruining your perfect finish. But, a good primer blocks these potential problems, making sure your final result is as clean and vibrant as you envisioned.

What’s more, using a primer can even save you some moolah in the long run. It reduces the number of coats of expensive paint needed, especially when you tint the primer close to your paint color or cover a darker color with a lighter one.

Learn more about the importance of priming wood for painting plus tips here.

So, you get to cut down on your paint costs!

Before you dive headfirst into your painting project, remember this: investing in a good primer now will save you time, money, and effort in the future.

Is a Water Based Primer the Right Primer for You?

Now, you might be wondering, “What on earth is a water-based primer?” Well, let’s break it down.

Water-based primers are just what they sound like – primers that have water as a base. This means that the primary ingredient that makes up the liquid portion of the primer is good ol’ H2O. Because of this, they’re incredibly easy to work with and clean up.

brushing on water-based primer onto furniture

You won’t need any harsh, smelly chemicals to remove this primer from your brushes. A little soap and warm water, and voila!

But don’t let their easy-going nature fool you. These primers are heavy hitters when it comes to preparing your furniture surfaces for painting. They dry quickly, have barely any smell, stick well, and are durable.

Plus, they’re super versatile and can be used on a wide range of surfaces including plaster, metal, and yes, even that old mahogany dresser you’ve been meaning to refurbish.

However, like any good hero, water-based primers do have their kryptonite. They’re not the best choice for surfaces with heavy stains or those that are prone to moisture, like your bathroom vanity.

For these scenarios, you might need to bring out the big guns and consider an oil-based primer instead.

But all in all, water-based primers are a fantastic, user-friendly choice for most of your furniture painting projects. They’re basically your paint’s best friend – helping it stick, stay, and look fabulous for years to come.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I also may earn from other qualifying purchases with other companies or get free product to review and use. All opinions are my own.

Zinsser 123 Primer

Zinsser 123 Primer is a great water-based primer that will help your paint stick.
It works with oil-based and latex paints and it can be brushed or rolled on. But it is very thick.

photo of zinsser 123 primer in a can

I have tried thinning it and spraying it with a paint sprayer, and it didn’t work very well. It did not cure well, and it ended up scratching off easily, so I had to remove it. So I would not recommend thinning this primer out.

It will help your paint stick and it will block some bleed through issues, but you will need multiple coats and you will need to let each coat dry at least overnight to prevent stains.

It will not prevent or stop major stains from coming through the paint though, so in that case, you will need to use a shellac or oil based primer. Here is our list of the best primers to stop tannin bleed if you are working with cedar, mahogany, or oak woods.

It will also help your paint get better coverage. It is also low VOC and easy to clean up.

Last but not least, it comes in white or it comes in a gray shade but it can also be tinted closer to the color that you are painting.

We compared Zinsser 123 primer to a few different primers in our how to paint laminate furniture without sanding vs sanding comparison post. Check it out to see how it compares to other primers!

Pros of Zinsser 123 Primer

  • Works with both oil-based and latex paints.
  • Helps your paint stick to the surface better.
  • It can help block minor bleed through issues.
  • Helps you get better paint coverage.
  • Available in white or gray, but it can also be tinted closer to the color that you are painting.

Cons of Zinsser 123 Primer

  • It’s a thick primer which might be difficult to apply.
  • Doesn’t prevent or stop major stains from coming through paint.
  • You will need to apply multiple coats for optimal results.
  • Each coat needs to dry overnight to block stains.
  • Thinning and spraying it with a paint sprayer isn’t recommended as it doesn’t cure well and scratches off easily.

Where to Buy Zinsser 123 Primer

You can find Zinsser 123 primer at any of these places. Buy online and have it shipped to your home, or in some cases you can choose free in store pickup.

Aqua Lock Primer

The Aqua Lock primer, available in black or white, is super versatile for all your painting needs. The true black option is seriously impressive, making it a breeze to apply black paint. Plus, this primer is a pro at paint adhesion, even on slick surfaces like laminate.

photo of Aqua Lock primer in a can

For the best results on those surfaces, just give them a light sanding with 220 grit sandpaper before applying.

One of the coolest things about the Aqua Lock primer is how it creates a mold-resistant coating on the surface, protecting your project. It also has stain blocking abilities, though I have not tested it extensively for bleed through.

With this primer, you’ll get professional-grade results while enjoying a stress-free painting experience, knowing your latex or oil-based paint is safe and sound.

I’ve used this primer in our painting a China cabinet with Wise Owl One Hour Enamel makeover and paint furniture black makeover.

Pros of Aqua Lock Primer

  • Available in black and white, providing variety depending on your project needs.
  • Excellent at paint adhesion, even on slick surfaces such as laminate.
  • Creates a mold-resistant coating on the surface, adding an extra layer of protection to your project.
  • Compatible with both latex and oil-based paints.
  • It has stain blocking abilities.
  • Can be tinted.

Cons of Aqua Lock Primer

  • Still requires light sanding on certain surfaces like laminate for best results.
  • Harder to find in store and online than some of these other primers.

Where to Buy Aqua Lock Primer

You can find Aqua Lock primer at any of these places. Buy online and have it shipped to your home, or in some cases you can choose free in store pickup.

STIX Primer

STIX Primer is renowned for its adhesive properties on the slickest of surfaces, even ceramic tile, laminate, or formica. You can use it on interior or exterior projects like the other primers, and if you need to paint in the cold weather, you can use it in as cold as 35 degree Fahrenheit weather.

photo of Stix primer in a can

It does have a longer recoat time of 3-4 hours instead of around an hour for the 2 primers above. And, I haven’t seen anything about being able to tint it to another color. You can brush, roll or spray it on though!

If you are looking for a primer that will stick to laminate furniture, read our post on the best bonding primer for laminate furniture to help you decide on the primer to use.

Pros of STIX Primer

  • Exceptional adhesive properties, making it great for slick, glossy surfaces like ceramic tile, laminate, or Formica.
  • Versatile as it can be used for both interior and exterior projects.
  • Can be used in cold weather conditions, as chilly as 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cons of STIX Primer

  • Longer recoat time of 3-4 hours, compared to other primers.
  • Not clear whether it can be tinted to another color.
  • Harder to find in stores.

Where to Buy STIX Primer

You can find STIX primer at any of these places. Buy online and have it shipped to your home, or in some cases you can choose free in store pickup.

General Finishes Stain Blocking Primer

This water-based primer outperforms others in blocking stains, while also improving paint coverage and adhesion like a pro. It’s kind of like a water-based version of shellac primer, and it works very well at blocking stains!

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Need more information on why stain blocking primers are so important? Read our how to stop stains from coming through paint post to see what happens if you don’t use a stain blocking primer on wood projects.

However, it only comes in white, and it is more expensive than the other options! Also, if you use this primer, remember to mix it well before use as part of the primer tends to settle at the bottom of the can.

But, it can be brushed, rolled, or sprayed on! I have tested it on multiple pieces of furniture and I have not had bleed through issues on any of them.

I used this primer on our embossing furniture makeover and our white painted coffee table makeover.

Pros of General Finishes Stain Blocking Primer

  • Exceptional at blocking stains.
  • Enhances paint coverage and adhesion significantly.
  • Works well on a variety of surfaces.
  • Can be brushed, rolled, or sprayed on for ease of application.
  • Has been tested on multiple pieces of furniture with positive results.

Cons of General Finishes Stain Blocking Primer

  • Only available in white, limiting its versatility for different project needs.
  • More expensive than other primer options.
  • Requires thorough mixing before use, as part of the primer tends to settle at the bottom of the can.
  • For interior projects only.
  • Works with water based paints.
  • Not available at most stores

Where to Buy General Finishes Stain Blocking Primer

You can find General Finishes stain blocking primer at any of these places. Buy online and have it shipped to your home.

The success of your painting project depends a lot on the primer you choose. Whether it’s the versatile Zinsser 123, the mold-resistant Aqua Lock, the sticky STIX, or the powerful stain-blocking General Finishes, it all comes down to what your project needs.

Consider things like the surface you’re painting, the type of paint you’ll be using, and the specific issues you want your primer to tackle. With a primer for every project, make sure you pick the right one! Happy painting!

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  1. Nicole Romero says:

    I’m wondering why shellac wasn’t mentioned as a primer. I do small projects and love spray primers because they’re quick and easy. Have you rated that type of primer?

    1. shellac is not waterbased, so it is not listed on this list.

  2. I have an issue with some blotchy almost greasy marks on the top of my mahogany vanity after 2 coats of dixie belle boss primer and 2 coats of sherwin williams emerald urethane semi gloss paint in Refuge Blue. Not sure if I should leave it to cure and see what happens. Any suggestions?
    Rebecca ps..this is my first try at painting furniture so I’d like to get it right..thanks for any suggestions

    1. Hey Rebecca! Unfortunately, I’m not exactly sure what the greasy marks mean without being there and seeing it. I’m guessing that it’s not going to go away, and that a better primer is needed. I would lightly sand and then put BIN shellac primer on the top, then paint again and see if it goes away.

  3. Do you have any opinions on Kilz primers?

    1. Honestly I don’t use Kilz very often because these other primers are great. I do have a can of Kilz Restoration that I have heard great things about from other painters, but I haven’t personally tried it yet.

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