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What You Should Know About All-in-One Paint and Primer

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Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.

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Paint With Primer in It—Is It Real?

Practically every paint manufacturer now sells a product that supposedly primes the surface while painting. Behr was the first company to successfully market and sell these products through a massive marketing campaign in 2009 that eventually led other paint manufacturers to add "self-priming" or "paint and primer in one" to their paint can labels.

The real question is whether the paint really contains primer that primes the surface. The truth is really nothing more than deceptive marketing that has caused confusion and even lawsuits. In reality, these paints are not formulated with primer, but instead have a higher concentration of solids for better coverage. Basically, think of these products as nothing more than thick, premium paint, that covers in less coats than cheap paint.

Unfortunately, many homeowners unknowingly buy these paints thinking they can bypass the task of priming, but depending on the surface being painted, a separate primer still might be needed to avoid problems with adhesion and coverage.

First, it's important to understand the purpose of primer and when it's needed.

When Is Primer Needed?

Primer is needed when painting porous surfaces like bare wood, or surfaces with visible stains that paint alone won't cover without bleed-through. If you were to apply an all-in-one paint and primer product directly over bare wood, tannin from within the wood would likely bleed into the top coats of paint, no matter how many coats are applied. The paint would also be more likely to peel prematurely if it's outside. Primer seals a surface and bonds well with paint for maximum durability.

Self-priming paint won't get rid of water stains, crayon, or smoke damage, on walls. An oil-based primer is needed in those situations to seal over stains on drywall and hide them when painted. Another example is for new, unpainted drywall. A separate PVA (poly vinyl acetate) primer is needed to seal the drywall and form a strong bond with paint.

Another example is when painting walls that are coated with glossy, oil-based paint. Latex paint will form a weak bond if the surface is not coated with a separate bonding primer first.

When Should Paint-and-Primer-in-One Be Used?

Self-priming paint is fine for repainting walls a similar color that have already been painted with latex paint. The consistency is thicker than cheap paint and covers well in less coats, due to the high build. These paints are typically of premium grade too, which allows dirt on the wall to be cleaned easier without ruining the painted surface. The overall finish looks much better too.

For major color changes though, it is usually more cost-efficient to apply one coat of inexpensive primer first, followed by two coats of your premium paint. The savings add up when you're painting the whole interior of a home with only two coats of pricey paint instead of three.

Best Paint-and-Primer-in-One

I'm personally not a fan of Behr paint. The paint is too thick and difficult to cut-in as a result. Most of the paint I use is from Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore.

Sherwin Williams Duration

Duration has always performed well for me, even long before it was labeled a self-priming paint. I use both the exterior and interior versions with satisfactory results. The coverage is excellent. There have been instances where I was able to get solid coverage in two coats, painting very light colors over dark colors.

The paint is also very washable. The exterior version boasts one coat coverage, but unless the colors are similar, two are usually needed. The cost is about $65 per gallon at regular price.

Sherwin Williams Super Paint

The paint is not as washable as Duration, but the coverage is excellent. Expect only one to two coats in situations where three would normally be needed using cheap paint. This paint was around long before Behr. Super Paint flat sells for about $57 per gallon.

Benjamin Moore Regal Select

Regal Select is thick and covers really well in my experience, compared to the regular Regal Classic. At $45 per gallon, the price is more affordable than their expensive Aura brand and performs very similar.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can I use all in one paint and primer to paint an old wooden fence after the peeling paint has been removed?

Answer: No. These paints are not primer sealers. Staining the fence with an acrylic stain, after the paint's been removed, is a good choice, and you won't have to prime it first. If you do paint the fence, you'll need to apply a bonding primer sealer first and then the paint.

Question: I am painting over bare drywall and have purchased Sherwin Williams duration. The salesperson said this would work fine. I am having second thoughts: if I use a cheap primer first, can I paint over it with the duration paint since it contains a primer? Or should I just use duration?

Answer: No, the salesperson is wrong. Brand new, bare drywall, needs to be primed with a special drywall primer sealer formulated for bare drywall. Sherwin Williams sells a product for this purpose, which is literally called Drywall Primer. The store employee should know this. Buy a gallon of the Drywall Primer and prime your new walls with that before using Duration. As thoroughly explained in the article, these paints, including Duration, do not contain primer. Behr was the first to slap those deceptive labels on their paint cans, then the competition followed soon after. These products are thicker and usually cover better than cheaper paints, that's it. The article addresses this confusion.

Question: Can I use all-in-one paint and primer on wallpaper?

Answer: Wallpaper, if you must paint over it, should be primed with either an oil-based primer or a shellac primer like BIN. You can then paint over it with any latex paint.

Question: Can you use all in one paint and primer to paint old cabinets?

Answer: Yes, after the cabinets have been primed separately with primer sealers like Zinsser Cover Stain, BIN, or a similar product.

Question: Is there a paint that isn’t as expensive but still easy to cover a wall with? I have also found Berh to be too thick I wondered if Valsper or anything else that may be cheaper than $50?

Answer: Paint with good coverage costs more. Cheaper paint doesn't spread over the wall as nicely. Products I've used that cover well include Super Paint, Cashmere, and Duration Home, all from Sherwin Williams. Regal Select from Benjamin Moore covers well too. I would just wait for a spring paint sale and buy premium paint at a nice discount.

Question: What is the best paint for mildew coverage?

Answer: Duration Home from Sherwin Williams is a good paint to prevent mildew in moisture-prone spaces like bathrooms. This paint is formulated with an anti-mildew additive.

Question: I am planning to paint a single wall with a dark color in my living room. At present all the walls are light beige in colour. Should I use a tinted primer or regular drywall primer or no primer at all?

Answer: A latex wall primer tinted gray, or similar to the color you're using if the color you're painting is an ultra-deep color or a lot darker than the current color. A premium paint that's thicker might cover in two coats, but the color is really dark, using primer will ensure solid coverage.

Question: My cabinets are old wood cabinets that were painted with a white flat/matte paint. Do you think I should use a primer before repainting them a darker color with satin finish? Should I also try to remove the old white paint as well?

Answer: If the old paint is in good condition (no peeling), you don't have to strip the paint off, but I would prime the cabinets after cleaning and sanding them, and then I would apply two coats of your paint. You could have the store tint the primer closer to the paint color for better coverage. Sometimes darker paint colors don't cover well over the stock white color of primer, depending how dark the paint is. If there's any bleed-through of wood tannin on the cabinets right now, use an oil-based primer sealer, otherwise you can use a good latex bonding primer, but oil primer, or products like BIN shellac, dry harder than latex. If the old paint is peeling, you'll need to strip it down to the bare wood and start from scratch, otherwise the bad paint underneath will start lifting along with your new paint. Be sure to use a durable paint meant for cabinets and trim. The paint needs to dry hard to resist damage from every day use.

Question: I have no idea where to start. I moved into my grandma's house that needs to be painted. I bought a 5 gallon bucket of paint. Valspar storm coat in pewter revere or revere pewter, anyway I wanted to know if that's a good paint for the exterior?

Answer: Revere Pewter is a Benjamin Moore color. I've never used any of the Valspar paints so I can't comment on the one you're referring to. I've used mostly Sherwin Williams paints throughout my painting career. I use Duration (Sherwin Williams) for exterior painting. I've never had a call back using that product. The paint lasts and covers really well.

© 2017 Matt G.