My Review of Zinsser Cover Stain Primer

Updated on April 8, 2019
Matt G. profile image

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

Zinsser Cover Stain Oil-based Primer

Zinsser Cover Stain is an oil-based primer I've used a lot over the years for priming cabinets, exterior wood, and wall stains. The primer I use the most now for cabinet painting is Zinsser BIN shellac, but I still use Cover Stain in certain situations.

Cover Stain is a good stain blocker that usually seals surfaces in one coat, but on oak cabinets, a second coat is sometimes needed to completely stop tannin bleed. Not always, but I've had problems with this a couple of times.

Is It Easy to Sand?

Cover Stain primer sands easier than other oil-based products I've used in the past, but only after the primer has had plenty of time to dry out. If you try sanding it right after it's dry to the touch, the surface is harder to sand and tends to rub off easily along outside corners.

When I used this product on cabinets, I'd let the primer dry overnight before sanding or try to get all of the priming done early in the morning so that I could sand everything later that day. If you let the primer dry longer than recommended, it sands very easily into a super smooth finish. This product sands a lot easier than Zinsser BIN shellac primer.

Cover Stain vs BIN Shellac Primer

Both products are excellent but serve different purposes. In my experience, Cover Stain does not spray or level out nearly as good as BIN shellac. I've had problems with Cover Stain fully atomizing through my Graco FFLP tips on my spray gun, due to the thickness. BIN sprays like a dream because it's so thin.

Both products start to tack up fast after application, but Cover Stain doesn't level out much, whereas BIN does, and rolling it, even with a foam roller, leaves heavy stippling if you aren't careful.

Price wise, Cover Stain is much cheaper at around $25 per gallon, but BIN costs close to $45. One of the reasons I don't use Cover Stain as much anymore, at least for cabinets, is the slower dry time and lingering odor. BIN dries fast and can be sanded and recoated in less than one hour.

Both products smell terrible, but the smell of BIN goes away fast once the alcohol has completely evaporated from the coating, which is usually under two hours. Oil-based primer dries at a slower rate, so the smell takes hours to go away.

Is Zinsser Cover Stain Primer Worth It?

Cover Stain oil-based primer is my go-to product for priming raw wood and stains on drywall. I've also used this product many times to prime and paint over old wallpaper. You can also use it for priming cabinets. The primer provides a good bond coat with paint and sands easily into a fine powder once fully dry.

This primer is also good for both interior and exterior use, where other products are for interior application only. I keep a gallon of it in my truck.

At under $30 per gallon, the price is reasonable for quality primer, but for a faster dry time, or if you're looking for a thin primer that levels a lot better when spraying kitchen cabinets, I recommend BIN shellac primer instead.

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

  • Will the Zinsser Cover Stain primer work on top of preexisting water-based painted cabinets?


  • How do you prep oak cabinets before applying the BIN? Is scuffing necessary to achieve a solid bond?

    Yes, I always clean and sand cabinets before priming, using an electric sander. Sanding helps the primer stick better, and you'll have a smoother finish if you sand between each coat.

  • What grit of sandpaper do you use to sand coverstain?

    I use a sanding block, but a finer grit like 220 is good if you're using sandpaper.

  • Have you tried adding Penetrol to Cover Stain to decrease brush marks, or do you just rely on sanding to smooth out the finish?

    No, I haven't used Penetrol to thin Cover Stain. I usually smooth the surface through scuff sanding. If you let Cover Stain dry overnight, the primer sands very easily with a sanding sponge. Sanding the primer smooths out the surface and helps the paint bond better with it.

  • I need to paint large mdf wall panels. I have cover stain although I am reluctant to use it due to the odour. The mdf panels are already on the wall. Will the Zinsser BIN shellac primer seal the mdf sheets just as the cover stain would? These panels are apart of a wall moulding design and are found in my kitchen.

    Yes, BIN will seal the MDF and it also dries a lot faster than Cover Stain. The odor is bad, but it goes away fast with a window open.

© 2018 Matt G.


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    • Matt G. profile imageAUTHOR

      Matt G. 

      3 months ago


      You can spray doors vertically with BIN, you just have to be careful not to spray too heavy. The second coat dries faster than the first coat. Spray a light first coat and a heavier second coat.

    • profile image

      Matt P 

      3 months ago

      If you were hanging doors vertically to spray which of the primer's would you use? Sounds like the BIN is runny and you said it levels well horizontally but will I have issues with runs.

    • Matt G. profile imageAUTHOR

      Matt G. 

      6 months ago

      Using the right paint is key. I paint over Cover Stain primer with Sherwin Williams CHB and Duration, and the paint covers in two coats. You should also use a roller sleeve of 1/2" nap, or 3/4" if you're not already. The thicker nap puts more paint on for better coverage.

    • profile image


      6 months ago

      Any tips about painting Coverstain with white acrylic paint?

      Seems to take a lot of paint to cover the colour of Coverstain.

    • Matt G. profile imageAUTHOR

      Matt G. 

      11 months ago


      No, I've never heard of BIN failing on cabinets due to heat from appliances and I've never had a call back on any of my cabinet jobs where BIN was used as the primer. I'll look into that though.

    • profile image


      11 months ago

      I am going to paint some kit cabs coming up. I usually use the cover stain to prime but know that bin has the best stain blocking ever. My question to you is have you heard that the bin will fail because of heat if you use it next to the stove top or dish waster. I have read that but have no experience with it.

    • profile image


      14 months ago

      Thanks much for this comparison. We are remodeling and this info will be good to keep in mind.


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