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My Review of Zinsser Cover Stain Primer

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Matt is a professional painter who owns and operates his own painting business, specializing in interior and exterior house painting.

Zinsser Cover Stain Primer

Zinsser Cover Stain Primer

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. This is not always the case, 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 dried to the touch, the surface is harder to sand and tends to rub off easily along outside corners and edges.

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 too.

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 not fully atomizing through my Graco FFLP tips on my spray gun, due to the thickness of the primer. 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. You can add a little paint thinner though to help it flow and level out better.

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 re-coated in less than one hour.

Both products smell terrible, but the smell of BIN goes away a lot faster 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 content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: We are painting over stained polyurethane cabinets. We have sanded with 120 grit. Wine will be brushing the paint on. Will the cover stain primer work well using a latex paint over it?

Answer: Yes, latex paint over Cover Stain primer is fine. I recommend applying two coats of primer, scuff sanding in between coats with 220-grit, or 320-grit. Cover Stain sands really nice and smooth.

Question: Do you have a separate sprayer for the bin?

Answer: Yes, I use my Graco GX-19 airless sprayer for BIN and my Titan 440 Impact for the enamel, but sometimes I'll use my GX-19 for both because it's easier to clean.

Question: I have primed my cabinets twice using cover stain but it has been 11 days since I've applied it. Do I need to prime again in order to paint because of the lapse of time?

Answer: Yes, but you should sand anyways, even if you're painting the next day. Sanding the primer and wiping off the dust gives you a smoother paint finish. It also removes crumbs and imperfections in the primer. Cover Stain sands nicely into a fine powder after you let it dry overnight.

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

Answer: 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.

Question: What grit of sandpaper do you use to sand coverstain?

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

Question: Can I use Zinser cover stain primer over a dark enamel paint then use a latex paint?

Answer: Yes, but the surface should be sanded first so the primer forms a stronger bond with the enamel underneath. Latex paint over Cover Stain oil primer is perfectly fine.

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

Answer: Yes.

Question: How do you get rid of the smell of primer quickly?

Answer: Open windows.

Question: Is there Cover Stain tintable to a darker color? The can says "tintable", but when I asked the lady at Menards she said it was only tintable to a slightly darker white (?) and that the can didn't even have enough room to add any tint to it. Was she just full of it? I'm painting my cabinets gray so I would like the primer to be gray (or as close to gray as possible) if possible.

Answer: Yes, the store employee is correct. Cover Stain primer should only be tinted to an off-white, using a maximum of 2 oz of universal colorant per gallon. If you tint the primer anymore than 2 oz, the primer will form cracks when it dries. It will also be sticky to the touch after drying and less durable.

Question: My ceiling is textured and needs a stain blocker like B.I.N, will latex paint adhere to the textured ceiling without sanding?

Answer: Latex paint is fine for the textured ceiling. If it's popcorn texture, it will be a lot easier to paint using a sprayer, otherwise roll it. The primer you're using is a good stain blocker to use under latex paint.

Question: Can this be used in a manufactured home rental property where the walls are drywall that was installed with wallpaper already attached? Our previous renters were smokers, will this help and if we have it tinted can it be used alone (as a final coat) or do we have to add a coat of paint over it?

Answer: Yes, it can be used over drywall and wallpaper. Cover Stain will seal over the nicotine stains really well so when you paint the walls you won't see any discoloration from the smoke damage. The primer is sort of a grayish color and meant to be top coated with paint. Not only that, but the nicotine stains will show through the primer a little, however, when painted, you won't see them anymore. I would definitely paint the walls after priming. You can tint this primer, but only with a very small amount of tint. I believe it's 2 ounces, but you can check the specs for the product. If you add more tint than what's recommended in the specs, the primer will crack and you'll have issues. If it were me, I wouldn't tint it. There's no need to.

Question: 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.

Answer: 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.

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

Answer: 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.

Question: I want to refinish some kitchen chairs. If I use this primer, is there a specific paint or stain that I can use on top of it to make the chairs still look like stained wood?

Answer: No, not if you want to see the wood grain. Cover Stain primer is a white primer meant to be top coated with solid paint. You could use a paint color similar to the color of the wood, but it's going to have a solid finish. If you're refinishing the chairs then you'd want to remove the existing finish and stain the wood.

Question: What would you recommend for priming wood paneling?

Answer: Cover Stain, Kilz, or BIN shellac primer, are all good choices for wood paneling. I personally like BIN because it dries really fast and the fumes don't linger like oil primer does.The finish is also smoother than oil. It lays out nice and smooth when sprayed and rolled right.

© 2018 Matt G.


Matt G. (author) from United States on July 24, 2020:

Since there are multiple coatings on the cabinets, I would use either BIN or oil Kilz to prevent any chance of bleed through or bonding issues.

Jean on July 21, 2020:

Old house. Oil over latex, latex over oil etc. on cabinets. I want to repaint yet another layer. It was latex last time. Would BIN work to prime the cabinets before I paint again or would Kilz work just as well? The old paint is fairly worn away to old, probably oil based, paint by the handles. I want to use latex again

Matt G. (author) from United States on July 14, 2019:


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.

Matt P on July 12, 2019:

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. (author) from United States on April 02, 2019:

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.

Tina on April 02, 2019:

Any tips about painting Coverstain with white acrylic paint?

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

Matt G. (author) from United States on November 04, 2018:


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.

Robert on November 04, 2018:

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.

RTalloni on August 16, 2018:

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