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What's the Best Primer to Cover Dark Paint? My Top Picks

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

A hallway I primed white and painted with the color Repose Gray.

A hallway I primed white and painted with the color Repose Gray.

Painting Over a Dark Color without Primer: Should You Prime?

Maybe your walls are painted a deep blue, red, or even black. The color looked cool five years ago, but now you're selling the house, or you simply want to change the paint color to match new decor. Painting over dark paint with a similar color is easy, but when the color's white, or anything significantly lighter, one coat of white primer will save you from having to apply multiple coats of paint. For painting dark colors over white, such as red paint over white, you would do the opposite and apply one coat of primer tinted gray.

Can't you just use the paint itself as the primer? Even though your paint can says "all-in-one paint and primer", there isn't actually primer mixed in with the paint. What it really means is that these paints have a greater volume of solids than cheap paint to provide better coverage, that's it. If you were to use white paint as the primer over a very dark color, you would end up with a subpar finish and more money spent. Acrylic primer typically costs less per gallon than premium paint and enhances the paint color and gloss.

The best primer I use for painting light colors over dark colors.

The best primer I use for painting light colors over dark colors.

The Best Primer for Dark Walls

Unless you're using oil-based paint on the walls, or the walls are stained all over, acrylic latex primer is best, but don't use low quality primer. The best primer to cover dark paint is one that's formulated with a high volume of titanium dioxide, the pigment that hides the dark color you're painting over. You should also consider the room you're painting. For example, if you're painting a moldy bathroom, using mold-resistant primer is important.

The paint you choose plays a big role too in the coverage. Don't prep and prime your dark walls with high quality primer and then use low quality paint on top. Two of my favorite premium wall paints that provide excellent coverage are Regal Select from Benjamin Moore and Duration Home from Sherwin Williams. With paint, you get what you pay for. Cheap paint covers poorly.

With all of the different brands and types of primer on the market, choosing the right one can be confusing for a newbie. I use a lot of paint and primer from Zinsser, Sherwin Williams, and Benjamin Moore, but for priming dark walls white, I'll go over three products I've used on my painting projects with good results.

Aqua Lock Primer Sealer

I used Aqua Lock on a recent project to prime gray walls in a nursery I painted white with Regal Select paint. I applied one coat of this product and the coverage from the primer alone was excellent over the gray paint and drywall patches. The white paint I used, which was a very light Benjamin Moore color called Super White, covered in only two coats over this fast-drying primer.

Aqua Lock primer is one hundred percent acrylic with a fairly high solids volume of 41%. Like paint, the more solids the primer has, the better the coverage. Basically, thicker primer equals less coats of paint needed to cover the dark color underneath. I was able to paint over the primer about one hour after rolling the walls. While the room I painted wasn't a bathroom, this product is mold-resistant too, which makes it a good option for priming dark walls in a bathroom.

Sherwin Williams Multi-Purpose Latex Primer

I've used this product many times as a bonding primer over glossy walls and for dramatic color changes, using the white base and the deep base. The latex version works great over dark walls you're painting white, or as a tinted primer for a dark color on a white wall. With a solids volume of 35%, it's less thick and more watery than the Aqua Lock primer I used, but the coverage is still good.

This product is acrylic latex, not one hundred percent acrylic, so the primer dries a little slower in my experience. Accumulated primer in corners can remain wet for a couple hours. The primer dries smooth and slightly glossy, and when used under glossy paint, the primer will maximize the gloss.

Sherwin Williams PrepRite Latex Pro Block Primer

Like the Multi-Purpose primer, the latex Pro Block is also acrylic latex and almost the same exact product. Both have the same thickness and dry time. The latex Pro Block is what I used to prime the rooms featured in the pictures. I painted several rooms with one coat of this primer underneath and the finish turned out as smooth as butter.

The Multi-Purpose and PrepRite primer are both good products, but I've started using Aqua Lock more for my projects. The primer is thicker and provides the best coverage out of the three. All three products can be used indoors and outdoors on multiple types of surfaces.

A dark red wall in a foyer I primed white.

A dark red wall in a foyer I primed white.

How to Prime Dark Walls White

Priming walls one coat is a lot easier than applying multiple coats of paint. Don't let your painting project turn into a nightmare. With the products I use and recommended in this article, I can typically achieve solid coverage in two to three coats of paint over one coat of primer.

Here's how to prep and paint your dark walls:

1. Clean the walls. Wall cleaning is a good idea if you're painting a bathroom, or a kitchen. These areas tend to collect more contaminants. Hairspray residue and water streaks on bathroom walls can cause adhesion problems, or even show through the primer in some cases. The best way to clean walls for paint is with TSP, or Dirtex powder. I like Dirtex more than TSP though because it doesn't leave residue all over the surface after cleaning.

2. Sand the walls. Sanding is important if the dark paint you're painting over is really glossy. Primer and paint sticks better to a dull surface. The primer itself helps with adhesion, but you should still sand the wall first with a sanding sponge. The easiest way to sand the wall is with an extension pole and a pole sander head equipped with a sheet of drywall sandpaper.

3. Tape the baseboard. Primer is messy. Cover the trim with painter's tape before priming. I'm a big fan of green Frog tape. I used blue tape for many years, but Frog tape stops paint leaks better.

4. Patch the walls. Repair drywall and patch nail holes before priming the walls, not after. The primer will seal over the patches so they don't flash through the paint.

5. Prime the walls. The best roller to use is a lint-free one with either 1/2-inch nap, or 3/4-inch nap. Cut-in the walls first and roll the primer in one direction from one corner to the other, rolling from top to bottom in a "w" shape. The primer I recommended can be top coated in one hour. For really dark colors, apply a second coat of primer to maximize paint coverage.

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.

© 2021 Matt G.

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