oil-based primer vs water-based primer


How to decide, oil-based primer vs water-based primer? which one does your project need? 

We’ve already talked a lot about primers on this website. This blog is where I discussed how important a primer is and why you should apply at least one coat of either a latex-based primer or an oil-based primer before applying the topcoat of the color paint.

However, the question that came to mind was to explain whether an oil-based primer is better or a latex-based one. And how to decide which one of them will be the best fit for your project? 

  • Anyways, both of them offer a similar purpose, which is providing a base coat to the paint color like an additive adhesive to hold the paint color thoroughly, to get the best possible results of painting. 

Oil-based primers vs water-based primers

  • Oil-based primers, as their name suggests, contain oil. They take more drying time compared to latex-based primers and are compatible with both water-based paints as well oil-based paints. Mostly they are used in coloring wooden things like chairs, cabinets, wardrobes, or any set of furniture.

  • Latex-based primers are primarily based on water. With faster drying time they are mostly used on preparing surfaces like walls. Comparing prices, latex-based primers are slightly cheaper. However, unlike oil-based primers, they are not versatile, to work with latex primers your topcoat color should be latex paint.


  • Water-based primers are easy to clean, there is no need for any special treatment to get rid of them off from a surface as oil-based primers do. 

  • Water-based primers cost less money than that of when using oil-based primers you would spend. So, it’s a cheap option.

  • When it comes to time taking in the drying process, it’s obvious water-based paints take less time to get dried as compared to oil-based. To that end, if you need your job get done in a hurry. Use water-based paints.

  • Oil-based primers are good for bare wood surfaces because they don’t get absorbed into wood grains to raise them up.

When to use a latex- or oil-based primer?

If you have got any wooden thing that needs painting. At the point of priming them, oil-based primers are better suitable for wooden things. This includes interior furniture like cabinets or exterior patio furniture. 

As stated above, latex-based primers are suitable for painting jobs on materials metals, or painting drywalls.

Use Oil-based primers:

Below are some use cases for oil-based primers. 

  • When there is something to protect from staining, oil-based primers are capable of the job.

  • Always use oil-based primers regardless of the material or surface, they are designed to work well with them.

  • In order to achieve shiner results after getting the job done, oil-based primers can do wonders.

Use latex-based primers:

Latex paint works great for interior priming projects. 

Here is the list of projects you use latex-based as a primer. All are indoors.

  • Use it for interior painting projects, such as home furniture. It is suitable for repainting them.
  • Use latex-based primers for priming Interior Walls only.
  • If you want to put some sort of wallpaper on a wall, use latex-based paint for that purpose.
  • And other things when you want to use water-based paints.

Which is better for wood?

Oil-based primers for wood are recommended for a reason. 

That’s it.

Wood has grains on its top surface. In normal conditions, they are invisible to the eyes. But when we put any liquid over a wooden surface the grains start to become visible; Rise up. You can experiment with this on any piece of wood like pinewood.

  • With that said, with oil-based primers, the grains don’t soak up too much quantity as oil is denser and doesn’t get into deep surfaces, which is why the grains don’t rise to the surface. Resulting in an evenly balanced surface for the next coats to be applied.

  • In contrast, latex-based primers don’t usually have this same capability for wood. Being made of water, the wood grains soak up them and when they get dried, they rise up. As a result, it becomes difficult to get a smooth and balanced surface in most cases. 

That’s the reason why oil-based primers, as well as paints, are more useful for wooden things.

Which is better for kitchen cabinets?

For furniture like kitchen cabinets. There is one more type of primer which is effective in blocking stains and providing better protection to moisture: Shellac primers.

However, between the choice of latex or oil primers. 

The oil-based primers are the better option for priming your kitchen cabinets. Although their capability of blocking stains is not as good as you get from shellac primers. Yet, they are better than latex-based primers for many reasons.

  • Oil-based primers provide a kitchen cabinet to withstand moisture conditions, whereas latex-based primers don’t.

  • Oil-based primers provide stain-blocking capability to a cabinet, latex primers don’t.

  • Oil-based primers are suitable for wood material as a base coat, providing a smooth and shiny finish. Latex doesn’t.

What is an Oil-Based Paint Primer? 

Every primer which contains oil as its base product, named oil-based primers. With that means, the liquid is kinda oil, like you can imagine an oil paint for example. 

They are useful when it comes to something like you not only want to paint a piece but also want to protect the piece from hazards of getting stained and getting moisturized-defects. In simple terms, we use it in the woods.

The best part with oil-based primers is they can be used for almost every time of paint color. However, using oil-based paint color is recommended the most if the base coat is of oil.

  • For exterior projects, oil-based serves as the best option since their coat does not get sticky, which makes them durable. 

What is a latex-based primer?

Any primer which uses water as its base material, named latex-based primer or Water-based primer. These primers are easy to remove compared to others as made of water cleaning them up is not difficult. 

Although latex-based paints are not good for preparing a surface of bare wood. But you can use wood in situations when your project has already been painted. Now to repaint, latex paints can do the trick.

  • But they are only good for the interior, such that, when exposed to direct sunlight and hot weather they turn rough, resulting in the damage of the top paint coat. This is the kind of thing we avoid when durability is a priority.

How to apply a Primer on wood? 

You can read a complete blog post on the right way to apply a primer as it’s not a straightforward decision to make so…

However, Here are several steps to apply a primer:

  1. Don’t forget to wear a mask – an oil-based substance produces a stronger fume. Keep the room ventilated, and the weather should neither be too hot nor too cold that can affect the drying process, particularly when applying oil-based primers. 

  1. Make sure you have mineral spirits on hand in case you accidentally spill oil-based primer. Oil-based primer isn’t as easy to clean up. And don’t dip too much primer in one dip.

  1. Get your surface ready for primer – sand old flaking paint, and make sure it’s clean and dry. Primers must never be applied to surfaces that aren’t ready. 

  1. Primer needs mixing before it is applied. 

  1. Primers should be applied in multiple thin layers rather than one thick one. It is important to get your primer application right the first time. 

  1. Let a primer’s coat completely get dried before you apply your second coat. Wait for at least 8-10 hours.

What kind of paint can I use on oil-based primer?

With oil-based primers, you can use any type of paint as a topcoat. It works with almost any type of topcoat, water-based, oil-based, acrylic and many other types of paints are suitable to work with. 

  • Nonetheless, it’s recommended to use an oil-based topcoat with oil-based primers. Water-based paints can be applied but the thing is, oil and water do not make a good bond.

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