Best Exterior House Primers – Top Picks & Alternates

best exterior primers

Like all things in life, you must have a good base to build off of to have a sturdy building. Primer and paints are exactly the same way. If you use a poor-quality primer, you will get a poor-quality paint job.

Paint has trouble adhering to certain surfaces due to the way paint is made. So, to get paint on tricky exterior surfaces such as bricks, siding, or even metal, you have to use a primer. It’s like a middleman between the surface you want to paint and the paint itself.

Primers can stick onto surfaces with relative ease and paints can stick onto primers a lot easier than a raw surface. But things get complicated relatively fast in the primer world – it’s difficult to find out which one you should use.

Each primer has its own use case. Some are great for hiding stains, while some are designed specifically for wood.

After testing many primers on lots of exterior surfaces I can tell you which are the best ones you should look into. Also, I will tell you what you should look for in an exterior primer, just in case the primers I recommend don’t fit into your project and you want to try different versions.

So, without any delay, let’s jump in.

Primers for Exterior Walls

Exterior primers are usually pretty specific, as they usually are considered sealants as well, to help seal off the surface from the outside elements. This is especially important for some materials like metal or wood that can rust or rot if it gets wet outside.

So, if you are planning to buy a good primer for protecting these exterior surfaces, below are my top recommendations…

1. KILZ All Purpose Latex Primer 

KILZ 20002 Qt 2
  • A good primer makes paint stick better to surfaces, makes paint color...
  • KILZ 2 Latex blocks mild to medium staining from water, grease, ink,...
  • Use for interior/exterior walls or ceilings with mild to medium...

*Last update on 2024-04-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Much like in our wood primer article, KILZ is the brand to go for because it’s simply the best primer that you can get for exteriors as well as interiors.

Kilz is great for almost anything that you can think of, but it completely excels on porous materials such as bricks. The primer will fill in the cracks and the holes, giving the paint a nice smooth surface to adhere to.

It has one of the faster dry times of about thirty minutes to an hour and can cover over 400 square feet of the surface. The best part about it is that it has barely any odor. So, if you have a sensitive nose as I do, this is it!

• Great primer + sealer
• Offers excellent adhesion
• Dries fast in about 30 minutes
• Good for sealing porous surfaces
• Cover 300-400 square feet per gallon
• Easy to apply with brush, roller, or sprayer
• Cannot resist mold- and mildew
• Not for glossy surfaces, or for stain-blocking

2. Rust-Oleum 286258 Primer 

Zinsser 286258 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer,...
  • Interior/Exterior use on new or previously painted drywall, concrete,...
  • Water-based formula seals uniformly and will stick to surface without...
  • Dries to the touch in just 30 minutes, ready to recoat in 1 hour and...

*Last update on 2024-04-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Honestly, Rust-Oleum is a brand that is always great. Their paints are amazing, and their primers are much better than many others.

This specific product was designed specifically for exterior use, although it can also work inside like the Kilz. The Gray color of this primer range works very well under various paint colors, even when you are picking some solid vibrant colors for your exteriors.

This primer will give you a solid base for your paints while hiding any stains or scuffs your surface may have. Although I find it to chip away a little faster than other choices in some instances. But, it is cheap and effective so I just love it.

• Water-based formula
• Does not need sanding
• Stick and seals uniformly
• Good at hiding the stains
• Fast drying in about 30 mins.
• Not very durable
• Scratches off easily

3. INSL-X Acrylic Water Sealer Primer

INSL-X AQ040009A-01 Aqua Lock Plus 100% Acrylic...
  • Multipurpose, 100% acrylic primer sealer that provides excellent...
  • Superior sealing and coverage qualities, product versatility and an...
  • Excellent stain blocking primer properties.

*Last update on 2024-04-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Since this primer was designed with the protection of the surface in mind, the INSL-X Acrylic Water Sealer Primer protects against stains and even mold, which is a major factor outside.

It dries super quickly and gives you a solid base that both latex and oil-based paints can work on.

If you are unsure which primer to choose for your exterior walls or old siding, you can mess up with this one. I actually don’t have any complaints after I tried it on my exterior brick wall. 

• Multi-use
• Dries quickly
• Excellent at hiding stains
• Offers mold-resistant coating
• 300 – 400 square foot coverage per gallon
• Not for exterior wood floor

4. Prestige Paints Exterior Paint and Primer

PRESTIGE Paints Exterior Paint and Primer In One,...
  • Prestige Paints has created a comparable color based on color...
  • This Behr paint color name is a trademark of Behr. Prestige Paints is...
  • High hiding formula for excellent coverage with smooth application

*Last update on 2024-04-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This is quite an interesting product as it is a paint and a primer in one. It is pretty easy to use, but it doesn’t cover as much surface as the other primers for whatever reason.

However, the thing I like about this primer is it can easily go on top of other coats of paint. Meaning if you have an outside project that has been weathering, just slap some of this on it to give it a new fresh look.

• Low VOC
• Easy clean-up
• Smooth to apply
• Good for hiding stains
• Color issues after drying

Types of Primer for Exteriors

When deciding on a primer for priming your exteriors, you may come across different kinds available on the market. Some of the most common ones include:

1- Oil Based

These are the most common as they are versatile enough and can be used on most surfaces including rough bricks, wood, metal, etc. However, these may come with a few drawbacks.

First of all, it comes with a high level of VOCs (that’s generally the property of oil-based primers). Due to this, it’s recommended to wear a safety mask even when you are using them outside.

Secondly, the oil-based primers may take longer to dry up compared to other types. Also, the brushes or rollers can be hard to clean when you apply oil-based primers with them.

2- Water-Based

Water-based exterior primers are comparatively safer than oil-based ones due to their lower VOC content.

Not only you can use them on most surfaces but can also clean them fast off your brushes and rollers when you are done.

The only issue with these primers is they are not as strong as other external primers. So, if you trying to deal with bad stains or need to apply stronger coating on your exterior surfaces that are exposed to elements you may need to apply multiple coats.

3- Shellac Based

Shellac-based primer is strongest for exteriors and can be used on tough stains. However, the main drawback of using these is it’s harder to clean and contain a lot of VOCs.

In addition to the above types, exterior primers can also be categorized according to the sheen or finish they provide. These include:

Glossy: It’s the shiniest of all (most reflective) and can enhance the look of your paint if you plan to use glossy paint.
Matte: It’s the least shiny (least reflective) and good at providing a flat or matte look. It’s good to cover imperfections that can be an eyesore for many.
Satin:It’s the mid-way of glossy and matte sheen and is good to provide a surface nice cleaner look on surfaces that need cleaning more often.
best exterior house primer

Considerations When Buying Exterior Wall Primer

Be aware that there are simply so many different primers for different tasks so if for some reason our recommendations don’t fit your taste, you can try to find your primer brand and product.

However, here are a few things you should consider when you buy one.

1- Low Odor

I don’t think there is a single person who likes the smell of primers or paints, I know I don’t. So, if you want the least smelly primer, look for primers that offer low odor. Usually, these primers have fewer chemicals, so you don’t have to worry about the smell too much.

2- Non-Toxic

Some people have some very strong opinions about the toxicity of paint and primers. I personally don’t think it is a big deal if you are being responsible.

However, if you do experience problems with paint or primers, obviously try to get something that is non-toxic. These usually just have less dangerous chemicals but should do the job just fine.

3- Coverage

You don’t have to be too precise on this one but consider how much surface area you wish to prime. This will help you decide how much primer you actually need to buy.

Most primers have an average coverage on their label, so all you have to do is do some quick division to figure out how many units you will need.

The coverage will vary widely based on if it is a spray can or a gallon you are purchasing. But whatever you pick, I’m a firm believer in buying too much rather than not having enough, so maybe buy an extra unit if the math comes up short.

4- The Finish

In my opinion, one of the less important parts of a primer is the finish.

Some will give you a matte look in the end, while some will give you a glossy finish. These don’t really affect the quality of the primer or even the lifespan of the primer. All it affects is the end look of your product.

If you have a desire for a glossy finish, choose a primer that has that result. But it doesn’t matter, choose whichever you prefer.

5- Drying Time

Like a lot of the other factors on this list, the drying time from primer to primer can vary drastically, taking anywhere between 10 minutes to 24 hours.

Only you know what you need. If you need to complete your project in a day, look for a shorter drying time, but if you don’t mind some better primers take much longer to dry so you may want to look at those.

Keep in mind, your primer must dry completely before painting, if you don’t wait it will ruin the paint job.

6- The Time You Have

This factor goes hand in hand with the drying time of the primer. If it has a long dry time, you have to wait for that long dry time.

There are some primer and paint combinations that will help speed up your project as it will prime and paint at the same time. These tend to be spray cans so if needed a project can be completed in less than half an hour.

On the other hand, if you don’t mind waiting, you may be able to get better results with a longer dry-time oil-based primer.

7- Scratch Resistant

Some people may not consider scratch-resistant a factor in primer, but funny enough it can.

Although it doesn’t seem like it, if the primer is scratch-resistant it will make the top layer of paint scratch-resistant as well. It will protect your surface from the elements and some accidental scratches. Overall, a nice feature to have but not a deal-breaker.

8- Is It Eco-friendly?

Being an eco-friendly primer may be the largest reason for a primer for some people, or the least important reason for others.

Paints and primers don’t have the best reputation for being environmentally clean, but there are some out there that can do the job safely. If it matters to you, it is probably worth it to find.

9- Can It Be Used Indoors?

If you have some projects that are inside and outside, make sure to get one that can be used in both scenarios, so you don’t have to buy many different primers.

This does not always hold true, especially for large projects. But if you have small areas to prime that you do not want to spend much on, it’s worth getting an all-purpose primer like KILZ.

best oil-based exterior primer paint

What to Use as an Alternative to Paint Primer for Exterior Surfaces?

There are instances when you do not have primer available or you simply do not want to invest in a gallon can for a very small project.

Fortunately, there are a few paints and primer substitutes available that can be used for completing your job quickly and affordably. I have used all these DIY homemade primer alternatives before and hopefully, you will find them useful too…

a) Latex Paints

If you have some old latex paint stored in your garage or storage room, you can mix it with some water and create a thin paint. This diluted paint can be a good homemade water-based primer to be applied to the exterior walls before you apply the topcoat.

The thinned latex paint will be absorbed by the walls and bricks, giving you a smoother surface to paint over. Also, it helps absorb less amount of paint which lowers your overall cost to primer and paint the exterior walls.

b) Enamel Paints

If you plan to primer and paint exterior wood surfaces, you can make your own oil-based primer using enamel paint and solvent.

Thinning of oil-based paint can be done as you have prepared latex primer above and it’s a highly cost-saving method. Instead of water, you will just need to use a solvent like paint thinner, mineral oil, or turpentine.

  • Purchase standard paint or use the one that you have stored in your garage
  • Thin it by adding your preferred solvent in a 1-1 ratio and stir the mixture evenly to get a uniform color

When preparing your own DIY homemade paint primer for exterior brick and wall surfaces keep in mind that you use a flat finish or satin paint that comes with no gloss.

Getting a dull finish will cover the dents and bumps on the exterior walls better and you will be getting a smoother surface that will be easier to paint over.

c) Drywall Conditioner

Drywall conditioners can also act as a great primer alternative as they can seal the surface and keep them away from any damage. Use a drywall conditioner product, such as Wall-Prep Latex Drywall Conditioner from Duron or the Drywall Conditioner from Sherwin-Williams.

I have personally tried Sherwin-Williams Drywall Conditioner, but products like Wall-Prep Latex from Duron can also work great depending on the surface and project you are working on.

The beauty of this primer alternative is it smooths the surface and dries clear so that you can easily paint over with your preferred paint color without any problem.  

The Bottom Line

When finishing outdoors, the primer you use is important and will affect what your finished exterior surfaces will look like. As we recognized there are a lot of options out there and going down that one aisle in your hardware store can be frightening.

The KILZ Exterior Latex Primer is a great choice for almost any project, so go with that if you don’t have the time or desire to research. If you are still unsure, just ask an employee and they will surely help you out.

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