What are the Best Primers to Cover Dark Red Paint?

primers to cover dark red paint

Red paint on walls, wood, or other surfaces is a kind of bold color that can be hard to cover if you want to paint over them. 

This also means that it will be hard to change the already painted dark red color (with a coat or two) which will more or less depend on the new primer color you choose.

You will most likely need at least three primer paint coats to cover the darkest shades like blood red, maroon, blue, gray, etc.

For shades like black, you may even need four to five coats before you can cover them properly.

Due to the high costs involved in applying extra coats of primer over dark paint, I always avoid repainting the surfaces lighter.

Instead, I prefer to tint the primer to match the paint that is already there.

But if you really want to change the color of the dark red wall to something lighter you will need a special primer to prep the surface first.

Below in this detailed guide, I will discuss the best primers you can use for covering red paint on various types of surfaces. 

Also, we will try to learn how to properly prep the surface before repainting so that the dark red paint gets completely covered and does not show off.

Different Types of Primers for Covering Red Paint

When looking for a primer to cover dark red paint, there are different types of primers like latex, oil-based, and shellac.

The type you will choose for preparing the base will be usually based on the material that makes up the surface (like brick, stone, concrete, drywall, wood, etc).

What follows is each type of primer followed by its advantages and disadvantages along with top brands available on the market.

1- Latex Primer

Sometimes called acrylic, this type of primer is best suited for covering over the red paint on masonry, concretes, and softwoods.

That’s because latex is a water-based product and it works well with those materials.

Some of the best latex primer brands you may consider for a color change include:

  • Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Latex
  • Zinsser Bulls-Eye 1-2-3 Plus Spray Primer
  • INSL-X Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer
  • Prestige Paints Interior Paint And Primer In One
  • KILZ Multi-Surface Stain Blocking Interior/Exterior Latex Primer/Sealer


a) Fast Drying:

All you need is three to four hours and the latex primer will fully dry. This is much faster compared to oil-based primers.

The time will however vary depending on the material, so it is recommended that you apply the primer to a test patch first to determine its sticking power and drying time.

b) Safe:

One powerful attribute of latex is that it contains little to no Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs.

VOCs contain toxic materials that are released into the atmosphere when the primer or paint is still drying.

The lack of VOCs makes latex a great primer to apply indoors, although it is recommended that you provide plenty of ventilation.

c) Versatile:

One of the great things about latex is that you can apply it to several types of surfaces.

This means in addition to masonry, concrete, and soft woods, you can also apply them to metal and drywall with ease.   

You may however keep in mind that latex is not the right type of primer for outdoor use.


One substantial downside is that latex is less resistant to stains compared to other types of primers.

This means if you have underlying stains (or dark paint) on the surface, the latex is more transparent so that the stains can still be seen.

a) Poor Coverage:

The paint coverage will generally depend on the type of surface.

In most cases, when covering dark red paint, you may have to use an extra primer which will add to the time and effort you apply to the surface.

And it is necessary if you want a solid finish.

Again, a test patch is crucial to understanding how the primer will perform when you fully apply it to the surface.

2- Oil Based Primer

Sometimes called alkyd primer, this is a versatile type that can be used on many different materials besides repainting the red walls.

Because it is thicker than other types of primers, it is often used on surfaces that have stains or discoloration as it can hide them quite well.

Some of the best oil-based primer brands you may consider for priming over red walls include:

  • KILZ Odorless Oil-Base Primer
  • Rust-Oleum 276087 Mold Killing Primer
  • Diamond Bright Paint 31900 Oil Base Primer
  • Zinsser 03504 Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer


a) Variety of Surface Materials:

You should basically use oil-based primers indoors on raw drywall, wood, and patched walls for the best effect.

Plus, if you use a dark tinted oil-based primer it also works great with porous woods, rough, and stained surfaces.

b) Temperature Resistance:

One of the main advantages of oil-based primers is their ability to resist wild fluctuations in temperature, which makes them well suited for outdoor jobs.

The temperature resistance goes hand in hand with its ability to stand up to the elements over time as well.

c) Prevent Stains:

Oil-based primers are also great for preparing the base in the kid’s room – as they can resist staining.

This means that if you have little ones, they will have a more difficult time creating stains on the walls.

And if the stains are present, the oil-based primer is the perfect choice to get rid of them.


There are certain materials that you should not use oil-based primers on – such as masonry.

This is because the primer has difficulty sticking to such surfaces.

a) Drying Time:

It does take a good 24 hours before the primer will fully dry.

This is not so much a disadvantage, but something you need to know.

b) Natural Bristle Brush:

With oil-based primers, it is recommended that you use a brush with natural bristles for the best effect.

Other types of brushes do not work as well, although they can be used, you may not get the smooth effect.

3- Shellac Primer

Shellac has also been around for centuries and is still quite popular thanks to the many benefits it provides.

Although it’s quite exceptional for interior woodwork it can also be used on a wide variety of surfaces that range from metal to plastic and plaster.

The best shellac-based primer brand you may consider when buying includes Rust-Oleum Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer.

Natural bristles work better in applying this shellac primer compared to synthetic ones, but both types of brushes can be used.


a) Fast Drying:

Of all three primers, shellac dries the fastest – in about one hour under ideal conditions.

So, if you need to move fast for an indoor project, then shellac is the answer.

It also makes creating a test patch faster as you get the results far sooner compared to latex or oil-based primers.

b) Stain Blocking:

Another attribute of shellac-based primer is its ability to cover stains.

Not only will it cover stains underneath, but it is stain-resistant as well.

This means that fingerprints and other types of staining can be easily cleaned from the primer.

c) Sticky:

Because of its adhesive qualities, shellac is quite good at helping create a professional finish once you apply the paint.

And, it can be used on a variety of surfaces, so you can find something to use it on once you are through with your main project.


a) VOCs:

There are very few issues associated with shellac primer. One of the most problematic is the number of VOCs that are present.

This means that you will need to properly ventilate a room when applying it to the surface.

Be sure to wear a mask when adding this primer to your red-painted surface.

Plus, keep in mind that while the VOCs are mostly locked into place once the primer dries, they will still leak out in small amounts over time.  

b) Thinning:

Another issue is that you will need to thin the shellac before applying it to the surface.

This is an extra step compared to latex and oil-based primers which can be applied right out of the can.

However, the thinning process only takes a moment or two as you add denatured alcohol to the primer and then you can start once it is briefly stirred.

best primer to cover dark paint

Is There a Primer that Can Cover Red Lead Paint?

If there is an old dark red paint on your walls (applied before 1978) that you want to refinish it may contain lead which can be toxic.

You should avoid sanding them on your own and should finish with a special variety of primer paint that is safe for lead.

Based on EPA studies, a lead encapsulant primer when applied correctly can make your old walls completely safe.

Out of many, the two reliable options that are known to work include:

  • ChildGuard by Fiberlock
  • Protect-A-Coat by Back to Nature

These are thicker (and will cover less area) than regular primers but can be applied using a brush or a roller as you do with the regular ones.

To make it work effectively, you may need to apply 2-3 coats over a couple of days.

How Should You Prepare Your Red Wall With Primer?

When changing the color of the already painted red wall, how well you prepare the base with primer matters a lot.

You should therefore follow the following steps patiently to get the desired results. 

Step 1. Sand

Start by lightly sanding the surface with 120 grit sandpaper. 

You can use a sanding block or a sanding pole for manual sanding or can use an electric sander if the surface is large.

Step 2. Spackle 

Most likely your wall that has been painted red still shows a few blemishes after you have sanded it lightly. 

You can use a spackle, painter’s putty, or caulk to fix and seal those small imperfections.  

After the surface is dried sand it again lightly using sandpaper. 

Step 3. Apply Primer

Finally, it’s time to apply your first prime coat.

Cut in the edges carefully using a paintbrush, then you can apply two coats of primer using a roller, a paintbrush, or a sprayer.

Allow the primer enough time to dry and then using 120 grit sandpaper lightly sand the surface.

This will help the topcoat adhere better to get a smooth finish.

How to Decide Which Primer to Use to Cover Red Paint?

Higher-end water-based primers that come with thicker consistency are known to cover up dark paint colors on walls much better than others.

But before you select a primer, you should know what type of paint you are going to use on the surface because that will significantly affect the results.

Also, know whether you are in need of a primer for your home, office building, or any vehicle.

If it’s for your building – whether the surface will be indoor or exposed to the outdoor elements (particularly the ultraviolet or UV rays of the sun should also be a consideration).

For surfaces that are indoors and are not hit by the external elements, you may not need to purchase a premium heavy-duty primer.

What’s the size of your job?

How big your job size and how much square footage area you need to cover will surely going to impact the type of primer paint you will choose. 

Because after getting an idea about the size of the red-painted area, you should be clear about the approximate costs involved. 

While estimating the costs do not forget to add the costs of the materials like rollers, paintbrushes, sandpapers, masking tapes, and other tools that would help in prepping work.

What color primer to use for red paint?

For priming over red walls, you will want the primer to be relatively dark. 

Otherwise, it won’t be able to hide the color well. 

For example, if you choose a white primer base it will not be very effective or will require more than three coats to cover up the dark color.

IMO, primer colors like gray work very well for painting over red paint. 

What you can do is – experiment by applying different primer colors over a smaller area or a few panels to check how it looks.

Whether you will be spraying or using a roller?

This will depend on the qualities like thickness and how fast you want to apply the primer. 

Since you will need to apply two to three coats of primer layer over dark paint using an HVLP (High volume low pressure) or HEA (High-Efficiency Airless) paint gun can make your job easier.

You can of course use a cheaper version of the spray gun (instead of a premium version) for outdoor projects like fences, sheds, exterior walls, etc. 

Using a paint roller or a paintbrush will generally be useful while painting interiors like your bedroom, living room, kitchen, or bathroom. 

Whether the surface already painted with latex or oil-based paint?

To know what kind of paint you already have on the surface:

  • Dip a cotton ball in alcohol
  • Wipe it over the surface
  • If you see the paint comes off, it’s a latex
  • If your cotton ball is clean, it’s an oil-based paint

Also, note that if the surface you are refinishing is heavily stained (such as kitchen walls with oil or grease), choosing the oil-based and shellac primer can be the best solution.

The Bottom Line

There is a strong difference between a professional-looking paint job and one that clearly needs help.

Particularly when you want to change the colors of the wall or need the primer to cover dark red painted surfaces it’s not an easy job.

Understanding which primer type is best suited for your home improvement needs will help you make the best-informed choice of which one will work for you.

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