Kilz vs Zinsser: What’s The Difference?

Finding the right primer for your project can be tricky since not all primer types perform the same on every surface. The two most popular primer brands on the market today probably leave you wondering: Kilz vs Zinsser, which is best? What’s the difference?

While both brands are top-rated, the best primer for you depends on your project. The main differences between Kilz and Zinsser come down to odor, consistency, and adhesion. Most DIY enthusiasts prefer Zinsser for its versatility, while beginners choose Kilz for ease of use.

In this article, let’s explore the similarities and differences between Kilz and Zinsser. We’ll even explain the best applications for each primer to help you produce stellar results.

Kilz vs Zinsser

Kilz vs Zinsser Primers: Quick Summary

While both brands provide paint primers, Kilz and Zinsser differ. They both offer generic indoor and outdoor primers for a variety of surfaces, from water to oil-based options. However, both brands have benefits and drawbacks that determine the best use scenario.

OdorLow, but distinctiveLow
ConsistencyThin, easy to stir and spreadThick, more durable over time
Coverage and Bleed-throughExcellent coverage, but may allow some bleed-throughExcellent
AdhesionExcellent with sandingPowerful
Mold ResistanceFantastic, but not all varieties offer mold controlPowerful
Rust InhibitionRust inhibitive options availablePowerful rust inhibition
Dry Time1 hourLonger dry time
VarietyWater-basedWater, oil, and shellac-based
ApplicationSand firstNo sanding required
Best forWater stains, touch-ups, masonry, brick, drywallFurniture, wood, cabinets, bathroom, kitchen, stubborn stains, masonry, and challenging surfaces

What is Kilz?

KILZ 20002 Qt 2Kilz is a water-based primer from the well-established Masterchem Industries. It seals off odors and covers stubborn stains. You can find Kilz primer common for indoor projects due to the low fumes and easy-to-use nature. Unlike most primer paints, you can apply Kilz with a spray or paintbrush. Plus, the water-based nature helps the result dry fast.


  • Fast drying
  • Water-based
  • Blocks stains on cedar, redwood, and pine
  • Works on concrete, masonry, and stucco surfaces


  • Odor
  • Harmful to inhale

What is Zinsser?

Rust-Oleum ZINSSER 1 qt 02004 White, Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Stain Blocking Primer/SealerZinsser is a white primer that’s marketed by the well-known brand Rust-Oleum. The manufacturer is considered the leading paint, primer, and coating specialist worldwide. It’s a highly versatile primer, as it comes in water, oil, and shellac-based coatings. The primer is also ideal for interior and exterior applications, which makes it a fan favorite.


  • Easy-to-use
  • Water, oil, or shellac-based options
  • Blocks water stains
  • Minimal coatings and no sanding required
  • Seals off unpleasant odors
  • Ideal for all projects


  • Strong odor
  • Heavy texture may make it difficult to spread smoothly

What is the Difference Between Kilz and Zinsser?

Difference Between Kilz and Zinsser

Two competing brands stand out as top names in primer: Kilz vs. Zinsser. But what’s the difference between them? Does it really matter which one you buy and when? Read on to discover more information about what these primers have to offer.


All primers have some level of odor. However, you want to avoid strong odors that make it difficult to complete the job. Some primers are even toxic. For example, oil-based primers contain toxic solvents and chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be inhaled and cause headaches, confusion, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and clouded thinking.

For the best results, My Chemical-Free House says to look for a low or zero-VOC primer.

When it comes to Kilz and Zinsser, both brands are low in VOCs. Kilz is entirely non-toxic, even though it produces a strong smell while you apply it. However, Kilz has a very distinctive, foul odor.

Zinsser, on the other hand, tends to go with water-based options, producing a much less unpleasant smell. The primer may still have an odor to it, but it’s much less than when compared to Kilz.


One of the most important decisions in choosing a primer is consistency. The level of consistency that’s ideal depends on your project.

If you need a thin primer or are a DIY beginner, go with Kilz. It’s easier to stir and spread onto the surface, making it a great choice for beginners. However, the thinner consistency does come with some drawbacks. The thinness may produce some bleed-through or lapses in coverage, which can be good or bad depending on the effect you hope to achieve.

Zinsser has a thicker consistency that DIY fans adore. Because the primer is thicker, the coat is also more durable and paint adheres to it better. Using Zinsser also means you won’t have to apply multiple coats of primer, which can save you time during the application process.

Coverage and Bleed-through

Both primers provide excellent coverage, even when covering stubborn stains. That said, Zinsser covers better. Here, the decision as to which primer is better comes down to bleed-through. Kilz allows some bleed-through on certain surfaces, meaning you may need to apply a thicker coat for adequate coverage.

Mold Resistance

The two primers both have fantastic mold resistance. Kilz and Zinsser have the ability to block mold and keep your furniture, walls, kitchen cabinets, or any other surface you’re working on safe from harmful mold.

While both primers can work for mold, Kilz requires you to kill the mold and clean the surface with a mild acid, like white vinegar, before you can apply the primer. Zinsser primer is overall better at killing mold and stopping growth. However, not all Zinsser or Kilz varieties offer mold resistance.

Rust Inhibition

If you need to paint a metal surface, you must apply a rust-inhibitive primer before painting. Doing so allows for a cleaner surface and a stronger bond.

Although both brands offer primer options with added rust inhibition or protection, Zinsser is the right choice for applying primer on metal surfaces. People adore Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 for this, which has a rust-inhibitor that creates a stronger bond on either clean or heavily rusted surfaces. They also offer excellent metal primers if you need to paint a rusty surface.


When working with primers, sometimes you have to sand the surface first. Such is the case with Kilz, but Zinsser has a powerful blend that doesn’t require you to sand. The thicker primer is not as easy to apply, but it does cut back on the time you spend on the application process.

Overall, Kilz is easier to work with than Zinsser if you’re a beginner. The water base allows for easy clean-up, and you can apply more coats.


Understanding the adhesion of the products, or how well each primer sticks to the surface, is ideal so you know what working with the primer may entail. For example, both primers offer excellent adhesion.

However, Zinsser has a more powerful adhesion that doesn’t require any sanding prior to application. You only need to sand if you need to produce the strongest bond possible or are working on high-gloss surfaces.

Kilz requires you to prepare ahead of time. First, you must sand the surface before you can apply the primer. The adhesion isn’t quite as strong.

Dry Time

On average, Kilz primer dries quicker than Zinsser due to its water base. Because the solvent in the primer must evaporate for the entire coating to dry, a water-based primer is typically faster. You can expect a Kilz primer to dry within an hour, while Zinsser takes much longer.


Due to the thick consistency of the primer, Zinsser is more durable than Kilz. This means that the primer will last longer and the paint you apply over it will adhere better.


Kilz and Zinsser both have a large variety of products in their line, and most of them are similar. They offer generic primers, bare wood primers, and interior or exterior primers. Some are water-based, while others are oil-based as well.

Both brands also offer special options for specific projects. For example, Zinsser’s B-I-N Shellac-Based Primer locks in strong odor from pets, and tobacco or fire smoke.


Although the price of primers varies, Kilz and Zinsser have various options available for similar prices. If you’re on a budget, go with Kilz. Kilz primer is typically the cheaper of the two options. You can find Kilz available for around $8 per gallon. Zinsser tends to run a bit pricier.

When Do You Need a Primer?

When Do You Need a Primer

Primer is recommended for nearly every project. Using a high-quality primer is the best way to achieve a gorgeous, smooth, and long-lasting paint job, no matter what type of surface you’re painting. Primer seals the surface before you layer on the paint, which keeps the material from soaking up the paint and helps you achieve a flawless finish.

That said, you may be able to skip the paint primer if you don’t want the result to last a long time or look its best.

What is Zinsser Primer Used For?

Zinsser Rust-OLEUM 249933 1-2-3 Plus, 1 Quarts (Pack of 1), White, 11 Fl Oz

The thickness and adhesion of Zinsser primer allow for a wide range of uses.

Covering and Controlling Mold

One of the best factors of Zinsser, the primer is formulated with fungicides to help restrain mold growth on wood and other porous surfaces. Although, not all Zinsser primes have mold control. If you have mold, make sure to select a primer variety ideal to tackle it.

Sealing Pores

Zinsser is incredible for reclaimed or older wood. The thick consistency of this primer seals pores and hairline cracks in wood.

Preventing Bleed-through

If you want to prevent bleed-through, go with Zinsser due to the consistency. The primer will even prevent stains and oils on a stained surface from coming through to the top paint coat. Zinsser’s shellac primer is especially effective at blocking stains and stopping bleeding through.

Priming New Wood Furniture

You can’t use any primer on new furniture because fresh wood surfaces are typically full of nail holes, stains, pencil marks, and sometimes even glue. For new furniture, you need a strong primer like Zinsser to seal the holes perfectly.


Zinsser offers one of the few primers that’s entirely waterproof. This feature makes it the go-to choice for surfaces likely to experience moisture.

What is Kilz Primer Used For?

KILZ 20002 Qt 2

The water-based nature of Kilz primers makes them easy to use on multiple interior surfaces.

Changing Colors

If you’re changing the color of a finished surface, use Kilz primer. The coating is deep enough to cover light or dark colors, preventing any old paint from showing through the new coat.

Blocking Interior Stains

The primer is also perfect at blocking household stains, from tannin and ink to moisture and oil spills. However, Kilz primer does not work as well for outdoor stains.

Penetrating Paints

Kilz primer is ideal if you plan to use paints that tend to seep into the wood. Because the primer is thin, it allows the paint to stick better to wood than thicker primer options.

Multiple Paint Coats

When you have a project that requires multiple coats of paint, Kilz primer can help each layer stick better. The thin nature of the primer allows you to apply up to five coats of water-based paint on top and still produce an appealing result.


Small touch-ups or corners are easy to cover with Kilz primer. Any small-scale task or fix is ideal for Kilz.

Can Zinsser Primer Kill Mold?

Zinsser’s mold-killing primer tackles all types of mold with ease. But for the best results, you may want to kill the mold ahead of time or at least wipe the surface using vinegar before applying the primer to help prevent future growth.

You also need to stop the problems that are causing the mold. Check for leaks in the walls, for example. Otherwise, mold will continue growing because you haven’t dealt with the cause.

Can You Use Kilz or Zinsser as a Final Coat?

Most Kilz and Zinsser varieties are not ideal as a final coat. The product cannot resist the elements, so it can become quickly damaged if you don’t add the top layer of paint in time. However, Kilz does offer some water-based primers with a sealant that you can use as a top coat, like Kilz 2.

Can You Use Kilz or Zinsser with Oil-based Paints?

Yes, you can use both Kilz and Zinsser with oil-based paints. Kilz primer is an all-purpose option for oil or water-based paints. If you select Zinsser, make sure to purchase an oil-based option to match your paint choice.

How to Choose the Right Primer Type for You

So which primer is right for you? Kilz and Zinsser are two different brands with varying types, so think about your project. Choose your primer based on your project and the surface you want to paint. Kilz and Zinsser both offer a wide range of options. They even have products for challenging surfaces, such as bare metal or masonry.

Latex Primers

For example, latex primers are fantastic for variety. You can use it on multiple projects, indoors or out. The cool part about latex primers is that they’re vapor permeable, which means they allow the underlying material to breathe.

Some of the most popular latex primers on the market today include Kilz Premium and Zinsser Bulls Eye.

Shellac-Based Primers

If you have a massive stain or odor on your hands, go with shellac-based primers. They only work on interior surfaces, but they tackle stubborn stains and odors with ease. However, expect to pay more for shellac-based primers.

Oil-Based Primers

Oil-based primers are common for wood. You can use them on both interior and exterior surfaces, and they provide tremendous coverage. The primer even seals the surface properly, keeping the wood safe from moisture and weather conditions.

The downside is that oil-based primers don’t have much breathability. This makes them a poor option for plaster or drywall applications. They also don’t adhere well to galvanized metal.

PVA Primers

A polyvinyl acetate (PVA) primer is a latex-based option that seals the pores of new drywall. Untreated drywall is highly porous and absorbs paint easily. Applying the primer keeps the drywall from showing through the paint and helps adhere the paint coat.

Can You Leave Primer Unpainted?

No matter what brand of primer you choose, never leave the primer unpainted. Primer is designed as a base for paint. Leaving the surface unpainted can cause damage or it can become dirty, meaning you must re-apply more primer if you wait too long.

The Best Paint Primers

With many primers to choose from, how do you know which options are among the best? Here are some of the best paint primers available from Kilz and Zinsser.

Zinsser B-I-N Advanced Synthetic Shellac Primer

Rust-Oleum Corporation 271009 Advanced Synthetic Shellac Watercolor Primer, 1-Quart, WhiteA popular high-hiding Zinsser primer variety, the B-I-N Advanced Synthetic Shellac Primer is the best option for stubborn water stains and odors. It’s a blocking primer that’s ideal for both interior and exterior surfaces, and the primer is the ultimate stain blocker. It even blocks smoke, pet, cigarette, and food odor.

Zinseer’s B-I-N primer is shellac-based and thick, so it seals knots, sap, and tannin from wood surfaces. But this primer sticks to any surface type. Another great feature of this primer is that it dries in as little as 45 minutes.

Kilz Original Primer

KILZ Original Primer, Interior, 1 Quart, WhiteKilz Original Primer is an interior option that helps the paint stick better to a variety of surfaces and produces truer color results each time. With this primer, you can expect to spend less time painting and enjoy flawless results. Plus, you can apply it using a paintbrush, roller, or spray.

The primer covers existing stains and odors while blocking new ones from forming. The oil base can even tackle stains from ink, grease, smoke, or pets. It’s ideal for only interior surfaces, though, such as walls, ceilings, masonry, brick, plaster, paneling, wallpaper, wood, and drywall. However, it’s not recommended for flooring.

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer

Rust-Oleum ZINSSER 1 qt 02004 White, Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Stain Blocking Primer/SealerIf you’re looking for an interior and exterior primer, look no further than Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer. It’s ideal for new or previously painted surfaces, including concrete, masonry, wood, drywall, metal, and glossy or challenging surfaces. The water base allows the primer to stick to difficult surfaces without even sanding.

The best part is that this primer dries to the touch in about 35 minutes or less on a 112 square foot space. You can apply the topcoat in about an hour. Plus, the primer has stain blocking resistance and saves you time and money in the application process.

Kilz Premium Primer

No products found.No products found. is a high-hide stain-blocking formula that’s ideal for drywall and walls. This variety offers very loc VOC levels and low odor. It’s super safe to use in your home or workspace. Due to the water base, you can even clean up spills using soap and water.

The mildew-resistant finish is perfect for high-humidity rooms in your home like laundry rooms and bathrooms. However, you can use this premium primer on challenging exterior surfaces as well. It works well on woodwork, plaster, paneling, masonry, and exterior drywall. No matter where you use it, the finish is smooth and ready for the next coat in about an hour.

Which Is Better: Kilz or Zinsser?

People tend to pick Zinsser as the top choice. The primer is well-known and loved for its thick and durable coatings, which leads to shorter prep time. Zinsser also tends to require fewer coats and offers incredible adhesion, making it an enormous help when painting tougher surfaces and producing stellar results time after time. It’s the brand DIY fans trust.

However, the best primer for you depends on your project. A thinner primer is more ideal for some surfaces. Make sure you research products based on your project specifics to deliver the results you want.