Top 10 Best Exterior Primers of 2020 – Reviews

An exterior primer is as important as any of the top coats which go on after it. That’s because the best exterior primer not only provides a stable foundation for the layers of paint which are applied after it’s been applied to the surface but also prepares the painted surface in numerous ways. And that’s why many of them are formulated with a variety of different stain blockers or mildewcide additives. Finding the best exterior primer, however, isn’t always an easy proposition. Sometimes it takes time and research to find the best one for your intended application. Fortunately, I’ve found ten of the brands that I feel are the best and listed them below for your convenience.

Best Exterior Primers – Top List

10. XIM High-Build Water-Based Sealer-1 Gallon

This water-based sealer goes on clear and is designed to bond and seal a number of different surfaces. It can be used on both interior and exterior walls and will go on smoothly on wood surfaces, drywall, and concrete. This formulation is designed to stay flexible over its lifetime and to help reduce cracking and peeling of the paint that it’s coated with. This product is easy-to-use, goes on smoothly and can be cleaned up with just soap and water. This makes this a good product for a number of different painting applications and for creating a nice primer coated surface.


9. Krylon All-Purpose 12-Ounce Aerosol (51318)

This 12-ounce aerosol is just the right size for smaller projects such as for painting coffee tables or deck furniture and can be used on both wood or metal objects. It has an easy-to-use “EZ Touch” spray-tip which can be used 360-degrees and is easy to depress. This product sprays on easily, even on uneven surfaces, and dries to the touch within ten minutes. It not only primes but also protects and seals, and is designed to increase paint adhesion. Overall, this can of ultra-flat primer can be used for a variety of purposes and is a handy product to keep around the garage or workshop.


8. Rust-Oleum Painters Touch 1/2-Pint Latex

With the versatility to be used on a variety of different surfaces and for both interior and exterior projects, this latex primer is a useful product for just about any homeowner or DIY enthusiast. It can be used to cover plaster, wood, unglazed ceramic, plaster and even metal, and will dry quickly. When the surface is adequately prepared with a degreaser and sandpaper before using this product, it will create a base coat that improves adhesion of paints that go on top of it. This product will cover 30-square feet of surface space, dries to the touch within an hour and goes on with little odor.


7. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Formula (02001) 1-Gallon

Manufactured to stick to a variety of surfaces without sanding, this water-based primer provides a stable foundation for any coats of paint which are applied to it. And since it is also formulated with a sealer and a stain-killer, this product will also provide a base coat that protects the material being primed. It will not only keep stains from bleeding through but will also inhibit rust on metal surfaces and mold or mildew on wood surfaces. This product will prevent stains, tannins and even graffiti from bleeding through and ruining the paint that’s going to be later applied.


6. Kilz 2 Multi-Surface Stain Blocking Sealer-1 Gallon

Drying to the touch in a half hour and ready for a recoat in as little as an hour, this product dries quickly and creates a foundation which not only improves paint adhesion but also helps to block out stains. It can be applied to new drywall, metal, paneling, masonry, plastic, wood and even brick. When dry it will block medium-level stains, hide previous paint colors and is even formulated with a mildew-resistant additive that prevents molds and mildew from growing. This product can cover approximately three hundred to four hundred square feet per gallon and can be used on both interior or exterior walls.


5. Insl-X SXA-110 Urethane Acrylic-1 Quart

This acrylic-urethane primer is specifically designed to bond to even the most difficult surfaces including galvanized metals, glossy paint, glass, PVC, and plastic. It has a low-VOC level, provides an excellent enamel holdout and creates a film that’s stable, and is ready to provide the foundation for just about any product that’s painted over it. This primer is also easy-to-use, can be cleaned up with soap and water and cures in temperatures as low as 35-degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it a product which can be used in a number of different locations and for a wide variety of applications.


4. Kilz Klear Multi-Surface Sealer-1 Gallon

Formulated to bond with and seal exterior and interior surfaces, this product can be applied to a number of surfaces including plaster, wood, aluminum, drywall and brick. Its clear formula is designed to prepare the surface for a repaint using the same color paint as the original surface had. This versatile formulation seals porous surfaces and provides a foundation which encourages adhesion with the paint painted over it. Able to be recoated in an hour and cleaning up with just soap and water, this product is also easy-to-use. And one gallon can cover approximately three hundred to four hundred square feet.


3. Kilz Adhesion High-Bonding Sealer-1 Quart

This primer and sealer are designed to bond with a variety of surfaces including most metals, fiberglass, PVC, Formica, tile, glass and glazed brick. It’s a product which can then be topped with epoxy paints, lacquers or even products contain solvents such as Xylene. This product can easily be applied to the surface using a sprayer, a roller or a brush and it dries within a half-an-hour and can be recoated within an hour. All of these features ensure that this product is ideal for not only exterior use but also interior use and will provide a stable foundation for just about any painting job.


2. Zinsser Cover Stain Sealer (03504)-1 Quart

Equally suitable for remodeling work as it is for new construction, this oil-based stain-killer and sealer is designed to provide the user with the greatest possible performance. It’s a high-hide formula that’s specially formulated so that it blocks out smoke, water, and nicotine stains and will adhere to just about any interior or exterior surface. This quick-dry formula provides an undercoating that is durable and will accept just about any topcoat. And it’s designed to stick to any surface with no sanding required, so it’s quick and easy to use as well.


1. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 (2004)-1 Quart

Ideal for covering just about any surface, including wood, plaster concrete, glass, tile and metal, this primer is suitable for a wide range of different projects. It can be used for both interior and exterior projects, can be used without sanding the surface in question and has a water-based formula that’s designed to resist peeling and mildew growth. This product can cover approximately 100-square feet per quart and provides a beautiful and stable foundation for any top coat which is applied to it. All of which makes this product useful for just about any household.


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Exterior Primer Guide

Whatever surface you are working with, the outside of your house needs a quality exterior primer to protect the surface from the elements and only a quality protect can make certain it will last. Anything you paint needs a primer to protect what’s underneath and one of the most important surfaces for using a primer on is wood.

A primer is only going to work well if you know what to look for. Get this wrong, and you can cause damage to the property or surface that can lead to expensive repairs. To help get this purchase right, the following exterior primer guide will help clear a few things up.

What To Look For In An Exterior Primer


For larger surfaces, you are going to need to make sure the can offers the coverage to suit your needs. This might mean you need more than one but it is best to know in advance. A typical exterior primer can give you up to 100 sq ft of coverage on average but some offer more.

Some of this will depend on the surface you cover but this shouldn’t affect it too much.

Drying Time

When using a primer, you wan to be able to move onto the next stage as soon as possible. Before you can paint the surface, the primer needs to dry fully or you might negatively impact the look of the paint.

The better exterior primers will dry within 30-mintues and many of them within 20. For a satin finish, it might take longer.

Low Odor

Preferably you want no odor at all but this is a stretch too far. The low odor often means there are fewer chemicals which makes it better to use around family homes. Thankfully, exterior primers are designed to be used outside of course so you shouldn’t have an issue with ventilation.


It is always best to look for a formula that does not contain harmful chemicals, even if you are applying the primer outside. The less time you spend around such products the better.

Indoor and Outdoor Use

This article covers exterior primer but some products are fine for both indoor and outdoor use. This is good if you have a few smaller projects where the primer could be used on multiple surfaces in different places as it will save you money.

Scratch Resistant

Not only will these types of primers make the base layer scratch resistant but it can do the same once the paint has been applied on top. It’s a neat feature and helps to protect the look of the surface from more than the elements.

Types of Exterior Primer Sheen

A lot of what goes into your decision of buying a primer is the type of finish you are looking for. The following are the most common:


One of the least reflective and often described as having a flat look although this will suit many tastes, covering eyesores well.


The shiniest type and if you are considering a glossy paint, this will only help to enhance the shine. Light bounces off and it is often found on front doors.


Often found in bathrooms and kitchens so you will find yourself with fewer options than the previous two sheens. Better for a surface that needs to be cleaned.

Types of Primer

Oil Based

One of the most common types of exterior primer and are universal in that they can be used on most surfaces. The drawback is the level of VOC’s that are often found in oil-based primers. Even when applying outside, it is advisable to wear a mask and read the safety instructions before using.

They also take longer to dry and can be harder to clean off brushes.


Often considered safer than oil-based primers because of the lower VOC content, they are easier to clean and are fine to use on most surfaces with the exception of cedar. The main issue is they aren’t as strong as other types of external primer so may require more than one coat and for particularly bad stains might not be as effective.

Shellac Based

A strong exterior primer that can be used on tough stains, even the likes of rust. Popular with harder jobs but contains a lot of VOCs and is harder to clean than the other two types of primer.

Why Use An Exterior Primer?

Before painting anything that is outside, you need to protect what’s underneath. Otherwise, it can lead to a poor looking finish. Not only does it smooth over rough surfaces which can save you on paint but it can extend the lifespan and quality of the paint you use after.