Do I Need to Prime Walls Before I Paint Them?

Posted on: October 6th, 2020

One question many homeowners ask is “do I need to prime walls before I paint them?” Years ago, many painting professionals would have recommended primer nearly every time you painted. But today, there are many more high-quality and effective paints on the market so there isn’t always the need to prime.

The answer can be a bit complicated. If you use a primer in certain interior situations, it might be a waste of money and be unnecessary. On the other hand, not using a primer can sometimes cost you more in the long run because you may need to apply multiple coats to achieve the coverage and desired look you were envisioning.

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What is primer?

Paint primer is a preparatory undercoat put on materials such as wood, furniture, or walls before painting.

Primer is a lot like paint but has a higher concentration of solids plus an adhesive binder in it. In some ways, it is more like glue or a sealant than paint. It seals the surface you are working with and provides a clean and smooth area for the paint to stick to.

But since not all jobs or projects need primer, it is helpful to know which factors contribute to using it or not.

When to use primer?

1. Color contrast from dark to light

Picture yourself trying to brush a pale lavender paint over a dark green shade and you will realize very quickly that priming over the dark color is necessary when making a dark to light transition. In some instances, when covering a dark coat of paint, you may need a tinted primer to help the new color look truer to the color swatch you have chosen.

2. Walls that have stains or odor

Scuffed or stained walls can greatly benefit from a coat or two of priming before painting. Some stains, such as crayon scribbles or grease spots, will show through new paint. Surface blemishes may also easily show through a lighter shade of paint so it is worth your time to use a primer if your walls have a few things to hide.

Do not, however, use a primer to cover up mold or mildew on your walls. It will only grow. First, deal with the cause of the mold and remove it. Then you are free to go ahead to prime and paint.

Cigarette smoke and other strong odors can still be left lingering after repainting. Special primers can be used to truly cover the unwanted smells and block them permanently.

3. The surface is porous

It is always a smart idea to prime before you paint a porous surface such as unstained or untreated wood. The surface is porous when it absorbs water, moisture, oil, odors, or stains. Newly installed drywall is highly porous as well but in two ways: the bare facing paper on drywall and the dried joint compound covering the seams. These porous materials will literally absorb your paint right into the wood or drywall if you don’t prime first.

Also, if you have patched or repaired drywall, you will likely have patches of spackle or joint compound on the surface. If these patches are small, there is no need to buy separate primer. You can take a small amount of your regular paint and lightly brush it on the areas you just repaired. When the spots are fully dry, you can paint the wall normally and the spots you worked on won’t show through.

4. When painting over a glossy surface

Glossy surfaces are very hard for paint to stick to. If your wall has been shellacked or been covered in a high gloss or enamel paint, you can try coat after coat of paint and it will never stick

Along with primer, these surfaces may also need some light sanding or buffing beforehand. Doing this will ensure the surface of your walls has enough texture so both the primer and paint can adhere nicely.

5. When you have wallpaper

Whether your wall has some blemishes from the removal of wallpaper or you plan to paint over existing wallpaper, you should definitely plan on using a primer. Each of these surfaces is on the rough side and will benefit from primer.

6. You’re painting over metal or plastic

You can actually find primer that is specifically made for metal. It will help protect from rust and serves as a strong foundation for any future coats of paint.

You definitely need a primer specifically designed for plastic as well. Apply the primer in even amounts to the completely sanded, clean, and dry plastic area.

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When you can skip the primer

Your walls are in good shape

If your walls are clean and in good condition, you might be able to eliminate the need for primer. Giving your walls a quick but thorough cleaning is very simple. Create a thin mixture of tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) and water and wipe down the walls with a soft cloth or sponge. Now you are ready to paint.

Your new paint nearly matches the old

When your previous color and the new color you have chosen are the same or even similar, the need for primer is greatly reduced or even eliminated. The base color is not different enough to change or modify the outcome of the topcoat.

The paint you’ve picked already has primer

The new generation of self-priming paints are a thicker paint with primer added. Most of these paints do a great job and provide excellent

coverage. However, these paint primers can’t tackle every job, as we talked about earlier. If you are in doubt before starting a project, you’re far better off taking the time to prime the surface correctly. Your beautiful and satisfying end result will make you glad you did.

Conclusion: Do I need to prime my walls before I paint them?

Hopefully, we’ve answered your question on “do I need to prime my walls before I paint them,” and any other questions you have. If you are considering starting a painting project, and still aren’t sure where or how to start, contact our professionals at PaintRite Pros. We serve the entire Sacramento area including Elk Grove, El Dorado Hills, Stockton, and more! We’ll give you a free estimate. If you or a friend need Spanish speakers, we have various employees who speak it fluently.

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