It's Okay to Skip the Primer When You Paint

CR's tests show that self-priming paints will do the trick most of the time

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hand holding paint brush, painting wall iStock-123493289

To prime or not to prime. That is the question. About a decade ago, manufacturers introduced so-called self-priming paints, which allow you to skip priming altogether. But people still debate whether that’s a good idea.

“Contractors rarely use self-priming paints,” says Deborah Zimmer, a spokeswoman at Dow Chemical Company. “They worry that if the paint-and-primer product doesn’t give them the appearance or performance they need, they will waste time having to redo the job.”

Typically, contractors use a primer, then two coats of paint—the primer to seal the surface and improve paint adhesion and the paint to provide color and protection.

More on Interior Paints

“Contractors like to stick with what they know,” Zimmer says.

As for the rest of us? We think you’re better off with the new approach. Most of the paints Consumer Reports buys and tests are self-priming, and we’ve found that they work well.

“Self-priming paints have improved over the years to the point where you no longer need to prime,” says our paint expert, Rico de Paz. “And I would say that’s true whether there’s paint already on the walls or it’s new construction.”

But why not use an inexpensive primer plus one coat of good paint?

“It might seem like it would save you money, but primers do not hide as well,” de Paz says. “If your walls are smooth and you’re putting a similar or darker color over light, one coat of self-priming paint that’s excellent at hiding will do the job.”

How We Test Interior Paints
Using nontinted base paints (paint before color is added), we test how well each covers dark colors as well as resists stains. The results show whether a paint hides well enough to not require a primer, and also how well it stands up to wear and tear.

For the coverage test, we apply one consistent coat to cardstock that has been painted black, and wait for it to dry. Then we use a device called a colorimeter to measure how well the paint covers the black paint. We do this twice per paint sample and average the results.

For stain resistance, our testers apply paint to a plastic panel. After it dries, they apply two lines of soils—coffee and a sootlike substance—and allow them to dry. Then they wash the painted panels, and use a colorimeter to measure the color of the paint on the rinsed areas. The closer the cleaned portions are to the original coat, the more stain-resistant the paint.

Best Interior Paints From CR's Tests

Here are five top paints from our tests, none of which require a primer, listed in alphabetical order. For more information, see our paint buying guide and our full interior paint ratings for details on nearly two dozen lines of paint, including those from Behr, Benjamin Moore, Kilz, PPG, Prestige Paints, Valspar, and more.


Home Content Creator Haniya Rae

Haniya Rae

I​’m interested in the intersection between design and technology​—whether for ​drywall or robotic vacuums—and how the resulting combination affects consumers. I’ve written about consumer advocacy issues for publications like The Atlantic, PC Magazine, and Popular Science, and now I’m happy to be tackling the topic for CR. For updates, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@haniyarae).