Kilz Max: A Prime Mover

In our Primer Roundup series, one of the finalists was KILZ MAX. Thanks to Masterchem for participating in the Roundup, and submitting the product for evaluation and inclusion. This product has held the test of time for almost for years since the Round Up was conducted.

On Primer:

Paint contractors who have committed to the shift from oil based primers and paints to waterborne primers and paints have more options now than ever before. As with most product selection decisions for contractors, the fundamental question from contractors about primers is: Which one can do it all? Contractors want to carry one can of primer on the truck that can tackle most anything that comes up.

Our Standards for Primer:

  • How does it brush?
  • How does it spray?
  • How does it dry?
  • How does it sand?
  • How does it hide?
  • How does it bond with multiple substrates?
  • How do topcoats adhere to it?

KILZ MAX Product Description:

Waterborne, with epoxy resin composition. Truly a one hour turnaround and excels in sheen build, with exceptional touchup in eggshell, satin or glossier sheens. Can block and kill, but also highly competent as a multi-substrate build coat that binds like crazy to walls and trim, and provides a quickly sandable foundation on which to build a finish with perfect sheen.

Working Characteristics:

Kilz Max can be difficult for the non-professional to keep up with, because it encourages fast application. Pros may find the working characteristics and performance to be pleasingly similar to everything that we all loved about the older generation white pigmented shellac primers, but minus the headaches of odor and cleanup. Challenging by brush, less so by roller, and surprisingly competent delivered by sprayer. Because this primer lays off quickly, it can be applied heavily in vertical orientation by brush, roller or sprayer and resist sagging because of its binding characteristics and quick induction of tack up.

kilz max test

KILZ MAX dries with more sheen than most primers. More than matte, but not quite eggshell…kind of a matte-shell. It doesn’t get hairy on drywall, and only needs light sanding to a smooth surface that completely blocks joint compound and seamlessly blends the paper veneer of the drywall with the mud. This makes it ideal as an undercoater for wall paints with sheen.

kilz max test

On trim, KILZ MAX can be stacked heavily on top of itself during application, in the style of a wet on wet application, but minus the tack coat approach. It can hang in heavier mil apps on wood, and the formulation shows less grain raising than most waterborne primers. It does dry with a sheen on wood, which is desirable, and can still be sanded to a “powder up” condition within one hour (or less) of application, which makes it a great choice.

Regardless of substrate or application method, most painters want to transition as quickly as possible through the prep and prime stages. This primer moves fast, and can back it up with dry time, sandability and sheen build on wall and trim surfaces that exceeds most other ‘in class’ primers, and gets to a better result faster than self priming paints at similar price points.

[Related: Tips on what to look for in sandable waterborne primers]

A multi-substrate generalist, with some specialist capabilities. In world full of paints trying to pass as primers, this primer could pass as paint to the untrained eye. If the user can stay ahead of it, KILZ MAX’s working characteristics do not add any complexity to the finishing process, in fact, it is expedient in the raw wood to finish transition.


  • Fast dry: sand and recoat within an hour
  • Gets you to finish faster than most primers and paint/primer combos
  • Excellent topcoat sheen uniformity
  • Blocks stains as well as traditional pigmented shellac sealers
  • Eggshells (and higher sheens) touchup better over Kilz Max
  • Especially suited for small wet area remodels (kitchens/bathrooms) that require
  • quick paint turnaround


Not an interior/exterior formulation (interior only); Not very novice user friendly, even as waterborne primers go, and may challenge/frustrate the lesser skilled user to get maximum benefit from the product. However, what will be perceived as product weakness to a novice will be embraced by a more skilled pro.

Our Kilz Max Findings:

A solid and eminently workable option in the low $30s price range when there is a need for a quickly sandable foundation on which to build a finish where sheen is an aesthetic as well as performance feature on wall or wood. Also, particularly adroit in stain and odor elimination.

[Related: Kilz quotes in Press Release]

Stay tuned as more primers come through our test and review process.



If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Instagram Connect on Google Plus Connect on LinkedIn Connect on YouTube

85 Reader Comments

Trackback URL Comments RSS Feed

  1. Tamara Elwood says:

    I have the same problem. Did you try it for your mothball issue and did it work.

  2. Lyon says:

    Hi Scott, I need to cover up a bunch of crayon, permanent marker, and pencil stains on a wall. Will Kilz Original or Kilz Max do the trick?

  3. Terry says:

    Would the KilzMax work on spray can & sharpie Graffiti?

  4. Ivan says:

    these are pretty old post and discussion on kilz max but since they seem to be the only ones googled easily I thought I should share my NEGATIVE experience similar to the one as I see here one another person had. As of now a month ago a single layer was applied to the walls and ceiling in one of bedrooms. Extensive ventilation and warm weather did not help much with the smell of the primer, which clearly is not just a smell but is irritating to lungs. I have nothing to do but to complete painting and forget about the room for an unknown while.
    I was hoping kilz max could be a better alternative to a shellac primer but it’s not the case at all. Low VOC feature does not make it a better choice as you would not be able to apply it to walls and ceiling without a vapor mask anyway. Shellac primer does require a full face mask and some precautions but is better in all regards from my experience. Thanks.

  5. Michelle says:

    Hi Scott. I moved into a house that was smoked in for over 30 years with zero ventilation, as there is no forced air – just baseboard heat. Walls, ceilings, doors and trim already have been washed with TSP and primed and painted, yet the smell remains. The nicotine is “in” the walls and “in” the floors. The flooring all has to be ripped out. I already wasted $2000 painting the house, so I have to make ABSOLUTELY SURE IT IS DONE RIGHT THIS TIME! I feel I have to use the BIN shellac-based primer to make sure it is done properly. ARE YOU 100% SURE THAT KILZ MAX PERFORMS EQUALLY TO BIN? Or should I go with BIN to make sure? Also,the smell is so bad and so embedded in everything, I was going to rip out the sub flooring. So here are my questions:
    1. Should I use BIN to be 100% sure to get rid of the nicotine smell?
    2. I am going to spray up underneath the crawlspace and plan to paint also the sub flooring. Or, should the sub flooring be replaced?
    3. Are my pets safe to be home in a bedroom with the doorway cracks sealed with tape if using BIN?
    4. How long to air out the place to get rid of the paint smell – keep in mind no forced air at the moment.
    5. I am scared to use Kilz Max in case it does not work as well as BIN. DOES KILZ MAX PERFORM EQUALLY TO BIN, OR IS BIN BETTER FOR NICOTINE SMELL?
    Sorry this is so lengthy! Thanks Scott. Hope you get this – painting on Wed!

  6. Renata says:

    Howdy, can I use this product on the floor and walls? The floor is concrete. The walls are cinder block. Looks like the former owners did one cost of paint, No primer/sealer.

  7. Katie says:

    Hi! Do you think the Kilz Max Clear would work well at blocking the odor from mothballs if I use it to paint the interior of a piece of wood furniture (cavity of dresser and all sides of drawers)? I’ve been trying to get rid of a mothball smell and don’t want to use Shellac and I’ve tried everything except to get rid of the smell. This is my last resort; sealing the odor in with primer. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks!

    • Scott Burt says:

      Katie, I think it would be worth a shot. Scuff the drawers first and do all sides of the boxes. Let us know how it works. Funny how people used to like the mothball smell, huh?

  8. Heather says:

    Hi Scott,
    Looking at Kilz Max and maybe Kilz Max Clear to cover up some yellowing on our eastern cedar panelling. It was primed and painted with white latex 4 years ago and has bled through at the cuts (not at any knots). From what I’ve read, Kilz Max Clear is low VOC and low odor, but not Kilz Max? Which do you think would be best? We have kids and a dog and don’t like the idea of VOC’s. Thanks!

  9. Melissa says:

    Hi Scott! Just following up here about the smell issue we’ve been having with Kilz Max. We cranked up the heat in the house to 80 and only opened the windows a small crack, except for one window in the house that we sealed a box fan in blowing out. Now, 3 1/2 weeks after painting, in two of our three bedrooms the subfloor has stopped smelling…yay! The rest of the house was not faring so well. To fix this, in the main living areas we paid to have the floors repainted over the KilzMax with another brand of sealer, This took care of the smell in these rooms and the “new paint smell” from the new sealer is barely there only a few days later. The third bedroom still smells with the funky kilzmax smell (not regualr paint smell) so I believe we’re going to paint over this floor with the other brand of sealer as well since it did work so well in getting rid of the kilzmax odor in the main rooms. This has been quite the experience…not sure what happened since we seem to be the only ones with this problem. But sad to say we will NOT be using KilzMax ever again. 🙁 Thanks.

  10. Melissa says:

    My husband and I painted our plywood subfloor with 2 coats of Kilz Max on Oct. 27th. It has now been two weeks and the house smells terribly–not a typical paint smell, but a more of a cloying odor. We are staying with family due to the odor, but have been opening all windows in the house from dawn til dusk every day and have oscillating fans in each room pointing out the windows. How long will this odor last? Is it safe to live in as we have 3 children (ages 3, 2 and 4 months)?Interestingly, we also painted the stairs to the basement at this same time and this area has had no remaining smell (it is separated from the house by a door). Please advise!!! This has not been the “low-odor” paint we were expecting. Thank you.

    • Scott Burt says:

      That sounds like an unpleasant experience, Melissa, sorry to hear that. How many gallons did you apply? I know that sub floor can suck up some material. Also, are you located in an area with humidity this time of year? That is the obvious factor that would slow down the cure time and cause a lingering odor.

      • Melissa says:

        Thank you for responding. We put on a total of 4 gallons of Kilz Max on approx. 1200 sq. ft. We put on a thin coat first which did soak in quite a lot, then put on a second coat on Oct. 27th. We live in Kansas, which is a pretty humid place in general. Checked the weather reports from last week and basically it fluctuates from 85% humidity at night to 45% humidity in the afternoon. How can we speed up the curing process? Would it help to run the fans at night, too? Currently we’ve been turning them off, closing up the house, and setting the heat to 65 degrees at night. Also, we’re expecting a cold front with 40 degree highs this week. Should we continue to open all the windows during the day in cold weather?

        • Melissa says:

          Just wanted to update you that we talked to an indoor air quality specialist in our area who gave us advice on how to get the proper heat and ventilation needed to remedy this situation. Hopefully we’ll see some improvement in the odor soon. I’ll let you know! Thanks.

          • Scott Burt says:

            I am glad to hear that, Melissa. If it works, please let us know how you did it. Its a not an uncommon issue in primers and paints. Thanks.

  11. May Tam says:

    I purchased a condo and found out the prior owners smoked cigar inside the house for 20 years until the tenants complained the funny smell in the house. The smell is pretty light if having all the windows opened, the smell was stronger in the kitchen and entry hallway. I think the wooden door trapped lots of smoke. The smell is very strong when you walk in the house. The whole house was repainted without using the special primer a year ago. How do I 100% get rid of the smell? I want to know if I do the duct cleaning first and do the painting later. Will the strong smell of primer goes to the duct? I want the one do the best work, Zinnser B-I-N Shellac based primer or Kilz Max? Thanks

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi May, that’s a tough one to diagnose from a distance. I think from an application standpoint, I would prefer KM over Shellac BIN. I really don’t know on the duct question, you may want to consult an hvac professional on how to handle that aspect. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, and please let us know how it works out for you. It is a fairly common situation that other readers have asked about.

  12. Carl says:

    About two weeks ago we used Kilz Max on our particleboard floor to control a very stinky odor problem from dog and cat urine throughout our just purchased used mobile home. We used a commercial pet odor product first then two coats of KM rolled on. There was concern that because KM was a water based primer it would damage the particleboard. It did not. It is working great and seems to be much more durable than I expected. My office type computer chair has been rolling around on it for two weeks without any visible marks or damage to the unpainted KM primer.
    Now we have to start putting new carpet down.
    So, finally, this is my question. In your opinion do you think KM alone might serve as an under-layment to protect particleboard from spilled liquids soaking through the rug/padding and into the particleboard? Is KM water resistant? I know it is not waterproof. Thanks

    • Scott Burt says:

      Carl, I would consider it a pretty decent barrier to have there. I am not an expert in that area, but it seems like its not a bad idea. I think prevention (of spills, etc) is the best practice!

  13. beth says:

    I bought a gallon of this stuff to prime drywall after treating with enzyme (Nature’s Miracle) for major cat urine damage to the walls and floors in our rental. It seemed to work. I just used the rest on drywall with mold behind our bathroom vanity that was just removed. It covered the mold great but this stuff STINKS. I didn’t notice it so much in our rental because I wasn’t hanging out with it. I don’t think I will be able to sleep in the bedroom tonight with that smell and I’m wondering if I should put a coat of regular paint over it or if the Kilz smell will just penetrate through the paint? I’m sure it will dissipate with time – just not sure how much time … ??

    • Scott Burt says:

      Should dissipate fairly quickly. It does help to crack windows and run a fan. It has a bit of an odor. Nothing like shellac based bin from the old days.

  14. Gloria Kohl says:

    We were flood victims in Boulder. 4 feet of standing water in basement for 5 days. We are down to concrete foundation and studs. Antimicrobial applied. Does Kilz need to be applied to the concrete foundation, the exterior walls of concrete block and studs or just the wood? Please need a reality check on what is necessary.

  15. Eileen says:

    Love your blog. Is it necessary to put a coat of paint over KilzMax? Can you prime a bare wood surface without adding a layer of paint over the top? We are spraying the bare wood ceiling and concrete walls in our crawl space to encapsulate the old smells. Looks like we have the right primer/sealer. Just wondering about paint layer and if we must spray a layer of paint, too, then any suggestions on type of paint to use for this purpose.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Eileen, in unfinished space like that, yes you can apply primer and not worry about putting finish over it. You would definitely gain the functional aspects of the primer without the need for aesthetics on top. The primer may discolor over time, but would likely perform just fine in that situation.

  16. Warren Sealy says:

    Hi Scott,

    Lots of great info on your site for guys like me that don’t know a lot about paints/sealers…thanks. I noticed your reply to Teresa on 17Sep that said…”It would still be possible to use KM on top of the recent paint job to seal the odor.”

    I was under the impression from discussions with a salesperson, that KM would dry either with either an offwhite color or light beige…leaving the requirement to paint the wall the color that you desired. Your comment above makes me wonder if that is true. We have some walls in a previous smokers rental property that have recently been painted (with an acceptable color). Will KM possibly seal those walls without substantially altering the paint color (sort of a sandybrown color).

    Thanks in advance! Warren

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Warren, thats a great question, and certainly worthy of clarification. In that situation, Teresa could prime over the painted surfaces to gain the “blocking benefit” (odor and stain) of the primer. The primer would also block out the existing paint color, leaving them the off white color of the primer itself, and yes it would be most desirable to paint over the primer afterwards to get her preferred color as a finish coat.

  17. Ron Carter says:

    hey scott, I was wondering what your spray rig was and what tip you used when spraying this? I love this product so far and then just tried to spray it and can’t seam to get rid of tails. I didn’t thin the product and was using a 417 tip. I know that I could thin it a bit but wanted to apply it fairly heavy to get a good build (cabinets). should I use a .21 or .23 tip? its a smaller pump running a 5/8 HP motor…3000psi max I believe. have it cranked…

    • Scott Burt says:


      We sprayed it through a few different rigs and setups, I will check the notes and shoot you a message.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Ron, I wouldn’t go above a .013 tip. If turning up the pressure doesn’t fill in the tails, you might be moving too fast. Changing your technique, pace and distance from target might be the answer.

  18. Hi Scott,

    I purchased a house where 3 cats and a dog lived and the pet odor is terrible, I have washed it with vinegar and water to some success, I have been told to use Kilz Original on the sub-floor where the stains are or should I do the entire floor? and how safe is Kilz?

    • Scott Burt says:

      Stephen, I think KM would be perfectly suitable for your application. Be sure to ventilate well with open windows when you apply. It is a waterborne primer so it doesn’t have that “knock you over” fume factor that the old solvent based stain killers did, but its still pretty stout, so be sure to ventilate.

  19. Kathy says:

    Thanks for this great info! I have a rental that has smoke on the ceiling from a small fire in the bathroom and was trying to avoid using an oil based product. Renter had a magnifying mirror mounted by a window, the sun reflected just right and caught a window curtain on fire. Science in action.

    • Scott Burt says:

      I smell a rat, Kathy. There has GOT to be more to that story 🙂 I would highly recommend KILZ Max as a solution. Let us know what you find out. Painters, after all, are like forensics detectives.

  20. Dawn says:

    Hi Scott,

    I’m wanting to repaint a set of particle board furniture. I don’t even really know what kind of finish it currently has. It could be laminate / oil / water-based or just some kind of odd veneer. Would Kilz Max be the best product to put over it before we paint? And do I need to rough it up just a tad to make certain it will bond and serve as a good undercoat before the latex paint goes on?

    Thanks for responding as soon as convenient. 🙂

  21. Stephanie says:

    Hi, I’m an enthusiastic amateur painter. I’ve used all sorts of Stain Blocking products and used to be a fan of Zinsser. Last year I used SW Pro-Block over paneling and was very frustrated. This year — KilzMax to the rescue! I love, love this product! I just ripped wallpaper down to find (what appeared to be) an unprepared drywall surface. After much scrubbing and scraping KilzMax covered and bonded the gritty drywall surface beautifully. Additionally, I’ve used KilzMax to prime Wainscoting that may have been painted with an oil-base semi-gloss. Flattened it right out and covered nicely. Thanks for the review Scott … I did examine this site before making my purchase!

    • Scott Burt says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Stephanie, on the product as well as on our site. I am glad it is useful to you and so many others. We love hearing success stories!

  22. Rob says:

    Hi, Now that some time has passed, I was wondering if there is any ‘long-/medium-‘ term feedback on Kilz Max? Specifically larger applications to new drywall. I’m considering using it as the prime coat on the walls and ceilings of my new addition (approximately 800 square feet).

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Rob, that is a very good question. And we are pleased to report that everything we have put Kilz Max on to date, which includes both drywall and wood surfaces, has held up well. The finish coats we applied on top of KM have performed beautifully.

  23. Jens says:

    Good day! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and
    say I really enjoy reading your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same
    subjects? Thanks for your time!

  24. Adam says:


    How does this do when spraying as a base coat on bare birch plywood cabinetry? I’d like to use this as the primer/ base coat on closet cabinetry intended to be white and then top with some water based clear like Polycrylic. Thoughts? (I was originally going to use BIN)

    • Scott Burt says:


      The KILZ will work great sprayed on the birch. I don’t like the polycrylic program over it though. I’d recommend a good waterborne paint over it instead.

      • Adam says:

        Thanks Scott.

        On my first built-ins, I sprayed BIN as the primer, followed by a sanding, followed by several coats of SW Pro Classic waterborne acrylic latex enamel. It seems fairly tough, but I was wondering if some kind of clear topcoat over some kind of white base would be more appropriate and durable for every day closing and opening of doors and drawers.


  25. Dawn says:

    Unfortunately the seller went with another offer so we won’t be able to put KM to the test. However, if we find another home that may need it we will definitely use KM first and let you know how it works.

  26. Dawn says:

    I too am interested in any advice for ridding a home of cigarette smoke. We are looking to purchase a 5700 sq ft home with 11 ft ceilings that has been owned by a smoker for over 10years. The local paint shop told us the only way to go was to use shellac based primer on all walls, ceilings and subfloors. Which would take according to them over 100gallons of primer. We will be replacing all carpet and cleaning with a enzyme product all walls,cabinets, trim etc prior to painting as well as cleaning and sanitizing all ductwork.
    Does this sound about right as far as the amt of primer needed and in your professional opinion would KM work or should we go with a different primer.


    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Dawn, KM is ideal for that sort of thing. Its not critical to use a shellac based primer, as the technology in KM is equivalent and easy to deal with because it is waterbased. Not sure if you would ‘need’ to treat subfloors with it. Typically, smoke damage is most prevalent on ceilings and tops of walls. You will have to make that judgment when you remove the carpet. Still a good idea to clean heavily with ZEP products or something equivalent (enzyme-ish) and scrub alot. Let us know how it works out!

  27. Teresa Smith says:

    Hi Scott,

    I am thinking about purchasing a home that is currently owned by a smoker. She smoked INSIDE the home for 20 years. Can this primer eliminate the smell? She had it painted a few months ago but they didn’t prime and the smell is awful. The airducts were just scrubbed and vacuumed a few days ago.

    Should I use ZEP first then prime and paint? I really want it 100% gone. Thank-you!


    • Scott Burt says:


      I think you need to do some detective work and find out exactly what surfaces were painted. Ceilings would be the ones most affected, then walls, but also windows, doors, and cabinets. You should get a deep professional clean on all floors and glass to be sure. Zep cleaners wont help on the surfaces that have been painted, but Kilz Max would, both in terms of blocking any nicotine staining from bleeding through down the road, and in suppressing the smell. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

      • Teresa Smith says:

        Hi Scott,

        Thanks for your quick response! The ceilings were painted too, nothing primed though. 🙁 All that work for nothing… they did not clean the walls before painting either. Will that be a major problem?


  28. Susan says:

    From what I understand it does what it claims on stains. My question is does it work as well on odors? My daughter’s cat has destroyed her room. We are cutting out part of her wall and replacing the drywall and baseboards. Our concern is the floor. We are ripping out the carpet and padding and are replacing it but are afraid that it has gone all the way to the boards. We were thinking about using Kilz Max on the floor to cover the odor before we lay new pad and carpet. Is this a good idea? Does it work on odors?

  29. john says:

    This product is more for restoration- fire damage than anyting else. Use it all the time. Now if I’m priming just regular drywall or new wood this is overkill!

    • Scott Burt says:


      Overkill at a decent price point though! I am not going to bring 30 gallons of it into a new house to spray all the drywall in a new construction scene, but I did use it on new rock in a bath remod during testing and it made a heck of a base to roll wall paint over. It does have some specialty characteristics, as you mentioned, stain blocking is a real strength. What do you prefer on raw drywall?

  30. Time to test it out and see if I like it. You really didn’t have any cons I saw. Basically no exterior usage, or being less user friendly than other primers.

    I can deal with those things. Scott was all your trim testing done on bare wood?

    • Scott Burt says:

      I think you could move this stuff. It really does have the feel of shellac b i n, just about that quick to brush. The majority was new wood, but we did use it as a bond coat on some existing trim on a repaint spec-ed for ProClassic and it made for a quick intermediate round, and a nice base. Unlike some of our colleagues around the internet, I dont count on paint to cover much of anything. I like the primer to do the heavy lifting, paint is the icing on the cake. If you check it out, let me know what you think. We are still running the heck out of 046 and W&W and will be sharing a bunch on those soon as well.

  31. What kind of tests did you perform to check for stain blocking capabilities Scott? I’m interested on a waterborne that really blocks water stains. Also as an under-coater primer, Is this way better than BM Superior and SW W&W?.

    Thanks in advance

    • Scott Burt says:


      In the course of working with Kilz Max since February, we tested it on smoke, water and even rust stains. If the can were unlabeled, you would think you had a heavy bodied BIN in those situations. Works well, better than Superior or W&W as a blocker. As an all around undercoater, it is not better than Superior or W&W, but I would consider it to be capable of similar performance – although the formulation is very different to work with than those other two. I really like WW for raw wood priming, especially sprayed. I will be publishing its review soon. But as an all around primer, KM is quite capable of alot of things at a pretty high level.

      • Thanks Scott. I hope it hits the market soon. I really need a waterborne with the performance of BIN. I noticed that the VOC’s are 75 g/l therefore it cannot be label as Low VOC product right? How would you rate the odor on Kilz Max?

        • Scott Burt says:

          I believe “low voc” is still 50 and under. However, considering shellac based bin is about 550g/l, 75 isn’t bad at all for comparable performance. I would rate the odor as not as offensive as BIN, but definitely more noticable than the other wb primers we are working with.

  32. Tim Johnson says:

    Thanks again Scott. I haven’t heard about this product until reading your article. This primer sounds promising for some particular applications.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: