The not so Complex Truth about Paint Adhesion

Written by on July 7, 2013 in Interior Products, Primers, Uncategorized with 6 Comments

paint adhesion

Don’t Mistake Cutting Corners for Cutting Edge

In this day and age of wonder products at all different price points, paint adhesion has come to be misunderstood.

On the one hand, the “old school” approach to using a 3 coat system on new surfaces, which involved primer and two coats of finish, regardless of substrate (wood, drywall, etc.), is set squarely against the sometimes manipulated interpretation of paints and primers “in one”.

Works Much of the Time on Repaints

To set the record straight, I am amongst the painters who believe that in the majority of repaint situations, whether walls or trim or ceilings or all of the above, in most situations it is not necessary to use primer to achieve paint adhesion when painting over existing paint – proper prep will do. And in most situations, two coats of paint will do just fine, when painting over paint. I don’t think many of us are arguing that point. Notable exceptions, such as painting over oil or lead, notwithstanding.

However, when the “no primer” idea gets stretched to apply to ALL painting situations, that is where some of us throw a flag. It is no secret that this whole paint and primer in one thing is nothing new. I have cans of Ben Moore Regal from 15 years ago which stated that the paint could be used as a primer on small scale drywall patches and skims. In recent years, though, this idea has been interpreted and twisted to the questionable conclusion that primer is no longer needed at all.

If this were the case, I can assure you that no paint manufacturer would waste time and energy producing primers, when pretty much all of them have paints that fit the basic “paint and primer in one” criteria. Enough of us have seen paints fail as primers, and primers fail as paints, to know that they really don’t belong in the same can. But, there are still plenty of painters and homeowners who will go merrily along pushing that envelope and compromising paint adhesion along the way.

Secret Revealed:

Paints and primers are best served in separate cans.

For a gazillion reasons why, please CLICK RIGHT HERE to read my article in American Painting Contractor magazine, June 2013.

What’s your opinion?




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  1. Mike says:

    I’m definitely not a Prime every time you paint guy. I think its not prudent for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not needed on most repaints, as was mentioned. I personally like to use a liquid deglosser that kills the Mildew spores and deglosses at the same time.
    Second, The more layers you have, the more the paint begins to want to peel. Look at old homes with layers and layers of paint / primer, and it starts to curl right off the surface at some point.

    As far as paint and primer in one, I’ve never used them, but I know that Brian as done extensive research on Primers and has tested over 35 brands on drywall and discovered most work very poorly. He started using Gardz as a primer and now uses Behr as the prime coat with better results than any of the Primers he has tested. Brian and I differ on our experiences with the Behr – not on priming, but on sagging, adhesion to certain surfaces etc. Brian is infinitely more experienced than Myself; I’ll say that straight up, so I trust his judgement on a lot of stuff.

    As far as tje Staom as a primer… I have always felt that Stain was a superior product as far as longjevety in the way of not chipping, peeling and such, so it makes great sense to me to use it as a prime coat to treat the wood because it goes into the wood and doesn’t just sit on top. It also seems to be better at blocking tannin in Redwood than paint, and even water based primers. The only thing I don’t like about the heavy bodied stains I’ve been using is that they tend to fade rather quickly in bright sun. Olympic is the brand I’ve used. They are always reformulating, so the jury is out on their latest version. Behr Stain gets good ratings from CR, but it is more like a paint than a stain, so I don’t know if it would work as well over the long haul as far as the chipping, peeling aspect.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Definitely agree that primer is not needed in all situations…I almost put the third paragraph of this article in bold print when I wrote it! And you’re right, with so much reformulation happening these days, it is more important than ever to know what is in the can, test and figure out what works best for each situation. The bigger concern that we see in our training program for contractors is when painters use paints the wrong way and then blame the paint.

  2. Spatter says:

    Primers are cheaper though..which is why I can’t see them discontinuing ’em altogether, even with these 2 in 1 products. In fact these 2 in 1 products seem to be more expensive than regular paint- which doesn’t seem worth it to me for most projects. One coat of paint actually makes more sense in most cases.

    Is it just me, or have the paints actually gotten more expensive and yet more coats are required? 😉

    I have used exterior latex solid stain as a “primer”. Didn’t have any problems, at the time or years worth of weather later.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Pretty much agreed on all counts, Spatter. Most of us who have been around for awhile know what we are looking at in a can of paint, or primer, or paint and primer in one. My colleague, Todd, puts it well: Paint and primer in one is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the peanut butter.

      • Gerry Zak says:

        Interesting-your very negative comments about “paint and primer in one”. Do not know what paints specifically you may be referring to, and I will assume that you have found out by experience that they do not work well. However, that is not the case with all of them. My company regularly paints new housing . Most of the time we use the primer plus two topcoat system. But twice now we have used the ” paint and primer in one system” , with no primer, and with excellent results. In one whole house we used Behr “premium plus ultra”, two coats on bare gyproc and drywall. On the walls with high spectral reflectance we did a light third coat. In another house we used Moore’s “Aura”. Again, two coats without a primer worked well. In the case of the Behr paint, because of the lower labor costs,the cost to the customer was somewhat lower than the traditional system.

        For over 20 years I have been testing primers and paints for resistance to peeling- on a fence on my property. When Sherwin Williams ‘ Duration’ appeared, I was skeptical- it was supposed to be self-priming, and carried a life-time warranty against peeling. So I started a test, and observed it for three years. The results were not just good-the paint withstood the weather on old weathered, minimally prepared wood far better than any other paint or primer I had come across! For several years now I have been using a similar product ( a stain blocking, self priming, modified elastomeric) made by Pittsburg Paints- “Timeless”. I do not know – there could be similar products out there.

        • Scott Burt says:

          Thanks for sharing, Gerry. I agree about Duration, we use it alot. Aura as well. And several other lines. The category of paint and primers in one, I consider many of them to be very good paints. I think the category is very misunderstood. There are no “wonderpaints” in the group. My company has had to fix way too many failures as a result of misunderstanding of the category, that is why I try to be clear with readers about how those products are best used, and where they are a little compromised. Thanks for the tip on Timeless, will keep an eye out for it. Cheers.

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