Does Drywall Need To Be Primed? [Answered]


Drywalled renovations and installations give homeowners lots of options for their walls.

If you decide to paint them yourself, you mustn’t skip the primer process and application.

Drywall needs to be primed with primer or self-priming paint to avoid peeling or an uneven finish. Primer will be absorbed by the drywall and will cover seams and joints evenly. It creates a consistent base so that your topcoat color choice can be applied smoothly for a seamless transition.

Prepping Drywall For Primer

Any drywall that will be cleaned due to dust, grease, water, and so on should be primed and painted.  

If you have skim-coated or are tiling or applying wallpaper to drywall, you still need to prime the surface. This is because the drywall will absorb the paste or mortar, which can affect optimal adhesion.

Preparing drywall for primer and paint involves a few steps that can be accomplished by the homeowner. Following these steps are essential to ensure the optimal outcome.  

The process below describes what you need to do if the drywall is a new installation or has never been painted. Instances, where primer may not be needed, are mentioned further down below.

1. Repair Damage

Your drywall should offer a smooth surface. 

Fill in and smooth over any gouges, scratches, or uneven spots with drywall mud or paste. 

2. Sand The Drywall

Next, sand the drywall with 100- to 120-grit sandpaper. 

Open windows, and wear eye protection and a mask to keep dust out of your eyes and lungs. Cover or move nearby furniture and items to keep them free from dust.  

Use a pole sander in a push and pull motion. Apply consistent pressure, as you move over seams and nails or screws

Finish sanding with 150-grit sandpaper.

3. Remove Dust

Use a suction attachment on your vacuum to clean up the dust. 

Wipe down the surfaces using a dry, dark cloth. If you notice dust is on the cloth, repeat.  

4. Clean Walls With A Vinegar Solution

Protect the floors from moisture and unplug any devices to avoid electric shock. 

Mix one gallon of water with 1-cup of vinegar in a bucket. 

Use a damp sponge to wipe down the drywall. This will help to eliminate any stains and remaining dust. If you use a very wet sponge, the walls will take longer to dry. 

Rinse the sponge in the solution and repeat. If the water becomes dark and dirty, make a new solution.

5. Dry The Walls

Use a fan and open the windows to circulate the area and dry the walls. It should take only a few hours at most for the drywall to dry. 

There should be no variances in color along seams or other spots in the drywall, indicating moisture. If there are, then it may not be fully dry. 

If in doubt, wait for a full day to ensure it is completely dry.

Painting On The Primer

When it comes to primer, you have several choices. You will need to determine what works best for you. Choosing a topcoat and primer of the same base will offer greater adhesion and a desirable overall look.

Refer to the primer’s labeling and consider other things such as the drying time, odor from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and moisture and stain resistance if painting in a bathroom or kitchen.

Types Of Paint 

This table briefly outlines primer options:

Type of BaseInformation
Latex-based

  • Commonly used

  • Seals drywall

  • Protects from small dings or marks

  • Lower levels of VOCs

  • Easy to apply

Polyvinyl Acetate (PVA)

  • Seals pores of drywall

  • Sandable

  • Water-based

  • Lower levels of VOCs

Oil-based

  • Covers stains

  • Seals wood

  • Ideal for priming before wallpaper or paneling

  • Higher levels of VOCs

Shellac

  • Covers stains

  • Dries quickly

  • Tacky surface for topcoat adhesion

  • Good base for either oil or latex paints

  • Higher levels of VOCs

How To Apply The Primer

If not already done so, cover and tape off anything you wish to keep free from paint. 

Then, complete the following steps to apply the primer:

  1. Dampen your paintbrush or roller with water for water-based primer or mineral spirits or paint thinner for oil-based. 
    • Squeeze out any excess liquid before dipping it into the paint. Dampening permits the painting tool to evenly absorb the primer.
  2. Apply primer with a brush to corners, edges, around trim, and so on. 
  3. Apply primer over stains, if any.
  4. Use a roller for covering large areas. 
    • Pour the primer into a paint tray, and coat the entire roller. 
    • Roll off excess paint in the tray. Then, apply the paint in even motions.
  5. Allow the primer to dry per label instructions. 
  6. Add another coat or two. 
    • At least one more coat should be done since the walls absorbed the first coat, and a second will sit evenly on top of that. 
    • A third coat is necessary if you notice the color is uneven or streaky after it dries.
  7. Sand the primer lightly with fine-grit sandpaper after drying. 
  8. Vacuum and wipe down the surfaces with a damp cloth to eliminate all dust. 
  9. Allow the surface to dry completely before adding the topcoat.

The video below demonstrates how to use a roller to apply paint to large surfaces for an even finish (as indicated on step 4):  

Note: If your drywall was installed with a texture, it should also be primed, but you will skip the sanding steps mentioned above. 

The uneven textured surface can be covered with primer by painting from the top to the bottom with a roller. Move the roller in “W” and “M” patterns to overlap paint and get into the nooks and crannies.

Drywall That Doesn’t Need Primer

Generally, the only area of drywall that doesn’t need primer is behind cabinetry. The wall is hidden, out of sight, and is not exposed to staining, moisture, or damaging circumstances.

If the wall is already painted, clean, and smooth, you can skip the primer if the types of paint are the same (i.e. oil-based, etc). 

However, if you are painting a light-colored topcoat over a dark one, a primer should be used so that the dark color does not appear through the new one.

Conclusion 

It is essential to prime drywall to create an even surface for the application of a topcoat. 

This includes sanding, repairing, and cleaning the wall, choosing compatible primer and topcoat paints, and applying the primer for long-lasting walls that need little maintenance.

By following the steps in this article your walls will have a professional look that is pleasing to the eye.

Lisa Burlison

Lisa is a freelance blogger, literacy specialist, teacher, and self-published author with a vast DIY experience. When she’s not writing for PlumbJoe, Lisa enjoys testing homemade cleaners and doing repairs around her home. Her other hobbies include birding and bicycling.

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