Zinsser Cover Stain Review

Updated Jul 17, 2024 | Posted Apr 15, 2020 | Product Reviews, Paints | 34 comments

Time for a quick Zinsser Cover Stain review based on my experiance using it as a Professional Decorator. This paint is an oil-based stain block, sealer and adhesion primer. You can even use it to prime bare timber, meaning it’s a very versatile product. It is something that I always have in the van, and I use on a regular basis. Suitable for both internal and external use.

Touch dry in 45 minutes and re-coat in 2 hours. Available from most trade paint outlets, but it’s often cheaper to buy this product online. Click here to see online prices.


Zinsser Cover Stain the Stain Block


Oil-based stain blocks are generally a lot better than their water-based counterparts anyway. In fact, it is rare a water-based stain block will ever cope with heavy nicotine, smoke damage or water marks. Cover Stain will deal with almost anything you throw it at. If your stain is on emulsion, say a ceiling or wall, and the stain is particularly bad, you can apply a full coat of cover stain, and back roll as you go. This has the effect of two coats without the added drying time. It really will stop most stains dead! No messing about!! However, it does sometimes struggle with water stains, or heavy smoke damage.

The only two products I know of that block stains as effectively as Zinsser Cover Stain are oil-based undercoat and pliolite-based masonry paint. You should never use pliolite inside!! The fumes are too much, and they can make you feel ill. Oil-based undercoat is a good option and it is cheaper than Cover Stain. The only downside of using undercoat is the 16-hour recoat time. In-fact that could be even longer if you apply a thick coat. Still, if circumstances mean the drying time won’t effect productivity, go with undercoat.

Zinsser Cover Stain has a 2-hour recoat, meaning you can easily paint over it on the same day, even with water-based paint like emulsion. You can coat a full ceiling or wall with it too. Just dilute the Cover Stain with white spirit to loosen it up, and off you go. Make sure you ventilate the room as well as you can because although it is nowhere near the level of pliolite, it does stink.


Zinsser Cover Stain the Adhesion Primer


Zinsser Cover Stain works well as an adhesion primer in certain situations. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t suitable for use on some substrates such as uPVC windows and there are better products out there for say, melamine. What I would recommend Zinsser Cover Stain for is stained or varnished timber which is to be painted. In fact, I don’t think there is a product on the market that does a better job.

I also use a very diluted coat of Zinsser Cover Stain to prime old gloss or satinwood before applying water-based trim paints. It sticks hard and fast, then allows me to paint over it with anything I like without issue.

The alternative adhesion primers you can use on stain, varnish or old oil-based paints are Zinsser BIN, PS1 primer, or one of the water-based primers which seem to be flooding the market. Again, the water-based alternatives are generally not up to the task. They may not adhere well enough, but even if they do pass a scratch test, they will still let tannins bleed through. Zinsser BIN is a good product to use. It will knacker your brushes and it won’t level off very nicely, but it’ll do the job.

Zinsser Cover Stain will outperform both products on varnish and stained timber. It will be absolutely bullet proof in two hours and block any tannings dead! Honestly, when I say it is the very best product on the market for this task, I mean it.


Zinsser Cover Stain the Stabiliser


Yes, you can use Zinsser Cover Stain as a stabiliser, but most of the time there are better alternatives. For plaster you may be better looking at Zinsser Gardz or PVA, for masonry you may be better going for an exterior stabilising solution designed for the task. The list goes on.

There was one time I used Zinsser Cover Stain as a stabiliser to great effect. We were decorating the inside of an old church. The walls weren’t just chalky and generally unstable, but they were heavily stained with water marks and other nasties. We filled imperfections with what seemed like three tons of powder filler, then coated the whole lot in a very diluted Cover Stain. It worked brilliantly and gave us the ideal base for our eggshell emulsion.



Zinsser Cover Stain Review - Decorator's forum UK

An oil-based adhesion primer, stain block and stabiliser in one. Cover Stain fits into a range of problem-solving primers from Zinsser, and it’s one every Professional Decorator uses on a regular basis.

Product Brand: Zinsser

Editor's Rating:


  • Quick drying.
  • Can be used outside.
  • It’s a great adhesion primer.
  • It’s a fairly good stain block.
  • Can be used to prime bare wood.
  • Having the ability to aid adhesion AND block stains means you can use it on wood, and it’ll stop tannins.


  • There are better stain blocks available.



What is the difference between Zinsser bin and Zinsser Cover Stain?

Zinsser BIN is a shellac-based paint. It has a quicker drying time than Zinsser Cover Stain, but a lot of the other properties between the two are the same. You can use either as a stain block or an adhesion primer.

Zinsser BIN dries very brittle, so you can’t use it outside or in steamy bathrooms, whereas you can with Cover Stain.

Zinsser BIN tends to wreck your tools too.


Which Zinsser stain block is best?

Each Zinsser primer is good in different circumstances, but if I had to rank them in terms stain blocking capabilities, they would be as follows-

  1. Zinsser BIN.
  2. Zinsser Cover Stain.
  3. Zinsser BIN Aqua.
  4. Bullseye 123 Plus.


Can you paint emulsion over Zinsser Cover Stain?

You can paint over Zinsser Cover Stain with most types of emulsion. However, if you’re using cheap contract matt, then it may flash. I’d suggest using a good quality vinyl matt, durable matt, or eggshell.



Final Thoughts


Zinsser Cover Stain is a very widespread product which just about every Professional Decorator uses on a regular basis. There have been copycat products, but nothing has yet to come close. There’s a reason for this. Cover Stain is a versatile, quick drying solution for a lot of issues you can encounter when decorating. If you haven’t already, give it a go. Click here to see online prices.

Updated Jul 17, 2024 | Posted Apr 15, 2020 | 34 comments

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Gregory is a Professional Painter and Decorator who works in the Northwest of England. He mainly sub-contracts for large decorating firms and works on a wide variety of projects.
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  1. richard

    The new Johnsones stainaway Matt is a water based stain block that works.
    l was so cautious l still take a cover stain in van just in case stainaway not work but never let down yet.
    No smell
    Far better for yourself and customer amazing stuff.
    Skip coat as primer finish in 1.

    Stainaway actually better than zinnser allcoat in my opinion, which has let me down terrible and zinnser were absolutely dreadful support.

  2. Scott Humphrey

    Hi, I have knotty pine panelled wall I want to paint. The zinsser website recommends using BIN and then cover stain. Do you think that’s necessary or will cover stain do the job?

    • Mike Cupit

      BIN will block knotts, Cover Stain will not

      • Sandra Perrins

        Can you wallpaper over zensser stain block

        • Brendan Slater

          Yes you can wallpaper over cover stain

          • Carol

            Can I use matt emulsion on top of zinsser stain cover oil based that was used to cover nicotine stains

        • Tracie

          How long after painting can you paint with a alkaline based paint ? Don’t understand the 16 hour recoat time.

          • Mike Cupit

            2 hours

      • Sally

        Hi. When using cover stain and then a matt emulsion. How long before room can be used again, as cover stain is quite toxic? Thanks

  3. rick trainer

    I believe the correct term is tannins

    • Mike Cupit

      Thank you Rick. I have corrected the blog

      • Peter

        Can I paint over bare brickwork on internal chimney breast, I’ve cleaned off salts which have leaked out.

  4. Chris brookes

    Just wondering had so much advice so many decorators now confused. Got a 2 bed flat last person in here smoked like a chimney yellow ceilings woodwork every thing yellow. Think using the Johnstone’s ad blocker for ceiling a the zinsser 1 23 for the woodwork so can use a water based/hybrid gloss instead of oil based gloss. One of the rooms I did peel all the paint of the ceiling using a steamer took days not doing that again thanks in advance

    • Mike Cupit

      gload it helped

  5. Linda Puls

    I’m an artist and concerned that my paintings be archival .
    I’m aware that with my artists paints I can paint oil paints over acrylic but not vice versa. There are some paintings I didn’t mark and can’t tell whether they are oil or acrylic and I want to cover some of them that are on a canvas and others on wood.
    I bought the Zinsser Cover oil based stain primer bond coat and need to know if this will be ok to cover an existing oil or acrylic paint on canvas and on wood?……
    Also can I then paint over the Zinsser with my artists oil paints or can I also use artist acrylic paints on top?

    Thanks for your help.

  6. P. Shaw

    I have a plasterboard ceiling & plastered brick end wall which have bad water staining following a roof leak (now repaired). Stianing covers about a total of 4 sq. metres max. The walls were emulsion painted and I want to repaint them with emulsion again Zinsser Cover stain or Zinsser BIN be best please?

  7. Grahame

    Hi there. I want to use a water based paint over old oil based paint on skirting boards and picture rail. Are you suggesting that Zinsser Cover stain is beat to use a bonding primer as opposed to Zinsser 123 or Zinsser BIN.
    Also a small damp patch under window sill. Difficult to locate source. Intend to wallpaper. Will 1 or 2 coats of Zinsser Cover stain protect against re-staining?

  8. Mandy Phillips

    Hi, what’s the best stain killer to use on mahogany stain ? I’m painting my stairs white. I a bit confused which one to buy.

    • Pam Dalziel

      Hi all. At 73 I’m still a bit of a decorating novice. I have a golden oak TV cabinet which I want to paint with an off white emulsion paint. Should I sand first or just use a Zinsser undercoat? If so which Zinsser please? TIA

  9. Bob

    I have a large Bessel Block exterior retaining wall 7meters x 5 meters. I need a product to stop sand from leeching through the Bessel Blocks. Will a Zinsser product work or could any of you recommend another? Thanks Bob

  10. Lettie

    Hi, have the oils from acoustic sealant seeping through the plaster and now the farrow and ball coloured paint on top. Which Zinsser should I use to cover this stain so I can recover with the same Farrow and ball matt paint? Thanks

  11. Peter

    Can I use filler after coating with Zinsser cover coat

  12. Jim Crowley

    I painted a chest that had a slick finish with the stain blocking Zinsser then put finish coat of paint on it. The paint did not adhere. I accidentally scratched it with my fingernail and the paint all came off to the original finish. What could cause this ?

    • Timcio

      It’s a good practise to wash any sleek surface with degreaser and furniture items with panel wipe and sand the surface with at least P240 or coarser grit. This will remove silicone residue that’s present in furniture polishes.
      Silicone and wax is a barier for paint/primer adhesion.

  13. Eddie

    How long do you wait, till you can paper over it?

  14. Keith Harkin

    Hi, I’ve painted over a very nicotine stained wood door with two coats of satin wood but it is still patchy. Can I now use Zinsser Stain before applying a further coat of satin wood or please advise best way forward thanks

  15. Pamela

    I have used zinsserr cover stain over thinly applied decorators quack, I have painted over it 3 times but the stain is till coming through??

  16. David Lonsdale

    Can Zinsser cover stain be used to block out Knott stains that have shown through a water based emulsion

  17. Carmen

    Can this be used over epoxy resin? I have an old bathroom, with a window in the bathtub. I sealed it with epoxy resin and now looking to paint it.

  18. Dolly

    I have a problem I’ve used soudal Dec chalk on skirting boards on stairs undercoated and used water based satinwood to finish .I now have cracks shrinkage . What can I use also the house is very hot ! Why is this happening?

  19. David Goddard

    Can you thin CoverStain? If so, what with. I’ve got half a tin left but it is very thick.

    • Mike Cupit

      Yes, just stick some white spirit or turps in there and give it a good mix

  20. J Beake

    Hi, I painted a garden retaining wall with white masonary paint – it looked lovely but now stains are coming through from dampness. Can I add Zinsser cover stain and then repaint over?


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