3 Best Primers to Stop Tannin Bleed [My Personal Recommendation]

Randy Charles
Professional Painter

Randy Charles is the owner of PaintCentric.com, a website dedicated to providing information, tips, tricks, and news about all things paint. With over 10 years...Read more

If you paint or stain wood, you may notice the color sometimes bleeds or seeps through. This issue, known as tannin bleed, occurs because certain woods contain natural substances called tannins. These are common in woods like redwood, cedar, and oak. When tannins mix with water, they can seep out and create stains on your paint or wood stain.

Tannin bleed is a bigger issue for outdoor wood like decks, fences, and sidings. If not handled, tannin bleed can lead to the paint or stain chipping or cracking, and this can leave the wood exposed to damage.

To prevent this from happening, you can:

  • Use a primer that’s made from shellac, a sticky substance that can stop tannins from seeping through.
  • Apply a primer that prevents stains before you start painting.
  • Treat the wood with a layer of stain meant to protect against tannin bleed.
  • Pick a paint or stain designed to work well with woods that are likely to bleed tannins.

What is Tannin Bleed?

Tannin bleed is when natural substances inside wood come out and stain the surface after you paint or stain it. It’s something that happens with kinds of wood that have a lot of tannins, like redwood, cedar, and oak. Tannins are like the wood’s natural dye, and they can react with water or moisture. When you put paint or stain on the wood, and the tannins mix with water from rain or humidity, they can move up to the surface. This can make the paint look stained with spots or streaks, mostly in dark or uneven colors. To stop this, you use a special kind of paint before the regular paint, called a primer, to create a barrier that traps tannins.

Methods To Stop Tannin Bleed

Use a Stain-Blocking Primer A good way to keep the wood’s natural colors from showing through the paint is to use a primer that blocks stains. This kind of primer is made to cover up spots and keep the wood from leaking colors.

Seal the Wood Another way to protect against tannin bleed is to seal the wood. You can use a sealer before you paint. This sealer acts like a barrier, keeping the wood’s colors in place under the paint.

Choose the Right Paint Some paints are made to stick better to wood and to hide colors that might bleed. Look for paints that say they are good for woods that have a lot of tannins in them.

Regular Maintenance Keep an eye on your painted wood. If you see signs of tannin bleed, touch up those spots with more primer and paint. This keeps the problem from getting bigger and helps your wood stay looking nice.

Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer

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When you’re ready to tackle a painting project, the Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer is your go-to for stopping stains from spoiling your work, including stubborn tannin bleed from wood like cedar and oak. This primer is known for its exceptional stickiness to surfaces and can cover up a wide range of tough stains, not just tannin, but also watermarks, grease, and more.

To use Zinsser BIN effectively for blocking tannin, you should first make sure the wood is clean and dry. Then, shake or stir the primer well before applying a thin coat with a brush or roller. Allow it to dry as recommended usually, this takes about 45 minutes before you can add another coat or paint over it. Since it dries quickly, you can get to painting sooner.

This shellac-based formula is designed to seal the wood, locking in the tannins that cause discoloration. It’s a favorite among professionals for its reliable performance and ease of use. Plus, it works indoors and outdoors, making it versatile for all your painting needs.

One thing to remember is that Zinsser BIN has a strong smell, so you should use it in a well-ventilated area or wear a mask. Always follow the safety instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Shop Now: Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer

Kilz Premium Shellac Primer

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Kilz Premium is another primer that’s up to the task of handling tannin bleed. It’s known for its high-quality sealing capabilities, which make it an excellent barrier against stains and odors. While Kilz Premium is not a shellac-based primer but rather a water-based primer with exceptional adhesion, it is still an excellent choice for various surfaces prone to tannin bleed.

Before using Kilz Premium, clean the surface of the wood to remove any dust or oils. Apply the primer using a brush, roller, or sprayer, depending on what’s easiest for you. Give it time to dry thoroughly, which could take a few hours. Kilz Premium helps ensure that the top layer of paint remains true to color without any bleed-through.

It is formulated to be less harsh in smell than shellac options, making it a good choice for use in enclosed spaces. Remember, while Kilz Premium is excellent for many uses, always check if the product specifications match your particular tannin-blocking needs.

Shop Now: Kilz Premium Primer

Sherwin-Williams Shellac Primer

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Sherwin-Williams does not specifically list a Shellac Primer, but they offer high-quality alternatives like their ProBlock Primer, which serves the same purpose. Sherwin-Williams’ primers are crafted to block stains and prevent tannin from affecting the paint job. If you’re dealing with high-tannin wood, using one of their primers can be an essential step in your painting process.

For best results, apply the Sherwin-Williams primer after surface prep, which involves cleaning and sanding the wood. Apply with a brush or sprayer and let it dry according to the product’s instructions before applying your topcoat.

Using a primer from Sherwin-Williams means applying a strong foundation that will help your paint last longer and resist the elements, whether you’re working on an outdoor deck or a piece of furniture.

Shop Now: Sherwin-Williams Primer

How to use a primer to stop Tannin Bleed

Here’s how to use it so the wood’s color doesn’t ruin your paint job.

Step 1: Pick a Shellac-Based Primer To stop tannin bleed, your best bet is a Shellac-based primer. These are made to seal off the wood and block the tannins from coming through the paint.

Step 2: Clean the Wood Before you do anything else, the wood needs to be clean. If it’s new wood, make sure it’s free of dust and dirt. If it’s been painted or stained before, you may need to sand it down to get rid of the old finish and then clean off any leftover sanding dust.

Step 3: Apply the Primer Stir your primer well, then use a brush or roller to put on a thin, even layer. Cover all the parts of the wood that will get paint, including the edges. Wear a mask and gloves to keep safe from the strong smell, and keep the room airy.

Step 4: Dry Time Wait for the primer to dry fully. Check the can to see how long it takes. It’s usually about an hour, but it could be more. Don’t rush—make sure it’s completely dry before you move to the next step.

Step 5: Check and Second Coat Look at the wood once the first coat is dry. If you can still see spots where tannins might come through, put on a second coat of primer. This gives extra protection to make sure no stains get through.

Step 6: Paint Over the Primer After the primer is dry and you’ve checked it over, you’re ready to paint. Use the paint you’ve chosen and apply it as the label says. Now your wood should be safe from tannin stains.


Using a shellac-based primer is your best defense against tannin bleed when working with wood prone to this issue. It’s a simple step that makes a big difference in keeping your wood’s appearance clean and professional. Remember to cover all parts of the wood with the primer and let it dry well. This way, you protect your project from the start and avoid the extra work of fixing stain bleeds later.

Randy CharlesProfessional Painter

Randy Charles is the owner of PaintCentric.com, a website dedicated to providing information, tips, tricks, and news about all things paint. With over 10 years of experience in the painting industry, Randy has become an expert in the field and is passionate about helping others learn more about painting. He has written numerous articles on the subject and is committed to providing accurate and up-to-date information to his readers.

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