Does 2 in 1 paint and primer work? About as well as 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner

You know those all-in-one shampoos and conditioners that promise to be a body wash, hand soap, and hair tonic? The ones you see in health clubs and gym locker rooms that promise to leave you feeling clean and soft? Those 2-in-1 or even the 3-in-1s don’t work well because the ingredients are really working against each other. Shampoo is designed to remove excess oil from your hair. Conditioner puts it back in. A good body wash will remove some oils but leave natural ones. It doesn’t take a cosmetologist to know all these things are at odds in the same bottle. The kinds of engineering required to literally mix oil and water can’t be as good as the individual components on their own.

The same goes for 2-in-1 self-priming paint, the stuff that promises to adhere to anything in fewer coats all while making you breakfast and lowering your car insurance rates at the same time. It just can’t do all that, at least not well.

A separate primer gives you a better paint job when you need it

Like 2-in-1 shampoo+conditioners using chemicals you’d likely never experience in dedicated products, there’s a dirty secret to the paint and primer in one you buy at the hardware store: self-priming paint doesn’t contain much or any primer. It’s just thicker paint with more solids. These products are designed to glom onto a wall or surface with more visible paint. It’s designed to look good as a paint.

That’s not inherently bad. Apartment buildings and facilities with constantly re-painted walls (like a daycare facility where crayon marks are part of life, for example) can use these products and get by just fine. Paint and primer all-in-one also:

  • Saves energy applying multiple coats, which can reduce costs in labor applying extra coats
  • Are working in little-trafficked rooms, corridors, or in a house where you expect to repaint again sometime in the next 1-3 years (like if you’re expecting a baby)

The use case for all-in-one paint and primer is mostly anytime you’re painting one color of latex paint over a similar color and when you can assume or trust the wall was originally primed.

Pro tip: if you put a delicate adhesive like Scotch tape on a wall and the paint comes off when you remove it after a short while, that’s a sign your walls were not primed and just painted directly on the drywall.

Notes on tinted primer and when you must use a good bonding primer

You should always use a dedicated primer and high-quality, original paint when:

  • Painting a porous surface like concrete or brick
  • Top coating new drywall
  • You’re trying to cover up cigarette smoke stains, water stains (be careful with mold issues), or a previously painted wall where the previous color is dramatically different in color
  • Painting wood surfaces
  • Working on exterior surfaces exposed to rain, the sun, or other elements
  • Painting a floor, porch, patio, or metal surface
  • Painting over an oil-paint job with modern latex paint

Primers help seal and close porous surface materials. You might save money in the short term buying the paint and primer in one, but you’re wasting time later as these wear easier on high-traffic areas or in places where the priming step was effectively “skipped”.

Priming separately with separate products designed to do one job and do it well will save time and money in the long run.

You may also want to consider tinted primer with certain vibrant paint colors. This specialty primer is designed to help some colors lay on a surface more vividly. For instance, red, orange, and other warm colors are more transparent than cooler colors. This is a result of the engineering in the paint and the wavelength warm colors operate at in the visible spectrum to our eyes. 

Using a gray-tinted primer can help some colors appear more vivid since the paint will eventually seep into the primer, and red-on-white looks pinker than red-on-gray. This means you’ll likely only need two coats instead of 3 on the wall, too.

A high-quality paint job is a sign of craftsmanship we take seriously

Paints come in a lot of options, but like your hair stylist who probably never uses the all-in-one shampoo and conditioners in their hair because they know better, professional painters never use all-in-one paint and primer on a personal project in their home.

Though there are times when a 2-in-1 paint and primer can work, like indoors and in places where you’re likely going to repaint again anyway (like in a rental), homeowners who want a long-lasting paint job and those working with outdoor, exposed, or raw surfaces should use a separate primer and regular paint that matches the sheen they need for the job.

Treat your walls like you treat your hair and your body: with some respect, care, and attention to detail. All of us here at Woodiwiss Painting won’t wash your hair, but we will ensure every step of the painting process at your home is done with craftsmanship and high-quality paint designed to give you as much as 7-10 years of durable, high-quality color.