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What Is an Adhesive Primer?

By Joshua Nuttall
Updated May 17, 2024
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An adhesive primer is product designed to improve the effectiveness of an adhesive, and is basically used to pre-treat the substances that are about to be attached together. It’s particularly popular with porous surfaces that might otherwise absorb the adhesive, and is also used frequently in very low temperature situations. It’s often hard for even the strongest industrial glues to work well in environments that are consistently below freezing, and using a primer can help construction workers and others get better results. Most primers are latex-based, and usually come as either a spray or a paint. They’re normally fairly easy to use, though people often need to take care to be sure the area is thoroughly cleaned and dry before beginning the application.

Basic Concept

Permanent adhesive products are widely used in a number of different settings, from crafts to building construction. Their main goal is to stick things together in such a way that they can’t be removed, at least not easily. Many of the strongest adhesives are designed to work with virtually any set of surfaces, but different conditions can mean that they aren’t always as effective as they might otherwise be. This is where primers come in. Primers help prepare the surfaces for the bonding agents that are coming, and can improve the conditions so that the adhesives are more powerful and work better.

One of the most common uses for adhesive primers is when binding one or more porous substances. Permanently adhering nearly anything to a porous substance is often really difficult. The problem is that, because the substrate is porous, it will absorb the adhesive and shorten the usable life of the carpet, linoleum, or other material that should remain glued down for a long time. Primers are used to increase the bonding quality of any adhesive, whether it is pre-applied, as with peel-and-stick tile, or if it must be spread, as with many types of carpeting.

Core Properties

The vast majority of primers on the market are made of latex. Almost all are water-based, and are normally designed to dry quite quickly. Depending on the ambient air temperature and the relative humidity, dry times range between 30 minutes and three hours. Substrates can be either vertical or horizontal, and include drywall, wood, plaster, masonry, concrete, wood and wood underlays, and poured-in-place gypsum subfloors.

General Usage Instructions

The area that will be primed should be ready to go before the primer is applied to the substrate. This means that the area to be primed, the primer, and the adhesive should be kept at or above 65°F (18.3°C) for at least 48 hours before and 48 hours after the primer and adhesive are installed. This will ensure that the primer dries evenly, and that the adhesive itself will dry correctly. Warm materials bond to adhesive more readily than do cold materials, which means that acclimatizing the environment and materials is also really important.

When applying adhesive primer, a short nap paint roller or a coarse fiber brush should be used. If puddles form during application, they should be rolled or brushed through so they will not become a bonding issue when the adhesive is applied. In nearly all cases the primer should be used at full strength, and tools can be cleaned with warm water.

Considerations Before Getting Started

The amount of coverage that will be provided with a given amount of adhesive primer will vary depending on the porosity and the smoothness of the substrate, but there are still some things users can do before application to help improve their results. Rougher substrates should be smoothed as much as possible with a patching and leveling compound. The compound should be dried and cured according to the manufacturer’s recommendations getting started with the primer.

It’s also really important to be sure the substrate is clean. This means that it is free of any kind of surface contaminants that will prevent the primer from working at its ideal level. Any dust, dirt, wax, polish, paint, oil, grease, or other contaminants that will interfere with effective material bonding should be removed. The substrate must also be in good, usable condition.

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Discussion Comments
By Animandel — On Dec 29, 2014

I used the peel and stick tile in the backdoor entry way in our previous house, and it worked really well. I didn't know it came with the pre-applied adhesive primer. I only knew it had something sticky on the back. I put the tile over an old linoleum rug that had been on the floor for ages, and the tile stuck perfectly -- no loose spots or bulges.

By Drentel — On Dec 28, 2014

@Feryll - Peeling paint can be caused when old layers of oil-base paint are covered with some of the newer water-base paints. This is common in older houses. However, there are many other issues that can cause paint to peel off of walls.

The first thing you want to do is scrape off and removed any peeling paint. Some people make the mistake of painting over the peeling areas because they think the new coat of paint is going to somehow take care of all of the problems. It doesn't.

Once you remove the peeling paint, sand the walls to even out the spots, so that you don't have a noticeable hole or indention where paint has been removed. Once you do this and then wipe the walls down to remove dust and any other particles, you can begin applying a good adhesive primer.

The primer will cover any of the old layers of oil-base paint and also provide a solid foundation for the new paint you are using to cover the walls.

By Feryll — On Dec 27, 2014

There are walls in our house that have paint that is peeling in rather large pieces. The real estate agent told us this was because the previous owners painted over oil based paint with a water based paint, or the other way around. I don't remember which it was, but the paint is peeling.

Will an adhesive primer allow me to paint over the walls and not have to worry about the new coats of paint peeling off?

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