How To Clean Zinsser Bin Off Brushes. Using The Product Properly

Zinsser BIN is a shellac-based primer, sealer, and stain sealer with a white pigment. Shellac is a resin produced by the female lac bug, a native insect of some Asian countries, such as Thailand and India. It is oil-based and often an ingredient in nail polish.

Shellac, the main component of BIN is composed of acids and natural waxes. It can be used as a colorant, food glaze, wood finish, and as in BIN, a tough natural primer, sealant, tannin, odor blocker, stain, and varnish. Shellac replaced oil and wax finishes in the 19th century and reigned supreme until the introduction, in the 1920s and 30s, of nitrocellulose lacquer.

Zinsser BIN is available in 1L, 2.5L, and 5L tins, and can be found in aerosol spray cans. It is extremely quick drying and can ruin brushes even if you clean them properly and use a good brush restorer.

What Can Zinsser BIN Be Used For?

It can be used on both exterior and interior surfaces. It adheres to glossy and matt surfaces, and even glass without needing sanding or roughening of the surface. It can be used on ceramic tile, PVC, metal pipes, radiators, metal grills, fire doors, and galvanizing. It can permanently block pets, smoke or musty smells, stains made from water or mold damage, and seal wood knots and sap streaks.

BIN has a quick drying and curing period. It can provide a solid surface for topcoats, to prevent chipping or scrapping quickly. BIN also seals surface pores and holes, therefore reducing the amount of paint required. Whatever color your wall is, even if it is dark, Zinsser BIN will turn it into a smooth, white surface ready for your new paint job.


As mentioned above, this product is very versatile. It can be applied with a brush or spraying, which is probably better for large projects. It can be used on various surfaces including wood, metal, ceramic, and PVC. It is of very thin consistency, and smooth. Once dried and cured, it provides a hard-wearing, level-primed surface.

Limitations and Disadvantages

BIN has only one application disadvantage, in that it is inclined to go brittle over time. In areas of high moisture and temperatures, such as bathrooms and exterior surfaces, the constant expanding and contracting of large surfaces can cause them to crack eventually. It is therefore recommended that it only be used for small surfaces in these locations.

The fact that it dries quickly can be a disadvantage as well leaving you with little time to perfect priming tasks. It is also a good idea to not use your very good paintbrushes to apply this product, with its tendency to ruin your painting equipment.

Because it is so thin, it can be messy to apply especially with a brush or roller. The fumes, especially when spraying, can be hazardous to your health.

Because BIN dries to an extremely hard coating, it is more difficult to sand it off than other oil-based primers. It hardens completely within 3 days.

How to use Zinsser BIN Properly

  • Step 1

Ensure that you have all the equipment you will need to complete your job close at hand. This may include your product, paintbrushes or mini roller (for small jobs), rag or sponge, acetone, denatured alcohol, or detergent containing ammonia. Brush cleaner and restorer. Use a face mask and gloves, to protect your lungs from fumes, and skin.

  • Step 2

Cleaner the area to be primed. Remove dust, loose material, or other debris. Dry if you have wet it.

  • Step 3

Apply the product with a soft-bristled good-quality brush. Try not to work over the same area too many times. Apply, smooth, and leave to dry.

If applying to a larger area, work on smaller sections at a time, bringing your back roller stroke back quickly. Keep your solvent nearby to clean up spills before they dry or to thin the primer if it stiffens in your paint pan.

  • Step 4

Allow to dry, 15-20 minutes should be enough time.

  • Step 5

Re-apply after about 45 minutes, if needed. In most cases, one coat should be sufficient, unless over very porous surfaces. If you are spot priming, do so only under high-hiding topcoat finishes. Prime the entire surface before starting to paint.

  • Step 6

Clean your equipment thoroughly.

How to clean your brushes

This part of the process warrants a section of its own as BIN is notoriously difficult to remove from painting equipment.

Soak brushes in alcohol to dissolve the shellac immediately after use, then wash in 1 part ammonia to 3 parts detergent. If the primer has dried on your brushes, soak them overnight in a solution of 1 part ammonia to 1 part water. Ensure you shake all cleaning products off brushes and rollers before using the product again to prevent excessive thinning from residue on your tools.

If you have dried spills and drips on floors or other surfaces, denatured alcohol or ammoniated detergent is suitable to soften and remove the primer. Rinse with water and allow to dry.

Tips, Tricks, and Precautions When Using Zinsser BIN

  • As mentioned above, but important to repeat. Ensure you use face and hand protection.
  • Keep away from heat, open flames, sparks, and other ignition sources, and do not smoke while working with the product.
  • Unless you are a fast neat brush and roller painter, consider using the spray-on product.
  • Do not use fine steel wool or any abrasive product to try and smooth out the BIN finish, it will show every crack or crevice in your surface and may leave bits of metal from the steel wool.
  • Use a small roller to back brush larger surfaces to minimize the time dipping your brush into the tin again.
  • If you like the color of BIN and would prefer not to use another color over it, apply 2 coats and a clear topcoat to prevent moisture from seeping into the primer.
  • When renovating older wooden cabinets that have previously been painted. It is important to remove the old paint and sand down the wood. Wipe down to remove dust and residue before applying BIN.
  • There is speculation regarding BIN as a wooden floor primer. Consult with the manufacturer before using it for this purpose.
  • Just like all primers, they have a shorter shelf life than paint. Shellac, in particular, can go bad in less than a year.
  • Be prepared to throw away your brushes. Zinsser BIN is notoriously hard to remove from painting tools. If you use a spray gun, be aware that you will need to strip it after use to clean it.

Last Thoughts

Zinsser BIN is a popular product to use as a primer, being quick drying, providing a neat surface for topcoats, and adhering to nearly all surfaces without requiring roughening. It can be used for small and large projects and can be applied using brushes, rollers, or spraying. It has very few limitations, only the tendency to become brittle, therefore not suitable for surfaces that expand and contract due to environmental causes.

The most difficult issue with this product is cleaning up afterward. Brushes and rollers require multiple applications and soaking in alcoholic preparations, ammonia-based detergents, and brush restorers. Always be prepared to discard brushes if you are unable to clean them properly, and count them into the cost of the job.