Painting Over Oil-Based Paint - Home Decorating & Painting Advice

Painting Over Oil-Based Paint

Q: How can I tell if a previously painted wall or piece of furniture was painted with oil-based paint?

A: Before you paint over oil paint, or if you suspect it is oil-based and want to find out for sure, just follow these steps.

How To Paint Over Oil-Based Paint

  1. Dip a cotton ball into a small amount of denatured alcohol.
  2. Rub it over a small area on the surface. 
  3. If the paint does NOT come off, it is oil-based paint and you will need to prime the surface with a bonding primer before applying latex paint. The primer can be latex, but it has to be a product that is made to prepare the surface and help with adhesion and that says “bonding” on the label. When the primer coats are dry, you can then successfully use latex paint.
  4. If the paint comes off, it is a water or latex-based paint and you can proceed by painting over the surface with any type of paint.
Special Note: If you are painting over stained wood, you need to use a stain-blocking primer. If you skip this step, your painted finish will start to get a brown tinge in areas where the tannins in the wood seeps through.

If you bought a piece of painted furniture at an antique store or live in an older home, it’s likely that the furniture or some of the woodwork, molding, cabinets or doors in your home were painted with oil-based paint.

How To Paint Over Oil Paint
Nowadays oil paints are rarely used and most paints you buy to paint your home are water-based latex formulas. But, now you know how to check to see if the paint is oil-based, before you start your painting project.

Time-Saving Primer Tip: Most primers are white. If you are painting a dark color over a previously light color of paint, buy or have the primer mixed to a gray color. This will help bring out the depth in the dark color and also save you time, since the dark base will lessen the need for multiple coats of paint to obtain complete coverage.
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