Oil Based Paint Drying Times

I write a lot about painting. While I wouldn’t call it a hobby, I find that paint can be an inexpensive and quick home renovation that I can do on my own. Plus, it’s a quick fix for when you get tired of the way something looks. There are hardly any drawbacks to using paint, and you will usually find that even if you are unhappy with a color, you can repaint it easily.

When it comes to paints, there are primarily three types: latex, oil-based, and acrylic. Oil-based often gets a bad rap because it is messier, higher in VOCs, and has a longer dry time. However, oil-based paints can dry in as little as six hours, and can provide a plethora of painting opportunities that other paints cannot.

oil based paint drying times

As home renovators- and not professionals- we all make mistakes. Let’s take a look at what happens when we don’t let our paint dry long enough, why it could be taking longer than you thought, and uses for these fantastic paints.


Oil-Based Paint Uses

Oil-based paints are exactly as they sound- they are based with oil. While there are some enamel paints that are water-based, they are not true oil-based paints. Whether you use oil-based or water-based enamel paints is up to you, but oil-based paints should be treated special when it comes to clean up and disposal for safety reasons.

Oil-based paints are highly sought in the professional construction industry for its many applications. It provides a hard, glass-like surface once it has dried and cured. Industrial companies and government municipalities use this paint to cover many things you see every day but don’t think about it. Lamp posts, fire hydrants, signs, gas tanks, electrical boxes, machinery, and nearly anything that looks very shiny and hard uses oil-based paints.

applying oil based paint to steel tubing

At home, you can use it for many items as well. Consider painting anything that is used outdoors with oil-based paint, such as chairs, tables, garages, decks, and shutters. Because oil-based paints are based with oil, they are water-resistant, which makes them perfect for outdoor uses. Some oil-based paints are even treated with heat resistant chemicals so they can be used to refurbish grills and firepits.

Anything that gets handled or used a lot should also be painted with oil-based paints because they are very resistant to damage. For instance, if you want to paint your kitchen cupboard doors or countertop, this is a much better choice than using latex paints that will chip away of scuff quickly. Oil-based paints are a good choice for furniture like side tables, bookcases, shelves, and the arms and legs of upholstered chairs.

Oil-based paints also come in spray paint cans, which makes them much easier to use. Spray paints come in both oil- and water-based paints, so be sure to read the labels. The oil-based spray paints are perfect for small projects that require a smoother finish, such as on railings and other metal surfaces.

Dry Times

This is where things can get complicated. Many people do not enjoy using oil-based paints because they take longer to dry than their latex counterparts. It is true that latex pain is dry to the touch after an hour, while oil-based requires between six and eight hours to lose the tackiness. However, it’s important to remember the reason that you’re using the oil-based paint, and understand that patience is a virtue for a reason. It pays off well.

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Typically, you should wait at least 24 hours before applying a second coat of oil-based paint. Doing this any sooner could cause the paint to clump or cause a drying issue. It takes roughly a week- or seven days- for the paint to cure. This is much less time than the 30 days recommended for latex paints. Once cured, it is safe to clean and should not scratch easily.

Preparing to Paint

As with any painting project, you should be sure to prep your area or object before starting the actual painting. This means you should fix any cracks or holes prior to painting, because these will just transfer over to the finished product without being fixed. Paint is not a solution for filling cracks and holes.

Use sandpaper to gently scrub loose paint chips and debris from the object that will be painted. This is essential if you are painting oil-based over existing latex. You’ll want to get rid of as much of the latex paint as you can. This is especially important if you are working with a metal object that has rust on it. You want to get rid of as much of the corroded material as possible prior to painting it. Otherwise, it will still rust beneath the surface, possibly come to the surface, and cause goopy looking finishes.

Wipe down all dirt, hair, and debris from the object before you begin painting. This guarantees that you will not have random lumps in your paint, but it will also not contaminate your paint for further projects and uses.

Be sure to use a primer on your project to cover old paint and prepare the surface. Some raw materials, like raw wood, need to be treated with primer before painting. Use an oil-based primer, because oil-based paint will not stick to water-based primers properly. Allow this coat to dry at least 24 hours before you begin to paint. This is especially important if you are attempting to cover latex paint with oil-based primer. The oil-based primer will not dry properly and may chip with time. So, be sure that the primer allows you to transfer between the mediums.

Painting Mistakes

There are some mistakes that all painters make, especially when using a product that they are not as comfortable with.

  • Be sure that the paint brush you are working with is compatible with your paint. Typically, oil-based paints work best with natural hair brushes, which are made from badger or hog hair. However, some synthetic bristles will work with oil-based paints as well.
  • Make sure the surface you are painting is completely dry. I don’t mean wiped dry, either. Any moisture will react against the oil. The paint will not adhere to the material, and it will only make a mess.
  • Paint in a well-ventilated area. Oil-based paints are much higher in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than latex paints, especially now that paint companies are trying to make latex paint better for the environment.
  • Allow paint to dry in between coats. If you were to put the second coat on before the first has fully dried (24 hours), it will cause an uneven coat, cause issues curing, and take even longer to dry. If you do not let the paint dry, the new layer will block the underlayers from drying, possibly permanently.
  • Use thinner coats rather than a heavy coat. Many people are anxious to get the painting done in one coat, but this will cause an uneven finish, streaking, and longer dry time. It’s always better to do two thin coats rather than one thicker coat.
  • Paint on a cool, dry day. If you decide to paint outdoors in the middle of July, you’ll find it takes much longer for the paint to dry. You want very little humidity in the air around the painted object. If it is humid, the solvents will not evaporate into the atmosphere to dry.
  • Adversely, do not paint on a very cold day, as the paint will not evaporate properly in this environment either.
  • Stir the paint periodically while painting, as oil-based paints like to separate and will cause a problem with consistency and color.
  • To help the paint dry more quickly, consider putting the object into a well-ventilated room with a fan, a dehumidifier, or air conditioning. These will keep air moving around the object and will help to suck any humidity from the air.
  • Do not sleep in the same room as the freshly painted object or wall for at least 24 hours, since this is still giving off a lot of gasses and VOCs.
  • When storing your paint, add about an inch of water on top of the paint before you close the lid. This will prevent any air getting to the fresh paint, causing it to harden in the can. The bonus is that water and oil do not mix, so you don’t have to worry about thinning out the paint.
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Clean up

Okay, the thing most people hate about oil-based painting: clean up. When I was a kid, I went to my grandparents and decided I would do something nice for them by repainting a shed they had in their yard. When I asked my grandpa for the equipment, he pointed me to the oil-based red paint he used before and reminded me that it wasn’t like paint I was used to. Fast forward to the chore being complete, and it was time for cleanup. I went to the side of the garage and used the hose to rinse the paint brush. It didn’t come clean. Worse, the paint got all over my hands and made a sticky mess. That was when I learned the difference between latex and oil-based paints.

Oil-based paints are made from oil. Surprise! That means that it is water-resistant (hello outdoor use). Because of the chemical makeup, you will need to use paint thinner or mineral spirits. It’s best to get two large buckets or tubs, so that you can work easily. Fill the tubs half way up with the paint thinner or mineral spirits. Trust me, this isn’t wasting anything.

Set the brushes and rollers in the tub to soak for about five minutes. It’s best to work outside when cleaning the brushes if you can to avoid chemical fumes and messes. Use nitrile gloves (latex will deteriorate in the solvent) on your hands to rub the brushes clean of the oil-based paint. Rub the bristles gently, because you do not want to damage the brush. Optionally, you could use a blotting technique, where you wipe the soaked brushes on disposable paper until it runs clear. Then rinse the clean brush in the second tub to remove any paint left behind.

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Squeeze out excess paint thinner from the brush, and then lay it out to dry. Do not rinse these brushes.

Discarding Paint

So, why is it not a waste when using so much paint thinner? It can be reused if properly handled. Let the tubs sit for at least 24 hours. The paint particles and solids will drop to the bottom of the tubs. Pour the clean thinner back into the jar or can. Be careful not to shake the bucket at all, or the paint may mix back in with the thinner. Pour the paint sludge into an old can to dispose of legally.

Now, I say legally because this is a very difficult task for some. People often hang onto their paint cans for years because they don’t know how or don’t want to be bothered disposing of them legally. Latex paints are easier to get rid of, but oil-based paints are a bit more difficult.

While many people have varying ideas on the Internet (some say letting empty cans dry and tossing them is fine), there is only one safe way to do this. First off, think of the environment and then think of the legal ramifications for breaking the law. So, it’s best to follow this route since it is the legal way recognized by the EPA.

Given the high levels of chemicals and VOCs, oil-based paints are considered hazardous materials. Because of this, you must take paint thinners, mineral spirits, and oil paints to a hazardous treatment center. I suggest this even with empty cans that may have some residue inside. These will be properly disposed of by the treatment center. If you’re unsure of where to go in your area, online sites can be very helpful, or contact your waste management services to get advice.