Can You Use Latex Paint Over Oil-Based Primer?

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DIYers have been taught time and again not to mix oil primers with other paints, but what happens if you only have latex paint? Are you doomed to have peels and chips? 

In this article, I’ll share whether you can use latex paint over oil-based primer and discuss what you need to know before taking out your paint roller.

Knowing More About Latex Paint

Latex paints are fast-drying paints created from acrylic resin that come with a water base, similar to acrylic paints. It usually comes in three kinds: latex acrylic, vinyl acrylic, and alkyd-modified latex.

Latex paint is great if you’re working with large surfaces. Besides being quick to dry, it is also versatile as it comes in different finishes, which include flat, matte, gloss, eggshell, and satin. This makes it suited for painting walls, ceilings, galvanized metals, and more.

What’s a Shellac Primer?

Shellac-based primers are used to seal the wood on interior and exterior surfaces made from plaster, metal, and plastic. Drying in less than an hour, they act faster compared to latex primers. 

Woodworkers find shellac primers handy in preventing stains from seeping through oil paint as well as sealing smells on surfaces damaged by water and smoke.

Zinsser Shellac

While shellac-based primers work well with latex and oil-based paints, they can emit more fumes. They also aren’t as versatile as a latex primer or oil primer. 

Should you decide to work with shellac primers, I’d strongly suggest using denatured alcohol both for thinning the product and cleaning your tools afterward.

Related: What’s a Dewaxed Shellac

What’s an Oil-Based Primer?

Oil-based primer is another popular pick that can be used as a paint foundation for an even and smooth application. 

It can be used in both interior and exterior painting projects and wood surfaces in different states, be it bare, highly damaged, or varnished. It is also excellent in sealing porous surfaces like cedar and redwood.

An oil-based primer is highly effective in keeping paint from staining, peeling, and cracking. When working with bare or weathered wood, it can also seal nails and knots for a fresh-looking coat.

mixing oil-based primer

While a high-quality oil-based primer can work well with either water or oil-based paint, they are not fast to dry. If you’re working on a rush job, then I suggest looking at other options.

Is Oil-Based Primer Safe for Use?

You need extra caution when using oil primer. This is because they aren’t completely safe, containing carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

It can release harmful fumes that can cause respiratory issues and eye and skin irritation. Prolonged exposure can also lead to neurological symptoms, including lightheadedness and nausea.

You also cannot simply use soap and water when cleaning an oil-based primer. Doing so requires harsher chemical solvents that can lead to medical issues. Turpentine [1], for example, is toxic and can lead to asphyxiation, vision loss, and renal failure.

spraying primer on a bench

If you must work with an oil-based primer, ensure that your space has good ventilation. 

How to Tell If the Wall Paint Is Latex or Oil-Based?

Before beginning to paint, it is important to determine if the surfaces have oil-based or latex paint. This is to ensure that the new coat will adhere nicely. Otherwise, you risk starting over and having to deal with plenty of elbow grease.

Here are the steps to take to test your paint:

  1. Oil-based paints feel different to the touch compared to latex. Old oil-based paint is smoother and glossier and gives off a wet edge texture, while a top latex paint layer feels rubbery.
  2. You can also do a cotton test to be more certain. Take a cotton ball dipped in acetone or alcohol and applied to the paint. Oil-based paints will remain intact, but latex will be rubbed off.

How to Paint Latex Over an Oil-Based Primed Surface

You can use latex paint over oil-based primer, but there are steps to take before painting. This way, your work will stick properly and be less likely to peel.

Step #1: Have Your Workspace Ready

Make sure your workspace has good ventilation – this means opening windows and doors for proper air circulation. 

preparing work area

Have tools within reach as well as protective equipment to keep you from breathing harmful fumes. Newspaper or tarps are great for keeping stains to a minimum.

Step #2: Clean the Wood Surface

Before you paint latex over oil-based primer, you need to prep the surface. Remove any dirt or grime to make sure your primer sticks properly. 

It can be as easy as soaking the sticky surface with a cloth of soapy water or using a prepping cleanser for deep cleaning. Allow the painted surface to dry completely before proceeding.

Step #3: Strip Off Any Bad or Old Gloss Paint

You have to strip the glossy surface for the new coat to adhere properly. To do this, use a reliable paint stripper, take a wire brush, and scrub off any particles, such as dirt and dust. Wearing protective gear will prevent you from inhaling debris and toxic chemicals.

Step #4: Sand the Top Surface

With fine-grit sandpaper or an electric sander, sand the surface for better primer and paint application. You can also use a putty knife to remove peels.

person holding sanding block

Wash to clean the surface, and then let it dry. Afterward, take a tack cloth or use a pressure washer to remove any remaining dust.

Step #5: Apply the Primer

Take your preferred oil primer latex paint and apply following the manufacturer’s instructions. The primer will now make it easier to apply latex paint over oil.

I’d advise selecting a primer that closely aligns with the shade of your latex paint. For the best results, apply two coats to the surface.

Step #6: Repeat Sanding

Pick up your sander again to lightly sand and even the entire surface. This will improve the paint adhesion with your bonding primer. Wash away any particles left.

sanding furniture

Step #7: Start Painting

It’s time to begin the painting process – apply a single or double coat of latex paint with your preferred tool for application, be it a brush, roller, or sprayer. 

Leave it for two to four hours to dry, and then apply another layer. The ideal number of coats can be up to five to give the surface full density.

Step #8: Sealing

This step is important to prevent paint cracking or any other damage after your paint job. Using a roller or a brush, you can apply a sealant suitable for latex paint to seal porous surfaces. More layers of coat ensure better paint quality.

Step #9: Drying Time

Allot at least 48 hours for the paint to dry. You can also take a fan or heater to make the process faster.

Thinner coat applications should take a shorter time to dry.

Why Should You Use Latex Over Oil-Borne Primers?

An oil primer is versatile, so it can work with either oil-based paint or water-based paint. Besides aesthetically pleasing results, you can use latex paint over oil-based primer because of the following: 

pouring paint

Reduces Working Time

Oil-based paints and oil-based primers are slow to dry. Oil paint isn’t preferred, especially if you’re working with a tight timeframe. Applying water-based paint and latex paint on oil-based primer will cut the drying time shorter.

More Durable Paint

The downside to using water on oil primers is that it sacrifices durability. The paint will be easy to wear, unlike when using both oil-based primers and paints. 

Using a primer made of oil and latex paints together is the middle ground in terms of time, strength, and durability. The oil primer will make a high-quality latex paint that can also dry quicker than oil paint.

Environmentally Friendly

Using oil-based products for both your primer and paint is risky because both have high amounts of chemicals that are dangerous to your health as well as the environment. 

spray painting cabinet

You’d be safer applying latex paint on oil primers because the combination will produce fewer harmful fumes. But can you use oil-based primers on top of latex paint? Find out next!

Why Choose an Oil-Based Primer and When to Use one

Many primers are designed to work with different kinds of paint. But sometimes, oil primers best other options like latex primers when it comes to efficiency.

Here are instances when using an oil-based primer is preferred over a latex primer:

Covering Stubborn Odors and Stains

Painting over stains and stubborn odors are some of the common reasons for wanting to apply fresh paint. 

However, your primer has a part in making the paint more effective in keeping stains and odors from seeping through. This is a bigger concern if you are working with water-based paints.

furniture painted with latex

Oil-based primers are excellent sealants and are less likely to degrade faster than water-based primers.

Painting Fresh Wood & Metal

Unfinished surfaces are like bare wood and metal, more susceptible to damage. These materials can deform or corrode when it comes in contact with moisture. Latex primers also lead to similar effects.

Oil-based primers offer the most protection regardless of the type of paint you go for.

Painting Using an Oil-Based Paint

While oil-based primers can work with different paints, oil paints strictly require oil-based primers for the best results.

Rust-Oleum 1974730-6PK Painter's Touch Latex

Oil paints result from painting cracks when applied over a latex primer. Latex primers move on painted surfaces and will create tension on oil paints.

Essential Tips for Placing Latex on Top of Oil-Based Primers

Here are my tried and tested tips to get the results when you use latex paint over an oil primer:

Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Primer: What are the Differences?

When shopping, you might come across a water-based primer, which will make choosing more complicated. When should you pick it over an oil-based primer? Have a look at the following considerations:

applying paint primer on wooden frame

Drying Time

Water evaporates faster than oil. Following that logic, a water-based primer will dry sooner than an oil primer. You can apply another coat in as short as an hour with a water solvent.

Adhesion

Both primers are versatile and offer great adhesion, but oil-based primers have gone out of fashion in recent years. However, oil reacts better with bare metals and wood.

Durability

Oil-based primers have a longer lifespan than water-based primers because it dries into a scratch-resistant, rigid film that can withstand harsh elements. 

As such, it is ideal for outdoor projects like when applying patio paint. Water-based primers work better indoors.

Consistency

Water-based primers have a thinner consistency than oil-based primers, which is why preparation and application are easier. However, the thin consistency makes it less effective in preventing stains and odors.

filling spray container with paint

Meanwhile, oil primers are thicker. For this reason, they have better coverage. This consistency comes with a price, though: brush marks can be more visible.

Factors Affecting the Drying Time of Oil-Based Primer

Oil primers typically take at least eight hours to dry, but the following factors will impact the total drying time:

Number of Coats/Layers

Thin layers evaporate more quickly, allowing you to apply the next coat sooner. Too many coats of primer slow down the drying process because the solvent takes longer to reach the painted surface.

Humidity

If you’re working in a humid environment, the oil primer will stay sticky for an extended period because it will take time to reach the surface and evaporate. 

painting drawers

The ideal humidity level will depend on the product, however, so it’s best to check the manufacturer’s instructions.

Temperature

High temperatures will speed up the drying process, but this isn’t ideal because the finish will still be moist underneath, leading to an uneven surface. The opposite is expected to happen in lower temperatures.

How To Speed Up the Drying Time

Unless you have a deadline, I’d advise against speeding up the drying process. Hastening it up could ruin the finish, making it less optimal for painting. 

However, if you need to do so, the following methods are the least risky:

Maintain a Lower Humidity

You can reduce the humidity in your workspace with a dehumidifier. If you don’t have one handy, you can also postpone priming until humidity levels are lower.

LEVOIT Air Purifier power and control buttons

Opt For a Fast-Drying Oil-Based Primer

Shop for primers that are labeled as fast-drying. If you don’t want to waste your regular primer, you can purchase an additive that could make it dry faster.

Increase Airflow

Oil primers dry faster with proper ventilation. You can also use a fan for better air circulation.

Applying Water-Based Paint Over Oil-Based Primer: Is it Doable?

I highly recommend using water-based paint, including water-based acrylic paint, over oil primers. The process will vary slightly but ensure to sand before applying the paint as a topcoat. It will also serve better as interior paint.

Reasons Why Oil Paints Don’t Mix

You can use oil primers as a base for different paints, but you should never mix oil paints. 

There are different kinds of oil used to create paints, with each having features that won’t necessarily work with others. For example, boiled linseed oil will make raw linseed oil toxic.

oil-based paint

If you have to mix, make sure you are working with paints made from the same oil or manufacturer.

My Picks for The Best Latex Paint and Oil-Based Primer

Here are some oil primers and latex paints that I highly recommend: 

1. Rust-Oleum 1992730 Painter's Touch Latex Paint

With its water-based acrylic formula, this latex paint’s low odor provides long-lasting protection that resists chips. It’s suitable for use on surfaces such as wood, metal, plaster, masonry, and unglazed ceramic. 

It can handle up to 30 square feet effectively. One standout feature for me is its drying time; being touch-dry in just 30 minutes, it allows me to wrap up projects promptly.

2. Diamond Brite Paint Kitchen & Bathroom White Semi Gloss Latex Paint

This is a highly effective semi-gloss latex paint specifically designed for use in areas exposed to splashing. I highly recommend using this for kitchens and bathrooms as it gives off a low-luster enamel surface finish.

The paint’s formula includes additives that can prevent brown spotting, which is a common issue in humid and damp environments.

3. Rust-Oleum 7780502 Stops Rust Protective Enamel Paint

This weather and corrosion-resistant primer is an excellent choice for both indoor and outdoor projects. Its ability to bond tightly to surfaces such as wood, metal, concrete, and masonry are exceptional. 

At the same time, it provides great adhesion for a top coat, perfect for use in heavy-use environments.

4. Diamond Brite Paint Industrial Oil Base Enamel Primer

This durable gloss enamel is great for protecting interior and exterior surfaces against repeated abrasion, rust, and various household chemicals. 

With its ability to dry extremely hard, it’s well-suited to surfaces that receive high traffic use, both residential and commercial.

FAQ

Can I use latex paint over Kilz oil-based primer?

Yes, you can use latex paint over a Kilz oil-based primer. The primer can improve the durability of the paint.

What happens if you put latex paint over oil-based paint?

If you put latex paint over oil-based paint, it will result in an uneven or patchy finish. You will have to prep the surface properly to create a stronger, durable bond.

What kind of paint can go over oil-based paint?

The kind of paint that can go over oil-based paint includes latex, oil, and water-based paints. However, you’ll need a bonding primer and a sanding tool before you use latex paint and other non-oil options to make it adhere better.

Can you apply oil-borne primer over latex?

Yes, you can apply oil-borne primer over latex paint. You should sand and wash the surface of any debris before applying the primer.

Can you apply acrylic paint over oil-based primer?

Yes, you can apply acrylic paint over an oil-based primer. The oil creates a smoother finish with acrylic paint.

Read Next: Is it Okay To Use Wall Paint on Furniture?

Conclusion

While it goes against the widely held belief that you should stick to primers and paints of the same base, you can use latex paint over an oil-based primer. 

The mix is preferable, especially if you want to have a long-lasting finish that will keep odors and stains at bay. The combination also works great with bare wood and metals.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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