This is the painting question I hear more than any other. Can you paint latex over oil paint? If you own an old house you’ve likely googled this question and that may be how you stumbled upon my website in the first place.
Nobody wants to watch their paint job fail prematurely so you’re asking the right question because in my years as a restoration contractor I have seen so many paint jobs fail for just this issue. Let’s get right to the answer!
Can You Paint Latex Over Oil Paint?
A fresh coat of oil paint can go over top of any surface that was previously painted with oil paint with little to know prep other than a good cleaning of the surface, but can latex do the same?
Latex paints do not bond well to the typically glossy and silky smooth surfaces of oil paints and this includes alkyd paint or natural oil paints like linseed oil paint both of which need special prep if you intend to paint latex over top of them.
So the short is answer is “Yes,” but you need to prep it properly or it will fail quickly and dramatically, peeling off in sheets making a ton of rework for you. There are three options that will work to prep those old oil painted surfaces before you top coat with latex paint. Make sure you do one of these prior to applying any latex paint over top of an oil paint and you’ll be just fine.
Option #1 Prime with Oil Primer
This is the most common choice for me. It’s simple and straight forward to prime old oil paint with a fresh coat of oil-based primer. Oils bond well to other oils and oil-based primer provides an excellent base for any paint. Once you prime with oil-based primer you can top coat with either oil paint or latex paint without issue.
Another advantage is that oil-based primer sands extremely well which can provide you with a super smooth finish when painting. This is especially important for projects like repainting cabinets, woodwork, or other trim.
Option #2 Sand the Surface
You have to resolve that glossy, smooth surface that oil paints create, and to do that effectively without priming you need to sand every little piece of that surface. I prefer using 220-grit paper for sanding in these cases. You have to be careful with intricate profiles and nooks and crannies because anywhere that you don’t sand will be the weak point of the future paint.
This option is just as effective as priming and possibly more effective since you can smooth out the previous coats of paint if there are any rough spots that exist. You just have to be extremely careful to sand everything and not skip even a small section.
Option #3 Degloss
The chemical version of sanding is deglossing. For this you would purchase a chemical “deglosser”, yes that’s what it’s called, and wipe it aggressively across the surface with a rag. The application is similar to waxing a car except that once it’s dry you don’t have to buff it off. Buff it evenly onto the surface and let it dry. Once it’s dry the surface should have a dull appearance and be ready for a fresh coat of latex or oil paint.
Now you know, you can paint latex over oil paint. You just need to make sure you do a little extra prep before breaking out the paint brush. If you complete one of these three steps then you’ll be just fine painting with latex and you’ll end up with great results.
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.