Painting Over Oil Based Paint


When you want to redecorate your home, painting is usually the easiest way to transform spaces within. A gallon of paint is much less expensive than rolls of wallpaper or sections of paneling. It is also less expensive than replacing handrails and mailboxes with chipped paint.

The problem can arise, however, when the object or area in question is painted with something other than latex paint. For instance, if you want to repaint the front stairs handrail, but it is painted with oil based paint, the process is not as simple as putting on a coat of paint and being done with the project. The steps below will guide you through painting over oil based paint, so that you can give new life to old pieces for a fraction of the cost of replacing them.


The first thing you will need to do is prepare the area you want to repaint. If it is outdoors where oil based paint is commonly used, make sure that the weather forecast calls for clear days ahead, as the process of repainting will take a few days. Place a tarp or piece of plastic sheeting under the area before beginning. It is never advisable to sand away paint, especially if it is old, because it may contain lead, but you may want to wipe the area down just to remove any loose pieces of paint. While doing this, eye protection and a painting mask are advisable. Gloves are also important to wear, as you will be working with primer in the following step. Once the loose paint has been gently wiped away, it is time to begin the repainting process.

Priming the Area

When repainting an oil based paint area, primer is essential, because the only type of paint that will truly work on a previously oil paint based surface is another coat of oil paint. Unlike latex paint, oil based paint is very finicky about what it adheres to. If the surface is not cleaned and primed, the oil paint will rarely stick to it. Prime the area with a full coat of oil paint primer and let it dry completely. Apply a second coat of primer and let it sit until it, too, is completely dry. Expect for it to take anywhere from 24-48 hours for each coat of primer to dry completely. Some primers have quicker drying times, so if it is a concern for you, check the labels and manufacturer’s directions before purchasing primer.


Oil based paint is very different from latex, in that, it can be difficult to hide painting mistakes and streaks. When painting the area, be sure that the brushes and/or rollers that you are using are specifically designed for oil paint application. When painting, use even strokes and equal amounts of paint. This will help eliminate streaking and create an even look. Allow the paint to dry completely before applying a second coat of paint. Oil based paint can be incredibly sticky, so be careful not to leave fingerprints or marks on the paint as it is drying. If done properly, the piece will look like new.

One Response

  1. The mistaken concept (usually passed down from word of mouth rather that from actual experience) that latex cannot be painted over oil, is an error… it can indeed, with today’s modern Acrylic Paints…

    The misconception has arisen over years of copy, due to untested applications, untrustworthy sources and again just from “not really knowing the way to do it”…

    First, if the oil is a high sheen, like semi or gloss, a quick block sanding should be done using coarse paper, if it is a flat sheen, then just proceed… don’t worry about lead in paint… it hasn’t been manufactured that way in over 25 years, but if indeed you have an older condition, do wear eye, hand, and face protection…

    Second, you absolutely must use a reputable finish coat paint, otherwise multiple coats will likely be required… use Sherwin Williams Classic-99 or for exteriors Sherwin Williams A-100 …use latex (acrylic) for either case…

    Again contrary to what the article states, you do not need any primer to achieve good bonding if you use High Quality Paint… priming is only required for other reasons… if perhaps if the current color is very dark, and you are covering it with a very light color (in this case just use the finish coat paint and give it a quick dry “wash coat” for priming)… or if there are bare spots, then spot prime them locally using an exterior/interior oil primer…

    Apply the latex as you would normally, using proper tools and brushing and/or rolling techniques… allow a full 2 weeks for complete curing.

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