How to Paint Over Oil-Based Paint

Woman Painting Over Oil-Based Paint

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 - 3 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 days
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $20 to $60

Oil-based paint once ruled the world of interior paint for high-impact areas such as trim work, doors, and cabinets. When it dries, oil-based paint emits a host of VOCs (volatile organic content) that are harmful to the environment. The paint is often messy and smelly since mineral spirits or paint thinner must be used for clean up, not water.

If a house is old enough, it will likely have oil-based paint somewhere, since water-based latex paint wasn't introduced until the 1940s. And newer houses might have some areas of oil-based paint since it is not entirely banned: Oil-based paint is still available in quart sizes or smaller. Many professional painters even favor oil over latex for a smoother, rock-hard finish that leaves no brush marks, gaps, or bubbles. You'll typically find oil-based paint used on door casings, trims and moldings, mantels, cabinetry, and shelving.

Can You Paint Over Oil-Based Paint?

Latex paint (and even other oil-based paint) can be successfully applied over older oil-based paint as long as the surface is fully cured and there is nothing inherent in the coating that prevents another layer of paint to be added.

Preparation is important. Glossy surfaces will not take a second layer of paint well, so they need proper cleaning and priming. You can achieve that by following these steps.

Before you begin painting, make sure to get enough paint to finish the project with the help of The Spruce's Paint Calculator.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • High-quality paintbrush
  • Fine 180-grit to 220-grit sandpaper
  • Medium 100-grit to 150-grit sandpaper (optional)
  • Putty knife or five-in-one tool
  • Tack cloth


  • Wood putty or wood filler
  • TSP (trisodium phosphate)
  • Paint primer
  • Paint
  • Soft sponge (for TSP)
  • Protective glasses
  • Protective gloves


  1. De-Gloss the Surface

    With sandpaper, manually scuff down the surface of the oil-based paint layer for improved stickability. Aim for eliminating surface sheen or gloss; the goal isn't to remove all the paint, just scuff up the surface so new primer and paint can adhere well. If fine-grit sandpaper isn't working well, switch to gentle scuffing with medium-grit sandpaper.


    If you are scuffing up cabinetry or trim with details, you may prefer to sand by hand instead of using a power sander. A power sander may apply too much pressure on the surfaces.

  2. Remove Chips

    Pry off any loose paint from the walls with a five-in-one tool or putty knife

  3. Fill in Small Gaps and Holes

    Fill small gaps and holes with wood putty or wood filler. Let the filler dry completely, then lightly sand the filled areas with fine-grit sandpaper.

  4. Clean With a Tack Cloth

    After the surface is completely dry, gently use a tack cloth to wipe down the surface to catch dust, dirt, or sandpaper granules. 


    Tack cloth is an inexpensive, simple product made of cheesecloth impregnated with beeswax. Its sticky surface takes up stray dust particles. Use gently; applying hard pressure will result in a waxy surface which can be hard to remove.

  5. Deep Clean the Surface

    If the surface is exceptionally dirty and greasy even after using a tack cloth, your best bet is to use TSP to do a deep cleaning before priming.

    Mix 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup (for extra dirty surfaces) TSP with a gallon of hot water. Use a sponge that's damp with the TSP solution to wash the surfaces. Wash surfaces from the bottom up to reduce streaking.

    After cleaning with TSP, sponge the surface with fresh water to rinse (unless you have chosen a no-rinse TSP formula). Let the surface thoroughly air-dry.


    TSP, known as trisodium phosphate, is a harsh but effective cleaning chemical used to prepare walls and other surfaces for paint. It also acts as a de-glosser. Make sure you have adequate ventilation, skin, and eye protection before using TSP.

  6. Prime the Surface

    With the surface completely dry and clean of dirt, you can now prime it. This is essential as it prevents the latex paint from peeling. Brush the primer onto the surface, using at least one coat. Let it dry thoroughly.

  7. Paint the Surface

    After the primer is dry, you're ready to paint. Paint as you normally would, using two coats if necessary. Let the paint dry for at least two hours between applications.


    For the best painting technique, do not load up the brush with too much paint; only dip the tip of the bristles into the paint. Draw the paint in slow, even strokes, always maintaining a wet edge.