One-Coat Paint Basics for Interiors and Exteriors

Paint roller applying white paint in diagonal strokes on wall

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Many homeowners who like the idea of painting may not like the reality of painting. The fun of selecting paint colors at the store moves onto the priming and preparation phase. Masking windows, putting down drop cloths, removing light fixtures and outlet and switch plates, as well as buying the paint, tools, and other materials, can take hours. Often, this blends into the task of painting because the painter goes directly from prepping to painting. Is there a way to get by with painting just one coat?

A type of interior and exterior paint called one-coat paint promises to end the time and labor commitment of applying two or three coats of paint. But does one-coat paint work? If so, is it guaranteed to work under all conditions?

One-Coat Paint

Designed for both interiors and exteriors, one-coat paint has a thicker consistency and high-build nature that might be able to eliminate multiple paint coats. One-coat paint contains more paint solids than conventional paints.

One-Coat Paint Basics

  • One-coat paint is a term used by paint manufacturers for heavy, thick acrylic-latex interior and exterior paint that builds up high.
  • Contains up to 20-percent more paint solids that give the paint more body than conventional paints.
  • Ordinary acrylic-latex paint usually requires two or more coats of paint. Only in limited conditions can you use one coat of ordinary acrylic-latex paint.
  • One-coat paint increases the possibility that you only need to use one coat but it is not an absolute since most one-coat paints come with a set of limitations.
  • Some one-coat paint limitations include overly porous surfaces, tannins, and heavy stains.
  • With one-coat paint, you typically must stick to a color palette that is specifically geared toward that one-coat paint series.
  • One-coat paints are not recommended for new drywall or bare wood surfaces, both of which benefit from a coat of primer.

Specialty vs. Decorative One-Coat Paints

One-coat paint is generally divided into two categories: specialty coatings for emergency repairs and difficult surfaces and decorative coatings for all other purposes.

Specialty Coatings

A type of one-coat paint has existed for years that is more geared toward coverage of problem areas and disaster repairs.

Paint brands such as Zinsser Perma-White and Kilz 2 have been coating thick paint on homes for decades in response to emergencies such as stained ceilings or water-flooded walls that have been dried out and put back into use. Usually, these specialty one-coat paints are available only in a few variations of white, though some brands offer a limited number of tints.

Decorative Coatings

In recent years, a newer class of heavy-bodied paints has emerged that no longer aims to apply only to disaster repairs.

One-coat paint is mainly about reducing painting time for busy homeowners. Unlike the one-color-only whites of the specialty coating paints, one-coat paints offer a broad selection of colors.

For example, Home Depot's house brand Behr advertises its Marquee line as "100% guaranteed one coat coverage," yet just over 1,000 colors are available. Pricier than other Home Depot offerings,

Marquee is also Behr's heaviest paint. While a pound or two may not seem like much, it is significant where paint is concerned. Total paint weight usually means that the paint has more solids, and solids are the ingredients in the paint that remain on the wall after drying.

One-Coat Paint Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Wide variety of colors

  • Eliminates downtime between coats

  • Thick paint build

  • May save money

Cons
  • Less colors than with conventional paints

  • One coat not guaranteed

  • Exclusions for some surfaces and conditions

  • Not best for stained surfaces or new drywall

Pros

While some brands do have limited color offerings, other manufacturers of one-coat paints have palettes of hundreds, even thousands, of colors.

Recoat time is a factor that painters need to be aware of: the time that you must wait before it's fine to add another coat. One-coat paint speeds up your painting project by eliminating the need to wait between coats.

For conventional paints, you'll want to wait an hour or two before recoating. Matte or flat paints have shorter recoat times.

With its thicker build, one-coat paint aids in hiding imperfections. Brush marks on the previous painted surface can often be covered up with one-coat paint.

Cons

One-coat paints have a specified range of colors that you must choose from. With conventional paints, the color palette is practically infinite. One-coat paints have a limited roster.

One-coat paint's marketing may impart the false impression that one coat of paint is guaranteed in every instance. This is not so. One-coat paint applied to ideal surfaces sometimes will not adhere properly.

Manufacturers' one-coat paint guarantees often exclude repaired surfaces, porous surfaces, surfaces that have previously been uncoated, surfaces that contain tannins (such as cedar), and surfaces with aggressive stains.

While one-coat paint offers advantages, there are a few aspects of laying down multiple coats of paint that one-coat products cannot duplicate. Multiple coats help to obliterate overlaps, smears, and lines. Extra coats deepen the color, making it richer and closer to the paint manufacturer's intended color register. Multiple layers also physically strengthen the paint. This is highly important for exterior painting. For door and window trim, you may want to lay down two coats or more because those areas experience heavy use and particularly need durable paint.

Professional painters tend to recommend rolling out two or more coats of paint. One point that professionals sometimes make to budget-conscious clients is that the bulk of the work is wrapped up in preparation. Clients would not save much money by using only one coat. While multiple coats always mean spending more money on paint, the professionals often thin down the second or third layers, thus reducing the need for more paint.

Brands of One-Coat Paints

  • Sherwin-Williams Infinity
  • Behr Marquee
  • Pittsburgh Paramount
  • Glidden One Coat
  • Wilko One Coat
  • Zinsser Perma-White
  • Dulux NeverMiss One Coat
  • Kilz 2

When Only One Coat of Paint Is Needed

It is always best, if conditions permit, to apply two or more coats of paint. However, sometimes time or budgetary limitations do not allow for more than one coat of paint. Conditions that make one-coat painting possible include:

  • When matching the existing color and that coat is still in good condition both physically and from a color standpoint, you can sometimes paint just one coat and achieve satisfactory results.
  • Similarly, when painting over pre-tinted primer that is close to or matching the eventual room color, you can often get by with just one coat of paint.
  • Interiors, especially clean, low-impact areas such as living rooms and dining rooms, are more forgiving environments for one-coat paint jobs than high-impact surfaces such as bathroom ceilings (due to mold and mildew), trim, hallways, and kitchens.
  • When painting a ceiling, unless the ceiling is especially stained, a single coat is often all that is needed. Ceiling stains are common in basements and bathrooms, especially poorly ventilated bathrooms.

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