How Long to Wait Between Coats of Paint

Paint cans in home

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

We're all in a hurry to see the gorgeous results of that paint job. So, it's natural to want to push subsequent paint coats earlier and earlier.

One of the surest ways to ruin your paint is to apply later coats before the earlier coats are fully cured. If you hurry the coats, you risk ruining an otherwise perfect paint job by creating pulls and streaks in still soft, wet paint. Bubbles and pits form that are not easily repaired.

With today's improved paint technology, the paint dries faster than ever, allowing you to finish rooms within a day or two instead of over several days. Still, you want to make sure that your current coat of paint is fully dry before applying the next coat and it can be a balancing act. Push the paint coats and you ruin the surface. Wait too long and the project takes longer than it should.

What Dry, Recoat, and Cure Mean

There are three distinct time frames to be aware of when interior painting with water-based acrylic-latex paint or oil-based paint (also known as alkyd or solvent-based paint).

Paint Dry Time

Paint dry time is the period of time that it takes for wet paint to become tack-free and dry to light contact. Sometimes, paint manufacturers refer to this as "dry to the touch."

For purposes of recoating, dry time is deceptive. It's easy to believe that if the paint can be touched by fingers, it can be touched with a paintbrush, too.

Paint Recoat Time

Paint recoat time is the period of time that it takes for the paint to be thoroughly ready so you can apply another layer of paint. This can be as little as 30 minutes for flat latex paint to nearly 3 hours for a glossy paint.

Paint Cure Time

Paint cure time is the time it takes for the paint to fully harden so it becomes washable and more touchable. This can sometimes take weeks, depending on the season and your climate

You don't have to be concerned about a paint's cure time when it comes to recoating. Stay within the following margins of dry and recoat times for both water-based and oil-based paints for a smooth, flawless finish on your interior walls, trim, and cabinetry.

Recoat Time for Water-based Paint

Water-based paints always will dry considerably faster than oil-based paints. That's because the water in latex paints evaporates to let the paint dry, and there's no water in oil-based paints.

Paint has binders in its formulation to help hold the pigment together. Flat paints have the least amount of binders and glossy paints (both water- and oil-based) have the most amount of binders. The binders in the formulations translate into drying time. The flatter the paint sheen, the faster it will dry. Glossy paints take the longest amount of time to dry. Eggshell and semi-gloss paints, being in the middle of the paint sheen scale, represent average paint drying times.

  Drying Time Recoat Time
Flat or matte paint 30 minutes to 1 hour 1 to 2 hours
Eggshell paint 1 hour 2 hours
Semi-gloss paint 1 hour 2 hours
Glossy paint 1 to 1 1/2 hours 2 to 2 1/2 hours
Primer 30 minutes 1 hour
Note: Recoat time refers to how much time you should wait to add another coat of paint after you've applied the first coat.

Recoat Time for Oil-based Paint

If you're using oil-based paint on indoor trim, doors, and cabinets, the recoat time differs from water-based paint.

Oil-based paint is more durable and takes longer to dry than water-based paint. Oil-based paint may feel dry two to four hours after it's applied. But recoat a full 24 hours after you've painted to make sure the surface is completely dry and ready for another round of paint.

Temperature and Humidity Factors

Even if you're painting indoors, the temperature of the room and the surface you're painting affect drying and recoat times. Always apply paint within the temperature parameters specified by the paint manufacturer. Here are a few tips to follow to speed up paint drying time:

  • Most water-based paints will optimally dry in a room that's around 72 degrees F with some humidity in the space.
  • Oil-based paints will dry best in room temperatures that are above 50 degrees F but under 90 degrees.
  • Colder temperatures and excess humidity slow drying time for water-based paints since the water from the paint needs to evaporate for it to dry.
  • Circulating the air with a fan on low quickens paint drying times.
  • Letting in fresh air through open windows helps the paint drying process along unless it's too cold, hot, or humid outside.

Helping Oil-Based Paint Harden Faster

Oil-based paint oxidizes and hardens, which differs from water-based paint that dries via water evaporation. To accelerate the hardening process of oil-based paint, add a siccative, an oil-drying agent containing linseed oils and alkyd resins. Japan drier is the generic term for these types of catalysts.

Application Methods Affect Drying Times

Whether spray, roller, or brush, the mode of paint delivery affects drying time between coats.

Spray paint applies thinly and evenly, which makes it dry to the touch in as little as 30 minutes and ready for another coat in as little as one hour—even for a glossy paint.

Rolled-on paint and brushed-on paint go on heavier than spray paint and take the longest amount of time to dry between coats. Always wait for the full drying and recoat times before applying the next coat.