How Long to Wait Between Coats of Paint

Paint cans in home

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Everyone is anxious to see the final results of their paint job. If you want to finish in one day, you'll need to do multiple coats sooner rather than later. So, how long does it take for paint to dry? Can you paint a room two or even three times within one day? Read on to find out how long it takes for paint to dry so you can add coats, and how long it takes a paint job to fully dry and harden.

What Is the Difference Between Dried and Cured Paint?

Dried and cured paint are different things. Dried paint means the paint's solvents have evaporated to the point where the paint "feels" dry enough to recoat though it is not fully hardened. Cured paint is paint that has reached its maximum point of hardness and dryness, a process that can take weeks.

Why Paint Recoat Time Matters

There are lots of ways to turn a good paint job bad. A dirty or wet surface, humidity, temperatures, poor paint quality—any of these factors can affect the final condition of the paint. But one of the surest ways to ruin your paint is to apply later coats before the earlier coats are fully cured.

Paint has a no-touch time period between coats. Before that period, the paint is still wet, liquid, and pliable. You can apply more paint if you need, such as for touch-ups. And after that period, when the paint is fully dry, more coats can be applied.

But during that no-touch period, prior to the recoat time, you risk ruining an otherwise perfect paint job. Painting over partially wet paint creates pulls and streaks in the soft, gel-like material. Bubbles and pits form.

What creates this problem is that the topmost layer, or skin, of paint has dried, but everything below it is still wet or goopy. Rolling or brushing the paint rips up the dry skin and mixes it in with the wet paint.

Pockmarks cannot be repaired while the paint is wet. You need to wait until it has dried, sand it or apply a smoothing surface treatment (like drywall compound), and then paint again.

What Dry, Recoat, and Cure Mean

With improved paint technology, paint dries faster than ever, allowing you to finish rooms within a day or two instead of over several days. Even so, each coat of paint must complete its drying process before the next coat is applied.

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 dry time 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. But just below the top dry skin of paint, the rest of the paint is still drying.

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.

Factors That Affect Recoat Time

Time: All paints require at least 30 minutes, even in ideal conditions.

Type of paint: Water-based paints dry faster than oil-based paints.

Temperature: 72 degrees F is optimal.

Humidity: Maintain a humidity level of 40-50-percent for best paint-drying conditions.

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 it's best to wait to recoat a full 24 hours after you've painted to make sure the surface is completely dry and ready for another coat 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 the 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.

Tip

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 sprayed, rolled, or brushed, the mode of paint delivery affects the drying time between coats.

Sprayed 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.