Painting Tips by a Professional

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How Long to Wait Between Coats of Paint?

Please be careful here: there is a danger behind easy answers to the question of how long to wait between coats of paint. Generally, people want to get it over with I know, I know.

How Long Between Coats of Paint?

You do not have to strictly follow paint drying time directions on the painting can. Much depends on your climate (and inside you can control that). The mail test is done with your finger. In a wall corner out of the way, test to see if the previous coat is still tacky, sticky. When the paint had enough time to cure, it will not be tacky anymore. If it is not soft and sticky, you can probably do your second coat.

General rule: you can usually apply your second coat of paint 2 to 4 hours after the first coat.

If you go too soon, you’ll make a big mess. Note: curing time is different (see bottom).

See our complete list of reasonably priced tools: I used these tools daily.

Key Helpers:

Common house fan: I have had my quality fan for decades. Yes, decades. Always buy the best you can afford and put a drop of oil in the slot for oil every year at least. More if you run it a lot. The fan shown is different from the one linked just above.

Dehumidifier: so helpful in so many ways. Shown below.

Portable heaters: use with the fans and keep the air moving.

Of course, even in winter, let the moist air out a window and just heat the cold air that comes in. One way to bring in the cold air but to not freeze your butt off is to put a fan blowing out (not in) and have another window open just a crack across the room.

When you do start your next coat, start in the same place (the area that has had the longest time to set up).

Make it quicker:

Speed up paint drying with this additive: it quickens the drying time of latex paint. One pint bottle treats about 3 gallons of latex paint. Comes in gallon or pint.

Important tips to paint quickly but with quality, shortening the time to wait between coats:

  • Key point: the first coat must not be tacky before re-coating! You don’t want to find out why!
  • A dehumidifier in the room really helps paint dry fast.
  • Remember, THIN coats cover better and dry faster. Also, you can apply 3 thin coats as quickly as 2 heavy coats. Why? Trying to be careful to cover every spot is slow. This applies especially to dark colors over light colors or vice versa, not to mention paints with lots of pigment with the dreaded reds and yellows. They use synthetic tints.
  • We have written all about how to save time and money on tools. You see, budget rollers shed lint and ruin your work. You’ll also see why other tools (brushes are key) are less expensive if you spend more. What a hassle to pick bristles out of wet paint. The same is true for quality paints: less expensive and longer-lasting.
  • Blow-dryer? Yes, a hairdryer will work, but just don’t get so close you blister the fresh paint. (Paint stores use this method to help paint dry fast so they can check the color they are matching).
  • Priming drywall? Read all about it or just pick up 5 gallons of the #1 primer. Fast-drying, free shipping, excellent bonding. We use this all the time and it is ready to re-coat by the time we get around the room (we do use fans though). This primer also comes in single gallons if you don’t need so much.
  • We also keep the room warm.
  • Additives? This accelerator speeds drying. Then there is Floetrol, but it does not speed drying: it slows the drying if anything but the paint does go on more smoothly.
  • We rely on our dehumidifier on humid days (especially in the spring and summer).

How long to wait between coats of paint: a complication.

The more you paint, the slower paint dries. You increase humidity as you push moisture into the air, so the answer to how long between coats of paint is relative to the humidity of the room.

Waiting between coast of paint - freshly painted wallsA reader asks: How long to let paint dry before second coat? and others are asking how long to let paint dry between coats and how long to let paint dry before second coat?

Again, there is no time marker for how long between coats of paint: just make sure the previous coat has gone past the ‘tacky’ stage. Then you are all set to go. In mile-high Colorado, it was 1 hour! In Boston, it was 3 hrs. on some days! We never asked how long to wait between coats of paint. We just wait and see!

Also, if you know how many coats of paint you will need and how long between coats of paint, you will have an idea of your total time to paint a room, not counting clean up etc. We have an entire post just about how many coats of paint you may need–Hint: if you are painting colors with much red tinting, you MUST read this.

Curing Paint Time

This is different than drying time. Paint, latex and oil, take weeks to cure in the summer inside or out, and months inside in the winter. There is some off-gassing that happens for a long time.

So treat your paint gently in the beginning. If you did shelves, put a paper towel under any object to keep it from sticking and tearing off the soft paint.

We hope this helps you estimate the time between coats of paint!

This photographer’s job is to watch paint dry between coats of paint! Nice work if you can get it!

42 thoughts on “How Long to Wait Between Coats of Paint?”

  1. Hi Brad. Just did my bathroom ceiling I guess little over 24 hours ago but feel I would like to brush cut and roll it a 3rd time going the opposite way, the shorter cross way of the room. Can I simply go ahead and do that as it has been over 24 hours? Can I even wait longer and then just cut and roll it again and have that 3rd coat adhere well? Or should I just leave it at 2 coats?
    Thanks. Ron

    Reply
    • If it’s dry, yes go ahead. There’s no other issue with latex paints.
      No need to roll in a different direction or anything like that: that’s really only applicable with exterior woods etc.
      After a primer, usually we only do 2 coats unless it’s very thin paint which we never use!
      Good luck!

      Reply
      • Morning Brad,

        Thanks so much for this reply. I have decided to leave it be. My wife Shelley says it looks good enough! I have been retired from construction after 40 plus years and I guess my eyes are seeing things that aren’t that bad. I is a small bathroom and so once the walls get their color that will likely help what I am seeing as well and so it has 2 coats plus the primer beneath so 3 coats already, I think that will do. I think I could have chosen a little bit better roller? But it will do. Thanks so much for the reply! Very much appreciated.

        Ron

        Reply
    • Only if they are 3-D. Of course I cannot see the mark, and I don’t know the paints you are using, but in general,
      if your surface has no bumps, and if your primer has sealed the surface, the topcoats will look even and smooth.
      Send pics if you are still concerned.
      Good luck,
      B

      Reply
  2. Hi Brad! Love your advice forum! My painter used a 1/2” nap roller with an eggshell finish on walls that were previously (and I still wanted) flat sheen. I was so unhappy. He didn’t repair the dings, etc which now show up glaringly, as do all the spots where he touched up and it’s all flashing everywhere you look. It’s horrible. Some walls could be salvaged with a second coat but they’re 18’ high and it will be days before I can do it myself. Will it be too late to second coat the eggshell finish? Will I have to knock-down and scuff the first coat by then? If only he’d used a flat paint and a smoother roller it would have looked fine(ish) but he won’t come back now because I complained so I am stuck to try and make it look good and I don’t want to miss my window of opportunity on that 2nd coat.

    Reply
    • No, if it’s a standard latex wall paint, there is no time limit. No sanding or anything. If they get dusty, you’ll have to dust that’s all.
      Painters should always get in writing what the customer wants. His mistake and yours too. You’ll need 2 coats of flat by the way.
      So no rush. Do it when you can.
      B

      Reply
      • Thank you! To clarify, if I keep the eggshell finish he applied, and apply a second coat (SW ProMar 200) I can take a couple of days in between without having to wait for it to fully cure, correct? When you said no sanding between, you meant sticking with the same product and sheen, but if I switch to flat, over the new eggshell, yes on two coats I’m sure but, wouldn’t I HAVE to lightly sand and abrade the surface for the flat to adhere? I still want to spackle some of these unrepaired spots as well…. this is so upsetting! I waited two months for him to come back and now I’m in worse shape than ever!! TY again!

        Reply
        • Yes. Just wait for it to dry fully. Cure is 2 weeks in summer: you can recoat before then.
          No sanding when changing sheens. ONly need to sand oil when covering with latex.
          Sand your spackle and spot prime of course you are right.
          I’d call him and make him do it…but then you did not get the details in writing.
          You cannot blame only him. In any case, it will be all behind you soon
          b

          Reply
  3. Hi Brad, I’m a handyman who gets small painting projects sometimes. I can’t figure out whether I the time between coats should be included in my labor cost. I mean, I can’t really do another job in two hours while a coat dries; I’m stuck on site. How do you handle that? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi. Well, I learned to never charge by the hour: too much uncertainty in the client’s mind. But yes, it’s part of your job.
      But if you are using latex, by the time you get to the end of the 4th wall, assuming one room, the first wall should be nearly dry. Anyway, you can cut or start to pack up, or something. A powerful fan cuts your time. I like cutting time because I don’t charge by the hour!!
      Nice to see that you care about being fair.
      Good luck,
      B

      Reply
      • Thanks, that makes sense. I was actually thinking about something like a door, where it only takes 20 minutes to coat the door.

        If it’s an exterior door, and the customer insists on closing the door at night, the last coat has to be on by 1pm or so.

        If the door needs 3 or more coats (white over dark – I needed 3 coats of enamel in addition to two coats of primer), the drying time means coming back the next day.

        Reply
        • I start with a thin coat just where the door touches and let dry while working. Summer is best or if you have a screen/storm door. If not, plastic to keep air from crossing the threshold. It may stick in the morning, but you deal with it.

          Reply
  4. Thank you! I like your technique (wish I’d read it earlier – but at least I can use it now and in the future).
    That is not the time intensive preparation I was dreading. To clarify, I don’t have to do much prep or any for a second coat of semigloss even after days of drying? Just lightly sand any imperfections, and repaint for coverage? I was told differently before, but I have more faith in what you say so I’m clarifying before I take the plunge.
    By the way, I used an angled purdy brush – not sure if it was latex only or all paints.

    Reply
    • Not much prep for latex over latex, esp if same color.
      Every wet paint picks up some dust so give old coat a light sand to knock off the biggies then paint.
      A regular 9″ roller is best to apply then tip it out with a good latex brush.
      What were you told differently? Maybe they thought you had oil under and latex over: a sure recipe for disaster-flaking off.
      Latex or all paints type brush is fine.

      Reply
  5. What is the longest I can wait between coats of latex semigloss? I was going to repaint some sections of trim 5 days after first coat.

    Reply
      • You are right. There is no info, but I want the coats to blend. I’m not sure how much prep I have to do between a second coat. It took forever to tape, sand, and degloss before the first one. This is Lowe’s Valspar reserve that is supposed to cover in one coat (primer and paint combined). Unfortunately I don’t like the look of it (it went on thick and there are paint brush marks although I tried to smooth and used a good brush) and the paint didn’t cover completely evenly. Work and other events prevented me from applying the second coat sooner. Do I have to sand thoroughly between coats? I don’t want to have to use a DeGlosser again if I can help it, the prep work took forever (which is why I got started later in the first place). However I certainly don’t want my paint peeling or blistering up later on. I appreciate your help!

        Reply
        • Blending is not the issue: coverage.If same color and same paint, it should only take one. Use my roller and brush tip method in link below.
          A light sand to knock off the ticks is all you need probably.Tape? That’s for rookies.Use my method here.
          No deglosser unless you have oil which you don’t.Don’t feel bad: prep is always longer than the “fun” part.
          B

          Reply
  6. Hi! I’ve painted my kitchen twice in the past year with Sherwin Williams. Each time it only took one coat, I didn’t like the finished look of either. So…I’m on my third paint, this time I selected a Benjamin Moore and it needed two coats. Unfortunately, I applied the second coat too soon. When I do the third coat how long should I wait & will it cover the spots that pulled up? Thanks!

    Reply
    • If I could see the spots, I’d know more. If they are 3-d so to speak, sand them as best you can. Latex does not sand well at all, but try. Then dust and do 3rd coat.
      Normally all walls take 2 coats. Rare is the exception.
      Can you send me a photo? I could say more.
      Brad

      Reply
  7. I have a 2 story 1906 home that we had waited too long to paint and required a lot of scraping to prep the wood and when it came time to paint, the painter quickly applied two coats but I believe he only applied one and it was sprayed on. How do you know if your painter has applied two coats. I was hoping to get this paint to last but now I am not so sure. How do I know if two coats were applied?

    Reply
    • I guess the only way, if the coats are all the same color, is to look at a cross section with a microscope. A local high school may let you use one.
      I would not worry however. If it looks good, it’s got a healthy coat. Two thin coats is certainly better, but if it looks good, I’d say to let it go.
      Good luck,
      b

      Reply
      • If your house is that old make sure the siding underneath isnt chalky. If so paint will not stick no matter what you try. We ran into this and now we have to side next summer!

        Reply
  8. Thanks, yes, I meant in an egg shell finish. I guess my questions are: can I apply a 3rd coat after it’s been a few weeks?
    Will a 3rd coat even help?

    Thanks again!

    Reply
  9. Hi, I have a Benjamin Moore eggshell color (paint and primer) that was similar to the flat finish that was on the original walls. I’ve applied 2 coats but still see a bit of streaking and unevenness. It’s been like 2 weeks since I applied the 2nd coat. Can I still apply a 3rd coat or did I wait too long in between coats? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Not sure what ‘eggshell color’ means… Some people think eggshell is a color. I’ll assume you mean your color but in a different finish. You have flat on wall and are touching up with eggshell.
      In this case, you will never get a match unless you re-do the whole wall or room. I know, I know.
      But eggshell is a fairly shiny paint in some lines. Ben Moore has different lines: some with 3 gloss choices and some with others. The same color in a different line of paint will have different sheens as the eggshell in one line is maybe flatter or shinier than another.
      So get the line of paint, in your gloss, in your color.
      Even then, the sun and age will have faded the old color compared to your touchup, but so what? It will be plenty close and will age to catch up!
      Good luck!
      B

      Reply
      • Thanks, yes, I meant in an egg shell finish. I guess my questions are: can I apply a 3rd coat after it’s been a few weeks?
        Will a 3rd coat even help?

        Thanks again!

        Reply
  10. The exterior of my home was being painted while the temps were in the 40s. They did priming one day. Rained the next. Did 1st top coat the next day along with a 2nd coat on half the house. The 4th day (still in the 40s) they wanted to do two coats the same day to finish the rest. I am concerned that with the low temperature it will be too soon to do the second coat. Am I wrong about that?

    Reply
    • Whatever the temp, as long as the paint fully dries to the touch, or as specified in the product’s label. Get a can and read it. That’s cold to be working outside. Some paints have a low-temp limit and if you put it on when too low, it voids the warranty. Just tell your painters to wait. They seem to be in a hurry, but us painters get hungry too!
      Let me know what happens. Don’t take any chances that the paint will not adhere or anything worse.
      B

      Reply
      • Thanks, Brad. I checked one of the cans and it is Sherwin Williams Duration and it says down to 35 degrees and that second coat based on first being dry to the touch. They still did the first coat on half the house yesterday (they’d already done the 2nd on the rest) and will come back next week when it is in the 60s. Again, I appreciate your quick reply and guidance on this.

        Reply
  11. Hi there! We tested about 8 paint colours on a couple of walls before finally deciding on what colour we wanted. All were neutral and light greys, and the sample size on the walls was pretty small, about the size of a hand. We had professional painters come and do the painting, and they did 2 coats on all walls. Well about a week later the light caught the wall a certain way and I can see the spots where all of those paint samples had been tested. The colour isn’t coming through or anything. But I can clearly see the outlines of every square sample I painted on the walls. It’s been about 3 weeks now and I can still see it, depending on how the light shines on the walls. I want to know if this is normal? Or should a 3rd coat have been applied? We paid quite a bit and the company that did it is reputable. I’ve never seen anything like this.

    Reply
    • Yes, it will not go away. They should have done a primer it seems.
      A 3rd coat should do it if you used a good paint. More money = more solids = more covering power.
      They should have known this. Ask them do do a free coat, but you will buy paint.
      I would do it for a good customer and to have that customer call me back in the future.
      Good luck.
      b

      Reply
  12. I was told by a Behr representative at Home Depot that you should wait no more than 24 hours between applying the first coat and applying the second coat when painting furniture. I can find no other documentation for this. Is it true? Finishing two coats or more all in one day is unlikely for me

    Reply
    • For some products, yes there is a minimum and a maximum time to apply the next coat. Some primers are like this, some paints, some epoxy coatings. You have to go by the label on the product. If you cannot find it or if there is paint drips on the can making it hard to read, you can always find the specs about re-coating online. If you cannot get the next coat on in time, do smaller sections rather than the whole piece. EG, just to the table legs one day, then 2nd coat the next day,…. then do the top on days 3 and 4. You see what I mean I hope. Let me know if not clear.
      b

      Reply
  13. Hi I’m about to pop the first coat of watered down paint on newly dried plaster. How long do you think before I do the second coat? It’s in a kitchen about 20c many thanks

    Reply
    • Hi. I’m not sure what you mean by watered down paint or 20c. I have never heard of watered down paint unless you are thinking you can make your own ‘primer’ that way. It will be a mistake. Fresh plaster needs to be evened out with drywall primer.

      How long to wait is as soon as you can touch it and the paint does not feel sticky: about an hour in the summer.
      Good luck.

      Reply
  14. I was painting my living room late at night. And, I’m to exhausted to wait for it to dry. Can I just wait and to give it a second coat tomorrow?

    Reply

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