How to Paint Over Oil-Based Paint: A Beginner's Guide

How to Paint Over Oil-Based Paint: A Beginner’s Guide


Painting over oil-based paint can seem daunting due to its durable and glossy finish.

However, with the right preparation and choice of materials, you can effectively update your space with a fresh coat of paint.

This guide will walk you through understanding the key differences between oil-based and other types of paints and provide you with step-by-step instructions to ensure a successful painting project.

The key takeaway here is that with the correct techniques and materials, you can transform your space by successfully painting over oil-based paint.

Main Content

Understanding the Paint Types

Before diving into the project, it’s crucial to understand the differences between oil-based, latex, and water-based paints. This will guide your choices and approach throughout the project.

Differences Between Oil-Based and Latex Paints

Oil-Based Paint: Known for its durability and resistance to wear, it is ideal for high-traffic areas. It takes longer to dry and has a strong odor.

Latex Paint: Water-based, which means it dries faster and has less odor. It’s easier to clean up and is more environmentally friendly.

Differences Between Oil-Based and Water-Based Paints

Water-Based Paint: Similar to latex, it dries quickly and is easier to work with. However, it may not be as durable as oil-based paint.

Preparation Steps for Painting Over Oil-Based Paint

Proper preparation is essential to ensure that the new paint adheres well and looks great.

Cleaning and Sanding

Clean the Surface: Remove all dirt, grease, and grime from the surface with a degreaser or soapy water.

Sanding: Lightly sand the surface to create a rough texture for better adhesion of the new paint. Use fine-grit sandpaper and wipe down the dust afterward.

Applying Primer

Choose the Right Primer: Use a high-quality oil-based or bonding primer to ensure good adhesion.

Application: Apply the primer evenly and allow it to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Choosing the Right Type of Paint

Selecting the right paint is crucial for covering oil-based paint effectively.

Options for Top Coats

Water-Based Latex Paint: If you prefer quicker drying times and easier cleanup.

Oil-Based Paint: This is for enhanced durability, especially in high-traffic areas.

Painting Techniques

Proper application techniques are key to achieving a professional finish.

Application Tips

Use the Right Tools: Choose brushes or rollers suitable for the type of paint you are using.

Apply Evenly: Apply the paint in even, long strokes to avoid streaks and ensure a smooth finish.


Painting over oil-based paint doesn’t have to be a challenge. By understanding the different types of paint, preparing the surface properly, choosing the right primer and paint, and applying your chosen paint with care, you can achieve a fresh, new look in your space.

With these steps, you can ensure that your painting project is successful and enduring.

Understanding Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based paint is valued for its resilience and longevity, making it an ideal choice for areas that endure a lot of activity and usage. This section will explore the characteristics of oil-based paint, discuss the essential role of primer in the painting process, and provide insights into why and how to paint over this type of coating effectively.

Characteristics of Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based paints are renowned for their superior durability and resistance to wear, which is why they are often selected for woodwork, trims, and areas that require a hard-wearing surface finish.

Advantages of Oil-Based Paint

Durability: Resists scratching and staining better than water-based paints.

Smooth Finish: Often leaves a hard, glossy finish that is highly sought after for certain styles.

Sealing Properties: Provides excellent coverage over imperfections and stains.

Disadvantages of Oil-Based Paint

Long Drying Time: It takes longer to dry, which can be inconvenient and delay project timelines.

Strong Odors: Releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can be harmful to health and the environment.

Difficult Cleanup: Requires solvents like turpentine or mineral spirits for cleanup.

The Role of Primer

Using the correct primer is crucial when painting over oil-based paint to ensure that the new paint adheres properly and the finish lasts.

Importance of High-Quality Primer

Promotes Adhesion: Helps the new layer of paint stick to the oil-based surface.

Prevents Peeling: Reduces the risk of the new paint peeling or chipping off.

Enhances Paint Durability: Acts as an extra layer of protection, extending the life of the paint job.

Choosing the Right Primer

For Oil to Latex Transition: Use a bonding primer designed to facilitate adhesion between oil-based and water-based paints.

For Oil-to-Oil Transition: An oil-based primer will maintain durability and finish consistency.

Preparation for Repainting

Before applying new paint over an oil-based surface, proper preparation is vital to ensure optimal results.

Steps for Effective Preparation

Cleaning: Thoroughly clean the surface to remove grease, dust, and debris that could prevent adhesion.

Sanding: Lightly sand the surface to roughen it up, which helps the primer and paint adhere better.

Dusting: After sanding, dust off the surface to ensure it’s clean before applying primer.

Practical Tips for Handling Oil-Based Paint

When dealing with oil-based paints, especially in a painting-over scenario, consider the following for a smooth project execution:

Ventilation: Ensure good ventilation to minimize the effects of strong odors and VOCs.

Safety Gear: Wear appropriate safety gear, such as gloves and masks, to protect against harmful chemicals.

Disposal: Be mindful of proper disposal methods for oil-based paint products to protect the environment.

Understanding the properties and challenges of oil-based paint is crucial for tackling a repainting project effectively. With the right preparation, primer, and application techniques, you can successfully paint over oil-based paint, achieving a fresh look while retaining the benefits of durability and aesthetic appeal.

Preparing the Surface

Proper surface preparation is crucial when painting over oil-based paint. This process involves sanding, cleaning, and ensuring the surface is completely dry before proceeding with priming and painting. This section will guide you through each step, emphasizing the importance of creating a surface that promotes optimum paint adhesion.

Sanding the Surface

Sanding is the first critical step in preparing your surface for a new coat of paint, as it roughens up the glossy finish of oil-based paint, providing a “tooth” for the new paint to adhere to.

Step-by-Step Sanding Guide

Select the Right Grit: Start with medium-grit sandpaper (around 120 grit) to remove the glossy finish without damaging the underlying surface.

Sand Evenly: Ensure even sanding across the surface to avoid uneven textures.

Progress to Finer Grit: Optionally, finish with a finer grit (180 to 220) to smooth out any roughness created by the initial sanding.

Cleaning with TSP Solution

After sanding, it’s essential to thoroughly clean the surface to remove all dust, grease, and residues that could interfere with paint adhesion.

Using TSP Solution

Prepare TSP Solution: Mix trisodium phosphate (TSP) with water according to the manufacturer’s instructions. TSP is highly effective in removing grease and heavy soot.

Apply TSP Solution: Use a sponge or cloth to apply the solution, scrubbing gently to clean the surface.

Rinse Thoroughly: After cleaning, rinse the surface with clean water to remove any TSP residue.

Drying the Surface

Before proceeding to priming or painting, the surface must be completely dry.

Ensuring Complete Dryness

Allow Ample Drying Time: Depending on the ambient conditions, leave the surface to dry for at least a few hours.

Check for Moisture: Ensure that there are no damp spots or any signs of moisture before moving on to the next step.

Alternative Cleaning Methods

If TSP is not available or you prefer a less harsh method, there are alternatives you can use.

Alternative Cleaners

Liquid Sander Deglosser: A quick, wipe-on alternative that can degloss and clean simultaneously.

Denatured Alcohol: Useful for removing lighter residues like fingerprints and small patches of grease.

Thorough preparation of the surface is essential for a successful paint job when covering oil-based paint. By following these detailed steps for sanding, cleaning with TSP, and ensuring the surface is dry, you will create a strong foundation for the new paint to adhere to.

This careful preparation helps avoid common pitfalls such as peeling or bubbling paint, leading to a more durable and attractive finish.

Using Water-Based Paint Over Oil-Based Paint

Switching from oil-based to water-based paint, such as latex, is a common and effective approach for many painting projects, particularly when looking for less odor and easier cleanup.

This section covers the key steps and considerations involved in using water-based paints over oil-based surfaces, highlighting the crucial role of a bonding primer to ensure a successful, durable finish.

Understanding Compatibility

Before starting your painting project, it’s important to understand why water-based paint can be a great choice over oil-based paint and what makes them compatible when the correct steps are followed.

Why Choose Water-Based Paint

Flexibility: Water-based paints, such as latex, are more flexible than oil-based paints, which helps them resist cracking and peeling.

Low Odor and VOCs: They emit fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making them a healthier choice for indoor environments.

Easy Cleanup: Water-based paints can be cleaned up with just soap and water, unlike oil-based paints that require harsh chemicals for cleanup.

The Role of Bonding Primer

Applying a bonding primer is essential when transitioning from an oil-based to a water-based paint. This layer ensures that the new paint adheres properly and remains durable over time.

Choosing and Applying Bonding Primer

Selecting the Right Primer: Opt for a high-quality acrylic or latex bonding primer that is specifically formulated to adhere to glossy surfaces.

Application Tips: Apply the primer evenly using a brush or roller. Ensure full coverage to prevent any peeling or flaking of the topcoat.

Step-by-Step Application

Following the right application steps is critical for ensuring that the water-based paint adheres well and provides a lasting finish.


Surface Preparation: Follow the detailed surface preparation steps previously discussed, including sanding and cleaning with a TSP solution.

Priming: After the surface is dry, apply the bonding primer and allow it to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


Choosing Water-Based Paint: Select a high-quality latex paint suitable for your specific application and environment.

Applying Paint: Use a brush, roller, or sprayer to apply the water-based paint. Start with a thin layer, allowing it to dry completely before applying additional coats.

Drying Times: Follow the recommended drying times between coats, which may vary based on humidity and temperature.

Final Considerations

When painting over oil-based paint with water-based paint, patience and attention to detail during the preparation and application phases are key to achieving a professional-looking finish.

Using water-based paint over oil-based paint involves careful preparation and the correct application techniques. By ensuring the surface is properly sanded, cleaned, and primed with a bonding primer, you can achieve excellent adhesion and a durable, attractive finish.

This approach not only updates the look of your space but also provides the benefits of easier maintenance and a healthier environment.

Repainting with Alkyd or Natural Oil-Based Paint

Repainting with alkyd or natural oil-based paint is an excellent way to maintain or enhance the durable qualities of oil-based finishes while refreshing the appearance of your space. Both types of paints are compatible with existing oil-based surfaces and can provide a rich, long-lasting finish when applied correctly.

This section explores the benefits of each type and provides guidelines for a successful repaint using these materials.

Understanding Alkyd and Natural Oil-Based Paints

Alkyd and natural oil-based paints are renowned for their durability and high-quality finish, making them suitable choices for a variety of painting projects.

Alkyd Paint

Durability: Alkyd paint is known for its tough, hard-wearing properties.

Finish Quality: Offers a smooth, glossy finish that is less prone to yellowing compared to traditional oil paints.

Faster Drying Times: Alkyd formulations have been improved to dry faster than classic oil-based paints.

Natural Oil-Based Paint

Environmentally Friendly: Made from natural oils, these paints are often more environmentally friendly than their synthetic counterparts.

Traditional Appeal: Provides a classic, rich finish that many find aesthetically pleasing.

Permeability: Allows surfaces to breathe, which can be beneficial in certain applications.

Pros and Cons of Alkyd and Natural Oil-Based Paints

Choosing between alkyd and natural oil-based paints involves considering their advantages and potential drawbacks.


Alkyd Paints: Less prone to yellowing and better for areas with high moisture.

Natural Oil Paints: Offer ecological benefits and traditional aesthetics.


Alkyd Paints: Stronger odors and VOC emissions during application.

Natural Oil Paints: Slower drying times and potential for yellowing over time.

Preparing for Repainting

Proper surface preparation and safe application practices are crucial when working with either type of paint.

Surface Preparation

Cleaning and Sanding: As with any repaint, start by thoroughly cleaning and lightly sanding the existing paint surface.

Priming: If switching types or brands of paint, applying a compatible primer can enhance adhesion and overall finish.

Application Tips

Ventilation: Both alkyd and natural oil-based paints release fumes that require adequate ventilation during application.

Tool Choice: Use natural brushes, which are better suited for oil-based paints, to achieve a smooth finish.

Applying the Paint

Technique: Apply paint in thin, even layers, allowing each layer to dry fully before applying the next.

Drying Times: Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for drying times between coats to ensure the best results.

Choosing to repaint with alkyd or natural oil-based paint is a reliable option for maintaining the durability and aesthetic of oil-painted surfaces. Both types of paint offer unique benefits and require careful application.

By preparing the surface properly and correctly applying the paint, you can achieve a high-quality finish that enhances the longevity and beauty of your painted areas.

Choosing the Right Paint for the Project

Selecting the appropriate paint is a critical decision in any painting project, especially when dealing with surfaces previously painted with oil-based products. Factors such as the type of surface, the location of the project, durability requirements, and desired finish all play a role in determining the best choice. BEHR® products offer a wide range of options that cater to different needs and can ensure a successful outcome when painting over oil-based surfaces.

Considerations for Paint Selection

Choosing the right paint involves more than just picking a color; it’s about matching the paint’s properties to the specific demands of your project.

Surface and Location

Interior vs. Exterior: Exterior paints are formulated to withstand weather conditions; interior paints are optimized for indoor air quality and ease of cleaning.

Type of Surface: Some paints adhere better to certain materials like wood, plaster, or metal.

Durability and Finish

Traffic Levels: High-traffic areas may require more durable paints, such as those with a glossier finish, for easier cleaning.

Aesthetic Preferences: Matte finishes can hide imperfections better, while high-gloss finishes offer more durability and shine.

BEHR® Products for Over Oil-Based Paint

BEHR® offers a variety of products that are well-suited for covering oil-based paint, providing durability and a lasting finish.

Recommended BEHR® Products

BEHR Premium Plus®: An acrylic latex paint ideal for interior walls, offering excellent coverage, easy cleanup, and low odor.

BEHR Marquee®: Known for its one-coat coverage, this line is perfect for both interior and exterior projects where time and quality are paramount.

BEHR Ultra®: Offers excellent durability and stain resistance, making it suitable for kitchens and bathrooms.

Checking Compatibility

Before purchasing paint, it’s important to confirm its compatibility with oil-based surfaces.

Tips for Ensuring Compatibility

Read the Label: Look for paints that specify use over oil-based or glossy surfaces.

Consult Experts: Speak with store professionals or contact BEHR® customer service for advice on the best product for your needs.

Consultation with Professionals

When in doubt, consulting with a paint specialist or professional painter can provide valuable insights tailored to your specific project requirements.

Benefits of Professional Advice

Expert Recommendations: Professionals can suggest the best type of paint for your environment and usage needs.

Technical Support: BEHR® and other brands often provide technical support and detailed product guides.

Selecting the right paint is fundamental to the success of your painting project, especially when transitioning from oil-based to another type of paint. BEHR® offers a range of products designed to meet diverse needs and ensure a durable, attractive finish on various surfaces.

By carefully considering the specifics of your project and consulting with experts, you can choose the best BEHR® paint to achieve excellent results over oil-based paint.

TIPS and Troubleshooting

Painting over oil-based paint can present challenges such as cracking, peeling, or poor adhesion. However, with the right techniques and products, these issues can be effectively managed or avoided altogether. This section offers tips and troubleshooting advice to ensure a smooth and durable finish when painting over oil-based surfaces.

Essential Tips for a Successful Paint Job

Use a High-Quality Bonding Primer

Foundation for Paint: A bonding primer is essential for ensuring the new paint adheres properly to the oil-based paint surface.

Preventative Measure: It helps prevent future peeling and cracking of the paint layer.

Proper Surface Preparation

Sanding: Lightly sand the oil-based paint surface to roughen it up, which helps the new paint and primer adhere better.

Cleaning: Thoroughly clean the surface after sanding to remove any dust or residues.

Selecting the Right Paint

Choosing the correct type of paint is crucial for both aesthetics and functionality.

Latex-Based Paints

Flexibility: Latex-based paints offer better flexibility and adhesion compared to traditional oil-based paints.

Advantages: These paints typically have lower VOCs and easier cleanup with water.

High-Quality Paint Products

Specialty Paints: Look for paints specifically designed for use over oil-based paints to ensure compatibility and durability.

Product Recommendations: Brands like BEHR®, Sherwin-Williams®, and Benjamin Moore® offer products formulated for these specific scenarios.

Addressing Common Issues

Cracking and Peeling

Causes: Often occurs due to inadequate surface preparation or the old paint layer’s deteriorating condition.

Solutions: Apply a flexible patching compound to cracks before priming and painting.

Poor Adhesion

Cause: Can result from greasy surfaces, inadequate priming, or incompatible paint types.

Solution: Ensure the surface is impeccably clean and properly primed before applying the new paint.

Tools and Techniques for Application

Using the correct tools and application techniques can greatly improve the outcome of your painting project.

Brush and Roller Selection

Brushes: Use high-quality brushes suited for the type of paint you are using. Natural bristles are better for oil-based paints, while synthetic brushes are ideal for latex-based paints.

Rollers: Choose rollers with the appropriate nap length for your surface texture.

Application Techniques

Feathering Edges: When painting over patches or alongside trim, feather the edges to blend the new paint into the existing finish smoothly.

Multiple Thin Coats: Apply several thin coats rather than one thick coat to promote better adhesion and a smoother finish.

Troubleshooting Tips

If issues arise during or after the painting process, these tips can help rectify the situation.

Seeking Professional Advice

Expert Insight: If persistent problems occur, consulting a professional painter can provide solutions specific to your circumstances.

Specialized Products

Sealers and Topcoats: In some cases, using a sealer or topcoat over the paint can provide additional protection and enhance the finish.

While painting over oil-based paint can be challenging, following these tips and troubleshooting advice can lead to successful results.

By preparing the surface correctly, using suitable products, and applying the paint with care, you can achieve a durable, beautiful finish that revitalizes your space.


When embarking on a painting project over oil-based surfaces, the choice between oil-based and water-based paints and the importance of proper preparation cannot be overstated. Understanding the unique properties of each type of paint and meticulously preparing the surface is foundational to achieving a professional-quality finish.

This guide has outlined the key considerations and steps to help you confidently tackle your painting project.

Key Considerations for Paint Selection

Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Paint

Oil-Based Paint: Offers durability and a smooth, glossy finish that’s hard to match. It’s ideal for surfaces that require frequent cleaning or are exposed to harsh conditions.

Water-Based Paint: Known for its ease of use, quick drying times, and environmental friendliness. It’s a versatile choice for most indoor applications and offers easier cleanup.

The Importance of Proper Preparation

Proper preparation is the linchpin of a successful painting job over oil-based paint. This involves thorough cleaning, sanding, and priming to ensure the new paint adheres well and remains durable over time.

Steps for Success

Thorough Cleaning: Remove all contaminants that can prevent paint adhesion.

Sanding: Create a rough surface to improve the grip of the new paint.

Priming: Use a suitable primer to bridge the old and new paint layers, especially when transitioning from oil-based to water-based paint.

Final Thoughts

By understanding the differences between oil-based and water-based paints and dedicating adequate time to surface preparation, you can ensure a smooth and durable finish.

Whether you choose to continue with oil-based paint for its robustness or switch to water-based paint for its practical benefits, the success of your project lies in meticulous preparation and the correct application techniques.

Encouragement for Your Project

Armed with the knowledge and techniques discussed, approach your painting project with confidence.

Remember, consulting with professionals or following manufacturer guidelines can provide additional assurance and help tailor the approach to your specific needs.

Happy painting, and enjoy the transformation of your space!