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Star Paint

Painting Over Oil-Based Paint

If a house is old enough, it will likely have oil-based paint somewhere, since water-based latex paint wasn’t introduced until the 1940s. And newer houses might have some areas of oil-based paint since it is not entirely banned: Oil-based paint is still available in quart sizes or smaller. So you may wonder if you can paint over oil-based paint with latex or another type of oil-based paint.

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • High-quality paintbrush
  • Fine 180-grit to 220-grit sandpaper
  • Medium 100-grit to 150-grit sandpaper (optional)
  • Putty knife or five-in-one tool
  • Tack cloth


  • Wood putty or wood filler
  • TSP (trisodium phosphate)
  • Paint primer, bonding
  • Paint
  • Soft sponge (for TSP)
  • Protective glasses
  • Protective gloves


Tools needed to paint over oil-based paint
The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  1. De-Gloss the Surface

    With sandpaper, manually scuff down the surface of the oil-based paint layer for improved stickability. Aim for eliminating surface sheen or gloss; the goal isn’t to remove the paint, just scuff up the surface so new primer and paint can adhere well. If fine-grit sandpaper isn’t working well, switch to gentle scuffing with medium-grit sandpaper.


    If you are scuffing up cabinetry or trim with details, you may prefer to sand by hand instead of using a power sander. A power sander may apply too much pressure on the surfaces.

    Closeup of deglossing the wall

  2. Remove Chips

    Pry off any loose paint from the surface with a five-in-one tool or putty knife. Just remove areas of failing paint. Solid paint can remain.

    Chipping paint off of the wall

  3. Fill in Small Gaps and Holes

    Fill small gaps and holes with wood putty or wood filler. Let the filler dry completely, then lightly sand the filled areas with a fine-grit sandpaper.

    Fixing small gaps and holes in the wall

  4. Clean With a Tack Cloth

    After the surface is completely dry, gently use a tack cloth to wipe down the surface to catch dust, dirt, or sandpaper granules.

    Wiping the wall with tack cloth


    Tack cloth is an inexpensive, simple product made of cheesecloth impregnated with a tacky substance, such as beeswax. Its sticky surface takes up stray dust particles. Use gently. Applying hard pressure will result in a waxy surface which can only be removed by a second round of sanding.2

  5. Deep Clean the Surface

    If the surface is exceptionally dirty and greasy even after using a tack cloth, your best bet is to use TSP to do a deep cleaning before priming.

    Mix 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup (for extra dirty surfaces) TSP with a gallon of hot water. Use a sponge that’s damp with the TSP solution to wash the surfaces. Wash surfaces from the bottom up to reduce streaking.

    After cleaning with TSP, sponge the surface with fresh water to rinse (unless you have chosen a no-rinse TSP formula). Let the surface thoroughly air-dry.

    TSP, known as trisodium phosphate, is a gentle but effective cleaning chemical used to prepare walls and other surfaces for paint. It also acts as a de-glosser. Make sure you have adequate ventilation, skin, and eye protection before using TSP.3 Some communities have banned phosphates.4 If so, use a product called TSP substitute or TSP phosphate-free.

    Deep cleaning the wall surface

  6. Prime the Surface

    With the surface completely dry and clean of dirt, you can now prime it. This is essential as it provides the latex paint with a porous surface to help it stick. Brush the primer onto the surface. Brush one coat but preferably two coats of primer on the surface. Let it dry thoroughly.

    Applying primer to the wall

  7. Paint the Surface

    After the primer is dry, you’re ready to paint. Paint as you normally would, using two coats if necessary. Let the paint dry for at least two hours between applications.


    For the best painting technique, do not load up the brush with too much paint; only dip the tip of the bristles into the paint. Draw the paint in slow, even strokes, always maintaining a wet edge.

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