Yes, old man winter is creeping in on us. I just came in from the frig’n cold (not a fan), and this past weekend the clocks were turned back an hour …a sure sign. I took full advantage of the extra hour of sleep, yet I’m still in “snail” mode today. My body clock isn’t keeping in sync with the tickers on the wall… so I’ll keep this tutorial short and sweet.
Here’s a quick tip on How-To Tell If Paint is Latex or Oil-Based.
The first step I take when painting an older piece of furniture is determining what type of pre-existing paint is already on the piece. Is it oil-based or is it latex? … and why would I care?
Determining if it’s a latex or oil product is important because …
Oil can be painted over Latex BUT latex can’t be painted over oil. If you try to apply latex over oil, the paint will not adhere properly!
Here’s a quick and fast way to find out if your piece of furniture is painted in latex or oil. This technique will also work on walls, doors, cabinets, baseboards or any other painted surface!
1. Add some rubbing alcohol to a cotton swab or a clean rag.
2. In a discreet area, wipe the surface back and forth with the rubbing alcohol.
3. If the paint starts to rub off and you see white or faded streaks, you know this has been painted with a latex product.
4. If no paint comes off, then you know it has been painted with oil based products.
The picture below is a great example. In the case of my clients head board, latex products where clearly used … it rubbed off fairly easily.
The test is really easy to do and if you’ve run out of rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover will also work … hmmm … I wonder if Vodka or other Spirits would work also? If you have any other ways of testing for oil or latex paints, feel free to comment below!
To see the completed “Re-Freshed” painted Head Board you can take a peek here.
Have a great day and stay warm my friends.
Is Kilz Original oil based paint a primer that can be used over an old oil based item, then painted over with latex paint?
Thank you so much for this trick! I’m planning on repainting cabinets and needed to know what is already on them to get a great finish. Much appreciation!
Susan O says
Beautiful work..so fun to see the transformations!
Susan Grove says
What if the paint doesn’t rub off with rubbing alcohol but it rubs off with nail polish remover?
You most definitely can paint latex paint over oil primer. I work in a paint store. It is rare to find oil paint anymore with all the VOC laws, so if people are painting an older home and it turns out their walls are oil, we always tell them to oil prime then topcoat with a latex finish. If people are refinishing a wood stained piece, we recommend a scuff sand then oil primer then latex finish. If you don’t like to sand you can buy a product like krud kutter gloss off and it will do the ‘sanding’ for you.
Justin Allen says
He’s saying paint not primer. Oil primer is the only way to convert it to latex unless you use a shellac based primer.
You have it backwards! Latex cannot be painted over oil! But oil can be painted over latex!
Your right, but she is correct in saying you need an oil primer before using a latex top coat if the original paint was oil.
Galyn L. Hubbard Sr. says
Denise your info on oil over latex is backwards. You can paint fat over lean but never lean over fat. Artists use acrylic (Lean, water based) as an under painting and then apply oil as the finish coat with corrections to value and hue. You can never apply water base (lean) over oil (fat)
Thanks Galyn! Noted and corrected. When I was talking to a professional painter who’s been in the business for many many years, he was explaining that with proper prep, you can paint latex over oil (and visa-versa) with proper prep. But as for the ‘general rule’, I appreciate you guys catching this. 🙂
HI! Just was reading this because it’s easy to get the oil over water thing mixed up. The one exception is with primers…you can use an oil based primer under latex and it’s fine. I’m not sure what is in the primer that makes it compatible with latex, but I hear about it being done all the time, especially if a client wants to paint over wallpaper. The oil based primer won’t lift the wallpaper off, but the latex paints stick to it just fine. Weird, I know!
I’m loving all these tips you guys are leaving. Thanks for this Jennifer! x
Great tip for determining latex or oil. Once tested, if it turned out that latex was painted over oil on a wooden cabinet and the cabinet is now chipping, I assume the cabinet was first painted with oil then with latex paint later. I understand the rule of thumb, you mentioned, with oil and latex paint. These are my questions – I understand I need to sand before painting again. In order to use latex paint once again, is it necessary to sand down to the bare wood which would remove oil and latex paint? Or would it be better to give it a light sanding and use oil paint? Or would chalk paint be an option here? Oil paint is beautiful, but I hate using it. YUCK ! This cabinet is in my place of employment. It does get a lot of traffic. As you can imagine, it’s driving me crazy and I want to make it smile once again. HaHaHeHe . . . PLEASE HELP! Thanks
To make your cabinet “smile again” (I love the way you phrased that Dee!) it’s NOT necessary to sand down to the bare wood to remove all the oil/latex paint. However, to get a latex paint to stick to oil based paint, there is prepping involved. I would recommend a good cleaning with TSP, sanding the entire surface, priming with a good primer such as Kiltz, and then applying your latex paint. This will put a HUGE smile on your cabinets face and anyone who looks at it!;) ChalkPaint is also an option, however from what you’re describing about all the layers, I would still give it a good sanding to ensure a smooth professional finish.
Does it matter if the piece is oil/latex based if you are painting a piece of furniture with chalk paint? I have been wanting to try it since i have found your wonderful info and it says no prep (sanding/priming) is this correct?
This post was written to determine whether to use latex or oil on a project but this is a GREAT question Carrie! Whether painting with HMCP OR Brandname, there are rare instances where sanding is suggested. At anniesloanunfolded.com/faqs, she states if a piece is really glossy/shiny (this includes laminates and melamine paint which is a Urethane Reinforced Oil Based product), sanding is suggested for proper adhesion.
This is great information. I will be using this technique on future projects. Thank you.