Experts Reveal How Long It Really Takes for Paint to Dry

The answer might be a lot longer than you'd expect.

Whether you're an avid painter or a DIY home improvement guru, knowing how long it takes for paint to dry is pivotal for a favorable final result. Sometimes paint will appear dry before it actually is. Why? This often happens because the final coat applied to your wall has dried, but the coats underneath have not. Assuming that your paint has dried before all of the layers actually have can lead to some cosmetic issues. One way to avoid this problem entirely is to know the dry time of the specific type of paint you're using. Ahead, experts share their top tips for discerning when your paint is dry and when it needs a bit more time.

How long does it take for paint to dry?

Paint is complex, and the chemistry within it makes dry times vary from almost immediately for some products to, by design, literally never for others, according to Cory Summerhays, president of Unforgettable Coatings. "Having said that, typical consumer paints for one's house, while drying at a comfortable temperature, can be touched within an hour."

Of course, there's a difference between paint being dry and paint being dry enough to apply another coat. "'Dry' and 'Cure' are the parts to understand," he explains. "'Dry' has different degrees like anything." The time it takes for your paint to dry enough to apply another layer is going to be shorter than the time it takes for the paint to be truly dry to the touch, which Summerhays says is something that happens at a molecular level (cure). That process can vary, but if you have children or pets who will have a harder time keeping their hands off of your freshly painted walls until the paint is cured, Summerhays says you're likely looking at around 72 hours.

What types of paint dry the fastest?

Because different types of paints have different dry times, you may find yourself waiting longer for some to finish curing than others. In general, acrylic-based paints can dry in four to six hours, according to Michelle Lee, head of technical at Curator; water-based alkyd paints, on the other hand, can take between six and eight hours. "A space can be enjoyed whilst the paint is curing but no heavy-duty cleaning is recommended before paint is fully cured," Lee says.

Woman Decorating Room In New Home Painting Wall
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Why do some paints take longer to dry than others?

It's all about the science. "Different types of paint dry at different rates depending on the chemistry inside," explains Lee. "Acrylic and latex paints dry at similar rates, whereas there is a noticeable difference in the drying times of oil-based and alkyd-based paints." There are even some solvent-based paints that can take up to 24 hours. "Water-based alkyds, latex, and acrylic paints such as Curator have a much faster drying time due to the extremely low VOC [Volatile Organic compounds] content."

What other factors can impact a paint's dry time?

External factors can also lengthen your paint's dry time. "There are also other variables to keep in mind such as drying conditions, humidity, and temperature," Lee says. "Consider your space and evaluate ventilation, humidity levels, and temperature of the space that you will be painting in." If you're using water-based paints, for example, air ventilation will help improve drying conditions as it aids the evaporation of water out of the coating. If you're painting in cool conditions, or where there are higher levels of humidity, your drying time will increase. "Likewise, high temperatures can cause water to evaporate off coating and paint causing it to dry too quick," Lee says. "This can lead to application issues (patchiness, roller marks, and so forth), if you are in very warm conditions it is recommended to add up to five percent water to aid application."

How do you paint like the pros?

If you want to get a professional finish, Lee says that patience is key. "Ignoring your paint's suggested drying and curing times can cause the paint to fail and lead to potential problems such as blistering, cracking, or peeling," Lee says. "However, knowing the type of paint that you are using, the respective times before re-application, and curing time will go a long way in understanding how to get the best results when painting a space."

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