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Painting Over Oil Based Paint: Can It Be Done?

More specifically, can painting over oil based paint with latex paint be done? Yes, and I’ll show you exactly how.

Painting Over Kitchen Cabinets

A common question I get from clients and here on DIY Painting Tips is “Can I paint latex over oil paint on my cabinets?”. It turns out that there is a lot of confusion on this topic along with a lot of wrong information (much actually spread by painters).

Painting Over Oil Based Paint: Latex Over Oil

First, Some History

Many people seem to think that latex paint cannot be painted over old oil based paint on their kitchen cabinets (or windows, trim, doors, etc).

There is some actual reasoning behind this, but most of it is just misinformation.

The reason this thinking that painting over oil based paint isn’t possible started because historically oil based finishes were glossier than latex. Often satin, semi-gloss or gloss. Traditional latex paints also had poor bonding properties.

So if you painted latex paint over a glossy cabinet, odds are it would likely start to peel eventually and you’d have a mess on your hands.

However, if you take your time and properly prep your surface and use the correct primer, you will have a tight bond that never peels.

How To Paint Latex Over Oil Based Paint

Painting latex over oil based paint is actually quite simple. These are the exact steps I take when painting clients cabinets and I have painted hundreds of sets of kitchen cabinets over the years and never had a peeling callback yet.

The first thing when painting over oil based paint is to start by cleaning your surface that you plan on painting. If it is kitchen cabinets, wash them all down with some warm water. If they are really greasy from cooking, use a bit of Dawn soap when scrubbing then wipe with a clean wet rage.

Once dry, lightly sand all of the surfaces that are going to be painted with 3M Fine Grit Sanding Sponges. When you are done sanding, simply shop vac the dust. No need to wipe things down with a rag or to use tack clothes (I recommend not using tack clothes for multiple reasons).

Once your area is fully prepped, go ahead and apply a quality bonding primer. I recommend using Zinsser Smart Prime for kitchen cabinets, furniture, doors, windows, and trim. You can read my full review of Zinsser Smart Prime here.

If you want more details and instructions on painting your kitchen cabinets, check out these posts:

Painting Over Oil Based Paint

Painting Over Oil Based Paint: Oil Over Oil

Here’s the kicker, I don’t recommend doing anything different if you plan on using oil based paint to paint over your old oil based finish.

Even if you paint over your old cabinets (or whatever you are painting), and they have a glossy surface that you don’t properly prep or prime, your new oil based finish won’t bond properly and you’ll likely have peeling and chipping issues in the future.

Why You Need To Sand When Painting Over Oil Based Paint

I commonly see posts all over the internet about how to paint over this or that without sanding and I can honestly tell you this: There is not a single situation where not sanding won’t hurt the longevitiy of your finished project.

Sanding takes a smooth surface and roughs it up. It puts tiny scratches into the surface that the next coat, whether it’s primer or top coat, then go into and help it create a better bond to the surface.

It is basically creating tiny handles for the new coat to go into and hold on tight!

Note: If you do have an older home, always do a lead test before sanding. You don’t want to release lead dust into your home unknowingly. If you do test positive for lead, then that would be the only time I would not recommend sanding, or just hire a professional.

Why You Need To Prime When Painting Over Oil Based Paint

This is the real kicker when I get asked if it is possible to paint latex over oil based paint. No matter what, I always recommend using the proper primer for the project.

Primers are built for two main reasons (there are more, but these are the main ones) when it comes to painting the interior of your house.

First, is sealing and stain blocking. A primer is built to seal in and block stains such as water, grease, smoke, pee, and other stains. A good primer stops these stains from seeping through into your top coat.

The second main reason to use a primer is bonding. Primers are made to bond to the surface you apply them on and to bond to the new top coat you apply over them.

If you look around online, you can find very specific primers that are made for a specific application. Some specialize in bonding and are typically called “Bonding Primers” while others specialize in stain blocking.

A great general purpose primer that is great at both while having a low VOC content is Zinsser Smart Prime. This is my personal choice for all kitchen cabinet, window, door, and trim painting. Zinsser Data Sheet.

Zinsser Peel Stop is a exterior specific primer that is so good at bonding that it is sold to specifically stop exterior peeling!

In Conclusion

I hope I helped answer your question of if Painting Over Oil Based Paint is possible.

Remember, you can absolutely paint over most all surfaces as long as you prep them properly and use the correct primer.


Ready To Learn More?

Check out our Painting Kitchen Cabinets hub page for everything you could want to know about cabinet painting including costs, how-tos, reviews, and more.