Waiting for paint to dry is a pain but it’s also a necessary evil. If it isn’t dry and you move on to the next task, you’ll mess up your paint and you’ll have to start over. Sometimes your paint even looks dry, but it’s just the surface, and you move to soon and guess what? It’s time to clean up, start over, and you’ll probably have a few choice words with an inanimate object.
Today I’m going to try to minimize tour chances of cursing at paint with a comprehensive guide on what you can expect when you are working with spray paint and waiting for it to dry. I’ll go over environmental considerations, materials, and even some specific tasks so that by the time you are done with this guide you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much time your task will really take.
How long does it take spray paint to dry? Let’s take a closer look and see!
So, How Long Does It Take Spray Paint to Dry?
Okay, first off, I’m going to try to give you a ‘ballpark figure’ just in case you’re a little impatient or just looking for a quick refresher because it’s been awhile since you last spray painted something. Let’s assume the following conditions for this scenario:
- Humidity is mild, let’s say 70 percent
- Temperature is optimal at 65 – 85 degrees in our painting area
- We’re just applying light coats to slowly ‘layer’ our spray paint as-needed
In this scenario, you can apply additional coats every 10 minutes confidently, it should be just fine though your paint isn’t completely dry yet – just enough for second and third coats. As far as your spray paint drying, it should be safe to touch in about 1 or 2 hours (check your label, because exceptions are out there) and it should be completely dry after a period of approximately 24 hours.
This gives you that ‘ballpark figure’ which you can use as a baseline, but unfortunately it is seldom that simple. You have to also keep in mind a few other factors which we are going to discuss next.
Environmental factors will affect drying, of course
In our ballpark scenario we listed an ideal temperature and humidity and there’s a reason for that. Environmental factors are going to make a huge difference and if you are painting at the wrong time, you might just wait forever for that paint to dry.
Choosing the right time for painting is critical because of this and we’ll devote a section of this article to environmental factors which you will find a little further down, so that you can understand what you need to know about the ideal drying conditions for your project.
You’ll need to take the materials into consideration, too
Assuming that the weather is mild or you are painting in a fairly controlled environment, let’s take a look at our most important remaining factor – materials. The material which you are painting is going to have a definite effect on how long you may expect for your spray paint to dry.
Let’s take a closer look at the effects which you may expect with the most commonly spray painted materials.
Metal takes longer to dry then wood. This is mostly because it heats and cools quite easily, so environmental factors are definitely going to need to be considered. These factors aside, you still have to do a bit of preparation before you paint. This is typically in the form of sanding down your metal briefly after a thorough clean, applying your primer, and then waiting about an hour before you sand the primer to help ensure that your paint will stick in the first place.
Note that while you can sand it in 10 or 15 minutes, I really recommend an hour just to be on the safe side. Check the label of your primer too, just in case you’ve got some product-specific drying instructions and you’ll avoid a lot of potential frustration.
Once it’s cleaned, primed, and sanded up, you can spray paint the metal but it’s still going to take awhile to dry. It will FEEL dry after an hour or two, but it’s going to need to cure on the metal and this process will take approximately 36 to 48 hours at minimum.
Take your time, read the labels, and always err on the side of MORE drying time than less. Any mistakes
“always err on the side of MORE drying time”
take a long time to correct and they reset that final 36 – 48 hour timer, so it really pays to be patient if you don’t want to find yourself still doing this job a week later!
Wood and furniture
Painting with wood is a little easier. Raw wood, for instance, is super-porous and it will soak your paint right up, drying in record time. Standard treated wood, in optimal conditions, means that you can spray paint thin layers every 10 minutes or if you want to do a little dry sanding in between, make that every 30 minutes.
Check your label, of course, but you should be ready for lacquering or other post-painting tasks in approximately 24 hours of drying time.
With furniture, it’s much the same, however you will likely be dealing with an existing finish that you will need to sand off and then prime before you paint. So, sand the surface in preparation, apply your primer, and give it at least half an hour before you start with the spray paint. The standard recommendations for wood should be followed at this point and you can expect 24 hours for that paint to fully dry.
Plastic isn’t a great surface for standard spray paint, so if you just have some regular spray paint from your local hardware store then you can save yourself a lot of frustration now – we’re going to need special spray paint. Paints like Krylon Fusion are going to be your best bet when it comes to plastic, as these paints are designed to chemically bond with this normally slippery surface.
Krylon Fusion typically takes 1 -2 to dry and about 7 days to cure into a solid, protective shell. I recommend that you don’t try any sanding with this stuff and with your plastic and while it says to wait 2 hours before applying a second coat, I personally wait about 48 hours so that the curing process is at least partially underway.
Just like raw wood, cement is porous enough that it should absorb your spray paint nicely and barring any environmental hindrances, it should dry quite quickly. Give it 24 hours to be on the safe side though if you are applying additional layers, those can be done every 10 minutes.
How long should I wait between coats, in general?
As a general rule, keep your coats light. Yes, you can spray it on heavier, but if you do that your paint is inevitably going to run. That doesn’t look good and it means extra work for you!
Keep it simple by spraying light coats and waiting 10 or even better, 15 minutes before applying your next coat. Unless you are working with metal, in which case I’d wait at least an hour to avoid any headaches. Use the instructions on your label to help ensure that your paint doesn’t come with any special requirements and you should be golden.
Drying times based on various tasks
Now that you’ve got a small hypothetical foundation to build on, I thought I’d take a turn at outlining a few more specifics to help you get that all-important estimated time until completion. While it’s impossible to cover every scenario, I hope that this will help to further narrow your estimate into something a little more realistic.
Below are a few of the most common scenarios, let’s take a peek!
How long should I wait before applying lacquer?
You want to be careful with lacquer. Lacquer is great stuff, but it’s solvent based, so you want to make sure that your paint is completely dry before you get the lacquer anywhere near it. With wood, you’re look at about 24 hours. If you are among the few who like to lacquer metal, then, go with 36 to 48 to be on the safe side.
One final note… due to the solvency, apply the first coat of lacquer thinly to the surface you are treating. Do this a few times to build up a little foundation before you start going heavier on the lacquer and you’ll minimize your chances of harming the paint.
How long should I wait before applying polyurethane?
For standard wood or chipboard, you want to wait at least 12 hours, but I like to wait 24 just to be 100% sure of it. That’s just me, though. I REALLY hate having to go back and fix things, so if you are like me then go with the 24 hour period and as long as the environment is optimal your paint will be dry and ready for your polyurethane.
If you are painting plastic, I heartily recommend that you double that time –at least 48 hours is the minimum time that you should allot for drying. This gives the paint time to cure a little so that you can apply that polyurethane with confidence Resist the urge to hurry the task because if anything goes wrong you’ll add some serious time to the task and you really, really don’t want to do that.
How long should I wait before applying a clear coat?
Clear coat doesn’t take a long wait, but you want to make sure that everything is in order. Ensure that your paint looks the way you like, because the clear coat is there to preserve it, and make sure that you didn’t do any sanding of your paint before you apply the clear coat.
If you did, a thin layer of paint that will remain un-sanded afterwards is the best idea. Your clear coat is designed to go smoothly over the paint and a sanded surface, in this case, is not ideal.
How long should I wait before taping?
With wood, you don’t have to wait too long before you can apply your tape. Typically it soaks the paint right up and you should be able to safely handle wood after a period of 1 – 2 hours of time. Don’t put your tape on before this and remember that ‘more time is better’, but if it’s dry to the touch and it’s been an hour or two then you should be able to safely apply tape to wood.
Metal is going to be different, as you’ll be applying primer first in order to ensure that the paint will stick at all. With primed metal, I’d wait at least 12 hours, but if you are really in a hurry, you MIGHT be able to get away with waiting 6. Again, I’d wait 12, but it’s really up to you and 6 will likely be fine, I just always err on the cautious side.
Oh, I almost forgot about plastic. My recommendation with plastic is that you don’t bother taping it in the first place. In most cases, it WILL remove your paint. You can try waiting about 48 hours to get a
“a little extra resilience from the curing process”
little extra resilience from the curing process, but in my experience 9 times out of 10 you are going to end up with a bit of paint on your tape when you remove it.
Just my 2 cents worth but remember, you were warned!
What about removing tape?
This is where a lot of opinions vary, as some say that you should let the paint completely dry before you take it off when others, like me, say that 10 – 30 minutes is usually just fine. I usually use Scotch Blue original as it is designed for the job.
While you can use other tapes, I really don’t recommend that you use anything but painting tape. The reason for this is that brands which are designed for other tasks may bleed the color or worse, can sometimes adhere too firmly and rip your paint right off!
How long should you wait after spray painting before sanding or wet sanding?
In most cases if you want to do a little bit of light sanding in between coats, you’ll want to wait at least 30 minutes before you start giving it a scuffing. I don’t recommend that you sand plastic, but if you are dead-set on it then you really want to wait at least 2 hours of time if you want to get the best results.
With metal, you’re likely going to be wet-sanding so I wanted to take a moment and talk a little about what you’ll need to do. First off, you’ll want to add a drop or 2 of dishwasher soap to your water before we begin and you’ll want to have a spray bottle handy. This is so that you can spray occasionally as-needed while we are sanding and this will help keep the surface lubricated so that you can get the best results.
Use a grit between 2000 and 2500 and you will want to wait a minimum of 12 hours or even better, a full 24 hours before you begin wet sanding.
Incidentally, you can wet sand plastic and wood as well if you like. With plastic, give it a full 24 hours before you get to sanding and just follow the metal steps which I’ve already listed.
For wood, skip the dish soap but soak the sandpaper overnight before you get started. You will have to wait for the paint to completely cure before you start sanding and be sure that you only do a very light sanding job. This will improve the finish without too much risk of damaging your wood. When your sanding is done, dry the wood thoroughly with a soft cloth and you should be golden.
How long should I allow primer to dry before spray painting a surface?
Primer is pretty quick and easy and after you read the can (always, always read the can, I can’t stress that enough!) then you should apply your primer along with subsequent coats in periods with 15 minutes of drying time in between them.
If you are going to sand the surface, wait about 30 minutes before a dry-sanding session and if you prefer to go with wet sanding then you will want to give it at least 30 minutes of drying time before you proceed to actually painting the newly-primed surface.
How long will it take for car spray paint to dry?
While I’d like to be able to give you a definite answer here, there are simply too many brands of car spray paint out there to give you any useful information. With professional-grade car spray paint you will just have to read the label and go with the information which they have provided there.
I can tell you that once the vehicle is painted that you shouldn’t give it a through washing for at least 1.5 or 2 months. You can give it a light, delicate wash about 2 hours after it’s dry but anything more intense than that is risky – I wouldn’t do it so I’m encouraging you to do the same.
Give it time to cure and harden up to perfection before you consider any detailing that could potentially scratch or otherwise damage your new paintjob. You’ll be happy that you did because frankly, starting over is kind of a nightmare and you’ll spend a whole lot of time paying for your haste!
Environmental factors: Why is my spray paint taking so long to dry?!
We’ve gone over materials and some task-specific variables, now it’s time to take a good look at your environmental factors. Humidity is an important factor. High humidity means it’s wet out and this will definitely slow down your drying time considerably. I’d recommend that if the humidity is above 85% then you might want to consider holding-off on any outside painting. It’s simply too humid outside and there’s no telling when your paint will dry in such conditions.
Sunlight is another factor to consider for outside painting. While it certainly seems that your paint is drying more quickly, you still need to be careful. Take a note of the temperature and this will help to determine the drying time. For instance, if it’s super-sunny outside but your temperature is only around 60 degrees, then it’s not going to dry as fast as it would in a more optimal 75 – 80-degree range.
Finally, if it is more than 90 degrees outside then I wouldn’t recommend painting at all. Your paint might end up drying TOO fast and cracking, possibly even fading a bit in the process. Wait until the temperature is more moderate when it comes to sunlight and you’ll have a much smoother experience.
Do we have optimal drying temperatures?
The best way to remember the ideal temperatures is to think ‘lucky 7’. You want 70 degrees and 70% humidity in most cases for an absolutely ideal painting experience. As your odds of hitting exactly this sweet spot are going to be a little difficult, as long as the humidity is below 85% and your temperature is between 60 and 80 degrees then you should still have a pretty easy time of painting and your average drying times should apply.
If your paint isn’t drying quickly, you’ll want to consider the amount that you are applying. I always stick with thin coats and this ensures that it isn’t going to run and that the paint dries quickly. You can layer it that way to the look that you like and, in my opinion, it’s really the most cost-effective when it comes to your time.
Yes, it takes a little patience, but the first time that you have to strip a surface, sand it, and start from
“cost-effective when it comes to your time”
scratch I can guarantee you that you’ll be more than happy to use a little patience afterwards. Hopefully you’ll just take me word for it, however, and save yourself a little hassle.
Do it right the first time and be done with it!
Also, don’t forget, if you are painting plastic and it doesn’t seem to be drying well or at all, make sure that the spray paint that you are using is designed for plastic. Standard spray paint won’t cut it and has a hard time sticking to plastic, so go with Krylon Fusion or another specialized paint or you’ve got a serious headache brewing up for later.
What if it’s very cold – will my paint still dry?
Spray painting in the cold might just make you chew your nails off. If you are painting metal or plastic, forget about doing it outside if we are talking 50 degrees or lower. You’ll want to get them into your garage and use a mask for proper ventilation. That said, if it’s still 50 degrees or lower in your garage, wood might eventually dry but metal or plastic? It’s going to be a long, long time.
You’re better off waiting until it warms up because waiting for spray paint to dry in the cold will really, really try your patience.
How to tell when your spray paint is really dry
This is a good question. Spray paint has a sneaky habit of looking dry before it is actually dry. It takes a little experience but as a general rule, when it’s only really dry on the surface then it’s going to feel a little tacky. At this point, you can apply additional coats but you still don’t want to handle it overmuch until it loses that tacky feel and just starts feeling smooth.
24 to 48 hours is the standard time for it to really, truly be dry unless you’ve got some of those environmental variables which we’ve discussed.
What if my paint is sticky?
If your paint is sticky, then you’ve got a problem. In cases like this, one of two things has occurred:
- You may have applied additional coats too soon
- Humidity may be a little higher than expected
In these two cases, what happens is that moisture has gotten trapped in between your paint layers, and while this may go away in a week or two it’s possible that you are going to need to simply sand it and start over.
In most cases this is going to be the best idea and it will definitely save you a lot of time. While the sticky paint WILL eventually dry, you are likely going to get bubbling, cracking, or other minor damages that will affect the finished look of your paint.
If you absolutely do NOT want to do that if you can avoid it, there is one thing which you can try, provided that you are working with wood. Get yourself some furniture wax and apply 1 or 2 coats of the furniture wax to your wood. This will help to protect that sticky, vulnerable paint and provides you with a chance (just a chance, mind you) of the paint drying normally and without any damage.
You won’t know for about 2 weeks if this has worked, however, so you will need to apply your wax and store the wood in a warm, dry place which has some good ventilation inside. You can set a box fan on low in the area to help things along. After 2 weeks have passed then you should check your wood and see if it’s dried properly and if so, then you’ve dodged a bullet and you won’t have to start over from scratch.
Is there anything I can do if my spray paint isn’t drying on plastic?
Plastic is notoriously tricky to spray paint in general. That said, if you follow a few ground rules then you might still be okay. First off, make sure that your humidity is very low and that the temperature is as well. You want it to be as close to ‘lucky 7’ as you can, so 70% humidity and 70 degrees or as close as you can get it will be ideal.
Lightly coat and recoat the plastic with primer as well so that you can increase your chances of the paint sticking to the surface. Use only spray paints that are designed specifically for plastic or you’re really just wasting your time.
Finally, once you get that paint on, store the item away safely and let it cure for at least a week before you handle it or get it wet. With a little luck and ideal conditions then if you’ve reached this point and the paint still looks good, then you have done the job and done it well!
Are there ways to make your spray paint dry faster?
Now that we’ve gotten all the really important considerations out of the way, it’s only natural to wonder ‘how long does it take spray paint to dry – if I cheat?’. So, are there ways to make your spray paint dry faster?
Technically you can speed up the drying time but the effects are going to be fairly minimal. What you can do is set up your drying materials in an area with good air circulation, then either get yourself a humidifier or a portable heater, or even go with both! This might shave about 10 – 15% off of your drying time or if you are lucky, maybe even up to 20%.
While you may have heard that a hair dryer can help, I recommend against it. This tends to either wave up your paint or simply make it look dry, while it’s just mildly dry on the surface. The end result is usually crackling or bubbling and it really isn’t worth the risk.
As an alternative, you can always crank up the heat in the area and use fans to boost the circulation, and that will help to shave off a good 15% of drying time if you are really in a hurry to move on to the next steps of your project.
Do any spray paints on the market dry faster than others?
The paints that you use can make an appreciable difference, so that is something to definitely consider. Crayola, Hammerite, and Rustoleum are 3 quality brands that might shave a little time off of your project. Like our previous recommendations, keep in mind that the time difference is going to be minimal, so you can save a little money by exercising your patience.
Crayola is washable, but it dries in 30 minutes, so you might be able to get away with painting a surface and then giving it a protective coat. With Hammerite, you can handle the materials within about 4 hours and a 24-hour period should fully dry this product. Finally, with Rustoleum, handling time occurs anywhere between 5 and 9 hours, but it should be fully dry after 24 and the metal you are painting should be rust-resistant at that point in the bargain!
How long does it take spray paint to dry? Well, now you know!
Today we have taken a detailed, closer look at how long it takes spray paint to dry in various environments and on various materials. While there are a lot of variables to consider, what we’ve gone over today should give you a pretty good idea of the time for the painting task in front of you.
Remember to exercise your patience, because a few extra minutes now can literally save you hours or even days later. Take your time to do it right and your paint will dry perfectly in it’s own sweet time!