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How To Paint Over Oil Based Paint – Guide For Beginners

Let’s paint a picture here.

How To Paint Over Oil Based Paint

You’ve just bought an old cabinet, and you’re looking to give it a new lease of life with a fresh coat of paint. But, as you’ve inspected it further, you realize that it has an interesting texture to the painted areas. It doesn’t feel like painted items that you’ve handled before.

Chances are, what you have picked up is an antique cabinet that someone painted with oil-based paints. And unfortunately, that also means that you’ve got to change your strategy.

It’s not impossible, but it takes the right knowledge and tools to paint over oil-based painted items. That’s exactly what this guide is here to do. You can paint over oils with both acrylic and oil-based paints, depending on the desired finish.

What Are Oil-Based Paints?

It’s worth explaining what makes oil paints different from pretty much any other kind of paint in the industry, from acrylic to watercolor.

What It’s Made Of

As the name implies, oil-based paints are painting mediums that use pigments suspended in some kind of oil medium.

This makes it very different from acrylic, where the pigments are mixed with a plastic-based medium. Or watercolors, which are mixed with water.


The result is a paint that retains its color well and is pretty resistant to water effects (though not to the same extent as acrylic). It is also  tough and durable.

Oil paints also flatten out as they dry, which can turn a bumpy or rough surface with wet oil paint into a beautifully smooth surface.

Oil paints were some of the most common paints to use when decorating and painting furniture throughout the early 20th century.

An oil-painted cabinet will look professionally smoothed with a finishing layer of oil paint upon completion. It also would keep its color for a very long amount of time.

Why We No Longer Use Them

Despite the benefits, oil-based paints aren’t the standard used in furniture anymore.

So, if they have so many great properties, why did we stop using them?

Acrylic and watercolor paints have become far more versatile and flexible in recent years. Here are a few more reasons.

Dangerous For The Environment

The main reason that we no longer use these paints is that they emit a ton of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are very harmful to the environment.

They violate a lot of environmental regulations, leading to them being disused outside of small-scale paintings. This is also why they are more difficult to find.

Difficult To Maintain

How To Paint Over Oil Based Paint (1)

Oil-based paints are also a lot more difficult to maintain than other kinds of paint these days.

Rather than simply being washable with water, the paint needs to be thinned using a solvent. This creates a much more complicated and messier process. It also smells a lot worse thanks to the solvents and thinners used to clean them.

How To Paint Over Oil Paints

Now that you know a little more about this kind of paint, we can finally move to the big answers that you came here for. 

Painting Over With Acrylic Paints

Being one of the most popular types of paint out there right now, acrylic will be many people’s go-to option.

The latex medium in acrylic paint allows it to develop a waterproof skin that serves as a barrier. The paint below the surface slowly hardens as the water content evaporates.

Because oil-based paints don’t have this protective waterproof layer, they are very easy to paint over with acrylic.

This is a very good solution for people that want to make sure that their new coat of paint lasts a long time, and can handle a lot of potential wear and tear.

Painting Over With Oil-Based Paints

As we mentioned, the fact that oil-based paints harden as they paint, rather than evaporating as they dry, means there is no protective surface.

This means that, as long as the old oil paint has fully hardened and cured, you can simply repaint over the old surface with more oil paint.

When picking out an oil paint to use over the older layer, keep in mind that there are two kinds of oil paint that you can buy on the market today:

  • Alkyd uses synthetic resin binders and components to get the desired effect.
  • Natural oil uses linseed oil for a more traditional texture.

This is a paint option that you should consider if you’re looking to maintain an antique furnishing’s original look and appearance or give a new object that old-fashioned look.

How Can You Tell If A Surface Has Been Oil Painted?

If you want to tell if a surface has been painted using oil paint, simply rub a little denatured alcohol onto your surface of choice.

If the paint does not lift and come off, then you’ll know that the painted surface is oil-based.

If it does, then you’re probably dealing with some kind of acrylic or water-based painted surface.

Final Notes

So, as you can see, there are a few ways to paint over oil-based paints.

Just because wider industries no longer use oil-based paints as their main medium, doesn’t mean that you are not allowed to use them in your own home.

But, you should be keeping the warnings in mind when considering how you paint over your oil-painted furnishings.

Hopefully, this guide has helped you make the right informed decision for your home furnishing ideas!

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