How Many Coats of Paint Do I Need? - Complete Guide 2023

Jun 10 2022 0 Comments

When you begin to approach a paint project, one of the most difficult things for some people to do is determine how much paint is needed. Buying the right amount of paint means that you won’t run out and have to make an extra trip to the store. It also means you won’t end up purchasing far too much and wasting money. So how many coats of paint do you need for a job? As you will find out, that depends on the job? Here is an in-depth guide to help you decide.

how many coats of paint

My Time is Precious. How Many Coats of Paint Do I Need?


Time is certainly valuable, and if you don’t have time to read this article, we are happy to provide you with a general rule of thumb to planning paint usage. In most situations, a good rule of thumb is to use a primer plus two coats of paint. If you use this rule, you may do one more coat than needed but this won’t hurt the final product. There are few situations where this rule of thumb will result in doing too few coats though which is why it is prevalent advice.


Additionally, if you find yourself using a type of paint that has primer built in, you can typically skip the primer altogether and just go with two coats of the paint. Again, this won’t be the best method for every application, but will suffice for most situations. If you’d like to get a more specific answer for your situation, just keep reading.


Oil-Based vs. Water-Based


As you likely know, there are two major types of paint: oil-based paint and water-based (latex) paint. While specific rules may vary a bit based on situation and surface (more on that later), you typically want to use two coats of paint regardless of whether you are using oil-based or water-based paint.


So, what is the difference between these two options? The major difference is in the time it takes between coats. For water-based paint, you typically only need to wait as little as two hours before the paint is ready for a second coat. However, with oil-based paint, you will want to wait roughly 24 hours before applying your second coat.


How Many Coats of Paint Do I Need Based on What I’m Painting?


When it comes to paint, a major determining factor on how many coats of paint you need to apply depends on the surface that you are painting. In most cases, this comes down to the type of material. Let’s take a look at some basic guidelines.


Unfinished Wood. Wood is a very naturally porous material which can make painting it a bit challenging. When painting wood, the big difference is in terms of coats of primer needed. The first question to ask yourself is whether the wood is bare or has been finished. If you are working with unfinished wood, it will soak up a lot of your paint. As such, you will want at least two full coats of primer before following it up with one coat of paint. Failing to use enough primer will result in imperfections, colouring that isn’t uniform, and wood that more easily stains.


Finished Wood. However, if your wood has already been finished, you will only need one coat of primer and one coat of paint (or just one coat total if using paint with primer built in). This is because all of the pores of the wood will already be filled, meaning it won’t suck up much of your paint. This is true even if you sand the wood first – this won’t affect the underlying permeations.


Metal. Painting metals such as steel can be a bit difficult as well; however, for a completely different reason. Here, the difficulty stems from the fact that it is harder for paint to create a bond with metals. Thus, when painting metal, you will want to use either two coats of primer and one coat of paint or three coats of paint with primer.


Fences. The number of coats of paint you need for fencing will likely depend on the quality of the fence. For many high-quality fences, you will only need one coat. However, with some materials, you may need two. Paint a coat, wait until it dries, and then re-evaluate.


Vinyl. Vinyl is something that you likely won’t often paint unless you are giving a new coat of paint to vinyl siding on your home. When working with this particular surface, you can expect to need a total of two coats of paint. It is best to apply paint to vinyl with spray if possible.


Ceilings. When working with a ceiling, you will likely be able to make it work with only one coat. This is particularly true if your ceiling is white. While two coats will provide a brighter, bolder colour, one coat should work just fine. The choice is ultimately up to you.


Bare Drywall. If you find yourself painting on bare drywall, you will need either one coat of primer and one coat of paint or two coats of paint with primer built in. This is because bare drywall will soak up quite a bit of paint. Doing two coats is necessary to prevent the seams from showing through the paint.


Light-coloured Walls. When painting over an existing coat of paint on your walls, the decision ultimately lies in the colour of paint you are covering (and to some extent, the colour of paint you are using). When painting over light-coloured walls, you can usually get away with only one coat and some touchups where needed. This is particularly true if using a dark colour.


Dark-coloured Walls. When painting over dark coloured walls, you will have a bit more trouble preventing the original colour from showing through. You will want between two and three coats of paint depending on the situation. After the first two coats are applied and dry, take a look to see if the old paint is showing through. You may just need to touch up a few areas, or if lots of paint is showing through, you’ll need an entire third coat.


Final Thoughts


It is common advice to use two coats of paint on most projects. However, the specific number needed will often vary depending on what type of surface you are painting and how dark of paint you are using. Some surfaces like unfinished wood, metal, and dark-coloured walls will need more coats of paint while other surfaces like ceilings and light-coloured walls typically need fewer. Keep this in mind when buying paint for your next project.

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