How Long Does Primer Take to Dry


No one can agree on when primer dries. Two hours? Three? Some even say a whole day. How long does primer take to dry? To be frank, the length of time is all over the place.

It isn’t as simple as throwing a timeframe at you. Complications start when you realize that primers have different types such as oil-based, shallc, and latex based primer (also known as water-based). And to make matters even more complicated, brands have different drying times as well. So take what you learn here as a rule of thumb. It can vary based on brand.

How Long Does Primer Take to Dry?

Understanding the length of time you wait before you get to apply paint over your primer depends on the type you’re using as well as the environment it’s subjected to, specifically the level of humidity in your home. Yes, humidity can in fact lengthen the time it takes for primer to dry. To solve that, simply run an air conditioner. Problem solved!

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Oil-based Primer

Let’s start with oil-based primers. Out of the three types of primer, oil-based primers takes the longest to dry. You could be waiting a whole 24 hours!

If the humidity is too high in your room, that time could lengthen. The brand you’re using, however, may reduce that time to something manageable. You’d have to check the label for specifications. With that said, the rule of thumb is 24 hours.

Versatility is the best way to describe oil-based primer, being able to play nice with both oil-based paints and latex-based paints. Surfaces such as metal and wood are some of the best environments for a layer of oil-based primer. It is not an ideal situation to use oil-based primer in an enclosed area without proper ventilation. It releases volatile organic compounds, which are terrible to breathe in.

Latex-based Primer

Latex-based primers, also referred to as “water-based,” sit right in the middle between shellac primer and oil-based primer when it comes to drying time. If you bought latex primer, you should expect to wait an hour, possibly two hours. But if you want insurance, wait at least four hours before adding a layer of paint.

But again, this is another instance where humidity can affect the drying time. Turning on an air conditioner can reduce the length of time. However, if you are unable to use an air conditioner, dehumidifiers (View on Amazon) are a lot easier to lug around the house.

Out of the three, latex-based primer is what you turn to if you are prepping a home for a family. It’s resistant to peeling, cracking, and really good for home repairs. For example, if your child decides to draw on the wall with crayons, latex-based primer is good to have on hand.

Shellac Primer

Out of the three, shellac primer dries the fastest. After applying shellac primer to your walls, it can be dried in a record time of 20 minutes, but only to the touch. Another coat can be applied after 45 minutes.

However, shellac primer can be a pain to work with because of the fumes it gives off. Another problem is denatured alcohol (View on Amazon) needs to be used on paint brushes and other painting tools to thin the shellac primer and properly remove the material. That’s one more bill to add to your list.

Shellac primer has quite the history, and reputation. For starters, when it comes to sealing wood, people have turned to shellac primer for centuries. It does well for your walls and is even best suited for walls that have experienced water and smoke damage. You know that smokey smell walls get from smoke damage? Shellac primer can seal it.

When You Should Use Paint Primer

In the interest of saving money, the question will eventually pop up. Should you use paint primer? If so, when should you use paint primer?

It’s not that paint primer is a waste of money, quite the contrary. Paint primer does an excellent job of preparing interior and exterior surfaces for paint by creating a smooth surface and offering an additional layer of protection. But it isn’t always necessary.

Here’s a quick tip: if your walls are clean and undamaged, you can skip paint primer. So let’s take a look at when paint primer should be used.

You’re working with an uneven surface

An even surface is necessary for an even coating of paint. If your walls are wood, brick, or new drywall, chances are the surface is uneven. By applying a coat of paint primer, you smoothen the surface of the walls, allowing the application of paint to be easier.

To make matters worse, surfaces like brick and wood have pores. When paint fills the small indentations, paint has a harder time drying. Without paint primer, it won’t matter how many coats of paint you apply, it isn’t going to look good in the end.

Painting over a dark color

There’s a warning that gets passed around often when the conversation of paint color comes up. It goes like this, “Don’t paint your walls a dark color.” Why? Because dark colors are harder to cover. It can darken the surface of the next layer if it’s dark enough.

It just so happens that adding a layer or two of paint primer can prevent that from happening. The trick is to use white primer (View on Amazon). Apply two layers of white paint primer, then paint over it with your preferred color, no matter the shade.

You’re working with a glossy base

Glossy paint really gives your favorite room a nice sheen to it. Unfortunately, down the road when or if you decide to paint the room a different color, that glossy coating you fawned over is going to cause problems. Glossy paint is notorious for preventing new paint from sticking to the walls.

What are you going to do about it? Apply paint primer to the walls. Paint primer does an excellent job of sticking to the surface of glossy paint, allowing for a new coat of paint to be added. But consider avoiding glossy paint if you don’t want to waste money on more paint primer.

Bottom Line

And there you have it. If you’re using shellac primer, you have the shortest wait time, provided the surrounding environment is ideal—not too humid, not too cold. Oil-based primer, on the other hand, will have you waiting 24 hours or more, depending on the brand. But for latex-based primer, anywhere between one to four hours is a good ballpark estimate, lengthened or shortened based on brand and environment.