How to Tell Whether Wall Paint Is Latex or Oil

Understanding the ins and outs of remodeling can be an important weapon in your home improvement arsenal. Simple things, such as knowing how to tell the difference between oil and latex paint, can help save you time and money. Educate yourself about how to tell the difference between oil and latex paints and when to use each if you want to become a true weekend redecorating warrior.

Things You'll Need

  • Denatured alcohol
  • Deglosser or liquid sandpaper

Instructions

  1. Test Paint in the Can

    • 1

      Test wall paint in an unlabeled can by feeling the texture of it between your fingertips. In most cases, latex will have a more rubbery texture when compared to the more silky feel of oil.

    • 2

      Remove the lid of the can of paint you wish to test. Allow it to sit in a well-ventilated room overnight.

    • 3

      Look at the surface of the paint once it has settled. An oil-based paint will have a thin layer of oil floating at the top of the paint surface, while a latex paint will have a watery layer at the top.

    Test for Latex Paint on the Wall

    • 4

      Apply a small amount of denatured alcohol to a cotton ball or swab. The tip of a cloth rag can also be used for this purpose.

    • 5

      Rub the alcohol-dipped cloth or swab onto the painted surface. You should use small circular motions when testing the painted area.

    • 6

      Observe the area treated and notice whether any paint has been removed. In most cases, the denatured alcohol will remove a small amount of latex paint, leaving oil-based paints intact.

    • 7

      Test the area treated with your fingertips. If it feels tacky, this indicates that the paint is latex and not oil-based.

    • 8

      Apply a small amount of liquid sand paper or deglosser to tell whether a wall has been painted with latex paint. If it has, the area treated will appear less glossy.

Tips & Warnings

  • Since the appearance of wall paint will be affected by the tests you need to perform to determine whether it is oil-based or latex, pick out an area of your wall which is not highly visible to test.
  • If you are transitioning your walls from an oil-based paint to latex or latex to oil, you should sand and prime the walls with the appropriate type of primer before applying your top coat. This will add to the longevity of your paint as well as prevent it from peeling.
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