How to Paint in the Cold

Painting outside in the cold requires careful attention to paint labels.
Painting outside in the cold requires careful attention to paint labels. (Image: painter, image by Greg Pickens from

Though clear days occur regularly throughout the fall and winter months, the temperature may not often be warm enough to paint in some locations. New construction jobs that require indoor painting are not exempt from this situation, as the homes are not heated. Being aware of the temperature recommended on the paint label is vital to completing a successful painting project.

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Read the manufacturer’s label on the paint can or bucket. Look for the minimum application and drying temperatures. Not only do you need to apply paint at or above a certain temperature (often 50 degrees F, but it may be as low as 35 degrees), you need to make sure the temperature is not going to fall below that level before the paint dries.

Buy the paint that is appropriate for the conditions under which it will be applied. According to the Bennette Paint website, “’Lapping’, ‘ghosting’, ‘mud cracking’, and other film irregularities can occur if the proper product is not chosen for the temperature range of application.” Darker colors are more prone to these phenomena that lighter colors. Even if you use a heater to heat the wall, the paint in the can is often not as warm, and this could cause problems.

Start late in the morning and end painting earlier in the day to keep the paint from freezing.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can purchase drying agents which can be added to paint to speed drying times through high humidity. Cold temperatures slow drying temperatures. These drying agents can only be added to certain paints. The label on the drying agents will tell you which types of paint it can be added to. Purchase drying agents at a paint store or in the paint section of a hardware store.
  • Avoid the use of open time extenders (these slow paint drying time to make it easier to work with). The use of these products could cause the paint to not cure in enough time.
  • Oil/alkyd paints should be applied when the temperature is over 40 degrees F. Fog and high humidity that come in the fall can cause blotchiness or show color differences, according to the Columbia Paints and Coatings website.
  • If your dry time is longer than what is on the label on the paint, remember that your cure time will be extended as well, meaning that you do not want to put another coat of paint on too soon.


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