How long does paint take to dry? The essential expert guide for home decorators

Whether gloss or matt emulsion, this is how long you should wait for your paint to dry indoors

A two toned pink living room with light pink ceiling
(Image credit: Edward Bulmer)

It's a question that everyone wants to know, but no one seems to have an answer to: how long does paint take to dry? You know how to paint a room, but knowing when to move all your furniture back is another story. That's because the answer isn't simply cut and dried (get it?). There are a multitude of factors that can effect how long paint takes to dry, from the type of paint finish to the room's humidity, and even the type of surface. 

However, the main factor that will effect your paint's drying time is whether it's water or oil-based. Typically, the interior paint we use on our walls and ceilings is a matt emulsion, which is water-based. These usually take a few hours to dry and a second coat can be added after three hours or so. 

Oil-based paints on the other hand can take six to eight hours, sometimes more, and you should wait at least 24 hours before applying a second coat. These paints contain a natural oil, such as linseed oil, and resin which makes them far more durable. Most decorators only suggest using oil on smaller areas that you don't intend on repainting often, such as trims or moulding. 

Although that might sound relatively simple, there are a whole host of other variable conditions that can effect how long your paint will take to dry. We know how annoying it is when you've finished a beautiful paint job, only to ruin it with tacky fingerprints when you check whether it's dry.

So that you're not forced to stare at the walls and - quite literally - watch paint dry, we've rustled up all the factors you should consider when it comes to paint drying times. This way, you'll achieve a beautiful paint finish

How long do emulsion paints take to dry? 

Bathroom with blue graduated painting wall, fading from light to dark blue,

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

Matt emulsion is the stalwart of the decorating world. It gives a beautiful matt finish even on walls and ceilings that aren't perfectly smooth, plus it dries relatively quickly. In general an emulsion paint takes around three hours to dry, but this depends on the brand. Some, such as Dulux, have a specific quick-drying range; there's is touch dry in an hour and ready for a second coat after six.

It's important to also consider your application when it comes to painting a room using emulsion. If you're too generous with the amount of paint, it will inevitably take longer to dry and you could be left with a patchy finish. It goes without saying, but a paint roller is recommended since this will help evenly distribute a thin coat of paint. 

Although a wall may feel touch dry in as little as half an hour, you'll need to wait longer before recoating. According to paint expert, Edward Bulmer, 'matt emulsions will usually be re-coatable after four to six hours, but natural paints that contain raw materials such as chalk can be quicker.' 

After two coats and a gorgeous newly painted room, there's probably nothing you're more excited for than moving in your furniture, admiring your work and Instagramming the transformation - but don't act too fast. The curing time - the time it takes for paint to completely harden and be safe to wipe down or drill into - will be far longer than you think. In most cases, this will be two to three days, but some decorators advise waiting weeks depending on the humidity in your home. 

Mid-sheen finishes which are also emulsions, such as satinwood and silk or even eggshell, will take roughly the same time, just be sure to follow your brand's instructions. 

How long should I wait for gloss to dry? 

A white kitchen with gloss finish cabinetry

(Image credit: James Merrell)

There are lots of different ways that designers use gloss paint, but it's generally used on smaller details, such as trims. As mentioned earlier, the time taken for a gloss paint to dry will depend on whether it's oil or water-based. But, generally, it will take longer to dry than emulsion. 

Tacky finger prints on window sills or door trims are a common indication that you've underestimated how long your gloss would take to dry. While some modern brands have developed water-based glosses, they generally use an oil solvent. And alas, a long drying time is the price you pay for that beautiful glossy sheen. 

On average, a gloss finish will feel touch dry in six hours, but it won't be recoatable for another 16 to 24. You can expect a longer curing time too. As a rule of thumb, wait at least seven days before testing whether your gloss is cured. This means no wiping with a cloth or closing windows or doors if you've painted the entire trim. 

How long does it take for painted furniture to dry? 

A dark blue dining room

(Image credit: Edward Bulmer)

In general, the same rules apply when it come to how to paint furniture, however this will depend on the use of a primer. Wood primers can take an especially long time to dry, but that depends on (you guessed it) whether it's oil or water-based. 

Speciality furniture paints, such as chalk paint, are a different story however. If applying chalk paint to a previously painted surface, you'll only need to wait an hour before the surface is touch dry. If you're painting directly onto raw wood, which is porous and therefore absorbs some of the paint, it will be closer to an hour and a half's wait. 

Surfaces that aren't porous at all, such as metal, will only take around half an hour depending on the brand, your application and the humidity. Don't go displaying anything on a newly chalk painted piece of furniture though - you still need to leave at least 24 hours for chalk paint to cure completely.

The same goes for the fast-drying milk paint, although this variety will generally take between two to seven days to cure completely due to its thinner, more watery consistency. 

Do weather conditions effect paint drying times? 

The conditions of the room in which you're painting will have also effect the time it takes for paint to dry. Ventilation is a given - windows and doors should ideally be open for the entire drying process. 

'Humidity will also prolong drying times, but so will low temperatures,' says Edward. If there's lots of moisture in the air, it will be harder for the solvents in paint to evaporate - especially if they're water-based. Likewise, if it's too cold, it will take long for the evaporation process to take place too. For this reason, a decorator would never advise painting in winter. 

It's best to avoid weather extreme, so don't paint in the heat of summer either. High temperatures can cause a paint to dry too fast, which can cause blistering or peeling.  Don't be tempted to speed up the process yourself with heaters or hairdryers as this could lead to similar problems. 'Trying to hasten paint dry times is not recommended,' Edward notes. 'This can weaken the bond between the paint and the surface and lead to peeling or cracking later.' 

Lilith Hudson
News Editor

Lilith Hudson is the News Editor at Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.