How to Tell If Paint Is Water-Based or Oil-Based

Written by ellen dean
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How to Tell If Paint Is Water-Based or Oil-Based
Acrylic paint does not require chemicals to use it properly. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

When painting over old paint, it is important to determine if it is oil-based or water-based so you can properly paint over it the first time. If you paint water-based paint over an oil-based paint, peeling and streaking might occur.

Below is an easy way to to tell which type of paint is already existing on a wall.

If purchasing new paint, the type of paint will be printed directly on the bucket or a salesperson will be able to let you know immediately. Oil-based paint usually has a very strong odour and requires white spirit to use on walls.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Methylated spirits
  • Rag

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    Testing Dried Paint on a Wall

  1. 1

    Visit your local hardware store and buy a small can of methylated spirits, also known as denatured alcohol. It should be in a metal can sealed with a safety lid.

  2. 2

    Dip the rag into the spirits so a piece of the rag is saturated. It is helpful to use a rag that is an opposite tone of the paint you are checking, so if any paint comes off you will see it immediately.

  3. 3

    Hold the rag against the wall you want to test for about 30 seconds.

  4. 4

    Move the rag away from the wall. If the paint appears soft and begins coming off the wall, then it is water-based paint. If the paint does not move, it is oil-based.

Tips and warnings

  • Methylated spirits are highly flammable. Make sure to not store the bottle near an open flame.

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