How to Use Water-Based Wood Paint & Finish

Updated February 21, 2017

You probably know that wood requires a primer base coat before it accepts paint properly. However, you might not know which type of primer to use. Water-based latex primers work well with bare wood, but they do not bond with finished wood. An oil-based primer bonds to stain, but it won't accept a water-based finish. If you wish to use a water-based wood paint and finish, you need to prepare the wood properly before you finish it.

Remove dust from the wood, or the water-based finishes will not adhere. Wipe interior wood with sticky tack cloths. Rinse exterior wood, using a high pressure washer. Let exterior wood dry for a day.

Coat bare wood with water-based latex primer, using a synthetic brush. Use nylon brushes on coarse surfaces and polyester brushes on slick surfaces. Water-based primers won't adhere to stained wood; use shellac primers on this type of wood. Apply shellac primer using a china brush. Let the wood dry for two hours.

Clean the brush. Use water to wash synthetic brushes, and use denatured alcohol to wash china brushes.

Coat the primed wood with paint. Choose the correct paint for the surface. Water-based latex paint is standard for interior wood doors and trim. Choose a water-based deck paint for decks. Finish wood floors with an acrylic floor paint. Coat wood furniture with acrylic enamel.

Wash the brush.

Apply a water-based sealer finish to decks, floors and furniture, using the clean brush. You do not need to apply sealer to other wood surfaces.


Acrylics are water-based. You can use a roller to apply water-based primers and paints to larger wood surfaces.

Things You'll Need

  • Pressure washer
  • Tack cloth
  • Nylon paintbrush
  • Polyester paintbrush
  • Water-based primer
  • Shellac primer
  • China brush
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Water-based paint
  • Water-based sealer
  • Roller frame
  • Nap roller cover
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About the Author

Ryan Lawrence is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado. He has been writing professionally since 1999. He has 10 years of experience as a professional painting contractor. Lawrence writes for High Class Blogs and Yodle. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and public relations with a minor in history from the University of Oklahoma.