How Many Coats of Interior or Exterior Paint Do I Need?

Josh Maday
Written by Josh Maday
Updated April 26, 2023
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Is it time to give your home a color refresh? Whether you’re painting the interior or exterior of your house, it’s important to know how many coats of paint you’ll need. In most cases, two coats of paint are ideal to ensure complete coverage. There is an exception, though— if you’re adding a fresh coat of paint over the same color, you can get away with just a single coat. A primer can help reduce the number of paint coats you’ll need. In some situations, you may only need one coat of a 2-in-1 primer-and-paint combination.

Factors like the texture of the surface you're painting, the paint color and quality, and whether you're using a primer will help you decide how much paint you need to execute a paint job you’re proud to show off.

Benefits of a Second Coat of Paint

Applying a second coat of paint offers several benefits that make it worth investing the extra time and cost. Here are a few advantages of the second coat of paint:

  • The second coat can create richer color and hide any errors from the first round.

  • One coat indoors will look its best for roughly three years, while the second coat will extend that pristine look for up to 10 years indoors and five years outdoors.

  • The paint adheres better on the second coat if the surface is prepped, dry, and smooth. 

  • The second coat of paint protects the first layer. 

  • It's cost-effective. If you look at the cost of adding a second coat, it’s minimal in comparison to just one coat. A detailed cost of painting the interior of your house will also help you make more informed decisions about your project.

How Many Coats of Primer Do You Need Before Painting?

Paint primer is a painter’s BFF. How many coats of primer you need depends on surface texture, porosity, color, and environment. If you can’t decide, talk to a professional interior painter near you. In general, apply primer as follows:

  • For colored walls: Apply one coat of tinted primer to block existing color from showing through.

  • For high-moisture environments, like bathrooms: Apply two coats.

  • For wood: Apply two coats.

Let each coat dry completely before applying more. 

But before you get started, make sure you choose one of the best paint primers for your project. 

How Many Coats of Paint Do Interior Walls Need?

You’ll usually paint two coats on interior walls, but how many coats of paint you’ll need will vary depending on how porous or textured the wall is, and if it’s been painted before. Here are helpful guidelines for how many coats of paint you should apply to your interior walls.

Old (Already Painted) Walls Get One Coat of Paint

If you’re not changing colors and simply freshening up an interior wall that’s fallen victim to fingerprints and spaghetti splats, then one coat should be enough. Two coats are even better for satisfying results, especially if the old paint was faded or stained.

You might think that one coat of thicker paint is equal to two coats, but it’s not. A thick coat will take a few days to dry completely, and you’ll end up with sagging or cracking paint. Instead, a couple of quick, uniform coats will give you even, consistent results. If you want to go the DIY route, you can paint walls, ceilings, and trim in a room over the course of a weekend or two.

New Walls Get Two Coats of Paint

A new wall provides a fresh surface for painting without any residual color showing through. However, you'll need to apply a bit more since new drywall tends to soak up paint quickly. Here’s where a primer can help make the job easier and more cost-effective. 

If you’re tempted to go with the least expensive paint based on the lowest price, you may end up costing yourself more time and money in the long run. Many of the low-cost paints are thin and take multiple coats to get the same coverage as the best paint brands

Best results: Apply one coat of primer followed by two coats of paint for the best result and consistent, streak-free color.

A single coat won’t give you the solid coverage you’re looking for. Applying a second coat not only covers better and delivers richer color, but it adds durability and longevity to your paint, as mentioned earlier.

Repaired or Plaster Walls Get Three Coats of Paint 

Plaster walls can also absorb a lot of paint, so overall you’ll technically end up applying three coats of paint to plaster or repaired walls, as they’ll be bare drywall that will drink the paint.

Best results: Make sure the plaster is dry. Any trapped moisture can cause the paint to blister, flake, and peel as the moisture pushes outward to escape. 

Before applying your two coats of paint, spray on a mist coat to seal the plaster and prepare it to take paint. A mist coat is a 50/50 mixture of emulsion paint thinned down with water, making it easy to spray as well as soak into the new plaster to seal it. 

Then you’re ready to apply your two coats of paint. Keep your coats thin. This will help create a stronger bond to the plaster. Also, avoid using a 2-in-1 primer and paint, as these tend to be thicker formulations to cover in a single coat that doesn’t stick as well to plaster walls. 

Textured Walls Get Two Coats of Paint

As you might imagine, textured walls usually require more paint than a flat wall or ceiling. Because of this, textured walls require a primer coat and two coats of paint.  

Best results: The best paint roller for this kind of wall is a 1 ¼” to 1 ½” nap roller to make sure you get into the deeper areas when you paint your textured wall. Apply a primer designed for textured surfaces. Look for phrases like “high build” or “tough-to-paint” on the can. A thicker first layer of paint will help smooth out the surface when the paint settles into the creases. 

Ceilings Get One Coat of Paint

To paint ceilings, opt for one coat of ceiling paint over a coat of primer. This is especially true when you’re refreshing a white ceiling. It’s a flat surface, so it must be just like painting walls, right? Well, there are some differences. For example, you’ll be painting overhead and likely need a ladder or step stool to reach the areas you cut in with a brush. So it doesn’t hurt to get a few pointers on how to paint a ceiling before getting started to make the job easier on yourself.

Best results: For easier application, you can use a roller and ceiling paint tinted with a light pink or violet shade that helps track where you’ve already painted. This temporary tint fades to white as the color dries. 

Trim or Baseboard Gets One to Three Coats of Paint

Complete your walls with character-adding trim finished with one coat of primer followed by two (or more) coats of paint.

Best results: If you’re painting a fresh coat over the same color, one coat will be enough to liven it up. However, if you’re painting the trim a different color or painting unfinished trim, apply a primer coat and two to three coats of paint.

Doors Get Two Coats of Paint

Many doors come primed from the factory, leaving the homeowner or builder to apply the final two coats of paint and a clear coat to protect against scuffing, chipping, and flaking. However, if your doors are new and unfinished, you’ll need to apply a primer before your two coats of paint. 

Best results: Remove the doorknobs from the doors, and the doors from the hinges if possible and paint in a clean, ventilated area. Prime coat doors before applying two coats of paint, always making sure to allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat. Replace the newly painted doors on the hinges and put the doorknobs back on. 

Different doors will require different painting techniques. You’ll roll paint onto the entirety of a flat door, but a six-panel door, for example, will likely require using a brush to cut in where the roller can’t reach.

How Many Coats of Paint Do You Need if You’re Changing Colors?

If you’re looking to get wild with your color choice, painting more than one coat gives you the freedom to choose. Some colors don't hide the previous paint color as well. 

Generally, when transitioning, a sample spot test will come in handy to determine how many coats of primer and paint are your best option.

1. Transitioning From Dark to Light Paint: Four Coats

You might paint four coats of light paint and still have the old color bleeding through. If you’re transitioning from dark to light, save your time and money by applying a tinted primer before three coats of paint to prevent the base color from showing or ruining the new shade.

2. Transitioning From Light to Dark Paint: Two to Three Coats

A primer layer as a first coat will make the transition easier. Then, two to three coats of paint will cover the old light layer. Darker color paint needs more coats to give a rich and deep-looking color.

interior home with orange wall, white couch and rug, and three cactus plants
Photo: UnitedPhotoStudio / Adobe Stock

All Paints Are Not Created Equal

Different types of paint have different characteristics. Here are a few tips for the perfect DIY painting job, no matter what kind of paint you use.

  • Lower-quality paint generally doesn’t cover as well as higher-quality paints.

  • Fresh paint has better pigments and resins. So if you’re considering using the paint you’ve had in the garage for ages, think again.

How Long Should I Wait Between Coats?

When applying multiple coats, wait four to six hours for each coat to dry. Not waiting long enough can result in streaks, peeling, and uneven color. Plus, it will be more difficult to discern where the second coat has already been applied.

Should I Hire a Professional?

While painting will save you money on labor and is a relatively straightforward DIY, it’s always good to have a pro painter on speed dial. If you are short on time or dread climbing up a ladder to reach a high point on your ceiling, it may be time to get a quote from a professional painter. Homes with a second story or tricky roofline also benefit from some expert assistance since they can be potentially dangerous DIY endeavors. The average cost to hire a professional painter is about $20 to $50 per hour.

Marwa Hasan contributed to this piece.

Frequently Asked Questions

Professional painters usually use at least two coats of paint when adding a new color. Depending on the surface they’re painting, painters may apply a primer coat before two coats of paint. Ceilings, trim, and baseboards typically get one coat of paint applying a fresh coat of the same color.

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