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

Marwa Hasan
Written by Marwa Hasan
Updated January 10, 2022
view of bright blue suburban home with green yard and landscaping
Photo: Iriana Shiyan / Adobe Stock

The general rule is to apply two coats of paint, but there are some exceptions

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Whether you love or hate painting, chances are you’ve wondered if one coat is enough. Factors like the surface you're painting, the paint color and quality, and whether you're using a primer will help you decide how many coats of paint you need to have a perfect painting job that will make you proud.

How Many Coats of Paint Do You Need?

Generally speaking, one coat won’t give you the desired result, but two coats will provide you with a stellar finish.

Why Do I Need a Second Coat of Paint?

The second coat of paint can create richer color and hide any errors from the first round. Here are a few advantages of the second coat of paint:

  • 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. The highest cost of painting is preparing. If you look at the cost of adding a second coat it’s minimal in comparison. A detailed cost of painting the interior of your house will help make better decisions.

How Many Coats of Paint Should Go on an Interior Wall?

1. Repainting an Old Wall

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.

2. Painting a New Wall

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

3. Painting Textured Walls

Two coats should be fine for textured walls, but a thicker first layer of paint will help smooth out the surface when the paint settles into the creases.

4. Painting Trim or Baseboard

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

5. Painting a Ceiling

To paint ceilings, opt for one coat of ceiling paint over a coat of primer. 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.

How Many Coats of Paint Should Go on the Exterior of a House?

Because of environmental elements—like moisture and sunlight affecting the exterior of your house—you should use durable paint specifically designed for the material of your exterior.

Paint needs a clean, well-prepared, and primed surface. It’s essential to sand thoroughly before adding the primer and then finish with two coats of paint to get good coverage, whether you’re painting wood, vinyl siding, or metal. Contact a painter near you for a tailored consultation.

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

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

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

How Many Coats of Primer Do You Need Before Painting?

Primer is a painter’s BFF. How many coats of primer you need depends on factors, such as the surface, color, and environment. If you can’t decide for yourself, talk to a local painting professional. 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.

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 painter near you. Homes with a second story or tricky roofline also benefit from some professional assistance since they can be potentially dangerous DIY endeavors. The average cost to hire a professional painter is about $20 to $50 per hour.

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