How to Tell the Difference Between Latex and Oil Paint

How to Tell the Difference Between Latex and Oil Paint

How to Tell the Difference Between Latex and Oil Paint

When you want to change the color of your interior walls, it is helpful to determine what kind of paint is already on them. A home built prior to the 1970s was most likely painted with an oil-based product, which was commonly used at the time. If you are still unsure, a quick and simple test can help you determine the truth. This is important because latex paints do not adhere well to oil paints. If you want your new paint to look as beautiful on the wall as it did on the sample card, you need to prime the wall first. Therefore, it is a good idea to test for oil paint as you may need to make an extra purchase.


Find a cotton ball or swab to get started. If you have a spouse who wears makeup, she likely has an entire bag of them under the bathroom sink. Once you have this in hand, find an acetone-based solution such as nail polish remover. This is a cost-effective product you can get at almost any discount store for a dollar or two. Dampen the ball or swab with this solution.

Apply to Wall

Find an inconspicuous spot on your wall where you do not mind placing a mark. Places that are behind furniture are a good idea. Remember, you plan to cover it up with a new coat of paint anyway.

Once you know where you want to apply the acetone, get to work rubbing it on the wall. Move the cotton in a circular motion and apply slight pressure. If your paint is oil-based, you are looking for no reaction at all. Oil paint is not affected by acetone solutions, so there should be no change at all.

Latex Paint

If you finish rubbing the acetone onto the wall and discover that some of the paint has rubbed off onto the swab, you have latex paint. Latex paint will begin to break down when in contact with acetone, which is a corrosive material. Once you know where to begin, repainting your home should be simple and frustration-free.

One Other Option

You can also apply a very small amount of liquid sandpaper or de-gloss to an inconspicuous spot on your wall with a sponge. Latex paint should appear less glossy after you apply this in the same way you applied the acetone solution, while oil paint should remain the same.

While it is important and useful to know what kind of paint you have on your wall, it is never a bad idea to apply a primer before you put on the new coat. While this is an additional expense, it will yield a more professional look once everything is said and done. DIY painting is time-consuming and often messy, but your beautiful new walls will make the process well worth the trouble.

One thing you can do to make the process a bit more fun is to invite your friends or family to help you. Young children especially will enjoy the chance to get covered in paint and help their parents with something such as this. Turn this chore into an opportunity to bond and create a fun memory with the people you love.

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