Is Spray Paint Oil Based or Water Based?


Last updated: August 3, 2023

Knowing which paint to use is an important step in …

Is spray paint oil based or water based?

Knowing which paint to use is an important step in completing any painting project. If you’ve decided to use spray paint, you may be worried about its liquid composition. Most people prefer oil based paints due to the many advantages they offer.

For instance, they are more durable than water-based paint and have more coverage than paint cans. They are also less expensive and offer better adhesion and water-resistance which is why they are the preferred choice for outdoor projects.

In this article, we will look at what a spray paint is and whether it’s oil-based or water-based. We will also discuss the difference between an oil-based spray paint and how to apply an oil-based paint.

Is spray paint oil based or water based?

Spray paints are predominantly oil-based and usually contain organic solvents in the form of aliphatic hydrocarbons. These solvents help the paint to dry faster and ensure no residue is left on the surface. Oil-based spray paints offer the advantage of being more durable and sharp, but they can also be toxic and hard to clean up.

What is spray paint?

Also called aerosol paint, spray paint is simply liquid paint packaged in an aerosol can or container. They can usually come with a top button or valve that dispenses the paint when you press it down.

Every spray paint comprises three things – pigment, liquid (oil-based or water-based), and propellent (such as compressed air or nitrogen).

Compared to traditional brushwork, spray paint is quicker and helps you to achieve a smoother and more even finish. It also provides more coverage and does a cleaner job.

There are different kinds of spray paint with different textures and finishes. Some may require you to apply a primer to the surface before using the spray paint.

How to know if spray paint is water or oil-based

The simplest way to know whether spray paint is oil-based or not is to check the label. Most labels will indicate if the paint is oil-based or water-based. Some may also include safety instructions on how to use the paint.

If there’s nowhere on the label where it says “oil-based or water-based,” you can check the “clean up” category on the back. If it says you should use mineral spirits or paint thinner to clean up the paint, then it’s an oil-based spray paint.

Another thing you could do is wait for the paint to dry and then examine the texture. Just touch the dried paint with your finger. If the paint is oil-based, it will leave an oil residue on your skin; otherwise, it is not oil paint.

Alternatively, you can test the paint on a surface. This could be paper, wood, plastic, metal, etc. If the paint sticks and doesn’t rub off after spraying the surface, then there’s a huge chance it’s oil-based. However, if you can easily wipe off the paint with your finger or a piece of cloth, it’s probably water-based.

For existing paint on a wall or piece of furniture, you can put methylated spirits on a cloth or rag and wipe a small part of the wall. If you notice any paint stain on the cloth from the wall, the paint is likely water-based.

Difference between oil-based and water-based paint

One of the major differences between oil-based and water-based paint is the type of solvent present. The solvent is the liquid part of the paint that evaporates as the paint dries. Oil-based paints use organic solvents, while water-based paint uses water.

Besides the solvent type, other notable differences between spray oil-based paint and water-based paints are as follows:


Although spray paint prices vary among manufacturers, oil-based paints are generally priced lower than water-based options. And this is primarily because there’s lesser demand for oil-based paints due to their toxic nature.

Also, water-based paints typically have better coverage. But even within both paint types (oil-based and water-based), there’s a wide range of prices to choose from depending on the brand and quality of the spray paint.

Sheen Levels

Oil-based spray paints typically have a higher sheen level after application. However, the sheen tends to fade over time. As a result, you must continually reapply the coating to keep the surface in pristine condition.

Water-based paints, on the other hand, have a low sheen but tend to maintain it for a longer period of time.


Another major difference between oil-based and water-based spray paint is the odor. Water-based paints have a fairly slight odor which makes them easier to work with.

On the other hand, oil-based paints have a stronger smell that can be quite offensive. It may take a while for the smell to go away, which is why it’s important to use the paint in a well-ventilated space.

The strong odor from an oil-based paint is due to the high levels of VOCs given off by the paint as it dries. These chemicals can have a negative impact on the health if there’s no proper ventilation in the place you’re working.

This is why we recommend spray painting outdoors if you’re using an oil-based product. You can check my other article on how to get rid of spray paint smell to learn more.


Oil-based spray paints are generally slower to apply than their water-based counterparts. This is because the paint has a thicker and stickier feel to it. However, water-based paints are more difficult to work with in extreme temperatures, although they have a quicker drying time.


Oil-based spray paints have a heavier texture and dry to a hard shell. As a result, they provide excellent resistance against wear and water damage. But this usually comes at a price. Since the paint dries harder, it has less flexibility and tends to crack or brittle over time. This means you must frequently repaint the surface to keep it in good condition.

Water-based paints, on the other hand, do not dry so hard and can rub off due to abrasion. This makes them less suitable for areas with high traffic or handling. Surprisingly, they take a longer time to fade than oil-based paints.


The solvent in oil-based spray paint is usually composed of hydrocarbons. As a result, they often require paint thinners such as turpentine or mineral spirits to clean up. On the other hand, water-based paints usually have water as the solvent, which makes them much easier to clean with just water.

Why Use an Oil-Based Spray Paint?

There are many advantages of using oil-based spray paint. First, it’s less expensive and provides better coverage than latex paint or paint cans, especially on surfaces that are damaged or with imperfections. So if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, an oil-based spray paint is the way to go.

Is spray paint oil based or water based?

Depending on your chosen brand, you can use the paint for interior and exterior surfaces. It’s particularly recommended for high-traffic areas and items that come in contact with water, as most oil-based spray paints are waterproof.

In addition, even though oil-based paints take time to dry, the fact that they cover better ensures you cover a lot of ground with each application. This saves you a lot of time. They are also not as messy as traditional paint cans, which makes cleanup easier.

The painting also looks richer or deeper in color than water-based paints. In most cases, the finish will be glossy or a bit lightweight (i.e., if the paint contains resin).

The major downside of oil-based paints is that they tend to crack or fade after a few years. As a result, you must continually do some touch-ups to keep the spray painted surface attractive.

It’s worth mentioning that oil-based spray paints produce fumes when using them, so you want to use them outside or anywhere there’s proper ventilation, such as the garage.

Surfaces You Can Use Oil-Based Spray Paint on:

You can use oil-based spray paint on virtually any surface, depending on the brand and intended use. The paint dries to a hard, durable finish and can be cleaned easily. Some of its more popular uses are listed below:

  • Metal ( such as iron, aluminum, and copper)
  • Wood
  • Paper
  • Canvas
  • Ceramic
  • Masonry
  • Fiberglass
  • Concrete
  • Laminate
  • Terra Cotta
  • Particleboard
  • MDF ( Medium Density Board)
  • Glass

How to apply oil-based spray paint

Luckily, applying oil-based spray doesn’t require a lot of expertise. It’s pretty simple and only involves a few steps if you use any of the recommended products. The steps are as follows:

Step 1: Prepare The Work Area

The weather condition can affect the quality of your paint job. It’s best to paint on dry, still, warm days. If possible, choose a space outside or in the garage. 

We don’t recommend painting indoors because most oil-based paints have a strong smell. However, if you decide to work indoors, it should be in a well-ventilated area. Ensure the windows are open; you can also set up a fan to help expel the fumes. 

We also recommend investing spray paint accessories like mask or respirator and tape. Make sure you wear a mask whenever you’re spray painting furniture or other items.

In general, whether you’re working indoors or outdoors, you want the temperature to be more than 50 degrees. This is important because too much cold can cause the paint to crack or not function properly, which can affect the look of the final product.

Also, remember to tape off any area on the surface you don’t want to paint. You can cover nearby items with newspaper or a canvas drop cloth. 

Step 2: Prepare The Surface

Before you start painting, it’s extremely important you prepare the surface; otherwise, the paint might not come out as desired. There are basically three steps here – cleaning, sanding/scraping, and priming. 


Cleaning is a crucial step as it ensures the surface is ready to receive the paint. So, you want to remove all forms of grime, debris, and dust particles on the workpiece. All these things make it hard for the paint to stick to the surface. 

The cleaning process will depend on the surface type. But generally, you can start by removing dust and debris by running a dry towel through the surface. For horizontal areas, you can just sweep the dirt.

Next, wipe the surface with soapy water. For highly items like plastic, you can also rub on alcohol or paint thinner to speed up things. Use a good degreaser to remove any grime or grease left. Then allow the surface to dry completely.  


For most items, especially wooden or rusty surfaces, sanding will be required before you begin painting. Not sanding the item can cause cracks or bubbles within the paint job, which exposes the paint film and results in water damage over time. Sanding also helps you achieve a flawless finish. 

To sand an item, use fine-grit sandpaper. 

If you’re working on a rusty surface, lightly sand to get rid of the rust. Then wipe the product with a rag or soapy water and allow it to dry. 

Likewise, if you’re working on a wooden surface that is rough or porous, sand to smoothen the surface and edges. 

It’s worth mentioning that not all surfaces need sanding. For example, small decorative items or, in general, anything you don’t expect to last for a long time. 


After sanding and cleaning the surface, the next thing you might want to do is apply primer. In general, you don’t need to apply primer when using a waterproof, but some manufacturers may recommend you use one. So, before you start painting, check the label: if the manufacturer recommends priming, apply primer before proceeding with spray paint. 

The main benefit of using a primer is that it helps the paint stick to the surface. It also provides water protection.

Generally, except you’re using a paint plus primer combo, we recommend priming exterior surfaces before spray painting.

Step 3: Start Spray Painting

Remember to shake the spray can vigorously before you start painting. When spraying, keep the can at a distance of 6m-8m. 

In most cases, the first discharge from the can will splatter on the surface or wherever you direct it. To avoid getting uneven coverage or messing up your workpiece, direct the paint stream to a newspaper or rag. After this, you can test an inconspicuous section on the item to evaluate the paint’s color, feel, and consistency.

Now spray the item in a back-and-forth motion, covering all angles. For smaller pieces or decorative items, you can place the workpiece on a turntable and spray it while the table is rotating.  

Step 4: Use Multiple Coats

We recommend applying 2 to 3 thin coats of paint but feel free to add a few more depending on the nature of your project. Make sure to allow enough time for each coat to dry completely before applying another one. You don’t want the paint to get too heavy; otherwise, it will start dripping off the surface. 

Step 5: Allow To Dry

Once you finish applying the last coat, wait for the paint to cure fully. Oil-based spray paint generally takes longer to dry than latex and water-based paints. But the exact time will differ for each product. Some brands take an hour or two to dry to touch, while some may take up to four hours. However, in most cases, the time it takes to cure will be more than 24 hours. 

For areas with high humidity, the drying time will be longer. 

Best Oil-Based Spray Paints

1. Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2X Spray Paint

The Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2X is a perfect upgrade for anyone willing to spend a few dollars and some elbow grease. 

The major selling point is its excellent coverage. As the name suggests, the paint promises to provide twice the coverage delivered by other Rust-Oleum paints. 

Each spray can cover up to 12 square feet, so you can get much done quickly.

The paint sprays out thinly and evenly and leaves a flat black finish that looks pretty good. You can handle the surface or apply more coats without making the surface shiny again, which is not true for all flat paints. The matte finish gives a low sheen look on any surface and hides imperfections.

Another thing we like about this spray paint is the any-angle spray feature, which makes it possible to spray in any direction. The comfort spray tip has a wider finger pad which helps to minimize finger fatigue caused by continuous spraying and makes spray painting easier. This makes the product an excellent choice for beginners. 

The paint dries to the touch in 20 minutes and has a low odor compared to other oil-based spray paints. It works well on most surfaces, such as masonry, wood, plastic, metal, and plaster. 

If you’re using it on plastic, make sure the surface is clean and free of oil or grease. For wood, we advise lightly sanding between coats to smoothen the surface, reduce grain peaks, and create a stronger bond. We estimate 2-3 light coats for most projects but feel free to add a few more if necessary.

No primer is required when using this product as it’s both paint and primer. 

What We Like 👍

  • Tough, attractive flat finish
  • Anti-scratch by nature
  • Paint and primer combined
  • Long-lasting protection from rain/weather
  • Sprays in all directions, even upside down

What Could Change 👎

  • Not many color options

2. Rust-Oleum Universal All Surface Spray Paint

With a wide assortment of metallic and hammered finishes, the Rust-Oleum Universal All Surface Spray Paint is the go-to solution for restoring the luxurious look of aging furniture and hardware. It delivers a really nice texture and finish that is both UV and fade-resistant.

While it works well with metal surfaces and offers rust protection, you can also apply it on other surfaces, including wood, glass, concrete, plastic, vinyl, wicker, and fiberglass. It produces the same rich, shimmering look on these surfaces. 

The paint goes on really easy and nice and comes out with a truly high-end metallic color that looks and feels thick. Even a single coat looks sufficient. The drying time (when it dries to touch) is about 30 minutes, while coverage is 15 square feet per spray can. 

Once dry, the paint bonds firmly to the surface, resisting fading and chipping.

Like most Rust-Oleum paints, this one doesn’t require a primer. It is paint and primer combined, so no prior steps are required beforehand except to clean the surface if it’s dirty. You can also do a little sanding or scraping, depending on what you’re working on. Remember to tape off the area you don’t want to spray. 

Also, to prevent drips, avoid spraying too close to the workpiece. For most projects, 2-3 coats will be sufficient. 

Furthermore, even though this is an oil-based product, it doesn’t leave too much odor. But it’s still recommended to wear a mask or respirator and choose a well-ventilated area (preferably outdoors) to work. 

The metallic spray paint has a comfort grip trigger system that helps to minimize finger fatigue. Also, its 360 degrees Any-Angle feature means you can spray in any direction, even upside down! 

Overall, if you love spray paint and want something that is reliable and works better for metals than typical latex paints, you will not go wrong with the Rustoleum Universal All Spray Paint.

What We Like 👍

  • High-end color quality
  • Dries quickly
  • Ergonomic trigger system
  • Beautiful Shimmering metallic finish
  • Long-lasting protection from elements
  • Suitable for indoor and outdoor applications
  • Ergonomic trigger system

What Could Improve 👎

  • The applicator is slightly less efficient

3. Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Spray Paint

If you have any piece of metal furniture or hardware that needs refinishing, the Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Spray Paint will make an excellent choice. It gets the job done with minimum fuss and delivers a semi-gloss finish with excellent rust prevention. In fact, according to the manufacturer, this is the best rust-preventive paint out there, and we don’t agree less. 

Not just rust, the paint also resists cracking, chipping, peeling, and harmful UV rays. For the best results, we recommend sanding and cleaning the surface before painting. One coat is usually enough, but you can do two or three for a more superior finish. You will need to do several passes to cover everything well. 

Like most oil paints, the formula is slow drying. It dries to touch in 2-4 hours and covers up to 15 square feet. Once dry, the finish is hard and has excellent resistance to chipping, fading, and abrasion.

We also like the Any Angle Spray feature, which allows you to spray at all angles and cover hard-to-reach areas, even upside down. The nozzle is quite sturdy, while the tip is made wider to minimize finger fatigue.

Overall, we are impressed with the quality of this spray paint. It is easy to apply, long-lasting, and provides good coverage. For the price, it comes highly recommended. 

What We Like 👍

  • Semi-gloss finish with a subtle shine
  • Available in a wide variety of colors and finishes
  • Strong adhesion (covers imperfections)
  • Spray clean and doesn’t run
  • Reasonable pricing ( great value for money)
  • Offers sun and water protection

What We Don’t Like 👎

  • Slow drying

4. Rust-Oleum American Accents Spray Paint

Thanks to its advanced double cover technology, the Rust-Oleum American Accents Ultra Cover 2X delivers twice as much coverage as other spray paint brands. It comes in a handy six-pack with one can offering up to 12 square feet of coverage. That is 72 square feet with the whole pack! It’s arguably the best deal for budget-conscious consumers.

We found the paint ideal for plastic, but it also bonds to other surfaces, including wood, metal, plaster, wicker, unglazed ceramic, and more. It hides imperfections on the workpiece and ensures you complete projects faster with ease.

For the best results, apply two or more coats. Allow 20 to 30 minutes between coats.

Unlike other brands, the paint doesn’t run or spray wide and gets on other things. It comes out painting only where you’re pointing to. Spray in a steady back-and-forth motion to cover the surface evenly. 

Once done, you can leave it in the sun to dry. As earlier indicated, it usually takes about 20 minutes to dry to touch. 

It is worth mentioning that colder temperatures can delay the drying time or may even cause the surface not to dry completely, which can affect the finish. So, make sure the temperature is nothing less than 60 degrees.

We strongly advise against using the paint indoors as the smell can be super strong. Even while using it outside, make sure to wear a mask or respirator to protect your lung and nostrils. Also, keep it away from your eyes.

Overall, we are satisfied with the quality of this paint, particularly its low-sheen look, quick drying time, and wider finger comfort tip. It’s available in multiple colors, so it’s easier to find the perfect match for your project.

What We Like 👍

  • Beautiful flat finish
  • Dries fast
  • Quite easy to use ( great for beginners)
  • Doesn’t require a primer; It’s paint plus primer combined
  • Superior durability ( suitable for both indoor and outdoor projects)

What We Don’t Like 👎

  • Gives off toxic fumes until it dries

5. Krylon Outdoor Decor Spray Paint

Unlike the Touch 2x, the Krylon Decor Spray Paint is only suitable for exterior surfaces. It takes about an hour to fully cure before it’s ready for rain. 

The paint provides excellent waterproofing and won’t peel or crack over time. It also has sun protection which ensures it doesn’t fade quickly like many spray paints in the same category. 

The can is easy to use, even for first-timers. The “spray any way” tip gives you better control and reduces finger cramps. This minimizes the likelihood of making mistakes while spraying. 

Besides being easy to use, the product doesn’t cause a lot of oversprays. Clean up drips immediately using a piece of cloth. 

Be sure to allow plenty of time to dry between coats. Only do light spray application. Many light coats are better than a couple of heavy layers.

The paint works on different surfaces, including wood, glass, brick, laminate, ceramic, plastic, wicker, concrete, and masonry. It’s meant to be used outdoors only. 

No primer is required to use the paint. It applies nicely and covers really well. And to crown it all, there are up to 15 vibrant color options to choose from.

What We Like 👍

  • Excellent waterproof protection
  • Suitable for different surfaces
  • Easy to use
  • Resistant to fading, cracks, and peeling
  • Wide arrays of colors to choose from

What Could Improve 👎

  • Not suitable for indoor use

Do I need to sand before painting?

Sanding gives you a smooth finish to begin with, but it’s not always required. It’s up to you to determine whether or not the surface you’re painting needs sanding.

In general, if you notice any dents or cracks on the workpiece, make sure to sand it first before painting. This will give you a smooth surface to paint on.

Avoid sanding small decorative pieces. Instead, just spray paint them to your desired color.

Do I need to prime before painting?

The question of whether you should prime or not doesn’t have a clear-cut answer. And that is because not all painting projects are the same. 

Our rule of thumb is to prime the following surfaces: 

  • Outdoor items or anything you expect to come in contact with water
  • Skim coated drywall
  • Porous surfaces such as bare/untreated wood or masonry
  • Glossy surfaces
  • Stained surfaces
  • Porous surfaces such as bare/untreated wood or masonry

Also, you will need a primer if you plan to paint over a darker color (i.e., if you want to change the color from dark to light).

The main benefit of using a primer is that it creates a consistent base for the paint. This ensures the paint adheres well to the surface. Priming also minimizes stains and imperfections and ensures you get a smooth and even finish that is free of blemishes.

Oil-based spray paints typically don’t require a primer. In fact, some of them (like the ones reviewed above) have primer mixed with the formula. 

FAQs – Is spray paint oil based or water based

Do I need a topcoat/clearcoat after spray painting?

Not really. A top coat can be beneficial as it adds extra protection to a paint job, but it’s not always required. If you’re spraying a decorative piece that won’t be handled a lot, then a topcoat is not required. However, for a piece of furniture or something that gets a lot of hands-on action, it’s a good idea to add a topcoat or clearcoat after spray painting for extra protection.

Can you use mineral spirits for oil painting?

Yes, you can. Mineral spirit is often used to thin oil-based paints. It can be used by itself or in combination with some other solvent depending on the product. However, avoid using too much spirits so don’t end up with an underbound paint. In general, thinning your paint increases the number of coats required for complete coverage.

How do you dilute oil-based paint?

To dilute oil-based paint, you need to mix it with a thinner. Most people use turpentine or mineral spirits but make sure you check the product label for instructions on how to thin. Avoid using water, as water doesn’t mix well with oil.

Is enamel spray paint oil based?

Enamel spray paint is traditionally oil-based, although a few water-based options have been developed in recent times. Oil-based enamel paints typically have alkyd resin as solvent, while water-based enamels contain water. The main advantage of using oil-based enamels is that they provide excellent durability. However, they have a strong smell and may yellow or lose their sheen over time.

Does oil-based paint come in a spray can?

Oil-based paints come in different sizes and containers, including buckets, regular cans, and spray bottles. When buying spray paint, make sure the tip applicator is not only easy to use but also adjustable enough to allow spray at different angles without any issues.

How much does a spray paint cost?

The price of spray paint varies depending on the type and brand. However, most products are typically priced between $4 to $16.

Content Summary – Is Spray Paint oil or Water Based?

To conclude, spray paints are predominately oil based paints, but there are still many water-based options. Oil-based spray paint is the way to go if you want to achieve a rock-solid finish. Before you commence your project, make sure you know the type of paint you’re using.

You can check if it’s truly oil-based by looking at the label. You can also spray test a small area to check the color and consistency of the paint. This will ensure the final product comes out as expected.

Also, follow the directions and safety precautions for the paint, and make sure you’re applying it on the right surface.

Let us know if you have any more questions or let us know if you found the article interesting.

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