Can You Wet Or Dry Sand Latex Paint? (How To Guide)

So you’ve added your first coat of latex paint, but it’s not as smooth and shiny as you may have hoped. It’s not sticking well at all. Painting latex paint without sanding beforehand can cause it to chip or rub off.  

So yes, not only can you sand latex paint, you should sand latex paint for most surfaces before you paint them and in between layers. 

Read on and learn everything you need to know about sanding latex paint! 

Sanding is a crucial part of the painting process for latex paint, especially on surfaces such as wooden doors or cupboards or any surface with existing oil paints. Filing down the surface can remove any splinters, bumps, or other imperfections that would show up painfully in your paint job. 

Sanding is quite simple; it uses sandpaper to polish or smooth out the surface of something. As you prep to paint any wooden surfaces, sanding is necessary to ensure no splinters or dirt are left behind and you have a flat surface to lay your paint on.  

The best tool for sanding latex paint is fine, flexible sandpaper, usually between 120- and 220-grits. It is possible to use steel wool if the need arises, but it is not recommended due to the pieces of wool that may come off in your paint.  

You can use sanding to remove rust or even prior paint from your surface. Start with as little as 80-grit, and work your way to finer sandpaper. Make sure to wipe away all the dust as you go—this is even more important if you use an electric sander.  

You can sand latex paint between paint layers with either dry or wet sanding paper. Doing so helps remove brush strokes and other blemishes from your paint job. Be sure to give your paint an appropriate time to dry before sanding.  

Wet sanding does not mean sanding over wet paint but instead using wet sandpaper. Wet sanding latex paint leaves a significantly smoother finish to your color, so it is the best option for your final coat.  

To ensure a beautifully finished product, you must sand most surfaces before your paint job and after applying latex primer. The rivets created by buffing will allow your latex paint to adhere firmly to the surface so that it will not easily come off. However, if you’re applying latex paint on the wall, sanding between layers may not be necessary. 

And if you wonder if it’s possible to sand latex paint off wooden cabinets, the truth is using coarse sandpaper can help you remove most of the paint, but it will take far more time and effort than using a chemical paint cleaner.  

sand latex paint

How Long Should You Let Latex Paint Dry Before Sanding? 

The most reasonable option is to sand latex paint after completely drying. To dry correctly, it needs to sit for usually somewhere between 12 to 24 hours. Some latex paints may dry in as little as 4 hours, while others can take days.  

The temperature and humidity of the room can determine just how fast your latex paint will dry. Room temperature (between 65° and 75°) and humidity of less than 70% is the ideal environment for the paint to dry as quickly as possible.  

The color of your paint and how it is applied can factor into dry times. Dark latex paint can take longer to dry than lighter colors due to the solvents they contain that make the color darker. Likewise, an airless sprayer to paint will create a much thicker coat than a roller and take longer to dry.  

You must take the proper time to ensure your paint is 100% dry before sanding. Any attempt at sanding over tacky paint will ruin the sandpaper, the color, and even the surface of your project.  

man mixing a paint in a can

How To Sand Latex Paint Step By Step

If you are preparing to paint a fixture or furniture, you will want plenty of sandpaper options to guarantee you have the correct size for your project. Sandpaper types are graded from 12 to 600 and are labeled as coarse, medium, or fine.  

Below is a list of types of sandpaper grits and their most common uses: 

Removing previous finishes 

60-80 

Naked wood 

80-120 

Ceramics, melamine, metal, stone, or plastic 

100-150 

Between paint coats 

20-220 

Before tackling any project, confirm you have all the supplies needed to do the job correctly. In addition to your paint and regular paint supplies, you should have on hand: 

  • A variety of sandpaper and sand block options 
  • A dry rag for wiping dust 
  • Shop-vac for sucking up debris  
  • Goggles 
  • A respirator or filter mask  
  • For dirty, rusted, metal projects, you may want to consider a steel scrubbing brush.  

Once you have all your supplies and your area is fully prepped, begin sanding your project. For metal, rust, or previous finishes that should be removed, start with a 60-80-grit sandpaper. Move your sandpaper in a circular motion, starting in the middle, and work your way out. Any areas with heavy rust may require switching to a steel scrubbing brush.  

For wooden projects such as kickboards, doorframes, window frames, or cupboards, begin with 80-120 grit sandpaper. Use a circular motion, and go with the grain of the wood, being sure to smooth out the edges. Finish up your sanding with one of the finer grit options, and be sure to vacuum up any debris. Finally, take a dry cloth to wipe off any remaining dust.  

For in-between layers of paint, use 120-220-grit sandpaper and sand in the same direction you were painting after the color is fully dry. Try to use a very light hand to ensure you do not scrape up the paint or damage your project.  

blue paint and paint roller

Tips & Tricks

When preparing to paint a large area, always follow safety guidelines to ensure you and the people around you stay safe. Additionally, if you have paint left over after your project is complete, you must ensure it is correctly disposed of as it can be detrimental to the environment. 

If painting indoors, be sure to have good ventilation by leaving windows open and turning fans on. If the room is not well ventilated, take lots of breaks and consider a better respiratory mask. Power-down any air conditioning or HVAC units as they cannot filter latex paint vapors. 

You will need a particular type of sandpaper that can be used either wet or dry. Wet sanding can be a good option for the final coat or sanding in an ill-ventilated area. With wet sandpaper, the water acts as a lubricant and prevents dust.  

Take a soft cloth to your project after you finish wet sanding on any coat, especially your final layer. After the area is clean and dry, you can take some soap and water and wash it down one last time to make it nice and shiny.  


FAQs 

How long does latex paint take to cure? 

While it is safe to sand your latex paint after it is dry to the touch, typically 24 hours or more, this is not enough time to fully cure the color, which takes 30-60 days. The best way to tell if your paint has cured is to press your fingernail into an inconspicuous area. If it leaves a mark or dent, it has not fully cured.  


How do you smooth out latex paint? 

To smooth out your final layer of latex paint, you can use super-fine sandpaper, somewhere between 320-400-grits. Use a light touch to rub out any brush strokes or imperfections, and wipe clean with a damp cloth.  


Can latex enamel be sanded? 

Latex enamel paint is an excellent option for outdoor projects, but its extra glossy finish might be too much for indoor use. It can be sanded just like regular latex paint, with fine sandpaper.  


Can latex paint be buffed? 

Yes, you can buff latex paint. However, if you have wet sanded your final coat, it is probably unnecessary.  


Conclusion

In closing, it is okay to sand latex paint. It is the best way to ensure a beautifully finished project. The most important thing to remember is to allow for proper dry times, have the correct tools for the job, and above all, be safe.  


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