Can You Use A Paint Sprayer With Oil Based Paint? (Solved)

Oil-based paint has its advantages, but spills and drips are harder to clean up.

Can you use a sprayer with oil-based paint to avoid messes, or is good coverage without too much overspray only possible with water based paints? 

Read this guide to learn everything you need to know about using oil-based paint in sprayers.  

Oil-based paint has natural or synthetic oil as a binder. Linseed oil is the most common natural binder in oil-based paints [1], while synthetic varieties typically contain polyester resins and other chemicals.  

Painters tend to use oil-based paints for doors, trim, and cabinets, particularly in places where they're exposed to moisture, like the kitchen, bathroom, and house exteriors [2]. This is because they aren’t as likely as acrylic or latex paint to wear away under harsh conditions. 

Latex paint is water based paint —and water does not mix well with oil paints, so your new oil paints will not properly adhere and apply to the new surface.

Part of the reason why they hold up better against temperature fluctuation and moisture is that oil-based paints are more viscous than water based.

You can spray oil-based paint through a sprayer, although it generally takes extra prep work and airless pump cleaning process to keep your airless sprayers in good working order afterward.  

Electrostatic paint sprayers like the ones many auto painters and construction finishers use can build up static electricity, so you have to ground your pump or use a plastic paint can to reduce the risk of shock and potentially even fire if you’re using an electrostatic sprayer. 

So oil-based paint works in a spray gun, but can you use oil-based stain in a airless paint sprayer the same way? As it turns out, yes, and you can even stain a deck with oil-based stain in a sprayer. 

However, not every stain is designed for use in a sprayer, and some might only work with a roller, brush, rag or spray gun.  

Read the can to find out if your oil-based product is sprayable. You’ll also need to look for information about whether or not it needs to be thinned before you spray paint. For an oil based primer, follow the paint manufacturer instructions on how to thin.

Once you have added the petrochemical solvents, stir the thinner into the paint thoroughly using a clean stir stick made of wood or plastic.

Paint Spraying A Truck

Should Oil-Based Paint Be Thinned Before Spraying?

Some manufacturers have developed oil-based paint that passes through a spray tip right out of the can, but that's not the norm.

Instead, ask at the shop where you buy your paint or check the label and manufacturer’s website to see if your paint needs to be thinned.  

The most important rule of thinning oil-based paint is to never use water to do it. Water won’t mix with the paint; it'll just break the emulsion and ruin your paint instead.  

Follow these steps to thin paint for use in a sprayer: 

  1. 1
    Consult the label to make sure the paint can be thinned, needs to be thinned using thinning agent, and what ratio you need to thin it to. 
  2. 2
    Grab a funnel, paint strainers, a clean bucket, and a paint stirrer. If you can find a Zahn cup to measure the viscosity of your paint, that will also help. Then, use mineral spirits, acetone, or turpentine to thin oil based paint for spraying.
  3. 3
    Pour the thin oil based paint into the clean bucket through the strainer. Add 1 part turpentine or mineral spirits for every 3 parts of oil paint, unless the label on your oil paint specifies otherwise. 
  4. 4
    Stir oil paint from the bottom and throughout until it’s evenly mixed.  
  5. 5
    Test the viscosity of the paint by running it through the funnel or a Zahn cup. If the stream is running freely, you’re good to go. If not, add a small amount of paint thinner and stir, then test again.

If there’s no information about whether you need to thin your oil-based paint for a sprayer or airless spray gun or what the ratio of thinner paint should be, you can use a small amount of turpentine and paint to test. 

It’s most likely you will need to thin oil based paint before you spray. Aim for 1 part turpentine for 3 parts thin oil based paint. Run that through your sprayer onto a sample surface and see if it comes out in an even fan. Adjust your mix accordingly.  

Thinning Oil-Based Paint

How To Spray With Oil-Based Paints - Tips For Optimal Results

Once you have your oil-based paint thinned, use these tips to get the best results: 

  • Get The Right Tools 
    You’ll need plastic and tape to cover any surface you don’t want paint on. If you’re new to spraying, practice laying down paint without overspray.  
  • Paint In The Right Place 
    Don’t spray in a room with finished ceilings or little ventilation. Oil-based paint can contain harmful VOCs that can still make you sick if they’re concentrated enough.  
  • Use A Funnel 
    No matter how big the reservoir on your sprayer is, you'll want to use a funnel to avoid spills. Put a filter inside to avoid sediment and other build-up from jamming your spray gun. 
  • Heat Up Your Paint 
    Before adding paint thinners or hardener, leave your paint in warm water. This can make the paint less viscous, reducing the amount of thinner you need to use so you can preserve the sheen and color of the original paint. 

Once you have your oil-based paint thinned, use these tips to get the best results: 

  1. 1
    Pour the paint in the reservoir through a filter after you’ve thinned it.
  2. 2
    Make sure your workstation is set up and everything is sanded and taped off. 
  3. 3
    Attach the reservoir and find a test work surface. Adjust your fan size and make sure the paint is spraying without breaks and spreading evenly. 
  4. 4
    Spray with your whole arm, not just your forearm, so you get an even angle across the entire surface. 

Benefits Of Using Oil-Based Paints In Spray Guns

There are several advantages to using oil-based paint in spray gun, including a thicker feel, increased sheen, and improved resilience against moisture, mold, and scuffs.  

A spray gun will cut the time of your painting project significantly. Spray guns provide a clean spray pattern, and professional finish.

There will be less mess when using a paint sprayer with oil-based paint, especially if you have a feel for your sprayer and know what settings will give you the even oil based coating you want without tons of overspray. 

You’ll also have more working time with the paint since oil-based paints take longer to dry. That means you can ensure an even coat with repeated spraying and not risk uneven patches frequently caused by quick-drying water based. 

Paint Spraying Side Wall

Oil-Based Paint FAQs 

What is the best airless sprayer for oil-based paint? 

The Graco Ultra Cordless sprayer is the best sprayer for oil-based paint because the pump on it is powerful enough that you’re more likely to be able to spray oil-based paints without thinning it a ton.

Can I use oil-based paint in a Wagner & Graco sprayer? 

Not only can you use oil-based paint in Wagner & Graco sprayers, but they make some of the best models out there. 

How do you clean a spray gun after using oil-based paint? 

Cleaning the sprayer after using oil-based paint is similar to cleaning it after using acrylic or latex paint, except you'll use turpentine or a similar thinner to get the oil-based paint out. Many painters also store their spray gun with this thinner inside the barrel to make sure no leftover paint hardens on the inside. 


Oil-based paint leaves a clean finish that will stand up to harsh conditions better than water based  You can use a sprayer to apply oil-based paints with excellent results if you follow the tips and instructions in this guide.