Dry Times for Finishes Applied Over an Existing Finished Surface

Dry Times for Finishes Applied Over an Existing Finished Surface


*What is the Difference Between Dry Time and Cure Time?

Dry time is the recommended length of time between coats of product, often called recoat time, and cure time is the length of time recommended before subjecting your finished project to daily use. The following factors can influence your dry time:


All of General Finishes products' dry and cure time recommendations are subject to the conditions of the room in which you are refinishing and storing your piece. Ideal conditions are 70°F/21°C and 50% humidity. Cooler temperatures and high humidity levels can prolong dry time any from 8-10 hours.


When applying an oil-based product over a water-based product and vice versa, dry time increases. It's extremely important to be sure your first application of finish has completely dried before applying the next layer. When switching from an oil-based product to a water-based product, wait 72 hours to apply your next coat of product. When switching from a water-based product to an oil-based product, wait 24 hours.


Applying product to a raw wood surface will result in a shorter dry time. When applying over an existing finish, dry time increases.


Painting your finish on will require a longer dry time. If you are applying and then wiping off, or spraying, dry time is less.

Before adding additional coats of product, the following DRY times should be honored:

The following are average CURE times based on recommended temperature and humidity:

  • 21 days for water-based products
  • 30 days for oil-based products
  • You can use a piece lightly after about 7 days but be cautious - the finish will still be curing for another 2 or 3 weeks.

Some of General Finishes wait times might seem a bit generous but we need to account for all variables beyond our control. You can test your surface for dryness ahead of schedule by knowing what to look for. There are two ways to tell if it is an oil-based product is dry. If it is no longer tacky and it doesn't smell, it is dry. You can tell if a water-based product is dry by touching it. If its cool to the touch, it's not dry. If you can sand a water-based topcoat to a powder, its dry.

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*What Is the Best Temperature to Apply Wood Finishes?

Ideal Conditions are 70 degrees F and 50% humidity. Refinishing furniture in a space that is below or above the 65-75 degrees F range can lead to problems, and a space below 55 degrees F is definitely too cold.


One issue caused by cold temperatures with water-based topcoats is the development of dimples in the finish called Orange Peel.

The colder your space it is, the longer you have to wait between coats. Cold temperatures slow the dry time and affect how quickly the finish will level, harden and cure. Our easy rule of thumb is; if it is cold enough to wear a sweater it is too cold to apply a water-based finish.

If you must apply WATER BASED TOP COATS in cool conditions, add General Finishes Accelerator to speed water evaporation from the finish. Make sure the finish and the surface of the piece you are working on are at room temperature. You can warm up the finish by placing the can in hot water for 5 minutes beforehand, and if possible, move the piece back into warmer temperature after applying finishes for the 7 days of cure time.


Oil-based finishes are not as affected by cooler temperatures, but lower temps will still slow the oxidation of the finish. GF again suggests moving the piece back into warmer temperature after applying finishes for the 7 days of cure time.

You can apply oil-based finishes in as low as 60 degrees if necessary.

WARNING: Applying OIL BASED finishes near an open flame or combustible heater is VERY DANGEROUS. The mineral spirit mixes with fumes from kerosene, for example, creating an unsafe environment.

Conversely, if you are working in HOT, DRY climates any WATER BASE finish will dry faster. General Finishes Extender can be added to water based products to increase dry time in those situations.

Ideal temperature to store product: 65-75 degrees F. Garages are not a good place to store any finish.

NOTE: We have been asked whether it is OK to paint in a 50 degrees F shop if the paint is stored at a safe temperature beforehand, and the finished piece is moved into a room with a safe temperature to dry. This approach might work, but it's risky.

See video tutorial: Tips on Storing Leftover Finishes

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