Painting: How many coats does my interior paint project need?

The number of coats needed to make your interior paint job look its best depend on factors like the existing surface, paint sheen and products used. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Jennifer D. of Maplewood, N.J.)

The number of coats needed to make your interior paint job look its best depend on factors like the existing surface, paint sheen and products used. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Jennifer D. of Maplewood, N.J.)

During the 12 years of owning my custom interior painting business, I've often had homeowners ask how many coats of paint are necessary for full hiding. Some consumers would dismiss you as a professional painter if you mentioned that perfect results can be obtained with less than two coats of paint. Sometimes, multiple coats are necessary, especially with colors such as red, gold and copper.

Here some basic conditions that need to exist in order to achieve a great paint job with just one coat of paint:

Ideal surface

If the surface that’s going to be painted has a dull finish, it will grip the new paint better than a surface with a glossy finish. Rough surfaces capture and hold paint better than slippery surfaces. A dull surface allows the paint roller to spin properly and not slide, laying down a more even coat of new paint.

Generally speaking, painting over an eggshell finish will reduce your chances of hiding because the new paint tends to float rather than penetrate the surface.

Proper tools

Experienced painting professionals know the value of high-quality roller covers and brushes. Cheap roller covers tend hold less paint and do not lay down enough paint over a large enough surface area to get consistent results. Good paint brushes need to have the same qualities.

Using poor equipment leads to more time and materials needed to finish the job, which is why they’re not a good choice for painting novices or professionals.

Sheen level

A paint with a glossier sheen will not look as even as a flat finish. The key word here is “look.” When there are minute imperfections in wall surfaces, the sheen makes them more visible because the paint will cause the imperfection to reflect light. Flat surfaces have a tendency to absorb light.

If you view a wall painted with an eggshell finish straight on, it will look good with minor imperfections. But when you view it at an angle, the reflection will expose wall imperfections and differences between rolled areas and brushed areas. Applying multiple coats of paint will reduce the negative effects of angular sheen but cannot eliminate it.

Paint quality

Almost any paint product today is much better than paint products made 10 or more years ago. Now, more than ever, one coat coverage is possible. Paints that include "primers" are ideal for surfaces that have had repairs done to them. Previously, a standalone primer product was necessary to seal the surface prior to painting.

In conclusion, don't dismiss your professional painter for suggesting a one-coat paint job. They’re likely being honest about how they expect the project to go and trying to save you money. It’s worth a try as long as you know what the added cost of the second coat is if it becomes necessary.


About this Angie’s List Expert: In business since 2001, Value Painting specializes in custom interior painting. The company is based in Old Bridge, N.J., and services most of central New Jersey.

As of March 27, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.


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Painting a room right the first time

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For detailed painting work, especially around intricate moldings like this, consider hiring a professional. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Neely M. of Fuquay Varina, N.C.)
For detailed painting work, especially around intricate moldings like this, consider hiring a professional. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Neely M. of Fuquay Varina, N.C.)

Painting projects around the home can seem daunting, especially for an amateur. But with smart preparation, the right tools and the right paint, you can easily tackle most small interior paint jobs.

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