Why is My Paint Sticky or Tacky and How to Fix It

Sticky or tacky Paint

You’ve spent long and hard hours painting that room – and you love the color! But after a week, you find the paint is still sticky and tacky, and you’re wondering, how do I fix this?  

We’ve got you covered. If you haven’t started painting yet, we will offer some tips to avoid sticky paint. If you’re currently experiencing this issue, we’re sorry, but never fear, help is on the way. We will share some fixes. 

Paint becomes sticky and tacky when it isn’t able to dry thoroughly. Paint has trouble drying when the air is overly humid, or the weather is extremely hot or cold. Also, paint can have trouble drying if applied in thick coats. 

This article will present why paint becomes sticky and tacky and how you can fix it. First, we will go over how to prevent paint from becoming sticky. Then we’ll cover how you can fix this issue. 

Several Reasons Why Paint is Still Sticky and Won’t Dry 

As we mentioned in the previous section, there are some everyday things you should check when your paint is still sticky.  

The best cure is prevention. Maybe one part of your project is sticky, but that doesn’t mean the rest needs to be sticky too. 

Here are a few things to look out for: 

  1. High humidity 
  2. Too cold or too warm 
  3. Too many coats of paint 

Let’s start with these three reasons and offer some fixes. 

How Does Humidity Effect Paint Dry Time? 

For the best results, the humidity where you are painting should be between 40 and 70 percent. Humidity is, essentially, water in the air. This creates a problem when it comes to painting. 

Paint dries through a process called evaporation. After the paint has been applied to a surface, the paint’s solvent (the component that keeps the paint liquid) will begin to evaporate away, allowing for a dry finish. 

High humidity doesn’t allow the paint to evaporate adequately. There is too much moisture in the air, and as a result, the solvent has a hard time leaving the paint – and you get stickiness. 

Imagine you have a wet towel, and you want to dry it out – would you throw it in a full bathtub? No, you’d place it out in the fresh air, allowing the moisture to evaporate. 

The same is true with paint. So, if your pain isn’t drying, the first thing you want to do is check the humidity levels in your home. You can do this with a tool called a hygrometer

Every type of paint might require a little different humidity. Check with the paint you are using. The proper humidity should be listed on the container. If the humidity level is too high, reduce the moisture in the air with a dehumidifier, or consider painting at a different time of year. 

Always avoid painting after the rain when the humidity is high. Also, wood surfaces can create a challenging situation. Think of wood like a sponge that soaks water from the air. If you try to paint over moist wood – even if it’s just mildly moist – you could end up with tacky paint. 

Be sure to allow wooden surfaces time to dry before applying any paint.

The Effects of Temperature on Paint Dry Time 

Similar to humidity, improper temperature will have harmful effects on your paint. If you’ve got some sticky paint, then this could be your issue. 

Especially if the area is too cold, you could find your paint struggling to dry properly. Temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit are typically recommending for best results. However, be sure to check with your paint, as this will change slightly among the paint. 

If you think you applied the paint when it was too cold, then you could try to warm up the room to allow the paint to dry. Otherwise, you may need to wait it out and consider repainting when the weather changes. 

Too Many Coats of Paint 

One of the most common reasons for sticky paint that won’t dry is paint that has been applied too thick, in too many coats, too quickly. Sorry, that was a lot of “too.” Let’s explain this further. 

In the painting world, you may have heard the term “blocking.” Blocking is a phenomenon that occurs when you paint thick layers over each other without giving the previous layer time to dry. 

Basically, you are blocking the paint from drying by applying another coat of paint over it. It’s sort of like putting plastic wrap over your cake to keep it from drying out. Well, when you paint overcoats over paint that hasn’t dried, a small dry layer forms on the outside edge.

This dried layer blocks air from the paint below, preventing it from completely drying. 

You may notice the paint feels dry to the touch, but when you push on it with your finger, you notice that it’s still a little squishy. 

Depending on the severity of the blocking, you might be able to wait it out, allowing the paint to dry over months. Otherwise, you’ll likely have to start over. 

Ways to Make Sticky and Tacky Paint Dry Faster 

Alright, so we’ve gone over the bad. Now let’s cover some of the ways you can fix and prevent the problems we’ve listed above. Some of these things might seem obvious, but it’s the little things that make a big difference. 

Ways to get your paint dry: 

  1. Wait 
  2. Use oil-based paint
  3. Consider talcum powder 
  4. Auto wax 
  5. Use a primer 
  6. Proper preparation

Alright, there they are. Let’s dive in. 

Wait for Sticky Paint to Dry 

The first suggestion is the easiest: wait. Paint will take some time to dry fully. In fact, it’s not uncommon to be able to make a fingernail print in your paint for the first couple of weeks. 

Be sure to check the container on your paint for information on how long it will take for your paint to dry fully. It could be you just haven’t given it enough time. 

Use Oil Based Paint for Non-sticky Finish 

Oil-based paint will actually take longer to dry than other paints, like acrylic and latex. However, once your paint is fully dry, it will give you a nice solid surface without becoming spongy. 

Of course, you’ll need to consider your needs. Also, not all oil-based paint is created equal – you want quality paint. 

So, the heart of the message is this: do your research about paint with the best dry times and finishes – this will ensure you don’t have to deal with a sticky icky mess. 

Talcum Powder Can Help with Paint Stickiness 

Talcum powder is a good option for white surfaces or areas where two painted surfaces could create friction (like a door). The power will help dry the moisture, allowing your paint to dry and removing that sticky feeling.

Before you run out and use talcum powder on a whole wall, be sure to apply it to a small area to make sure you can brush it off if needed. You don’t want another problem on your hands! 

Use Auto Wax to Fix Tacky Paint 

Just like buffing your car, you can buff tacky paint away! Like talcum powder, this is a good option for areas of friction or furniture with lots of items contacting the painted surface. 

When paint is tacky, it can be easily damaged by anything that bumps or scrapes it. Placing some auto wax on your surface might be your ticket to protect your paint from damage. 

Will a Primer Keep Paint From Becoming Sticky? 

Primer can be the cause of highs and lows. The reason primer can prevent paint from becoming sticky is simple. Remember how we talked about blocking? Painting layers that are too thick, and then the paint not drying well? 

When you use a primer, it eliminates the need for overpainting and helps you get the finish you want, using less overall paint. 

However, there is a catch. Not all primers are compatible with all paints. In fact, some people have reported primers being the cause of tacky paint.

Take your time to match your primer and your paint, and you will end up with a better product. 

Preparations to Prevent Tacky and Sticky Paint 

There are a few things you can do to prepare a surface for painting. 

First, make sure that the area is clean and dry. If the surface is smooth, you may need to make a quick pass over it with some sandpaper to allow your paint to adhere to the surface. 

Second, as we mentioned earlier, make the environment as conducive as possible to your paint drying. What does this mean? If it’s too humid, use a dehumidifier to bring the moisture down. If it’s too cold, see if you can warm things up. 

And always, buy the best paint you can afford for the product. Buy nice or buy twice was never so true than when it comes to painting. You can really see the difference between quality and cheap paint, and you’ll see a difference in stickiness as well. 

34 thoughts on “Why is My Paint Sticky or Tacky and How to Fix It”

  1. I am a new first time home buyer. I wanted to paint a few spaces in my home a bright white. I found a paint at my local Lowes in the Valspar Ultra brand (paint + primer), & bought painting supplies, & prepared the job. It was supposedly low VOC & Greenguard certified, too. However the paint smelled very strong & was more like thick pudding that yet somehow didn’t cover the light beige walls well at all. I’m also a new mom & was trying to get the painting done a couple weeks before we moved in so the fumes would be hopefully gone for baby. The job seemed overwhelming & since I hadn’t painted in a long time, I thought I just must not know what I’m doing. I hired a professional painter, but he had issues, too. Now, I have paint on the walls that doesn’t look good & is still tacky not really to the touch, but to any item left on or leaning against the painted surfaces. I have complained to the paint company, but they don’t seem very knowledgeable as I get different answers from each person I speak with. What would you suggest I do? I feel like I need to repaint, but don’t want to cause any more problems. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

    • I’m not sure what to do with the tacky paint but you can eliminate the oder with vanilla extract in a bucket of water left in the room. Also Damp rid works well to remove the moisture and the smell. I hope that helps.

    • I used the same paint from Lowe’s about a year ago. It took forever to “dry” but I can still peel it with my nail. I felt like the coverage was very poor and thin. I I used primer and light yellow paint applied with a sprayer and had to go over the walls twice and can still see through to the white. This brand is awful. The woman at the paint desk said she’s had lots of complaints. If you return a partial can they will refund you but you’ll still have more work to do.

      • I agree, I’ve never used such a low quality paint. It took most of a 5 gallon bucket for a small 10′ x 12′ bedroom. It seemed like my sheetrock was very thirsty, but after 3 coats I knew it was the paint/primer. It wasn’t that cheap either.

      • My understanding from several professional painters is to generally stay away from house brands. They are often an inferior brand (because they’re cheaper paint, a chain like Lowe’s casts around for a bargain-priced paint manufacturer, then they rebrand the company with the store name). Buy from stand-alone paint manufacturers and check reviews online. There are excellent brands like Dulux, but you will pay more, although they often have sales, including unadvertised in-store specials. Shop around, you never know.

        • Sorry but those house brands are actually really good if you know how to use them and can handle mishaps. I had been using them for years without major issues. Professionals only hype expensive brands so they can charge more for the job.

          • I totally agree! I personally LOVE Lowe’s Valspar Signature and Ultra in Satin. It’s the only paint I will use! I tried SW and it was absolutely horrible, it gummed up and created a huge mess in a small area that was difficult to access and sand. I always thin my Valspar with a few drops of water every 30 minutes or so. It helps keep it consistent.

    • Hi, Sue. Consider this a tentative response, as I see no other answer.
      If your surface is tacky now, wouldn’t adding another layer (primer) just add to your problem (referred to as blocking)? It would seem that the course of action calls for 1) waiting even longer or 2) remove the current paint enough to allow the lower skin of paint to cure.

      This is an aggravating problem, to
      be sure. Good luck.

    • I don’t know how large the room is, but have you tried running a fan in a window on warm days to get some good ventilation going to speed up the drying? Or maybe try running an electric space heater in the room to get the temp to about 75 degrees when it’s cooler than that…

      • I hope that you are not painting with a oil base paint. Use extreme caution when trying to use a space heater or halogen lights to dry your walls. I know of a family who did this, and burned their house to the ground So please be careful!

  2. I bought a piece of furniture made in India and it’s tacky sticky. It’s just won’t dry and the lady had it for about 3 years…it has intricate painting on it and it’s multicolored and beautiful but don’t touch it! I’m afraid to set it in the sun which may or may not damage the paint…not sure what to do.

    • Coat it with a clear coating allowing it to dry throughly. I used to paint oil paintings, but I didn’t want to wait for it to dry in a month or so. The surface may be a little bumpy to the touch. Just sand it smooth with four #0000 steel wool. Then wax with a good quality furniture polish, or re-coat with clear.

  3. I have used Roseau tile paint on my bathroom tiles. It is still tacky after 24 hours what do I do it get it to dry.

  4. I painted a railing with rustoleum oil based and it’s tacky. Indoor rail. No primer base. What is your recommendation?

  5. Question: I had my screened in porch with a wooden floor sanded. I primed it on Sat & put 1 coat of Behr floor paint on Sun. It’s now friday & the paint is still tacky. The weather was rainy for a couple of days but has been sunny & dry for the last 3 days. Why is it still tacky?

    • Liz, how was the humidity the weekend that you primed and painted? 70% is about the highest you want to be at when painting. I recently painted one of our bedrooms and on the can it said not to even start painting if a storm is less than 4 hours out.

  6. We bought handmade furniture from a local company that has been in business for years. When our furniture was delivered the paint on the chairs was very tacky. They told us it was because of the humidity in their warehouse. Also our table top surface is stained and the poly is bumpy and not smooth at all. We were told that it was the wood. When wiping the dust from the painted black chairs, my lightly damp cloth came back with black. That’s what they told us to do. Help

  7. I painted my cornhole set using Rustoleum oil based paint during a high humidity day. It is still very tacky after 3 days. How can I remedy this? I tried to sand it off and the sandpaper filled with soft paint immediately. Coat of primer maybe?

  8. I am 74 years old and this is the first time in my life I have ever known an oil based containing solvent not to dry properly in the hot and sunny conditions that have prevailed lately, I am afraid I am still waiting for a plausible and sensible answer, I will be interested to hear what the manufacturer has to say.
    I must say I had one occasion where an oil base paint took a long time to dry was after it was accidentally exposed to freezing conditions for some time BUT it did dry.

  9. I have painted our cabinets. Preparations was light sanding. The paint is dry after many days. However, we applyed polyurithane and it took a long time to dry on some of the surfaces. The medicine cabinet door is very sticky. I removed the paint and sanded it well. Repainted one coat. It dried completely before we applied a light poly coat. That coat is still sticky after weeks of drying. I wiped it lightly with paint remover/thinner with no change. Is there anything we can do to remove the stickiness?

  10. I painted an iron clothes rack z nd left my dehumidifier on over night in garage. It still is tacky, don’t know if I spray it with a clear spray if it would help. Help!

  11. If paint does not dry which is solvent based it may well be that the coat is too thick but I am always disappointed when that happens. I noticed that unlike red oxide that was in an airtight tin and still skinned on the top this paint that is very difficult to dry had no skin at all under 2inches of air! I would say that the paint thinner quality may well be suspect.
    I’ll be sticking to ( sorry about the pun) red oxide which is solid after a few hours and sod the rest of the crap. (one coat solvent based matt =one coat ( my backside or better still 2K !


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