Paint can take a couple of hours to a few days to dry. Depending on the type of paint being used, the manufacturer, and how it’s applied, drying times can vary greatly.
The environment also plays a huge role in drying time.
The definition of “dry” also varies. Some car paint will be dry to the touch within 10 minutes, while others can take an hour.
Also, car paint will not fully cure for up to a few weeks. The drying process can be sped up using several methods, such as infrared heat lamps.
We’ll discuss those here too.
Types of Paint and Their Drying Times
There are many types of paint you can use to paint a car. There is urethane, acrylic enamel, acrylic lacquer, and acrylic urethane. Some paints are solvent-based, and some are water-based.
Within these types of paint, there are also single-stage and two-stage.
Single-stage paint means no clear coat is needed. Two-stage paint means a clear coat is sprayed over the paint.
Paint comes with a technical data sheet that gives instructions on using the paint. The data sheet will also give the time to wait between coats and the total drying time.
Always check the datasheet before starting to paint your car. I have included links to one of each type of paint further down the page.
Let’s get into the details:
The technical datasheet for a single-stage urethane paint says that 45-60 minutes after the paint is applied, it will no longer feel sticky to the touch. However, it will still be soft, meaning if you press your hand on the car, you could leave fingerprints on the paint.
After 24 hours, it will have hardened enough to touch the car safely.
Every paint manufacturer will give their estimate for drying times for the specific type of paint used on the technical datasheet.
Acrylic Enamel Paint
Not as popular as Urethane paint but is still used as a standard by many manufacturers.
Once again, Acrylic enamel paint has a one-stage or two-stage option. Stage one paint has a clear coat added to it and doesn’t require a second coat. The second stage of the two-stage painting adds a clear coat.
If your enamel paint is single-stage, it will be good to touch after six hours but allow it 24 hours to be completely hard and protected.
Two-stage paint will take longer, and you should allow 48 hours for it dry enough to enable you to drive it. It should be able to withstand dust after only 5 minutes which makes it popular, and only 20 mins till touch dry.
Acrylic Lacquer Paint
I’d imagine you’re looking to respray a classic car, as there is little reason to use this paint on most modern cars.
The good news is that acrylic lacquer paint only takes one hour to touch dry but also may need up to 12 hours before it can be rubbed out and 24 hours to be exposed to any rain and snow.
Urethane Acrylic Paint
This paint is fast drying and can be forced dried with heaters’ help and increased airflow.
It can be dust-safe within 30 minutes and polished within 24 hours.
Before applying paint, read the datasheets for the paint you are using, as they will vary according to the brand.
Factors That Affect Paint Drying Times
The drying times listed on the technical data sheets give a starting point for estimating how long it will take for paint to dry, but several other factors will affect how long it takes.
The first factor is how many coats of paint are applied and how heavy the coats are.
The example above for single-stage urethane recommends spraying a medium coat, then spraying a final wet coat 10-15 minutes later. If you spray more coats of paint, it will take longer to dry.
Another factor that affects drying time is the climate in which the paint is sprayed. The datasheet for the single-stage urethane says it should be sprayed above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Paint sprayed at 75 degrees will dry faster than paint sprayed at 55 degrees. Humidity also makes a difference.
The higher the humidity, the slower the paint will dry.
How To Speed Up The Drying Process
The drying times in the example above of the single-stage urethane is based on air drying. The paint can be dried faster using various methods to speed up the process.
One common one is using infrared heat lamps. According to that datasheet, force drying the paint at 120-140 degrees will dry it in 20-30 minutes.
Other common methods are increased air circulation and using a dehumidifier.
Whether your car is naturally air dried or a method to force dry it faster is used, it will take up to a couple of weeks for the paint to fully cure and harden. At that time, care should be taken to protect it.
How Long Does Touch Up Paint Take To Dry?
If you need to hide some scratches or repair minor damage, touch-up paint is a good option to address those issues.
Touch-up paint isn’t as durable as paint applied at a body shop, but for small repairs, it usually holds up well and dries quickly, usually within a few hours, and you can be driving again.
How Long After Painting Can You Drive Your Car Again?
In most cases, you can drive your car a day or two after it’s been painted. Since the paint will not be fully cured for up to a couple of weeks, you should avoid driving in the snow or rain for at least a few days.
How Long Before You Can Wash Your Car?
A day or two after it’s been painted, you can rinse your car off and, if necessary, wipe it off with a soft cloth. You should avoid using harsh chemicals and scrubbing with a brush for a few weeks.
How Long Before You Can Wax Your Car?
It’s best to wait 2-3 months before waxing your car.
The chemicals in some waxes could damage your new paint if applied too soon.
Other Ways To Protect Fresh Car Paint?
For the first several weeks after having your car painted, park your car in a garage if possible.
If your car gets rained on, dry the car off with a clean microfiber towel.
Avoid driving on gravel roads if possible. If you get dirt, tree sap, gasoline, oil, or some other substance on your car, rinse it off with water, don’t wipe it off with a dry towel.
Having a fresh paint job can make an old car look new again. In most cases, you’re better off taking your car to a paint shop rather than painting it yourself. Painting a car requires specialized equipment and a lot of skill to get a quality finish.
If you take your car to a shop for paint, they can tell you how long before you can drive, wash, and wax your car based on the type of paint they use and if they let it dry naturally or speed up the drying process with equipment like infrared heat lamps.
They can also give you specifics on taking care of your new paint to keep it looking new for as long as possible.