When you finish painting a project, there are two more stages ahead. The first stage is when the paint is dry, and the second being when the paint has cured. These drying times make the difference between finally seeing what color the paint is after it dries, since it usually dries darker, versus when artwork can be hung or lamp can safely be set on a newly painted tabletop, and when you can finally wipe the surface clean for spills or scuffs.
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As latex paint dries, its solvent and water evaporates. The more solvent that evaporates from the paint, the more durable the paint becomes. "Dry to the touch" is the shortest drying time listed on most paint cans. It means you can put your hand on a freshly painted surface without getting paint on your hand. It's not yet okay to walk on or to add another of paint. What's happened so far is that solvent has evaporated the surface of the paint, not underneath. Until all the solvent evaporates, the paint is still easily damaged and must be handled with care.
Other Drying Times
Even when paint is considered dry to the touch, it likely doesn't yet have a strong enough bond to withstand other uses. That's why paint cans also list a "recoat time" and a "use time." The "recoat time" is the how long paint must dry before it's okay to apply another coat of paint. The more coats of paint you apply, the longer this recoat time might be, but early recoat times tend to be one to two hours. The "use time" is the amount of time that paint must be allowed to dry before you can use it or place some objects on it. This time will around 24 to 48 hours and often depends on the air temperature and humidity, so if it's a humid climate, it'll take much longer. But even 48 hours is not enough time to cure latex paint.
Curing is the time it takes for latex paint to become durable and harden. When all the water and solvent have evaporated, the paint has cured; it has created a firm bond with the surface. This is often listed on the paint can as the time needed before scrubbing or washing the paint. It usually takes two to four weeks for latex paint to cure. Curing time varies depending on the paint and the atmospheric conditions. For example, low-gloss latex paint cures faster than high-gloss paint, and those times change in arid versus humid climates too.
Drying and curing times given on paint cans are for optimal conditions. This means when the ambient temperature is between 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is below 50 percent. Painting under other conditions can speed up or slow down the drying and curing times. It may seem tempting to speed up the drying time, but it's a risky move, even if time's pressing. Changing the drying time can weaken the bond between the paint and the surface causing it to blister, crack and peel. Instead, plan painting projects for when conditions are as close to optimal as they can be, and your project will look great well into the future.