How To Fix Paint Not Sticking To The Wall

If you’re new to painting your home, there’s a lot to take in. Layering, priming, and getting an even coat can be a headache. Add in issues with getting paint to even stick to the surface upon which you want it, and you’re likely to get incredibly frustrated. Luckily, there are a few things to look for to solve paint not sticking to your wall.

The most common reasons for primer or paint not sticking to walls are dirty walls, poorly mixed paint or primer, high moisture, overworked paint or primer, and cold painting conditions.

Keep reading to learn how to make sure your paint stays where you want it – on the wall.

Painting: The Basics

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk basics. It’s important to know why things work the way they do so that you can understand what causes various problems you may run into. Not only will it help you know what is making your paint not stick to the wall, but it’ll help solve other potential problems down the way. Let’s get into it, shall we?

First things first – primer. You’ve likely heard that you need to put primer down before painting, and that’s right… mostly. You don’t need primer to paint, but it helps a lot, especially in certain circumstances. If you’re painting a wall that’s been painted before, you can theoretically paint right over the old layer. So what does primer even do?

In short, primer does a few things:

  • Primer fills in crevices in your painting surface, allowing a more even finished look.
  • It covers stains and imperfections in the surface you’re painting.
  • And most importantly – primer is chemically designed to help paint stick to the surface you’re covering. It essentially acts as glue for your paint.

It’s also important that you clean your walls and ensure they’re dry before painting, but we’ll get to that in a moment. As the name implies, primer should be applied first to prime the surface you’re painting to receive a new coat. Again, do this after cleaning and drying the surface.

Top 5 Reasons Your Paint Is Not Sticking to the Wall

Now that we’ve talked about the joys of primer, let’s get to the real reason you’re here. Go through the below list to figure out why your paint isn’t sticking to the wall.

Number 1: Dirty Walls

This is something that is, shockingly, often forgotten – to paint, you need to have a clean surface. If this seems simple, that’s because it is. You wouldn’t paint a wall with hair or food on it, so why would you paint over dirt and grime? That’s just asking for a gross paint job – both in terms of germs and appearance.

There’s not much to this – clean your walls with a gentle cleanser and a soft, wet rag. Try using dish soap in warm water on a sponge, or really any cleaner that’s not oil-based. Oils will interfere with the painting process even further, so be sure to read the ingredients before cleaning. Alternatively, you can use Mr. Clean Stain Erasers to get pesky stains on your walls out – this is great when you’re moving, too.

Number 2: Poorly Mixed Paint or Primer

You likely know that paint and primer need to be mixed to work. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s just not what happens. Whether that means you mixed it yourself improperly, or the people from whom you bought the paint did it wrong, that’s a possibility.

Most paint cans will say, “mix the paint thoroughly” or something along those lines. It’ll generally look separated, like oil on water. While you can certainly do this by hand, you can buy a tool that goes on a handheld power drill to mix paint more easily. Check out this video to see what mixed vs unmixed paint look like, as well as an example of the tool in question.

Number 3: High Moisture

Paint doesn’t do well with moisture. If you’re in an overly humid or wet environment, this could cause real problems if not addressed properly. This is an extra-large problem in places like your bathroom, which are consistently wet thanks to your shower. If you think moisture isn’t a big problem, look at the image above – that’s what happens when you paint over a wet wall.

You’ll see bubbling and cracking in your paint, which will only get worse with time. This will compound the problem and allow even more moisture to seep in between your wall and paint.

To see if this is the problem, you can do a few things. You can test the moisture in the room with an actual tool designed for that, such as this one.

Alternatively, you can do the ice cube test to get a general idea of the room’s moisture content. To perform this test:

  1. Fill a glass with water and place 3 or 4 ice cubes in it.
  2. Wait ~5 minutes.
  3. If there’s condensation on the glass, the room’s moisture is too high. If none appears, it’s a dry room.

The best way to fix an overly humid room is with a dehumidifier. You can also consistently wipe the surface you’re about to paint to ensure it’s dry, but that can be a hassle. See our article on when you can shower after painting for more guidance.

Number 4: Overworked Paint & Primer

Just like with poorly mixed paint, overworked paint or primer can cause your paint to not stick to walls. Luckily, the solution to this is simple – go easy on your paint. If you’ve already painted a surface, just don’t go over it repeatedly. Not only will this screw up the finished look of your paint, but it can cause clumping in the paint.

This will result in paint that drips and doesn’t stick, is balled up when dried, and will cause a generally displeasing look once finished. In short – paint once, and then let it dry before going over the paint with a new layer. And before you ask, no, using a roller instead of a brush won’t solve this.

Number 5: Cold

You know how it seems as though painters always wait for summer to begin (if they can)? Yeah, there’s a reason for that. Paint doesn’t like cold. It dries faster when hot and doesn’t drip as easily.

This ties back into the “don’t paint on wet surfaces” discussion we had above. Cold weather generally brings moisture, meaning that it’s more likely for rain or dew to build up on (or worse, under) your paint as it dries. While this is less of a concern while painting indoors, it’s a real problem when painting your home’s exterior.

Not only will cold temperatures (at or below 1 °C) make it harder for the paint to stick and dry, but it will cause cracking over time. Nobody wants that – so maybe wait for summer to paint.

Final Thoughts

If your paint is not sticking to the wall, there are five main factors to look for. How wet the painting environment is, how well the paint is mixed, overworked paint, cold, and dirty walls are the most common culprits. If you’ve looked at all of these issues and are still having issues with painting, it may be time to call a professional painter for help or advice.

And if you’re looking for the best types of paint to use for various projects, check out our guides on the best masonry paint, fence paint, and shed paint available today. Just remember – there are a lot of factors that go into painting. So if you find yourself stuck, don’t hesitate to ask for help – after all, professionals wouldn’t exist if they weren’t able to solve these exact problems, would they?

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About the Author Harry Thompson

Involved in home renovations throughout his life, Harry is an expert in everything to do with home and garden DIY. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking and tending to his garden.