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How cold is too cold to paint outside?

How Cold Is Too Cold to Paint Outside?

Even if it's warm while you paint during the day, lower nighttime temperatures can ruin a good paint job

Water-based exterior paint requires certain conditions to cure properly, or you’ll be repainting your house sooner than you planned.

“It should be at least 50° F when applying the paint and shouldn’t drop below 32° F at night for several days after,” says Rico de Paz, who oversees Consumer Reports’ paint tests. The paint needs several days to cure, and as the temperature dips, dew can form on surfaces and cause the water in the paint to evaporate too slowly.


Even if it’s warm during the day, the paint won’t form a good film if temperatures drop too low at night. That affects how the paint holds up over time, including how well it resists cracking. The colder temperatures and moisture on the surface can also result in staining or mildew. 

Some manufacturers now claim that certain paints will cure in temperatures as low as 35° F. But you still have to keep an eye on the nighttime temperatures and the extended forecast. Check the label on the paint can for instructions on temperature ranges, and follow de Paz’s tips for nailing the job.

See our 
exterior paint ratings and recommendations and paint buying guide for tips on how to find the best finish for your project.

Prep Before You Paint

  • Protect plants. Cover plantings, air conditioner(s), and exhaust vents with drop cloths. Tie back shrubs and tree limbs.
  • Scrub, then patch. Dirt, mildew, and chalky old paint prevent fresh paint from adhering properly. If your house was built before 1978, there might be lead paint below the surface. (See CR’s step-by-step guide for using a test kit to check for lead paint.) In that case, you’ll need to use a certified lead-abatement contractor to prep the surface. Otherwise, scrub the surface with a wire brush or scrub pad, or very carefully with a pressure washer, and clean with a detergent such as Red Devil TSP.
  • Remove mildew. Mix a solution of chlorine bleach and water, or use a commercial cleaner. Wearing gloves, a mask, and eye protection, scrub the mildew away. Scrape out rotted areas and fill them with wood filler, then sand smooth. Allow to dry for several days before painting.
  • Caulk and prime. Scrape away dried and cracked caulk around windows, doors, and trim. Apply fresh acrylic caulk where needed. Prime bare wood using the primer recommended by the paint manufacturer, or skip priming by using a high-performing self-priming paint.
  • Replace cracked or rotted boards. Water might still seep in if you just fill and repair cracked or split boards.

Lab-Tested for Your Home's Exterior

To find out how durable a paint is, we apply two coats to pine boards. Then we mount the boards on angled racks on the roof of our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., to see how well the paint withstands the elements. Then we wait.

Because the boards are angled, and not placed vertically as they would be on your house, they’re more exposed to the elements.

That means each year of testing for the angled surfaces is equal to about three years on vertical surfaces, de Paz says. Three years later, our results give you an idea of how the paint will look after nine years. We also test for mildew resistance by placing painted panels on vertical racks in a shady area of our grounds.

Paint Prices
• Paints in our exterior paint ratings that sell for less than $25 per gallon include finishes from America’s Finest, Color Place, Glidden, Olympic, and Valspar.

• Paints from Behr, California Paints, Clark+Kensington, Glidden, HGTV Home, and Valspar are in the $28 to $48 range. 

• And you can spend $68 or more for a gallon of Benjamin Moore or Sherwin-Williams paint.

Keep reading to find the exterior paints that scored 70 or higher (out of 100) in Consumer Reports’ tests. If you choose one of our picks, you can expect your home’s exterior to look good for eight to 10 years. All are self-priming, but be sure to check the can for situations when priming is advisable. 

Check our buying guides for paint and wood stains for more information.

CR's 7 Top-Ranked Exterior Paints

Exterior paints have improved over the past decade. Our tests show that they’re usually more durable, and less prone to cracking and fading. However, they seem to be less resistant to dirt buildup. 

Behr Premium Plus Ultra (Home Depot)
Price: $39 per gallon
Overall Score: 75
Ranking: 1 out of 20
CR’s take: This paint scored high enough to make our recommended list. Warm and humid areas require paint that resists mildew, and this paint will. And it holds up well to cracking and fading—important if you live in an area that’s sunny, hot, and dry. Urban and desert dwellers, take note, dirt doesn’t build up on this paint’s surface. 

Clark+Kensington (Ace)
Price: $35 per gallon
Overall Score: 75
Ranking: 2
CR’s take: This paint from Ace Hardware also made our recommended list. It’s resistant to cracking, fading, dirt, and mildew. 

Sherwin-Williams Emerald
Price: $72 per gallon
Overall Score: 73
Ranking: 3
CR’s take: It resists cracking, fading, and mildew but doesn’t stand up as well to dirt buildup. 

Behr Premium Plus (Home Depot)
Price: $30 per gallon
Overall Score: 72
Ranking: 4
CR’s take: This Behr scored almost as well as the top-rated Behr, and it costs less. It’s durable enough to fend off cracking, fading, and mildew, but not dirt. 

Valspar DuraMax (Lowe’s)
Price: $39 per gallon
Overall Score: 72
Ranking: 5
CR’s take: It resists mildew, making it a good choice if you live in a humid area. It also resists fading and cracking but wasn’t great at resisting dirt.   

Sherwin-Williams Duration
Price: $68 per gallon
Overall Score: 70
Ranking: 6
CR’s take: Impressive overall, it resists cracking and fading but doesn’t resist dirt or mildew as well. 

Benjamin Moore Aura
Price: $68 per gallon
Overall Score: 70
Ranking: 7 
CR’s take: It does fight off fading and cracking but doesn’t do a great job resisting mildew or dirt.

Exterior paints Rated
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