Painting Matt Emulsion Over Silk

By Mike Cupit


Painting matt emulsion CAN be an issue at times, but not always. I’m all over decorating forums, and even professional decorators are split in their opinions, many of whom have never experienced problems when painting matt over silk.


Why Painting Over Silk can be a Problem


I’ll give you the science behind it. Silk emulsion is very flexible, and matt is generally quite brittle. When you paint over old silk with any type of water-based paint, you’re essentially rehydrating it. The silk then expands and only contracts after your topcoat has dried. The silk can handle the expansion and contraction quite well because of its flexibility, but an emulsion such as matt cannot. So, as the silk contracts, the matt cracks with the strain of the movement. This cracking is called “crazing”. I have painted matt over silk many times and only experience this issue every now and again.




There are certain things you can do to minimise the chances of crazing. The first thing you can do is choose a topcoat with some flexibility. Avoid using cheap contract matt as this type of paint does not contain much binder so dries extremely brittle!! Use a good quality vinyl matt emulsion instead. Avoid Dulux too!! It may just be the luck of the draw, but every time matt paint has crazed on one of my jobs I’ve been using Dulux Trade.


Another thing you should avoid is sanding your silk before painting over it. This contradicts the advice you will get from some other decorators because we’re hardwired to sand everything to prevent problems, but trust me, I’m right. If you sand walls painted with silk, there is more chance of the water from your new paint soaking into it and the silk expanding.


The other thing you can do is use a barrier coat. This is quite a simple idea; you coat the silk with a flexible paint which acts as a waterproof barrier between your matt and your silk. You could use mid-sheen emulsion, eggshell, Zinsser Gardz or Peelstop. Whatever you go for, you will need to give it long enough between applying the barrier coat, and your matt paint over the top. Preferably overnight, or longer if the room is cold.


The Cure


OK, so you’ve painted your matt paint over silk and now you’ve got mud cracking and crazing all over your walls. Don’t panic!!! There is a simple solution!! The first thing you should do is sand all your wall space. This will not get rid of the imperfections all together, but it will make it easier to cover.


The next thing you should do is apply two full coats of Zinsser Peelstop. This will do a couple of things. Firstly, it will cover minor imperfections such as cracks. The other thing it will do is act as a barrier coat between what is on the wall at the moment, and the paint you’re about to apply. Again, leave overnight for everything to dry before re-painting.

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Painting Matt Emulsion Over Silk