Choose between water- and oil-based paint to update your walls
A coat of fresh color on the walls breathes life into any space while also protecting the surface from moisture, fading and temperature changes.
This guide will help you understand the differences between paint types and pick which is best for your home.
Tip: High-quality paints usually cost more, but they provide better coverage and last longer. Lower-quality paint is less expensive, but will require more coats and more repainting in the future.
Water- vs. Oil-Based Paint
Water-based paints are safer to handle, easier to use and more versatile than oil-based paints. Oil paints offer better adhesion, so they’re ideal for chalky surfaces.
Tip: If you’re painting a surface that may have adhesion problems or the paint may bleed through, we recommended that you use an oil-based primer with a water-based paint to take advantage of the benefits of both.
Water-based (latex, acrylic)
Consists of a pigment and binder with water used as a carrier.
Latex paint is the most common and environmentally responsible paint option, requiring only soap and water for cleanup.
Dries faster and has fewer odors from VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
Latex paint can often be applied over oil-based paint, but oil-based paint is not recommended for use over water-based paint.
Better color retention.
Alkyd refers to the synthetic resin used as a binder in the paint. This would be the oil in the paint, most commonly vegetable oil.
Consists of a pigment and resin in a solvent thinner. When thinners evaporate, the resins form a hard coating.
If the surface was previously painted with more than four coats of oil paint, water-based paint may cause the oil paint to pull away and crack.
Better surface penetration, durability and adhesion.
Dries to a smoother finish with fewer brush or roller marks.
- Oil paints also aren’t breathable, so they prevent stains, rust or wood saps from seeping through.
When choosing a top-quality interior paint, check the label for indications on binders, liquids, pigments and solids.
Binders are plastic-like polymers that bind the pigment together to form a tough, continuous film. In oil paints, look for “drying oils,” like linseed (soya) or modified oil (alkyd). In latex paints, look for 100 percent acrylic binders.
Liquids are carriers for pigment and binders that evaporate as paint dries. Mineral spirits are used in oil paint while water is used in latex paint. When liquids in oil paint evaporate, a hard, tough film is left behind. Latex paint that contains water as the primary liquid stays flexible and durable through weather and temperature changes. Water also helps latex paint maintain color better, especially in direct sunlight.
Pigments are finely ground particles/powders that provide color, coverage and hiding ability. Prime pigments provide whiteness or color and opacity; the most common prime pigment is titanium dioxide. Extender pigments provide bulk to the paint and add scrub resistance, stain resistance and chalk resistance.
Solids are the pigments and binders. They create the film left behind after the paint dries and the liquids have evaporated. Higher-quality paints usually have a higher percentage of solids. Quality latex paints contain from 30 percent to 45 percent solids by volume.
Paint sheen refers to how shiny the dried paint surface becomes. The most common sheens, in order of descending gloss, are flat/matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss and gloss.
- Flat or eggshell paints have the least amount of sheen. As a result, flat paints are the best at hiding drywall imperfections. Adding texture to the mix hides even more flaws. Flat paint is commonly used in all walls and ceilings in the home, with the exception of kitchens and bathrooms. Eggshell paint has the same forgiving qualities of flat paint, with a slight sheen akin to an eggshell.
- Satin or semi-gloss paint is most commonly used in rooms that require frequent cleaning, such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and children’s rooms. A satin finish will provide more stain resistance and easier cleanup than a flat or eggshell finish. Satin also has the advantage of not bringing out surface imperfections as much as a semi-gloss or gloss.
- Glossy paint provides better stain resistance and make the surface easier to clean. Glossier paints protect and highlight trim work, cabinetry, doors and moulding. They can also highlight surface imperfections, so they’re not recommended for walls.
Primers and Other Preparation
Most bare surfaces, including wood, drywall and metal, need to be primed before you paint them. Like paints, primers come in oil- and water-based varieties.
Tip: There are primers optimized for wood, concrete, galvanized steel, aluminum and more, as well as all-purpose primers, so pick a primer best suited for your project.
Oil-based primers are suitable for use with oil or water-based paints, so you could prime a chalky surface with oil-based primer for better adhesion and still use a water-based paint. Oil-based primers stop stains, wood sap or tannin and rust from bleeding through to the surface of the paint. They can be used with any paint.
- Water-based primer should only be used under water-based paint.
If you’re working with a previously painted surface, scrape off any peeling paint and prime bare spots. Whether or not the surface has been painted previously, it needs to be clean. If unpainted wood is gray or weathered, it should be sanded.
Before painting, mark any marred wall areas with a soft-lead pencil or masking tape so you don’t overlook needed repairs. Make sure you scrape, clean and fill holes in the surface.
For sleek or shiny surfaces, light sanding will improve adhesion with primer or paint. Prime bare surfaces, including nails on previously painted surfaces.
When you’re painting inside, remember to wear plastic safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from flying particles and paint droplets. Wear appropriate gloves when using solvents, sanding or scraping.
Whenever you smell a solvent or paint, you are breathing it, so remember to wear a respirator and make sure your workspace is adequately ventilated.
Wear old, loose-fitting clothing and consider wearing a lightweight inexpensive painter’s cap to keep paint spatter out of your hair.
Paints are slippery so wear shoes with slip-resistant soles.