How To Choose Exterior Paint

Protect your home and increase curb appeal with the best exterior house paint

A new coat of exterior paint improves your home’s appearance while simultaneously protecting it from moisture, fading and temperature changes. This guide will help you understand the different varieties of exterior paint and determine which type is best for your home.

Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Paint

Water-based paint is typically used for most exterior applications, but oil-based paint may work better on metals and bleeding woods.  

Water-based (acrylic; latex)

Consists of pigment and binder with water used as carrier

  • Flexible: Expands and contracts with siding on house
  • Breathable: Won’t trap moisture and crack or peel
  • Dries faster (1-6 hours) with less odor
  • Latex paints with an all-acrylic binder hold up to weather better than those with a vinyl-acrylic binder.

Oil-based (alkyd)

Consists of pigment and resin in a solvent thinner. When thinners evaporate, the resins form a hard coating, leaving behind the pigment, which provides the color

  • Better surface penetration
  • Better adhesion
  • Longer dry time (8-24 hours)
  • Better adhesion and stain blocking: Ideal for chalky or stained surfaces, bleeding woods (tannin or sap) and metals that rust

Tip: Water-based paint can be applied over oil-based paint, but oil-based paint shouldn’t be applied over water-based paint. On surfaces with four or more coats of oil paint, stick with oil, since a water-based paint may cause the oil paint to pull away and crack.


Bare wood and a few other bare surfaces need to be primed before you paint them. Like paint, primers come in oil- and water-based varieties.

Oil-based primers are suitable for use with oil- or water-based paint, so you can prime a chalky surface with oil-based primer for better adhesion and still take advantage of the benefits of latex paint. Like oil-based paint, these primers are preferable for stained wood, bleeding wood (sap or tannin) and metals that rust.

Water-based primers are recommended for most applications, but should only be used with water-based paint.

Look for specific primers to be used wood, concrete, and metals such as galvanized steel, iron and aluminum.


Choose between flat/matte, glossy and satin finishes.

Flat/matte finish: A flat finish hides imperfections better than a glossier finish but doesn’t clean as well. Flat finishes are generally used for siding.

Glossy finish: Glossy paint creates a hard, shiny, durable finish that is easy to clean. Glossy paint brings out details, so it is usually preferred for trim and doors. It also accentuates imperfections, so it is not well-suited for siding or walls.

Satin finish: A satin finish has a slight gloss, so it is easier to clean than flat paint yet still hides imperfections well.

Specialty Formulas

Exterior paint must withstand harsh weather, sunlight, temperatures and more. For this reason, some formulas are designed for use on specific parts of your home.

Paint Type What You Should Know

Floor/Porch Paint

  • Oil and latex available; 100% acrylic latex lends the best results
  • Provides weather-resistant coverage for garages, porches, decks and concrete surfaces

Gutter Paint

  • Oil and latex are both available; oil is better for tin gutters
  • Adheres well to galvanized steel and aluminum
  • A galvanized metal primer must be applied before painting

House/Siding Paint

  • Oil and latex formulations available
  • Will withstand wear and exposure to severe weather conditions
  • Manufacturers offer specific formulations for regional climates

Masonry Paints

  • Usually latex
  • Ideal for stucco, concrete, cement and shingles
  • Most require a special pretreatment or bonding primer

Pool and Marine Paint

  • Look for a polymerized cement-based product for concrete and gunite pools
  • Look for paints that provide stain- and abrasion-resistance
  • Be sure to check for compatibility with your surface (pool, concrete deck or spa)

Roof Paint

  • Look for an acrylic-latex blend
  • Most are mildew- and algae-proof
  • Should not be used for waterproofing or to repair roof leaks
  • Can be tinted to match roof color

Surface Preparation and Painting

Even the best paint won’t adhere well or produce good results if you don’t prepare the surface correctly.  

  • If the surface has been painted before, check for peeling paint and scrape it off prior to applying a new coat.
  • Clean, scrape and fill holes in the surface prior to paint application.
  • If unpainted wood is gray or weathered, it should be sanded.
  • Sleek surfaces may require light sanding to improve adhesion with primer or paint.
  • Prime all bare wood, including bare spots and nails on previously painted surfaces.

Tip: Paint in the right weather: In temperatures colder than 50 degrees, most paint won’t dry, but cold-weather paints are available for cooler climates. In warm temperatures or direct sunlight, paint may dry too fast, causing lap marks. Wind, rain and humidity can also affect the drying time and final appearance. Check your paint label for recommendations on temperature ranges before starting.