Right Paint

Choosing the Right Type of Paint

Many factors determine the type of paint that you should use on any given paint job, including the nature of the surface you want to paint and its condition, the age of the surface, and the type of paint previously used on the surface, if any.

Virtually all the paints that you might use around the home fall into two general categories: water-based latex paints; and solvent-based paints, which are commonly referred to as oil-based paints or “alkyds.”

These names refer to one of the major differences between the two types of coatings – most of the liquid portion of latex paints is water, while the liquid in oil-based paints consists of petroleum distillates and other organic solvents.

About 75% of all the paint that is sold today is of the latex variety. Do-it-yourselfers use an even higher percentage of this type of paint for both exterior and interior projects. But you should take nothing for granted when painting your home. You must consider the nature of your particular job to decide which type of paint is best for your application.

Characteristics of Latex Paints

Water-based latex paints have always been popular with do-it-yourselfers and professional painters because of their easy cleanup with plain soap and water. But today’s quality latex paints offer significant performance advantages as well.

Compared to oil-based paints, top quality exterior latex paints have greater durability in the form of better color retention and chalk resistance, so they continue to look good for years. Since they do not tend to get brittle as oil-based paints do, they have better resistance to cracking. Latex paints also dry much faster than oil-based paints (typically in one to six hours), which allows you to quickly apply a second coat.

Quality latex paints that have “100% acrylic” binders are especially durable and highly flexible. They tend to adhere extremely well to a variety of exterior surfaces, which means they have greater resistance to troublesome paint failures like blistering, flaking and peeling, compared with other latex paints.

Field tests at the Dow Chemical Paint Quality Institute, where paint performance has been tested for more than 40 years, show that top quality 100% acrylic latex paints are an excellent choice when painting any of the following exterior surfaces:

• wood, particularly in areas that experience freezing temperatures
• new stucco and masonry
• weathered aluminum or vinly siding

You can also use quality latex paints on interior trim. They have better resistance to chipping than do oil-based paints, which continue to harden over time and eventually become brittle.

Characteristics of Oil-Based Paints

Top quality oil-based paints have excellent adhesion characteristics, which means they get a tight grip on the surface being painted. And good adhesion is essential for a durable paint job. However, oil-based coatings do tend to oxidize and get brittle over time, which can lead to cracking problems in exterior applications, and yellowing and chipping problems in interior applications.

That said, oil-based coatings are still your best choice in two circumstances:

when repainting exterior surfaces with heavy “chalking” (chalk is the powdery substance that comes off on your hand when you run it cross the surface)
when repainting any exterior or interior surface that has four or more layers of old oil-based paint (the number of layers can often be determined by removing some paint chips and examining them)
There are also circumstances in which you should never apply oil-based or alkyd paints. For example, they should not be applied directly to fresh masonry, nor to galvanized iron. In either case, the result will probably be a very quick failure of the paint.

If you decide to use oil-based coatings, be aware that they are more difficult to apply and clean up after than latex paints. They also take longer to dry – sometimes, 24 hours or more – so you cannot apply a second coat as quickly as you can with latex paint.

Oil-based paints can be used for certain applications within the home – for example, on interior trim. But keep in mind that these paints have noticeably more odor than latex paints. That, combined with the slow dry time, may put your rooms out of service for a short while. If you use oil-based paints, you will also have to use paint thinner to clean up drips and equipment, which means that you must use extra care in handling and disposing of rags.

Selecting the Right Paint Sheen

Selecting the ideal sheen or gloss level for an interior or exterior paint job involves both aesthetic and practical considerations. From an aesthetic standpoint, a degree of sheen or gloss is useful in creating visual interest, particularly indoors. From a practical standpoint, the right sheen or gloss can help extend the life of the paint job, whether it be an interior or exterior application.

Flat, Matte, Velvet Flat

• Non-reflective, so it conceals imperfections better than higher sheen paints
• Stain removal many be more difficult that other sheens due to its more porous nature
• Good choice for living rooms and bedrooms

Interior Satin

• Sheen is lower that a semi-gloss
• Popular sheen, durable and elegant
• Good for walls or trim in high-use areas such as hallways


• Sheen is higher than flat, slightly lower than a satin
• Popular with designers as it is still relatively flat but will offer washability
• Good for walls or trim in high-use areas such as hallways

Semi Gloss, Exterior Satin

• Offers good stain resistance and is easy to clean
• Washable and scrubbable
• Popular choice for bathrooms, kitchens, woodwork and trim


• Toughest, most durable types of paint
• Tends to highlight any surface characteristics
• Excellent choice for trim and cabinets
• Ideal for areas exposed to heavy traffic

Paint Sheen Summary

  1. The flatter the paint, the better it will hide surface imperfections
  2. Flatter paint makes touch-ups easier and more seamless
  3. The glossier the finish, the greater the durability
  4. Generally, the higher the gloss, the more washable and scrubbable the surface
  5. Gloss surfaces offer more mildew resistance because they are less porous


The core content for Painting Tips is provided by the courtesy of Dow Chemical as found on CaliforniaPaints.com.