When it comes to choosing interior paint, homeowners have a myriad of options. From flat to glossy, oil-based to latex, the number of paint formulations on the market can seem overwhelming. Many factors go into selecting the best paint for your particular project and needs. One major consideration is whether to use latex or oil-based paints. Within the latex paint category, there are different finish options as well, from flat to high-gloss. Understanding the differences between these paint types can help guide you to pick the right paint for your home.
Latex vs. Oil-Based Paint
The primary options for interior paint are latex (water-based) and oil-based (alkyd) paints. Here are some key differences between the two:
- Latex paints use water as the carrier for the paint pigments, while oil-based uses a petroleum-derived solvent. Latex dries through evaporation of the water, oil paint through a chemical reaction as the solvent evaporates.
- Latex paints are generally easier to apply and clean up with just soap and water. Oil-based paints may require paint thinner for cleanup.
- Latex paints cure more quickly, within a couple hours, while oils take much longer to fully cure and be usable, up to 24 hours.
- Oil paints are more durable in high-traffic areas and on surfaces that require frequent washing. Latex is adequate for most indoor walls and ceilings.
- Oil paints adhere better to glossy surfaces compared to latex.
- Latex paints are lower in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than oil-based.
- Latex is more flexible and can expand and contract with temperature changes. Oil paint is more prone to cracking or peeling if the substrate moves.
In most cases, latex paint is the best choice for interior spaces like bedrooms, living rooms, and hallways. The fast dry time, easy cleanup, and low odor make it ideal for DIYers. The durability and washability of quality latex paints is suitable for most indoor applications. Oil-based paints are recommended for surfaces that need maximum toughness like trim, cabinets, and high-traffic areas.
Types of Latex Paint Finishes
Within the broad category of latex paint, there are subcategories of paint finishes defined by the sheen level. Here are the most common types of latex paint finishes:
Flat latex paint, as the name suggests, has no sheen. The pigments don’t reflect light, resulting in a dull, matte look. Pros of flat paint:
- Excellent at hiding surface imperfections
- Minimizes glare and shadows on walls
- Ideal for ceilings and low-traffic areas
The downside is that flat paint scuffs easily and is difficult to clean. It’s best suited for adult bedrooms and other areas that don’t need frequent cleaning.
Eggshell latex has just a hint of shine, similar to the surface of an eggshell. It has the following attributes:
- Provides a soft, velvety appearance
- More durable than flat paint
- Easier to clean than flat
- Minimizes imperfections
Eggshell is ideal for adult bedrooms and living rooms. It stands up to occasional washing better than flat paint.
Satin latex paint has a low-luster sheen. It has many of the benefits of eggshell but is a bit more durable and easier to clean. Key qualities include:
- Soft pearl-like sheen
- Holds up well in high-traffic areas
- Resists yellowing over time
- Washes better than flat or eggshell
Satin is commonly used in living rooms, bedrooms, hallways, and kids’ rooms where routine cleaning is needed.
Semi-gloss latex paint has a medium sheen, about halfway between satin and high-gloss. It offers the following properties:
- Very durable and stain resistant
- Easy to clean and touch up
- Ideal for trim, cabinets, bathrooms
- Provides vivid color
Semi-gloss is the go-to choice for areas that get lots of wear like trim, cabinets, bathrooms, and kids’ rooms.
High-gloss latex paint has a shiny, smooth look and is the most reflective latex paint. Benefits include:
- Extremely durable and scrubbable
- Great for highlighting architectural details
- Vibrant color depth and clarity
- Not ideal for large wall spaces
High-gloss paint is primarily used for trim, cabinets, and front doors in high-traffic areas. The intensity of the sheen can accentuate surface imperfections on walls.
Choosing Interior Paint Sheen
So how do you decide which sheen is right for your project? Here are some tips:
- Flat paint works well in low-traffic rooms with minimal natural light. It hides flaws well.
- Eggshell provides a soft look for adult bedrooms and living rooms.
- Satin is an all-purpose sheen suitable for hallways, family rooms, kids’ rooms.
- Semi-gloss offers great durability for high-traffic areas and bathrooms.
- High-gloss is ideal for trim, cabinets, and doors that need a shiny, easy-clean surface.
Consider the room’s uses, traffic level, and lighting. A higher sheen accentuates flaws while lower sheens hide them. Make sure to coordinate your sheens. Using a flat on walls with a semi-gloss trim can look mismatched. Test paint swatches on the wall’s surface to see how the color and sheen look together.
Color Choices for Interior Latex Paint
Along with sheen, color choice has a big impact on the look and feel of your space. Interior latex paints come in an endless array of hues. Here are some popular color trends to consider:
- Neutrals – Timeless off-white, beige, gray, and brown tones work well as a backdrop in any room.
- Blues – From soft powder blue to dramatic navy, blue hues are versatile and calming.
- Greens – Earthy sage or mossy greens give rooms a relaxed, organic look.
- Yellows/Oranges – Cheery citrus shades infuse energy and creativity into a space.
- Bold Colors – Make a dramatic statement with rich reds, purples, or teals on an accent wall.
Remember light colors visually expand a room while dark hues make a space feel cozy and intimate. The room’s size and function should inform your color choice. Bold, bright colors work best in smaller rooms and energizing spaces like kitchens or kids’ rooms. Neutrals allow flexibility to switch up accent colors and are ideal for resale. Consult color cards at your local paint store to narrow down your options.
|Paint Color||Room Suggestion|
|Soft white or grey||Master bedroom|
|Neutral beige||Living room|
|Sage green||Dining room|
|Navy blue||Home office|
When selecting interior latex paint, consider the sheen, color, and finish. Lower sheen flat and eggshell paints work best in low-traffic areas that don’t need frequent cleaning. Mid-range sheens like satin are broadly useful for most rooms. Higher gloss options provide great durability and cleanability for high-wear areas. For color, popular choices like blues, greens, and warm neutrals complement most spaces while adding a splash of character. Consulting paint swatches in the room’s lighting conditions allows you to see how the hue and sheen interact. With the right prep work, interior latex paint can give your home a fresh, stylish, and long-lasting update.