How to Choose Interior Paint

How to Choose Interior Paint
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Whether you’re planning to paint one room of your house, or all of them, choosing a paint color tends to be intimidating. But as if making a decision based upon the dizzying array of color swatches and charts before you at the paint store or home improvement center isn’t challenging enough, you must also select the right type of paint for the project.

At The Paint Manager, we want our readers to make an informed decision about the paint choices they make for their home. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional painting company, you are always at an advantage when you know the basics!

Water-based vs. Oil-based Paint – Which Should You Use?

Any interior painting project should start with the selection of paint type. It is crucial to know which you should use – water-based or oil-based paint.

If you don’t know which type of paint is on your walls, HomeAdvisor recommends performing this simple test. Dip a rag in acetone (some nail polish removers are 100% acetone) or methylated spirits, then rub on a small section of the wall (in an inconspicuous place, of course). If color rubs off, the paint is water-based; if not, it’s oil-based.

If the existing paint is oil-based, you might prefer to use the same type because it makes your job easier. Water-based paint will not adhere to the glossy finish of oil paint. But if you prefer the matte appearance that water-based paint provides, sand down the walls with fine sandpaper before painting so it adheres properly.

Both types of paint have advantages and disadvantages. Factors include the size of the room you’re painting, the amount of money you’re willing to spend, drying time and convenience. Another factor weighing in your decision may be volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These unstable chemicals let off gasses that can be toxic if inhaled and can contribute to CO2 emissions, which is why the government now regulates them.

Water-based paint

The pros:

  • Less expensive than oil-based paint.
  • More resistant to cracking because it’s more flexible.
  • Drips and spills that may occur during painting are easier to clean.
  • Can clean brushes and rollers with dish detergent and water.
  • Dries to the touch in one hour or less.
  • Resistant to fading, yellowing and discoloration.
  • Available in zero-VOC or low-VOC options.

The cons:

  • Less durable than oil-based paints.
  • Finish isn’t as shiny as oil-based paints, if you want a glossy look.

 Oil-based paint

The pros:

  • More durable than water-based paint.
  • They withstand changes in temperature and humidity well.
  • You can cover the surface in one or just a few coats.
  • Available in different grades of sheen.
  • They’re high-gloss paints that create a glossy finish.

The cons:

  • They take longer to dry.
  • Paint can crack after it hardens if the surface underneath shrinks, as can happen with wood.
  • They tend to give off a stronger odor.
  • Colors can yellow or fade over time.
  • They contain high levels of VOCs.


Types of Paint Finishes and the Best Rooms to Use Each

After the paint type, you need to select the correct paint finish for your interiors. The function of the room to be painted typically has a strong influence on what type of finish should be used. In some situations, the surface to be painted may not have been previously painted. Our blog post – “How to Paint Paneling” – covers methods for painting both laminate and wood wall paneling to provide an updated look.

Houselogic by Realtors® states the situation as follows:

“There’s a basic rule of thumb to follow when choosing paint sheens: The higher the sheen, the higher the shine — and the higher the shine, the more durable it will be. Flat paint has no shine; high-gloss is all shine. In between are eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss, each with its own practical and decorative job to do.”

The Houselogic article provides the following easy guide. We recommend you read the article in its entirety for additional details.

High gloss – The most durable and easiest to clean of all paint sheens, high-gloss paint is hard, ultra-shiny, and light-reflecting. Think appliance-paint tough. High gloss is a good choice for areas that sticky fingers touch, such as cabinets, trim and doors. High-gloss, however, is too much shine for interior walls. It shows every bump and roll underneath, so don’t skimp on prep work.

  • Practical application: kitchens, door, and window trim
  • Durability: very high

Semi-gloss – Good for rooms where moisture, drips, and grease stains challenge walls. Also great for trim work that takes a lot of abuse.

  • Practical application: kitchens, bathrooms, trim, chair rails
  • Durability: high

Satin – Has a rich luster that, despite the name, is often described as velvety. It’s easy to clean, making it excellent for high-traffic areas. Its biggest drawback is that it reveals application flaws, such as roller or brush strokes. Touch-ups later can be tricky. 

  • Practical application: family rooms, foyers, hallways, kids’ bedrooms
  • Durability: high

Eggshell – Between satin and flat on the sheen (and durability) scale is eggshell, so named because it’s essentially a flat (no-shine) finish with little luster, like a chicken’s egg. Eggshell covers wall imperfections well and is a great finish for gathering spaces that don’t get a lot of bumps and scuffs.

  • Practical application: dining rooms, living rooms
  • Durability: medium

Flat or Matte – A friend to walls that have something to hide, flat/matte soaks up, rather than reflects, light. It has the most pigment and will provide the most coverage, which translates to time and money savings. However, it’s tough to clean without taking paint off with the grime.

  • Practical application: adults’ bedrooms and other interior rooms that won’t be roughed up by kids
  • Durability: medium-low

When to Use Primer

Paint primer is designed to provide a stable surface that subsequent paint layers can lock onto, and also helps to hide surface stains. However, people have different views about the use of primer. Nearly all paint manufacturers recommend applying one or two coats to get better results. Paint contractors who charge by the hour may recommend using a primer, while those who charge by the job may not be too keen to do so – especially if they are responsible for buying the materials.

DIYers usually want to skip priming if they can, often basing this decision on factors such as cost, time and patience. As they may learn to their regret, passing on the primer for these reasons if the walls need it is counterproductive, and will produce a poor result – requiring additional expense to correct. Rather than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, The Spruce provides the following guideline to help you determine if you need to apply a primer.

Porous surfaces – A highly porous surface usually means that primer is needed. Newly installed drywall is highly porous in two ways: the bare facing paper on drywall and the dried joint compound covering the seams. Bare wood is even more porous and always requires a primer. Masonry such as retaining wall blocks and bricks need paint primer.

Skim-coated drywall – A skim coat is a thin swipe of drywall compound laid over bare drywall. Considered a level five finish, the highest grade possible, a skim coat is not something you encounter often. But as with bare wood or drywall paper, it is highly porous and thus requires at least one coat of primer before painting.

Glossy existing coat of paint – Glossy base coats do not hold paint well. A light scuffing with sandpaper and a coat or two of primer will help the color coat stick. Even if you decide not to scuff that glossy sheen, using a primer will help subsequent coats stick. Plastics and glossy paints nearly always require some type of roughening of texture prior to painting.

Changing from a dark to light paint color – Avoid the problems that come with repeatedly laying down expensive light-colored paint over darker colors. Instead, first treat the surface with two layers of white primer if the existing color is extremely dark.

Tip: When going from a light color to a dark color, most paint retailers have the ability to tint your primer. This brings the color of the primer closer to that of the wall finish color, reducing the number of primer coats and color coats you need to lay down.

Stained surface – Spotted or stained surfaces benefit from a coat or two of priming before painting. Consider using thicker primers such as Kilz 2 or Kilz Max for these conditions.

Now for a word about self-priming paint. As The Spruce points out, it’s not the easy solution that many homeowners assume it to be. This essentially is a paint that is thicker than regular paint. “Because it is thicker, it builds up higher and forms a thicker coat. It is preferable to use a separate primer and paint. But if the walls are basically in good condition, you can use a combination paint and primer.”

However, “Laying down a thicker paint build makes for a weaker coat that takes longer to dry. Additionally, the higher per-unit cost, and the possible need for more than the advertised single coat, means that it may not end up being a money or time saver.”

The Take-Home Message and the Importance of Making Good Decisions

Choosing the right type of paint for your project is essential to achieving the desired results. The optimum paint finish provides both beauty and durability for years to come, making your home more inviting and comfortable. If you’re enthusiastic about DIY home improvements and have the experience, comfort level and appropriate equipment to tackle the job, we’ve hopefully given you additional knowledge about the paint selection process.

If you’d rather leave it to the pros, our team at The Paint Manager has been proudly serving Central Florida homeowners for 20 years with experienced, dedicated and professional services that include exterior and interior house painting, roof repair and cleaning, drywall repair, popcorn ceiling texture removal, cabinet refinishing and so much more!

Plus, become a member of The Paint Manager to receive a 15% year-‘round member’s discount. Contact us to learn more about our services and membership discount offer. We look forward to meeting you!

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