What's the Difference Between Paint Types?

A young couple painting the inside of a house.

Painting is the nation’s top-ranked indoor DIY project. But painting the interior of your home doesn't come without its decision-making process. First and foremost, you need to decide on a color, which is quite a feat given just how many options there are out there! Next, you have to decide on something you may not have thought much about before: what type of interior paint you want to use.

If you haven’t done this before (or maybe even if you have!), you probably don’t understand the differences between all of the existing paint choices. We’ve rounded up an explanation for each type of interior paint as well as the pros and cons of each. Keep reading to become informed and to help decipher which is the most fitting for your home.

Water-Based Paints

A yellow gloved hand scrubbing a child's drawing off a white wall.

This is the most common type of interior paint, and it's also referred to as “latex” paint. In fact, approximately 80 percent of paints sold for residential use are water-based. There are a number of benefits associated with this widely used paint type. The first is that this paint makes for easy clean-up, which can be done with just soap and water. This is also a very quick-drying paint, which means that you can even paint two coats in a single day.

Water-based paints also boast low VOCs, or low levels of toxic emissions, meaning they’re safe to use in your home, and they also omit less odor than paints that contain petroleum. The finish of latex paints is elastic and flexible, which makes it resistant to cracking over time. Finally, these paints prove to maintain stable color over time that doesn’t yellow like some other paints may.

To counter these advantages, water-based or latex paints have a few downsides to them as well. Because water-based paints dry quickly, they have less time to “flatten out” and are more likely to show brush marks than some other paints. Also, the properties of latex paints do not allow for a highly glossy finish like you may achieve with other types of paints. Depending on the look you want, this could be a deterrent. Finally, because of this paint’s thermoplastic nature, it retains dirt on the surface, which could become unsightly over time.

Oil-Based Paints

This is a different genre of interior paint that possesses a distinct set of benefits as well as some disadvantages to consider, too. Oil-based paints are made with either alkyd or linseed oils, with alkyd being the more common of the two. This type of paint is sometimes favored over its water-based competitor because it goes on smoother, coating a surface more thoroughly in a single coat. This means that it’s the ideal choice to use on rough surfaces. These paints are also known to be durable, which means that they’re a great option for high-traffic areas in your home. Oil-based paints have a glossier finish to them than do water-based paints, which could be pleasing to some depending on personal tastes.

As with water-based paints, these substances have a few cons to think about. The first is that they have a more noticeable odor to them. Next, this paint could take up to 48 hours to dry for a single coat, which means that the paint is stickier for longer, attracting dust and bugs. This also means that your brushes and rollers will be trickier to clean as you’re working through the painting process. Finally, because these paints are made with vegetable oil they're prone to growing mildew or fungus, which can be a tough problem to get rid of. Keep in mind that oil-based paints should never be poured down the drain of your sink.

Choosing the Right Paint Types

Someone painting the trim on a window with a paintbrush.

Now that you’ve got the lowdown on the two most common types of interior paints, we have a few extra tips for helping you choose which one is most suitable for your home.

First, if you’re painting an area that receives an abundance of sunshine, latex paint will stand up to the test well as it offers better color retention. On the other hand, if you’re painting trim, oil-based paints are a better fit for the job. For wooden surfaces, oil-based paints are the way to go. This is because latex paints could seep into the wood and end up causing the grain to swell, making sanding an unnecessary and annoying necessity in the process.

Now you have a firm understanding of the ups and downs to each of these two common paint types. They are very different and house their own strengths and weaknesses, so be sure to consider these points before you start your DIY project!