Oil Paint vs. Latex Paint

November 17, 2022

When painting a home, you generally have two choices when it comes to paint selection – oil paint or latex paint.

While there are other terms and labels used like acrylic, alkyd, and enamel, there are a couple of important things to remember when choosing paint types. Oil-based and alkyd paints are basically the same and are considered oil-based. Alkyd is more common due to cost and durability. Enamel is a type of alkyd paint that provides extra durability. Likewise, latex and acrylic are interchangeable terms for water-based paint. Both oil based and water-based paints are made up of carriers (oil or water) and pigments (the color).

Acrylic/Latex Paint
Acrylic/latex paints are being water-based means cleanup is much easier since you can use water to clean brushes, equipment, and spills (you know it’s going to happen!). They come in various finishes from flat (dull) to glossy (shiny). Drying time is faster which means you can get on with the second coat quicker, but brush strokes must be managed (especially on hot days). They are usually less prone to cracking, fading, or yellowing, and the cost is typically less than comparable oil or alkyd-based paints. They are not without their disadvantages though. They are less durable than oil-based paints, shouldn’t be used to paint metal (duh! – rust!), and the water in the paint can raise the grain on raw wood finishes requiring sanding between coats.

Oil/Alkyd Paint
Any oil-based paint requires longer drying times but provides a much smoother finish. These paints provide better coverage and are more durable than water-based paints. However, while they may be more durable, they can yellow, fade and crack over time. The oil base also means the paints are more toxic and require solvents to clean – so proper ventilation is a must. Regardless of choice, any professional painter will note that the prep work is what ensures the best application and cannot be overlooked.

Using compatible primers is important, which allows applying acrylic paint over oil-based paint without the fear of peeling and vice-versa. Choice of brushes and rollers is imperative to achieving the right finish. For instance, you cannot use natural bristle brushes with acrylic paints – the water in the paint swells the bristles and can give that expensive bristle brush a really bad hair day! Certain types of rollers can create texture, especially rollers with a high nap on the sponge. If you’re looking for a smooth finish, opt for a roller with a thin nap.
Be sure to test your color on a small section before applying to the entire surface, which helps to ensure that the color looks appropriate. Most colors will appear darker, lighter, cooler, or warmer after drying – depending on the tone and lighting. When in doubt of your paint selection, consult with your local paint supply retailer and/or your professional painter for advice and never forget to test your color before committing!

Lastly, certain paint qualities and applications on exterior walls may create a vapor barrier, possibly creating problems associated with moisture intrusion. Avoid using paint on brick, as trapped moisture will eventually degrade the brick and mortar. Brick stain is a breathable option that prevents these issues while still allowing for color adjustments.

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