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Using Latex vs Oil Based Paints

Should I Use Oil-Based or Latex Paint


Painting the interior of a home is a popular DIY project. With lots of advice available on the internet and from local paint stores, most people have the confidence and capability of doing a good job of it.

Unfortunately, even when you do your research, it’s often difficult to get all the information you need to make fully informed decisions. One example is the popularity of latex paint with do-it-yourselfers. A major reason for this is the ease of clean-up and, to an untrained eye, just after the job’s done, who can tell the difference between oil and latex anyway, right?

When Latex Isn’t Always the Best Choice

Yes, the popularity of latex has resulted in advancements to formulations that make it a paint that you can use just about everywhere, on just about any surface, and get good results. But latex is not always the absolute best choice for every application. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Latex Swells Wood – The water in many latex paints causes wood to expand, which means you may have to sand the wood between coats.
  2. Not Quite as Durable – Again, recent advancements in latex formulations have closed the gap, but paint pros still recommend oil-based paints for high-traffic areas.
  3. Shrinkage – When the water in latex paints evaporates, it causes the paint to shrink, which can mean extra coats are needed.

Recommendations for Using Oil or Latex Paints

While top-quality latex paints can be used for most of your home’s interior, you should consider oil-based paints for the following applications:

  1. Doors and Trim – Considering that most interior doors and trim are made of wood and need to be durable, using oil-based paints can be a better choice.
  2. Kitchens and Bathrooms – Many latex paints do not hold up as well as oil-based paints against ongoing moisture, grease and repeated cleaning.
  3. Stairs and Floors – The traffic and scuffing they endure might best be handled by an oil-based paint.

Remember: while all paints, even latex, must be handled in an environmentally responsible way, oil-based paints, and the solvents needed for clean-up, are particularly harmful. Be sure to use recommended clean-up and disposal procedures when working with oil-based paints.

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