Oil Paint vs. Latex Paint

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Is it better to choose latex paint or oil-based paint for your home? With so many choices of colors, textures, durability and finish, each paint type offers advantages and disadvantages, from ease of clean-up to drying time, from coverage to durability. Important, too, is what you are painting, indoors or outdoors. Read on to learn how to determine which paint type is the best choice for your project.



Interior and exterior paint comes in many different formulations, but can be broken down into two basic categories: oil-based (or alkyd) and latex (or water-based, or acrylic) paint. Oil-based paint consists of a base of petroleum distillates, which come from crude oil, plus pigments, binders and other components, and does not dissolve in water. Latex paint consists of a water base, to which pigments and binders are added. The difference in bases is the main difference between latex and oil-based paints and results in each having pros and cons for different projects.


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Coverage and Finish

Oil-based paints are more difficult to apply (they tend to be thicker and cause more "drag" when painting) but offer better coverage for stains, sometimes in just one coat. Latex paint can easily be applied smoothly and evenly, but may require more than one coat for complete coverage. Each type of paint offers a variety of finishes. Oil-based paint is especially good for high-gloss, smooth surfaces, though its high sheen may highlight imperfections as well.


Time Frame and Convenience

Oil-based paint may take from 12 to 24 hours to dry and is easily marred during the drying process, so care must be taken during that time. Latex paint dries in just one to six hours, but may take weeks to "cure," and can stain during that time. Oil-based paint produces more fumes--which may be flammable--than latex paint, and the odor may be stronger. Turpentine, paint thinner or another solvent must be used to clean brushes, rollers or spills after oil-based paint use; water is used with latex paint for clean-up.



Oil-based paint is exceptionally durable and is a good choice for high-traffic areas. It adheres well to a range of surfaces (though metal, concrete and masonry require a sealer before use) and sticks better to chalked surfaces than latex paint. Latex paint is also durable and is more elastic than oil-based paint. It does not usually require a sealer, may be more mildew-resistant and is less likely to fade in sunny areas. Both types of paint can be scrubbed.



Both oil-based and latex paints come in a wide range of prices. Generally, the higher the price of paint, the better the quality, and better quality paint offers a longer-lasting finish, better coverage, better adhesion and other desirable qualities that pay off in the long run. The advantages of both oil-based and latex paint are enhanced by getting the best quality paint.



When deciding between latex or oil-based paint, it is important to consider several factors. Do you have limited time to do your paint project? How much traffic does the area get? Do you need to cover a dark color with a lighter one? Are you concerned with possible mildew? Do you want the ultra-high gloss look that oil-based paint provides? Once you determine your needs, you can make an informed decision on using latex or oil-based paint.



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