Water-based paints have come a long way since they were first introduced in the 1940s and 50s. Today we use water-based paints on exteriors because oil-based paints tend to get brittle and will crack and peel. Interior wall and ceiling paints are almost exclusively waterborne paint with few exceptions. But, when it comes to trim paint, the options become a little broader and occasionally oil-based paint is appropriate.

As waterborne products become more advanced, the oil-based options seem to dwindle.

Here’s what we love about oil-based paints

Example of oil-based eggshell sheen

  1. Best sheen – nothing compares to the sheen of oil-based paints. It is sophisticated and subtle and has an appearance you cannot attain with water-based products
  2. Best leveling properties. The paint takes longer to dry so it levels out better, especially when brushed. This makes for a beautiful finish that’s hard to achieve with the water-based product

What we don’t love about oil-based paint

  1. It’s bad for the environment – oil-based paints have VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) that gas off and pollute the environment
  2. The finish yellows over time. Recent regulations lowering the VOC content allowed in paint has increased the amount of yellowing that we encounter
  3. The finish gets brittle and will chip and chip and crack over time. This problem has also increased with the recent regulations
  4. The finish does not clean well. The paint will pick up grime and oil that is impossible to keep clean. This problem is especially bad on cabinetry, which tends to be a high traffic area
  5. The finish does not touch up well

What we love about waterborne paints

  1. Waterborne paints are more durable than oil-based products
  2. The product dries quickly
  3. The finish does not yellow over time
  4. The product touches up easily
  5. The paint cleans up with water
  6. The finish is easy to maintain
  7. The product sprays out beautifully

What we don’t love about waterborne paints

  1. Waterborne paints don’t level as well as oil-based paints, so they show more brush strokes and stipple if painted by hand
  2. The sheen is not as nice as oil-based paints

The hybrid water-based enamels on the market, called modified alkyds are performing quite well. The drying time is a bit slower, so they level better. We love these products for their durability, ease of application and beauty.

Benjamin Moore Advance Satin Water-Base Acrylic-Alkyd PaintSherwin Willaims ProClassic Water-Based Acrylic-Alkyd Paint

I prefer to use oil-based over waterborne paint on trim, if the house has historical significance and the paint will be applied with a brush. Brushed oil-based paint is lovely and gives the look that older homes seem to call for, especially if you are not painting the entire house. It’s always best to keep the finishes as uniform as possible. If you have previously hand painted oil-based paints that you are matching up to, then I recommend sticking with the oil-based products.

If you need help deciding which paint will be appropriate for you next painting project, we are just a phone call away and we are always happy to help where we can.

Until next time,


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