Differences in Water-Based, Oil-Based and Latex Paints

Learn the differences in oil-based, water-based, and latex paints before starting your painting project.

Painting is the nation's number-one home-improvement project. It can help you change the look of a room from dull to brand new. Here's an interior-painting primer, starting with the pros and cons of oil-based and water-based, or latex, paints.

Oil-based paint is more durable, but it takes longer to dry, and cleanup requires turpentine or paint thinner (mineral spirits). Oil-based paints are made with either alkyd (synthetic) or linseed (natural) oils. Alkyd paint is more common because it is less expensive and tougher. Oil-based paint is good for trim work because trim takes more abuse over time than do walls.

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Latex paint is easier to work with and dries more quickly, but it isn't quite as durable as oil-based paint. Latex is good for general painting projects such as walls and ceilings.

Paint comes in a number of different finishes, from flat to high gloss. Some paints also contain enamel, an additive that makes the dried surface harder and less porous.

Keep in mind that there is no true economy in buying cheap paint. Always buy the best-quality paint you can afford. And when choosing colors with paint chips, remember that the color on the wall will be more intense than it appears on the chip simply because the surface area is much larger.

If you're working on unfinished walls, be sure to apply a coat of primer before you begin painting. Use latex-based primer if you plan to use a latex paint. Oil-based primer works well with oil-based paints.

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