How To Select the Right Paint Type For Your Project

Question:  I’m getting ready to start redecorating my dining room, but I’m not sure what type of paint I should use.  Some people tell me to use eggshell and other people say flat is the way to go.  Help!Marcie B.  Columbus, OH


So many times we get dazed and confused when we’re faced with the decision of buying paint for our projects.  Should we use oil based (Alkyd) or water based (Latex)?  Flat or gloss?  And what about low VOC?  Now that can get confusing!

Let’s start at the beginning with a little Paint 101 and see if we can de-mystify selections for you.  First of all, alkyds, being oil based, need to be cleaned up with paint thinner.  For some people this is a huge inconvenience and not worth the effort.  Latex, on the other hand, can be cleaned with soap and water.    Besides the easier clean up, latex paints don’t have as strong an odor as alkyds, dries quicker, and can be touched up a little easier.  Can you tell which one I prefer?

Levels of gloss:

Flat paints are non-reflective with a matte finish and are really good for ceilings and walls that get very little wear and tear.  When walls are wavy or have a lot of imperfections, flat paint is an excellent choice.  But it’s not a good choice if you need to be able to wash the walls to remove tiny hand prints.

Satin finish, aka eggshell, gives a softer luster similar to an eggshell.  It dries a little harder, and is easy to wipe off.  This is a good choice for children’s bedrooms, family rooms, hallways, and stairways.  My preference is to use this type of paint almost everywhere.

Semi gloss paints are more durable and easier to clean than satin paints.  Because of this, they work well in high traffic areas like kitchens and bathrooms.  But remember that the shine is also a little greater and imperfections will show.  Semi gloss paint is also a really good choice for wood trim and cabinets.

Gloss paint is harder, more durable, and the easiest to clean.  Because it is also the shiniest, imperfections will definitely show up.  It is a good choice for very high traffic areas, floors, hand rails, cabinets, stairs, and high traffic doors and trim.

The main thing to consider how much wear and tear will the walls be getting, and will it conflict or enhance the overall effect of the design.  If you’re going for the dramatic, in the powder room or dining room for example, sometimes a semi gloss wall is the perfect choice.

When it comes to earth friendly products, low VOC paints have lower harmful emissions than regular paints.  I came across a very helpful web site called Eartheasy that lists specific paint manufacturers and the earth friendly products that they sell.