Water-Based or Oil-Based Paint, gloss and satinwood

Water-based or oil-based paint – gloss, satin and eggshell

By Mike Cupit

As a professional decorator, I am often asked if you should use water- or oil-based paint for the woodwork in your home. It used to be an easy choice, now it’s not that easy anymore. I use both, so I’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each.

Oil paint

Oil-based is by far the more traditional and still the most widely used choice, however the color changes itself. The oil used in the oil-based gloss, satin, and eggshell has a yellow tinge that actually blows through over time. Chemicals known as VOCs used to hold back this discoloration, but EU law now limits the use of VOCs and the problem is very noticeable. “Yellowing” is more of a problem in gloss, as it contains more oil than its counterparts made of satin and eggshell. The lack of natural light is also a massive factor. Oil paints therefore yellow much faster in a hallway than in a winter garden.

Other than that, oil paint is very durable and gives a nice, rich finish with little effort, which is why I use them sometimes. You should avoid shine where you can or go for a brand like Crown Next Generation that won’t yellow easily.

Water-based paint

Water-based paint technology has improved significantly in recent years. It can be difficult to use as it doesn’t appear to have a body. Another thing it lacks is opacity, which means you may need to apply extra coats of paint. The paint is also not as durable as oil-based. If you’re painting over an existing oil-based coating, you may need to apply a primer coat before applying your top coats.

There are some water-based benefits, however. You can apply multiple coats in a day, it’s much easier to clean, it’s better for the environment, and the main water-based paint never turns yellow.

Some water-based paints are better than others. Dulux Diamond Satin is probably my preferred trading option. Johnstone’s just released a product called Aqua Guard which is brilliant too.

Hybrid paint – Neither water-based nor oil-based

Hybrid colors like Crown Fastflow, Dulux QD, and Johnstone’s Aqua are presumably some kind of compromise. It’s a water-based paint with an oil carrier, which means there is just a little oil in it for it to flow. Because the hybrid paint contains some oil, it will yellow over time. The other downside is brush maintenance. If you use a hybrid paint throughout the day, be sure to wash your brush regularly and wipe the surface you are painting with a damp cloth as you apply the paint. Doing these two things will save your brushes and ease the flow. Voted Best Hybrid Color in the Decorators Forum by professionals, Johnstone’s Aqua is the brand leader with ease.

That’s what I mean by a compromise –

  • Hybrid colors stay white longer than oil-based colors, but don’t last forever like water-based ones.
  • More durable than water, not as durable as oil
  • Easier to use than water, not as easy as oil
  • Easier to clean than oil, not as easy as water
  • And so it continues. Realizing the benefits of oil and water may be the way to go.

Where to buy

I’ve given you the pros and cons of water, oil, and hybrid paints, and I’ve mentioned a few specific products that I believe are the best option for each. The most important advice I can give you is to buy some commercial paints. Unless the can is to be traded, leave the can on the shelf. The best website I have found for commercial paints is The Paintshed.

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