Differences Between Latex and Oil-Based Paints

Qualitative difference between both types of coatings

In determining the basic differences between latex and oil-based paints, a person can get caught up in the language of paint chemistry so much so, that you might lose sight of what it is you're searching for in the first place - information. In other words, why should you use one coating over another?

Well, if I knew the technical makeup of these two types of paints (I don't!), I probably wouldn't tell you anyway because there's no need for you to get bogged down in all that detail. And since I'm not a chemist, It really doesn't matter to me anyway. As long as it works well, and is not harmful in anyway, I'll just go by what the instructions on the label say to do.

Here's a brief comparison between latex and oil-based paints:


Latex - A water-thinned coating that is ready to brush on straight out of the can. The best part about using this type of paint, is that you can easily clean up with soap and water after you're done.

It glides on well and looks good. The only drawback, if there is one, is that latex does not have the complete durability of a comparable oil-based paint.

It's generally less expensive than oil, and comes in all colors and sheens.

All in all, I think it looks and wears just fine.


Oil - This is a solvent-thinned coating. Spreads on easily but has to have paint thinner, or turpentine with which to clean up.

This is a preferred paint for use in high traffic areas, such as, kitchens and bathrooms because it is very durable, and cleans easily.

Oil is a great paint to use because it has a distinctive "warm" look to it - especially when using higher sheens - and really does stand up to wear and tear better than latex. Again, compared to latex, it is a little messier with which to work and clean up, and does tend to have a stronger odor.

A great paint to use on woodwork, cabinets (especially bathroom and kitchen), and trimwork, particularly when you want the finish to last a long time, and keep it's sheen.

Here's an Important Tip to Remember ...

You simply cannot apply latex paint over an already established base of oil. That is a huge difference between latex and oil-based paints, for sure! In most cases, it will peel and flake almost immediately.

[to test for oil or latex paint on walls, spread some fingernail paint-remover (acetone-based) in a small place that's not noticeable. This will remove latex, but not affect oil in anyway.]

The best remedy for this situation, is to apply a coat of oil-based primer on top of the old oil-based coat. Let dry for at least 24 hours, and add your finish coat(s) of either latex, or oil.

With this simple tip, you will not experience any peeling or flaking, and is excellent for when you want to repaint your bathroom or kitchen.

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