Which is Better – Oil vs. Latex Paint?

I have been in the paint business for over 50 years – I know that makes me sound ancient! (I started working in my dad’s store when I was 7.) My family has been in the paint business for over 80 years.  My point is that if you live in the Cleveland area and your last name is Pucher, you probably know a thing or two about paint.  So I thought I would address a common question we get asked by customers – when should you use oil vs. latex paint?


Oil (Alkyd) Paints at a Glance

Oil paints are known for their smooth-as-glass, hard enamel finish.  In the past, this has made them a popular choice for cabinets and woodwork.  In fact, we know contractors who still insist on using only oil paint for woodwork.  However, there are some significant downsides.  Oil paints contain a lot of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which off-gas as the paint dries, into your home and the atmosphere – not ideal for your family or the environment.  So in 2008, the Ohio EPA set a max of 100 VOCs per gallon.  This legislation has limited the types of oil paint available to oil primers (in gallons & quarts) and satin & semi-gloss oil finishes (quarts only).  I recommend oil paints only for the following specific applications:

1.  Stained Walls – Oil primers, such as Benjamin Moore’s Enamel Underbody, are the only primers guaranteed to seal water and tobacco stains (interior walls)and tannin bleeding (exterior surfaces).

2.  Existing Oil Paint –  You can always use oil primers over existing oil paint, but keep in mind there are now acrylic primers that have excellent adhesion and can be applied on any oil painted surface (try Benjamin Moore’s Fresh Start 100% Acrylic Superior Primer).

3.  Touch Ups/ Small Paint Projects – Because oil finishes are only available in quarts, it makes sense to use these only for touching up existing oil painted surfaces or for small painting projects like furniture.


Latex (Acrylic) Paints at a Glance

Clearly, acrylic or latex paints are the way to go for most paint projects.   Latex paints are much easier, safer and cheaper for homeowners to use.  They have longer film life and better color retention (as long as you buy a good quality paint).  The only downside is that it may take more prep work to achieve a smooth finish.  But, in time, latex technology may close that gap as well.

Key Takeaway:  Because of their high VOCs & recent EPA regulations, oil paints are being phased out and really can only be used for specific applications.  We recommend acrylic or latex paints for most paint projects.  To save $5 per gallon on Benjamin Moore paints, just print this online coupon.

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