Everything You Need to Know About Paint

Paint is one of the most commonly used products for decorating and protecting surfaces in homes and businesses. Understanding the different types, uses, and properties of paint can help you choose the right paint for your next project. This guide provides an extensive overview of everything you need to know about paint.

Types of Paint

There are several major categories of paint, each with their own qualities and ideal uses. The main types of paint include:

Latex Paint

Latex paint, also called acrylic paint, is water-based and one of the most popular choices for interior and exterior house painting. Latex dries quickly to a durable, flexible finish and resists cracking and peeling. It can be used on almost any surface, cleans up with soap and water, and is available in various sheens from flat to glossy.

Enamel Paint

Enamel paint provides a hard, glossy, porcelain-like finish. It is commonly used for painting cabinets, trim, and metal surfaces. Oil-based enamel dries slowly but is extremely durable and scrubbable. Water-based enamel is also available with similar qualities but faster drying time and easier cleanup.

Alkyd Paint

Alkyd paint is also known as oil-based paint. It creates a glossy, shiny surface ideal for trim, furniture, and metal. Alkyd paint adheres very well but takes longer to dry than latex or acrylic options. It also emits strong fumes and requires mineral spirits for cleaning up.

Epoxy Paint

Epoxy paint is a two-part product that mixes resin and a polyamine hardener to create an ultra-durable, high-gloss coating. It provides excellent adhesion and resistance to chemicals, impacts, heat, and moisture. Epoxy is commonly used to paint concrete garage and basement floors.

Interior vs. Exterior Paint

Interior and exterior paints are formulated differently to withstand their particular environments.

Interior Paint

Interior paint is designed to handle the relatively stable conditions inside a home or building. It’s available in various sheens from flat for ceilings and walls to semi-gloss or high-gloss for bathrooms, kitchens, and trim. Interior paint resists marking and stains and allows for easy cleanup and touch-ups.

Exterior Paint

Exterior paints must withstand temperature fluctuations, humidity, rain, snow, and UV rays. They are formulated to be more flexible and breathable than interior paints. Exterior paint types include satin and gloss for trim and flat, satin, or semi-gloss for siding. High-quality exterior paint provides maximum protection, adhesion, and durability.

Paint Sheens

The sheen or glossiness of paint impacts its aesthetic qualities and suitability for different applications. Basic sheen types include:

  • Flat – Provides a non-reflective, matte look on walls and ceilings. It hides surface imperfections well.
  • Satin – Delivers a smooth, subtle luster. It’s ideal for walls, doors, trim, and outdoor surfaces.
  • Semi-Gloss – Offers moderate reflection with a sleek surface. It’s recommended for cabinets, bathrooms, kitchens, and trim.
  • Gloss – Provides a shiny, light-reflective surface. It’s often used on trim, metal, and other surfaces that need frequent cleaning.
  • High-Gloss – Displays a maximum reflective shine. It’s commonly seen on furniture, shelves, and other decorative finishes.

Paint Finishes

Beyond basic paint sheens, there are also specialized paint finishes that produce distinctive decorative effects:

  • Matte finish – Provides a flat, non-reflective look with excellent hide. Ideal for walls and ceilings.
  • Eggshell finish – Has a soft, velvety appearance while still offering some sheen. Works well on walls and ceilings.
  • Satin finish – Displays a smooth, subtle luster. Recommended for trim, doors, cabinets, and outdoor areas.
  • Semi-gloss finish – Delivers moderately high reflection. Often used for trim, bathrooms, kitchens, and exteriors.
  • High-gloss finish – Provides a maximum shine. Frequently seen on furniture, shelf liners, and decorative molding.
  • Metallic finish – Contains metal flakes or powder for a shimmering look. Can be used to create unique, eye-catching accents.
  • Pearlescent finish – Offers a lustrous, iridescent sheen. Helps walls and objects sparkle.
  • Textured finish – Features small bumps or grooves for added dimension. Used to hide surface flaws or add depth.
  • Frosted finish – Provides a muted, etched appearance. Ideal for creating a soft, matte look on walls and glass.
  • Chalkboard finish – Formulated to create a flat, chalk-receptive surface. Allows walls to double as writing surfaces.

Common Uses of Different Paint Types

Each variety of paint has ideal applications based on its specific qualities:

  • Interior walls and ceilings – Flat, eggshell, and satin latex paints all work well to conceal flaws and add color.
  • Interior trim and cabinets – Semi-gloss and high-gloss enamel and alkyd paints allow for easy cleaning.
  • Furniture – Gloss enamel, spray lacquer, and epoxy paints provide protection and shine.
  • Outdoor siding – Exterior satin or semi-gloss latex paints withstand weathering.
  • Decks and patios – Special exterior acrylic latex formulations resist moisture damage.
  • Outdoor furniture – Specially formulated spray paints add color while preventing fading.
  • Concrete floors – Epoxy paints provide unparalleled durability and stain resistance.
  • Metal surfaces – Gloss alkyd enamel or industrial acrylic coatings protect against corrosion.

Paint Properties

When selecting paint for a specific application, consider these important properties:

Hiding Ability

The paint’s ability to mask surface imperfections. Flat paint hides flaws better than gloss.


How well the dried paint film will hold up to abrasion, weather, cleaning, and other wear. Enamel and epoxy paints offer exceptional durability.


The degree to which the paint’s surface reflects light. High-gloss paints have the highest reflectance.


How well the coating resists moisture, stains, UV light, and other environmental factors. Look for exterior paints specially formulated with these resistances.


The paint film’s ability to allow water vapor to pass through. Important for exterior surfaces.

Ease of Application

How easily the paint can be applied smoothly and evenly. Quality brushes and rollers improve application.

Ease of Cleanup

How readily the paint can be washed from brushes, rollers, and other tools. Latex and acrylic paints clean up with soap and water.


The ability to bond tightly to the surface underneath. Proper priming boosts adhesion.


How many square feet per gallon the paint can cover. Higher quality paint has better coverage.

Choosing Interior Paint Colors

Selecting the perfect interior paint colors involves both personal preference and color theory:

  • Neutral palettes with off-whites, grays, and beiges provide flexibility and calmness.
  • Cool tones like greens and blues can be soothing and create a relaxing retreat.
  • Warm earth tones and shades of red, orange, and yellow help spaces feel cozy and uplifting.
  • Monochromatic palettes using different shades of one color offer a minimalist, soothing look.
  • Contrasting colors add drama. Pair deeper shades with very light accents.
  • Limit bright colors to accents. Use them sparingly on one focal wall or minor details.
  • Match wall and ceiling colors for a seamless, expansive look. Use lighter shades on ceilings to increase brightness.
  • Select a lighter color for larger spaces to prevent them from feeling cramped or dark.
  • In smaller rooms, opt for darker, deeper colors to make them feel more intimate and cozy.

Paint Sheen Recommendations by Room

Choosing paint sheens by room can help balance practicality and style:

Living Rooms – Eggshell or satin on walls; semi-gloss trim

Bedrooms – Flat or eggshell walls; satin trim

Bathrooms/Laundry – Semi-gloss or high-gloss walls; high-gloss trim

Kitchens – Semi-gloss walls; high-gloss cabinets and trim

Ceilings – Flat sheen throughout home

Doors/Windows – Satin or semi-gloss sheen for durability

Outdoor Siding – Satin or semi-gloss exterior paint

Decks/Patios – Semi-transparent stains; gloss paint on railings

How to Prepare Surfaces for Painting

Proper preparation is key to achieving long-lasting paint results:

  • Repair any damage, holes, cracks or textures flaws with spackle, putty and sanding.
  • Wash surfaces with a deglosser or TSP substitute to remove grime and grease. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Sand glossy areas to roughen the surface and improve paint adhesion.
  • Cover floors, furniture, fixtures and hardware. Use painter’s tape for clean lines.
  • Fill holes and caulk gaps around trim, windows, and ceilings to create a smooth look.
  • Patch and prime damaged drywall. Spot prime repaired areas after drying.
  • Scuff sand exterior wood, masonry, and metal to remove gloss before priming and painting.
  • Power wash exterior surfaces thoroughly. Scrape off peeling paint completely before repainting.
  • Use masking tape and plastic sheeting to protect areas not being painted.

Painting Tools and Supplies

Having the right painting tools allows you to work quickly, efficiently, and achieve professional looking results:

  • Paintbrush – Natural bristles offer smoother application on trim and woodwork. Angled sash brushes simplify cutting in.
  • Paint roller – Choose rollers with the right nap thickness for your surface type. Short naps work for smooth areas; longer naps help apply more paint on porous surfaces.
  • Paint tray – Trays with textured bottoms help evenly distribute paint onto roller covers. Disposable liner trays allow for easy cleanup.
  • Paint pole – Telescoping extension poles allow you to easily paint high walls and ceilings without using a ladder. Great for cutting in high edges.
  • Drop cloth – Canvas drop cloths protect floors and furniture from drips and spills.
  • Painters tape – Delicate surfaces like walls, trim and hardware benefit from painters tape instead of regular masking tape. It removes cleanly.
  • Sandpaper – High grit sandpaper (120-220 grit) smooths surfaces prior to priming and painting.
  • Primer – Seals porous surfaces and improves topcoat adhesion. Match primer to your paint and surface type.
  • Caulk gun – Applies sealant evenly into cracks and gaps before painting.
  • Paint scraper – Removes loose, peeling paint on exteriors prior to preparing the surface.

How to Paint a Room

Follow these basic steps for fail-proof painting:

  1. Prep the room by repairing flaws, washing surfaces, taping off areas and covering floors and furniture.
  2. Prime unpainted surfaces first, especially drywall, wood, and masonry. Allow primer to fully dry.
  3. Use painter’s tape for clean edges along baseboards, trim, moldings, and ceilings.
  4. Cut in edges and corners with a brush. Work top to bottom, then roll the center areas using an overlapping “W” pattern.
  5. Maintain a wet edge by brushing back into newly painted areas. Only paint small sections at a time.
  6. Let each coat fully dry before adding another. Two coats are recommended for full coverage and durability.
  7. Remove tape promptly after painting before the paint fully dries. Touch up edges with brush.
  8. Allow paint to cure fully for at least 48 hours before cleaning or replacing furniture.

How Long Does Paint Last?

With proper care and maintenance, quality interior paint can last 5-10 years, while exterior paint may last 10-15 years under normal weathering conditions. Factors affecting paint lifespan include:

  • Quality of paint used – Higher priced paints use more durable binders and pigments.
  • Primer used – Primer enhances paint adhesion and durability.
  • Surface preparation – Proper washing, sanding, caulking and priming prep work helps paint last longer.
  • Application thickness – Multiple coats provide longer lasting protection than a single thin coat.
  • Exposure to sun, moisture – Exterior paint fades faster on sunny surfaces exposed to weather elements.
  • Wear and tear – Surface scuffs, marks and scrubbing wears away paint more quickly.
  • Cleaning methods – Harsh cleaners can deteriorate paint films faster than mild soap and water.
  • Quality of application – Professional painting provides longer lasting results than DIY jobs.

Recognizing the Signs You Need to Repaint

Watch for these cues that interior or exterior paint needs refreshing:

  • Visible fading, yellowing or graying of the paint color
  • Flaking, cracking, blistering or peeling of the paint finish
  • Areas where the paint has worn off from use or abrasion
  • Bubbling or alligatoring paint caused by moisture issues
  • Chalky areas where the binders have eroded from sun exposure
  • Stains coming through the paint from water, grease, mold or mildew
  • New patches, repairs or changes to the painted surface
  • Major changes to the home’s exterior styling or color palette
  • Desire for a fresh new look or different paint color

How to Clean and Care for Painted Surfaces

Keep your paint looking its best in between touch-ups with proper care:

  • Allow new paint to cure fully before cleaning, usually at least 2 weeks. Use only light pressure.
  • Dust walls, trim and ceilings regularly using microfiber cloths to prevent buildup.
  • Clean painted surfaces with a soft sponge and mild dish soap diluted in warm water. Avoid harsh cleaners.
  • Rinse walls thoroughly after washing. Blot excess moisture with a clean towel.
  • Fix chips and nicks in paint when they first appear to prevent additional peeling and damage.
  • Repaint surfaces as soon as you notice signs of paint failure like cracking, flaking or blistering.
  • For exterior paint, control moisture by cleaning gutters, sealing cracks, and directing drainage away from the building.

Frequently Asked Questions About Paint

What primer should I use before painting?

Choose primer suited for your paint type and surface material. For example, use oil-based primers under alkyd paints or on exterior wood. Opt for PVA primer for drywall to be painted with latex/acrylic paints.

How long should primer dry before I paint over it?

Primer needs 2-4 hours drying time before painting. Oil-based primers take up to 24 hours to fully cure. Check if primer feels tacky before painting over it.

Should I use paint and primer in one or separate products?

Paint-and-primer combos save time but provide less comprehensive protection on bare surfaces than standalone primer. Opt for separate primer coats on new drywall, wood, and masonry before using paint/primer for finish coats.

How do I get rid of paint smells from interior painting?

Open windows to air out paint fumes. Run fans to circulate air. Placing bowls of vinegar around the room can help absorb odors. Avoid inhaling fumes right after painting. The smell dissipates over 2-3 days.

Can I paint over wallpaper?

Painting over wallpaper is not recommended, as paint will not properly adhere to wallpaper. Remove wallpaper first before painting walls for best results. Use a scoring tool, hot water, and chemical wallpaper stripper as needed.

How long should I wait to paint after priming?

Oil-based primer needs 24 hours drying time before painting. Water-based primers only require 2-4 hours before they can be painted over. Always check that primer is completely dry by pressing your finger to it before painting.


Whether you’re painting the interior or exterior of your home, proper paint selection, surface preparation, and application techniques will ensure your paint finishes will have the best coverage, protection, and longevity possible. Matching your paint sheen and type to each surface while providing sufficient coats, drying time, and curing allows fresh paint to live up to its full potential. Understanding the differences in latex vs. oil-based paints along with their ideal usages also helps ensure painting success. Follow these tips to refresh your home’s paint surfaces with professional-quality results.