Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (2023)

I’ve been planning to write this post for months, but wanted to collate as much info and evidence as possible before shooting my mouth. I haven’t seen anyone else tackle this issue yet and it’s about time someone did.

**Serious face**

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (1)

Over the past fewyears, there’s been a huge shift in the paint industry. Read this:

“Since the latest Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Regulations came into force in the UK back in 2010, many paint products containing high levels of VOCs – the solvents that determine a paint’s viscosity, flow and drying time – were no longer be able to be manufactured.” Dulux

Ok, that’s very interesting, Karen, but what does this actually mean?

I’ll tell you. It meant the paints we’re used to painting our wood/metal work with have had to change in order to comply with the new VOC regs. Oil or solvent based paints as we knew them could no longer be sold because of environmental reasons. You know how old school gloss paint stinks and takes ages to dry? It’s also really bad for the environment.

“This marked a huge shake up in the paint and coatings market and left many professional appliers looking for alternative products that provide the results they require while complying with the legislation. Water based paints, with their naturally low VOC levels, have fast become a popular alternative.” Dulux

This is great!Anything that’s better for the environment gets a thumbs up from me. What gets a middle-y though is that fact that nobody’s really informed us, the customer about how this changes things, in practice.

Erm, ok, why would anyone bother telling us? Paint is paint right?

Well yes, but as in Animal Farm, “All paints are equal, but some paints are more equal than others.” More often, i’m finding myself steering people away from well loved paint brands and onto others in order to avoid some of the problems i’ve had with paint in the past.

What’s the problem?

The problem is, most of us have already used solvent based paint on our woodwork and metalwork at home. So now, when you want to touch up or re-paint your existing skirting and architraves, it’s not as simple aspopping down to your local DIY warehouse and picking up any old pot ofeggshell. You’ve got to get yourself clued up.


Because, if you apply a water based gloss/eggshell directly onto solvent based woodwork paint it will just chip, scratch or peel off.You know, how if you dropped a bit of oil into a glass of water, they just separate don’t they? The solvent in your old gloss paint forms a barrier which repels the water based paint from ahering. So before using any water based eggshell/gloss, you now need to use a water based primer too. A “brand specific” primer or undercoat isrequired to improve the adhesion between the old surface and new top coat of paint.


Indeed. Don’t get me wrong, water based paints are way easier to use than their solvent based counterparts: Less smell, quicker drying times, easier to work with, a doddle to clean up afterwards and way better for the environment. All great. But then when you’re all finished and the first thing you do is dink your woodwork and see all that hard work “chip off” it’s pretty infuriating. Everyone claims water based paints areas good if not better than our old skool paints. I’m not 100% convinced.

Here’s been my experience so far:


(Video) What Is The Difference Between Oil Based Paints and Water Based Paints

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (2)

Valspar Deep Shadow

My first time working with Valspar in 2015 was a mixed bag. Their emulsion was absolutely fab. I prefer their basic paint compared to the premium as it has a much more matt finish withgreat coverage. The woodwork and metal paint, however, was rubbish. Valspar is pretty new to the UK paint market, pushing Dulux out of B&Q’s across the country. It was now Valspar over on the paint mixing desk. When I went to get paint mixed for the Blue Room project, DID ANYONE TELL ME I NEEDED TO BUY A SPECIAL WATER BASED ACRYLIC PRIMER FOR THE WOODWORK?

No, no they bloody didn’t. And this is something I have issues with. If you’ve got trained staff on a paint desk, having one to one conversations with customers about what paint they would like mixing (because Valspar mix every colour right then, right there) why on earth aren’t they explaining the need for primer?

As you can probably imagine, the adhesion of this matt eggshell onto what was a solvent based satin finish, was rubbish. I remember tweeting Valspar to ask why their eggshell felt just like emulsion and didn’t get a reply. I just keptpainting and painting it on in order to build up the layers. Even then, it still wasn’t great. My first lesson learned. Always buy the primer if you’re using Valspar woodwork paint.

So I did. For the next project where Valspar featured; The Sherwood Forest project.

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (5)

Valspar Sherwood Forest and Gentle Shadow

You can see the grey primer on the skirting, architrave and radiator here ready for its coat of dark green paint.

Valspar Sherwood Forest

Two coats of Valspar eggshell paint went on very nicely and dried super quick. But it still chipped off. Man, I was so pissed off at this point. The solution? I had asolvent based paint colour-matched at a local paint specialist and I repainted all of the woodwork myself. **sigh**

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (7)

Valspar Midtown Magic

(Video) Difference Between Oil Based Paint and Water Based Paint - Where to Use - Life - Explained

The only places where i’ve had any luck with Valspar’s woodwork paint has been when i’ve used their primer and paint on a completely bare surface (untreated timber doors and brand new, pre-primed MDF architrave).

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (8)

Valspar Nevermore

So unless you’re willing to sand your woodwork right back to basics, i’m not convinced their water based paint is quite cutting it. Not for high traffic areas anyway.


The first time i’d ever worked with Farrow & Ball was actually in 2016. Late to the party as ever.

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (9)

It was used throughout three rooms in a large Victorian refurb I was working on. When I placed the order, admittedly, I had no idea Farrow and Ball had pulled all their oil based paints. And again, nobody advised me to purchase a specialist undercoat for the eggshelleither.

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (10)

The paint was delivered directly to the property and the decorating began before I managed to get back on site. Even the decorator wasn’t aware of Farrow and Ball’s paint change. In fact he only realised half way through when his “oil based paint brush” was dragging in the water based paint. So, if a full-time professional decorator isn’t in the loop with all things “paint”, where does that leave the layperson? Where does that leave us lot standing staring at shelf after shelf of paint wondering which tin to pick up and take home?

Just looking at this image above makes me feel immensely sad as I know what came next. I won’t go into detail, let’s just say, there was a fair amount of remedial work to sort on the landing where the paint hadn’t adhered to the doors.

I keep on learning….

With all of this in mind, I was quick to advise my clients from the Drawing Room project about 100% needing to use the F&B primer before using Stiffkey Blue on their woodwork and radiator. I didn’t want the same situation to occur again.

Farrow and Ball Stiffkey Blue

The result? It still chipped off. They sanded everything back before priming too.

(Video) What's the Difference Between Oil-Based and Water-Based Paint?

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (13)

At this point, I never ever wanted to see or use a water based paint on woodwork again.


Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (14)

Luckily, Little Greene still sell a traditional oil-based eggshell and gloss, which they manufacture using naturally occurring vegetable oils, keeping in line with the VOC regs. Hoorah!

I’ve since used this paint, both the eggshell and gloss finishes in two projects:

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (15)

Sage Green Traditional Oil Gloss

And it’s been wonderful. The gloss finish is beautiful and most importantly, doesn’t chip or peel.

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (16)

Traditional Oil Gloss; Sage Green and Stone Pale Cool

You can read more about the two William Morris bedrooms hereand theUpper Brook Street project, with its Black Jack door in Traditional Oil Eggshell here.


I’ve yet to try Dulux’s water based eggshell, maybe I should have, so I could have added it to this post. I stuck with their solvent based eggshell for our loft spaces, which behaved exactly as I would have expected.

(Video) How To Tell if Paint is Oil-Based or Water-Based

Dulux Trade Eggshell

Although a good friend has recently painted her woodwork in Dulux’s water based eggshell (after priming) and is really happy with the finish. So there is hope yet perhaps? I need to continue investigating….

I don’t want to sound like i’m brand bashing, it’s not about that. I would LOVE to see paint brands solve this issue so we can all move over to water based products. But these brands have also got to let people know this is a “thing”. This is a real problem for those of us who are working in people’s homes, keeping budgets in check and tradespeople sweet. Not to mention wanting to give the client the best service you possibly can.

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (19)

Hmmm, this is all very confusing.How do I tell if a paint is water based or solvent based?

Yes, it is isn’t it. But there is a simple way to work out which base your paint uses. Turn your can around and take a look at how you clean your paint brush. If you can rinse itwith water, it’s water based. If it says to use white spirit/turps, it’s solvent based.Simples.

Painting woodwork is one of life’s more tedious jobs. Not one you want to have to keep on top of. Or even want to do annually. Once it’s done, you expect it to last a few years don’t you? So, i’m just sharing my experiences with you to save you the hassle of re-painting chipping and peeling paint. I’ll probably be struck off a few invitelists for posting this, but my blog has always been about telling it like it is, sharing my projects and experiences and most importantly, it’s here to help you lot out. Someone’s got to write this stuff no?

I’d be really interested to know your experiences on this guys? Did you already know about this? Any paints you swear by? Any you’ve sworn off? Let me know.

** Update 22/04/21 **

Well it seems this post (along with painting UPVC) is still in my top two posts of all time. Since I wrote this post, i’ve become a huge fan of Benjamin Moore paints (all water based) and wrote about using them for the first time here in 2019.

Paint - Oil Based v's Water Based. What's the Difference? (20)

Benjamin Moore #paintlikenoother.

I’ve since used their paints for several projects and have been really happy with it on both walls and woodwork. Read all about it by clicking the link above.

The last three years have been a real eye opener for paints with many overseas brands and new UK brands hitting the market. When I get chance, I will write up another post with everything i’ve learned and add the link here. But for now, my go-to brands are:

Benjamin Moore – all water based

Little Greene and Paint and Paper Libary – offer both water based and eco friendly oil based options

Until next time…

(Video) How To Tell If Its Oil Based Paint or Water Based Paint - WHY YOU MUST KNOW



Is oil-based paint better than water based? ›

Oil based paints dry much harder providing exceptional resistance to wear and tear. Though the paint dries harder, there is not much elasticity within the paint allowing the paint to likely crack. Becoming dry, chalky and brittle. Water based paints now days dry hard and resist damage and wear and tear.

What is water based paint best for? ›

Since water-based paints hold their color longer than alternatives, Joey recommends them for exterior walls that are exposed to the elements and interior walls that experience a lot of moisture, such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and mudrooms.

What is oil-based paint used for? ›

Oil based paints are widely used for high traffic areas in a home such as hallways and play rooms for children. As a result, they are good choices for bathroom, kitchens, bathrooms and also cabinets and furniture. The glossy finish makes surfaces stain resistant and the paint can be wiped down for easy cleaning.

What is the advantage of using oil-based paint? ›

Dries Much Slower and Provides a Smoother, Glossier Finish

Oil-based paints inherently dry slower compared to other types of paints. This gives you more time to manipulate the paint on the painted surface before it dries, therefore producing a smoother and glossier finish.

What are the disadvantages of oil-based paint? ›

The main disadvantage of oil-based paint is the strong odour, which is quite invasive, and the paint does take significantly longer to dry, so care is required with any dusty work, and ensuring that nothing is likely to make contact with the wet surface.

What last longer oil-based or water-based? ›

Oil-based finish has been around a lot longer than the water-based finishes. Oil-based finish is good for older, more traditional looking floors. Floors that are dark brown, golden brown and even red can look good with an oil-based finish.

What are the disadvantages of water based paint? ›

Disadvantages of Water-based Paints

Water-based paints take longer to dry in high humidity and lower temperatures. Solvent-based gloss finishes have a higher sheen, but water-based keeps its sheen better throughout its lifetime. The finish is tougher and easier to clean but can become brittle with age.

Can I paint over water based paint with oil based? ›

You can use oil-based paint on top of water-based paint. You can use a water-based primer on top of an oil-based primer. You can use an oil-based primer on top of a water-based primer. You can use oil-based primer on water-based paint.

Can water based paint be waterproof? ›

Water based paints are water soluble, but become water-resistant when dry. As a binder, different types of material are used like acrylic, vinyl, PVA or alkyd.

Do painters use oil-based paint anymore? ›

Many painters tend to use oil-based enamel paints because they form a nice, hard, glossy, and smooth finish when dry. For this reason, oil-based paints are a perfect choice for doors, windows, and trim.

Why did they stop selling oil-based paint? ›

Oil-based paints are no longer legal in Virginia and five other states. This is because oil paints create a ton of pollution, both in the air and in the ground. They have a lot of toxic fumes that make them dangerous to be around before they dry, especially for the painting contractors who use them.

What surfaces do you use oil paint on? ›

You probably won't be taken aback when told that canvas — a cotton or linen material usually stretched to make it taut — is the most popular support for oil painting. However, there are many other surfaces that can conceivably be used for oil painting, including hardboard, cardboard, paper or even a wall.

When should you not use water based paint? ›

WEATHER CONDITIONS. Water-based paints do not perform as well when applying paint in adverse weather conditions. Humidity and lower temperatures can extend drying times, whereas higher temperatures can cause the paint to dry too quickly.

Do I need to use primer with oil-based paint? ›

Using a paint primer will actually speed up the job, not slow you down. It is recommended you always use a primer before embarking on a painting job. For best results use an oil-based primer if your top coat is oil based paint, or latex based primer if your top coat is latex-based paint.

Does oil-based paint scratch? ›

Oil based paints have a very hard surface that resists all kinds of scratches. This is ideal for painting wooden surfaces and other areas that receive a high amount of traffic, i.e. doors and trim. Oil paint contains enamels that provide a smoother finish than latex based paints.

Is oil-based paint shiny? ›

Oil-based paints have a glossy finish whereas latex paints are available both in a glossy and matt finish. One disadvantage of a glossy finish is that imperfections are easily visible.

Is oil-based paint shinier than water based? ›

Oil-based dries much slower, and as a result it provides a smoother and sometimes glossier finish paint.

Can you put oil based finish over water based? ›

Flooring wholesalers and veteran floor finishers agree that you can recoat water-based poly with oil-based as long as the original coating has completely cured—generally 30 to 60 days. You'll have to lightly buff the old finish with a power buffer to prepare it for the new polyurethane.

How long does oil-based paint keep? ›

When properly sealed in a container, oil-based paint boasts the longest shelf life of any type of paint. A can that's been opened and properly resealed may easily last a decade in storage, while unopened paint can last up to 15 years.

Why does water-based paint crack? ›

POSSIBLE CAUSES: Not allowing sufficient dry time for the coating before closing doors or windows. Use of low quality satin or gloss paints. SOLUTION: Use top quality satin or gloss acrylic water-based paint. Low quality water-based paints can have poor block resistance, especially in warm, damp conditions.

How long does water-based paint last? ›

How long does water-based paint last once opened? Once opened water-based acrylic or latex paint can stay good for up to 10 years when properly stored in a cool, dry room in your home. The same applies to water-based primers that are stored and sealed properly.

Does water-based paint cause rust? ›

Since water borne coatings are applied in a thin film, this allows oxygen to readily permeate through the coating. Henceforth, flash rusting is a common problem.

What happens when you paint water-based over oil based? ›

Using water-based or acrylic paint when painting over oil-based paint is likely to cause peeling or chipping because those formulas don't bond well with the naturally glossy surface of oil-based paint.

What happens if you mix oil and water-based paints? ›

Unlike watercolors, acrylics and other water-based paints, which can be thinned with water, traditional oil paint must be thinned with solvents. The oil molecules in the paint can only be broken down by solvent chemicals; mixing traditional oils with water does not work because water and oil do not mix.

Can I use the same brush for oil and water-based paint? ›

Yes, but you must make sure you clean them extremely well. It's best if you just buy two sets of brushes-one for latex and one for oil-based paints.

Do water based paints need primer? ›

Before using water based paint on timber, check if you need to apply a suitable wood primer first. Some products require them to improve the adhesion between the surface and top coat of paint, other products can be applied directly.

Is water based paint permanent? ›

Once it's dry, the paint is permanent, durable and weatherproof and will not move or be washed off.

What paint is most waterproof? ›

Majic Waterproof Satin Paint
  • 1 INSL-X Waterproof Acrylic Pool Paint – Best Overall.
  • 2 KILZ Waterproof Fence and Barn Paint – Great Value.
  • 3 Duralux Marine Waterproof Paint – Easiest to Use.
  • 4 Rust-Oleum Topside Waterproof Paint – Quick Drying.
  • 5 Majic Waterproof Satin Paint.
20 Aug 2022

Does oil-based paint change color as it dries? ›

Paints typically dry darker, particularly oil, acrylic, and latex paints. However, that doesn't mean it will look different than what's on the paint swatch. If you mix the paint properly, it should look the same as the color you picked out once it dries.

How do you tell if a paint is an oil based paint? ›

Before painting, dip a cotton ball/pad or a cotton swab into a small amount of denatured alcohol. Rub the damp cotton ball/pad or cotton swab over a small area on the surface. If the paint does not rub off, it is oil-based paint and you will need to prime the surface.

How can you tell if it's oil-based paint? ›

It is called the Acetone test. If you have a can of acetone simply soak a rag or cotton ball and rub an area where you think oil paint might be present. If the paint softens or comes off on the rag it's latex if it stays hard and nothing happens it's oil based paint.

What has replaced oil-based paint? ›

Today, however, water-based paint has developed in quality and performance to the point of replacing oil-based paints as the industry standard—and it's gentler on the environment.

Did Van Gogh paint in oil or acrylic? ›

Van Gogh worked with oil paint. He used both paint with (natural) pigments, made the same way for centuries, as well as paint with new synthetic colourings.

Does oil paint need to be sealed? ›

It's necessary to varnish an oil painting in order to protect the paint film. Since resin is the essential ingredient of a varnish, it's more convenient to purchase a varnish than to make your own. There are traditional varnishes made with traditional resins, the most common of which is damar.

Is oil paint waterproof? ›

Oil paint is water-resistant, while acrylic paint is waterproof when dry.

How do I get a smooth finish with oil paint? ›

Applying oil paint glazes is one of the best ways of achieving an ultra smooth finish. Simply apply the first layer of oil paint onto a smooth painting surface such as primed MDF or panel. Treat the paint as through it were going to be the last, even though it will never be perfect.

Can you paint straight over water-based paint? ›

If you want to paint on top of water-based paint, you need to make sure that the surface is clean and free of any debris first. You can use a damp cloth to clean the surface or choose a cleanser specifically designed for wall or woodwork preparation.

How long should water-based paint dry between coats? ›

A good rule of thumb is to wait at least three hours to recoat your paint or primer if it's water-based. Waiting 24 hours is best for oil-based paint and primer. If you're unsure, the instructions on the paint's label can give you the best final say.

What are the pros and cons of using oil paint? ›

The Advantages & Disadvantages of Oil Paint
  • Advantage: Time. ...
  • Advantage: Color Depth and Range. ...
  • Advantage: Varied Applications. ...
  • Advantage: Consistency. ...
  • Disadvantage: Drying Time. ...
  • Disadvantage: Lack of Clarity. ...
  • Disadvantage: Blending Capabilities. ...
  • Disadvantage: Aging Process.

Can you use a roller with oil-based paint? ›

Yes, just as you would with a paint brush. Natural fiber roller covers made with mohair or a blend of polyester and lamb's wool are usually recommended for oil-based paints, varnishes and stains. Synthetic fiber roller covers, on the other hand, are most often recommended for applying latex paints.

Can you paint over oil-based paint without sanding? ›

Bonding primers are best because they are formulated to adhere to glossy surfaces, such as oil-based painted finishes. If you use a very high-quality bonding primer, you might be able to paint over oil-based paint without sanding, but always read the primer's instructions.

Why is oil-based paint peeling? ›

Using Several Different Coats on the Same Surface

Applying different paint types together on the same surface can result in paint peeling. Oil-based paints do not adhere to latex-based paints and vice versa. To avoid peeling paint, make sure to always use the same paint type.

Is it better to brush or roll oil-based paint? ›

The porous surface of the roller holds much more paint than a brush and distributes an even layer of paint much faster. Different finishes can be achieved with different rollers: Rollers with a smooth surface will produce a smooth finish.

Why did they stop making oil-based paint? ›

This is because oil paints create a ton of pollution, both in the air and in the ground. They have a lot of toxic fumes that make them dangerous to be around before they dry, especially for the painting contractors who use them.

Does oil-based paint last longer? ›

Oil-based paint is more durable and stain resistant than latex paints. Once, cured latex paints last longer without cracking or peeling whereas oil-based paints may turn yellow or oxidize with age.

Why does water based paint crack? ›

POSSIBLE CAUSES: Not allowing sufficient dry time for the coating before closing doors or windows. Use of low quality satin or gloss paints. SOLUTION: Use top quality satin or gloss acrylic water-based paint. Low quality water-based paints can have poor block resistance, especially in warm, damp conditions.

Why does water based paint peel? ›

Because oil and water don't mix, when you apply any water-based paint over oil-based surfaces, you're always going to get this cracked and peeling paint. Sometimes it'll show up as a rubbery texture that you can pull off in strips, other times it'll crack and flake.

Can you still buy oil based paints? ›

Oil based gloss paints are available in a range of finishes and colours, from top trade brands ensuring a quality job.

How long does oil-based paint last? ›

When properly sealed in a container, oil-based paint boasts the longest shelf life of any type of paint. A can that's been opened and properly resealed may easily last a decade in storage, while unopened paint can last up to 15 years.

Can you paint over oil-based paint with water based? ›

Always prime when using water-based over oil-based paint.

Apply one to two coats of an oil-or water-based bonding primer and dry according to product directions. You'll know the surface is adequately primed when the former paint color, stains, and other surface imperfections are no longer visible.

Does oil-based paint peel? ›

Eventually, every house painted with oil will peel, says Minchew of Benjamin Moore, "because that's what oil paints do.


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