Can You Paint Wood With Emulsion Paint

Updated May 15, 2024 | Posted Sep 18, 2023 | Professional insight, Product Advice | 0 comments

Strictly speaking, emulsion is designed for use on interior walls and ceilings, whereas satinwood, gloss and eggshell is used on woodwork and other trim. However, it is becoming increasingly popular to have woodwork the same colour as your walls, and using a different paint product doesn’t blend quite the same. This can be very evident on media walls, or walls with panelling.

So, can you paint wood with emulsion? It would certainly solve the issue, and it makes more sense than using woodwork paint on your walls and ceilings. The answer in short, is yes you can, but you do need to consider a few things.


The Durability of Emulsion on Wood


The main reason to avoid painting your woodwork with emulsion is durability, and I think that is what you need to be most mindful of. You need your paint to adhere to the existing paint, or bare timber, and you need it to stand up to scuffs and knocks. You should never use emulsion to paint exterior wood, as it just won’t last.



Let’s tackle adhesion first! Paint specifically developed for wood is either “self-undercoating”, so can handle adhesion itself, or it comes with a specified primer. Emulsion is a little different because you’re asking it to adhere to a surface it isn’t designed to stick to.


If your woodwork is bare, you can use an acrylic primer as normal, then you’re free to apply your emulsion.

If your wood is previously painted, then you must use an adhesion primer first. My product of choice is the new Zinsser BIN Aqua. This is a fully water-based paint with great opacity, adhesion, and will block stains. You can use it over almost any problem surface without sanding, and it makes the perfect base for your emulsion to stick, preventing it from chipping over time.

Overall Durability

There are some emulsion products that are durable enough to use on woodwork without the need for a protective coating (‘ll get into those in the next section). However, most emulsion paints do need something to help it withstand scuffs. This is especially true on wooden doors and windows.

Polyvine have developed a product called Decorators Varnish, which is designed for exactly this type of task. You should apply one coat of Polyvine Decorators Varnish in satin, followed by 2 coats of Decorators Varnish in “Dead Flat”.

It doesn’t affect the overall finish much, but if you are worried about the finish being uniform from wall to woodwork, then you can use Decorators Varnish on your walls too.

Protecting Furniture with Polyvine Decorators Varnish

A quick demo to show how Polyvine Decorators Varnish protects a surface painted with emulsion.

Which Type of Emulsion Should you Use When Painting Wood?


If you were to use a normal vinyl or contract matt to paint wood, then it just wouldn’t last, regardless of your prep (although Polyvine Decorators Varnish would give it a fighting chance). Instead, you need to use a durable emulsion. There are two main types of emulsion worth considering.



There are plenty of brands of acrylic eggshell emulsion that are perfect for both walls and woodwork. This is a paint durable enough to use on wood without the need for a protective coat of Decorators Varnish, however you will still need an adhesion primer.

Eggshell is a great emulsion for walls in bathrooms and kitchens too, but it has a higher sheen-level than matt, making it less desirable in modern homes.

Providing you use a good quality trade paint, then it doesn’t matter too much which acrylic eggshell emulsion you go for. That said, Armstead Trade is one of my favourites. If ordering online, you can get Armstead Trade Eggshell matched into any colour from any brand. It is easy to use, doesn’t look cheap and plasticky like some do, and has good opacity in colours (white sometimes needs an extra coat).

Durable Matt

A lot more people are using durable matt emulsion on interior wood now. It’s a much more desirable finish for walls, making it the obvious choice when you want to bring the walls in with your woodwork.

You will need an adhesion primer, and ideally you should coat your wood with Decorators Varnish after you’ve applied durable matt. That said, if your woodwork is a on media wall, or another low-traffic area, you should be fine.

As with the eggshell, most good quality trade durable matt emulsion paints are fine to use on woodwork, but my favourite for this type of job is Crown Clean Extreme Durable Matt.  This is down to a few factors, including overall performance and ease of use, but mostly durability.

Clean Extreme is described as “scrubbable”, which gives you an indication of how durable it is. You will still need a protective coat of varnish if you intend to use it on doors or windows, but you should be fine without it if you’re using it on skirting boards.

Can you use Emulsion to Paint a Radiator


Radiators are a little bit different. The paint on them only needs to be as durable as the paint on the wall really. So, in theory, you can use any paint on them. However, you should consider the insulating quality of your paint.

If you ask a Heating Engineer, they will tell you that painting a radiator with anything other than radiator enamel will alter the efficiency of it. It will cost more money to heat your home, because the radiators will not work as well as they once did. As a Decorator, I’d argue that the affect is minimal, and I can report that most other Decorators are happy to paint radiators, and emulsion is fine.

You will need to abrade the radiator to create a key, and then apply an adhesion primer. But, after that, you’re good to go with your emulsion. I actually quite like painting a radiator with emulsion, because it blends it in with the wall. Let’s face it, most radiators are ugly and can be a real eyesore, so anything you can do to blend them is a real bonus.


Final Thoughts


I hope this blog has given you everything you need to know about painting wood with emulsion. It’s more common than you think now, simply because wood panelling and media walls are popular features.

I think they key points are to use an adhesion primer where needed, use a good quality durable emulsion like the products I have mentioned here (although others are available), and apply a coat of Polyvine Decorators Varnish if you need extra durability.


Work Carried out by Other Decorators

Tim Lowe

We used Johnstone’s Acrylic Durable Matt emulsion to paint this media wall. We primed using an acrylic undercoat, then carried out the prep as normal.

A lot of people don’t know you can paint wood with emulsion, but durable matt is the best option on something like this. Simply because the plaster chimney breast can be painted in exactly the same paint as the MDF units, meaning it all blends perfectly.

Preston Heath

We used Crown Clean Extreme Scrubbable Matt emulsion in Sage Green to paint the panelling in this room. We found it brilliant!

We don’t see any point in using a different paint on the plaster between the panelling as we did the wood. A good quality durable emulsion is all you need. It looks better, will stand up to knocks, and will last for years.

Funnily enough, the top section of the walls was Clean Extreme too, this time mated into Wicks Frosted White. We had the colour matched online.

Johno White

We painted all the woodwork the same colour as the walls in this lounge. The product used is Johnstone’s Cleanable Matt, which is the most durable emulsion that Johnstone’s Trade manufacture.

Johnstone’s Cleanable is easily durable enough, and the finish is flawless. No defects like flashing, and everything blends nicely together. If we had used a satinwood or eggshell on the woodwork in the same colour as the walls, then it would have just looked odd.

Josh Crewe

We used Johnstone’s acrylic durable matt on the walls, Teknos Teknoceiling 02 on the ceiling, and Johnstone’s acrylic eggshell on the woodwork 👍

Acrylic eggshell is mostly used as an emulsion and it’s a great paint for bathrooms. I used it here simply because it’s easy to use, quick drying, and always looks good. It’s easily durable enough to be used as a paint for woodwork.

Johnstone's Trade Eggshell on wood

Updated May 15, 2024 | Posted Sep 18, 2023 | 0 comments

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Cupit has been in the decorating industry since 2002 and has mostly worked as a Trade Decorator in the domestic sector (peoples’ homes). Self-proclaimed “product geek”, Mike has a passion for paint and decorating tools. Mike now spends most of his time testing paint products and tools, comparing them to similar products on the market, and blogging about the industry in general.
How to Paint Coving – A Complete Guide

How to Paint Coving – A Complete Guide

In this blog, I’m going to explain everything you need to know about how to paint coving, including a few product recommendations. Coving is one of those decorative features which never really goes out of fashion.  I’ve completely lost count of how many rooms with...


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *