The Pros and Cons of Water-Based Paint

By Mike Cupit


Oil-based gloss, satinwood and eggshell were once the standard paint choice for all interior and exterior woodwork and other trim. However, things are changing dramatically and there is a real shift towards water-based alternatives. This is happening for two main reasons; governments are restricting the amount of chemicals, known as VOCs, a manufacturer is allowed to use in oil-based paint, thus meaning the paint will not perform as well as it once did. The other major factor is the advance in water-based technology. So, as oil-based diminishes in quality, water-based is getting better.


That said, 80% of paint used on interior woodwork in the UK is still oil-based. A lot of that is down to consumers opting for products they’ve used in the past, rather than taking the gamble on something new. So, what are the pros and cons of water-based paint? I thought I’d give you my insight and honest opinions as a decorator.



The Overall Finish


In my honest opinion, the finish of most water-based paints is lacking compared to their oil-based counterparts. It can appear stringy and have a plastic look, with clear brush and roller marks visible. There are some water-based paints which leave you with a flawless finish, but I’ll get to those later on in the blog.





Durability is another con when it comes to water-based paint. Scuff marks and chips can manifest on your painted surfaces over time, whereas oil-based paints seem to harden and remain easy to wipe down.


Yellowing of Oil-Based Paint


Remember I said there are now restrictions in the number of VOCs a manufacturer can add to a tin of paint? Well, those VOCs are there to prevent the discolouring of oil-based paint over time. This is due to the linseed oil used in these products, bleeding through the hardened paint finish. Now VOCs are so tightly restricted, the yellowing of oil-based paint is a real issue, particularly in rooms with little natural light.


Some oil-based brands and products are worse than others. I’ve had real issues with Johnstone’s Trade products yellowing in the past. Oil-based gloss is awfully bad for yellowing due to the amount of oil contained in the paint.


However, true water-based paint does not contain any oil, so yellowing is never an issue.



Ease of Use


This is something else water-based paint has going for it!! You’ll find water-based is a lot easier to apply than oil. You can use a bigger brush and just lash it on. That said, it can be slightly harder to cut in with it. Most decorators will switch the order they paint a room. Instead of ceiling, walls, woodwork, we opt to complete the woodwork, tape it up, then paint the walls. Thus eliminating the headache of cutting a sharp line around the edges of woodwork such as skirting boards.


Clean up is a lot easier too!! Warm, soapy water is all you need to get your tools clean. Even getting the paint off your skin is no major hardship.



The Environment


Like it or not, oil-based paints are bad for the environment! The waste material and white spirit from the manufacturing process is substantial. Then you have the use of spirits to clean your tools at the end of each decorating job. If you’re environmentally conscious, then water-based paint is the sensible option.


Hybrid Paints – the Compromise Between Water and Oil


We’ve done the pros and cons of water-based paint and as you can tell, there are drawbacks, as well as advantages. However, you could always go for a hybrid paint. These products are primarily water-based; however, they do contain a small amount of oil, which is used as a carrier.


Hybrid paints are the ultimate compromise. In general terms, you’ll find them tougher than water, but not quite as tough as oil. A better finish than water, but not as good as oil. Easier to use than oil, but not as easy as water…. Well, you get the idea!! The list goes on.


Good hybrid paint options include Crown Trade Fastflow and Johnstone’s Aqua



Which are the Best Water-Based Paints?


If you choose one of the products I’m about to mention, I can guarantee you that the pros of using water-based will very much outweigh the cons. High-end water-based paint is far superior to anything oil-based in my humble opinion. Durability and finish will be fantastic.


Benjamin Moore Scuff X –

This is an awfully expensive product which is shipped in from the US. You’ll find it very easy to use, lays off nicely, the finish is awesome, and it’ll go for miles.

Click here for a full Scuff X review. You can buy this product online at The Decorating Centre.


WRX Satin –

This is a cheaper option and one of my absolute favourites!! It is slightly harder to hide brush marks when using WRX satinwood, however you’re left with a proper pure brilliant white finish which is to die for!! This is the paint I use in my own home, as well as a lot of my professional decorating jobs. It’s also very durable which helps massively.

Full WRX Satin review here, or you can purchase this paint direct by visiting their website.


Johnstone’s Aqua Guard –

The old formula, Johnstone’s Aqua was a hybrid. However, the newer Aqua Guard is fully water-based and is a fantastic satinwood product. You need to use the Aqua undercoat to help aid adhesion and opacity. When you come to use the Aqua Guard, you will find it flows easily, leaves a great finish and remains durable.

Full Aqua Guard review here, or you can buy this product from the Paint Shed.

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