Pros and Cons of Water-Based Paint

Updated May 9, 2024 | Posted Jun 23, 2021 | Professional insight, Product Advice | 7 comments

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, 60% 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 of Water-Based Paints


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 of water-based Paints


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. Again, some of the better water-based paints do not have an issue with durability. I have listed these further down on the blog.


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 alkyd oil used in these products yellowing over time and changing the 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.

Water-based paints do now yellow at all, so this is a massive pro. It’s also the reason most people make the switch.


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 paint 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 online or from loads of different decorating merchants. Click here here to see online prices.


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 online by clicking here.


Teknos Futura Aqua 90

This is probably the best water-based gloss on the market. It is a hybrid, as most quick-dry gloss products are, but it’s a paint you’ll love. Make sure you use the Futura primer as an undercoat and achieve a solid base before applying the gloss. This paint is tough, durable and looks fantastic. Available online, or click here for a full review.


Best Tools to Apply Water-Based Paint


Water-based paint can be tricky to apply unless you have the right brush and roller for the job, so I thought I’d give my recommendations as part of the blog.

You should opt for a brush that will hold its shape, hold loads of paint, but is soft enough to lay it off and leave a nice finish. My favourite is the Purdy Monarch Elite XL, which you can buy online by clicking here.

As for the roller, the Two Fussy Blokes is widely regarded as the best for water-based paint. Buy the 5mm nap mini-roller. Available online here.

Final Thoughts


OK, I’ve given you the pros and cons of water-based paint. I guess the ultimate test is, what do I use? It has been a long time since I’ve used an oil-based paint inside. I don’t see the point anymore. By using one of the better water-based alternatives, you’ll achieve a great finish in shorter time. Water-based is easier to use, easier to clean-up, better for the environment and will not yellow over time.

Updated May 9, 2024 | Posted Jun 23, 2021 | 7 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.


  1. Richard

    Johnstones Aqua while its a great finish even used with the Aqua undercoat seems to have lots small runs when brush applied they just appear..

    Proper PITA!

    Its a pity main 3 paint companies cant come close to the WRX which gets rave reviews.
    All the main big brands have various negatives on all their water based trim products sadly… More research is needed if the smaller paint companies can do it why cant big 3??

  2. Miguel

    Thank you for the review Mike.
    Currently I’m using BRADITE One Can for exterior woodwork.

    I’m curious why you don’t mention it, did you ever try it?
    I wold much appreciate your comments if you ever used it.


  3. Ian Clark

    I have totally switched to water based “trim” paints and my number one is B Moore scuff-x I use it all the time 99% of clients want a satin finish and this is flawless hard wearing and gives an outstanding finish plus it’s dry in an hour what more could you want the cost is irrelevant as it’s the client paying for it not me quality costs it’s as simple as that

    • Gareth Thompson

      I agree with Ian Clark 100%, I use Scuff x 100% of the time on “trim” and on kitchens, it fantastic stuff and also as Ian says, if can can persuade the customer that its the best, cost is irrelevant.

  4. Griffith Nathan John Nordhoff

    I think water based products do not live up to oil based products when it comes to laying off, when the product is used by hand. for the hand finished look which to me is far more superior than a sprayed on. Water based products can’t handle being worked like oil based products it has a very short work time but that being said the opacity is very good that’s about it though.

  5. Rich

    Have used crown fast flow on few jobs and works like oil due to having a small amount into,The biggest problem I think about it putting water based products on previously painted oil trim regardless of prep etc …

  6. Sean

    Are Rustin’s water based paints a good buy?


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