Using Water-Based Gloss – questions answered

Updated May 9, 2024 | Posted May 6, 2021 | Professional insight, Product Advice | 4 comments

As a professional decorator of almost two decades, I’ve seen paint technology change massively. Heavy restrictions on the chemicals used in oil-based paints mean discolouration, or yellowing happens, particularly in low light areas.

Meanwhile, as the quality of oil-based has decreased, water-based technology has improved, and a lot of decorators opt for the change. The common consensus amongst both decorators and the representatives from paint manufacturers, is that oil-based paint will eventually be completely phased out for interior us.

I thought I’d use this blog to share some of the questions I often get asked about water-based gloss and provide detailed answers. I hope you find it useful.


Does water-based gloss paint go yellow?


Fully water-based gloss will never go yellow. However, a lot of gloss products which are marketed as “water-based”, are in fact, hybrids. A hybrid is basically a compromise between oil and water bases. They are primarily water-based, but do contain a little bit of oil, which is used as a “carrier”. This oil helps the ease of use, the sheen level and the durability. The downside of a hybrid is that it will still eventually discolour over time.

Johnstone’s Aqua, Dulux QD and Crown Fastflow are all examples of hybrid paints. These are not necessarily products to avoid, however you do need to be aware of the issue before deciding on which gloss product to use.

If you’re in any doubt about whether a “water-based” gloss is in fact a hybrid, check the technical data sheet. You’ll normally find this on the manufacturer’s website. If the data sheet has the word “alkyd” anywhere, you know it isn’t a true water-based.



Is water-based gloss as good as oil based?


As a general rule, water-based gloss does not have the sheen level or overall finish of oil-based. It also isn’t as durable either. However, the redeeming qualities such as “non-yellowing”, easier to apply, better for the environment, low odour and easier to get off your skin can make up for what it lacks in other areas.

I tend to find a lot of water-based satinwood products are a lot better than their gloss counterparts. The sheen level is around half that of gloss, but satin just seems to sit nicer. The high sheen level of gloss seems to highlight the flaws in the finish, whereas they’re hidden in satinwood.


How long does water-based gloss take to dry?


This differs somewhat between manufacturers, but there are three timeframes you need to be aware of. The first is “touch dry”, which, you guessed it, is when the painted finish is dry to the touch.

The second is “recoat time”. This is the period you should wait before applying additional coats. If you do not adhere to these times, you can experience problems further down the line, such as paint peeling away, cracking, dragging, or an extended cure time.

Lastly there is the “cure time”. Just because a water-based gloss feels dry, do not assume it has the tough, durable finish you’re led to believe it should have. Water-based products tend to take a week or more to fully cure and harden. So, always wait a few days before replacing carpets anywhere you have used water-based.

You can speed up the drying process by circulating the air. The water in the paint needs to evaporate in order for the paint to set. Opening a window will help the moisture from the air escape a room and a fan heater will both warm a room and circulate the air.

 What is the best water-based gloss?


I’ll name a few products I believe are the best fully water-based gloss systems. These are based on my own opinion and experience. I’m always on the lookout for new products to try, so this list may change over time. A lot of decorators swear by Benjamin Moore, hoever I haven’t tried it so that’s one product I can’t comment on.

Tikkurila Helmi 80 is well worth a mention. You’ll find it very loose, easy to apply via brush and roller, but quite difficult to cut in with it. Make sure you use the correct primer for the job. This would be Helmi Primer for bare or pre-primed timber, or Otex if you’re going over something that has been previously painted. The only issue with Helmi is it can scuff easily once fully cured.

Caparol PU Gloss is another awesome product. The Haft Primer is superb!! PU gloss lacks opacity, but the finish is fantastic. Brush marks just seem to melt away and you’re left with something that is comparable to oil-based.

The best water-based satin I have tried is a new product called WRX. Unlike most other products of this type, there is no need for an adhesion primer over previously painted surfaces. You just carry out normal prep, then apply two coats of the WRX satin. It has a real “pure brilliant white” look which stands out and looks gorgeous. Brush marks aren’t an issue, it’s very easy to use, opacity is bang on and the overall finish is amazing!! Personally, if I was going water-based in my own home, I’d opt for this. In fact I did!!

One of the best hybrid gloss productas is Johnstone’s Aqua. It can be slightly tricky to get the hang of using it, but it cuts in nicely and it has a lovely sheen to it. Not just that, but it’s fairly durable, meaning it’s ideal for high traffic areas such as hallways. This is a product I love and use often. Available online here.

Teknos  – Another product I’d like to mention is Teknos Futura Aqua 90. This a very durable hybrid gloss with a higher sheen than anything else I’ve used.

The opacity of the Future 90 is poor, however the opacity of its primer makes up for that perfectly. This is my favourite gloss product right now. Click here to see online prices.


 How to get a good finish using water based gloss?


I can give you a few pointers, but the most important thing to remember is to follow the system. Water-based gloss technology is still developing and there are issues each product needs to solve. One of those issues is the adhesion between the new and old paint. So, you would normally need a separate adhesion primer, or a certain undercoat which is specified by the manufacturer.

Another thing you may consider is doing your woodwork before your walls…. (this will rub a lot of decorators up the wrong way). The fact is, it is difficult to cut in with a lot of water-based gloss products. However, it is easy to mask skirting up, then paint a wall. This can help you achieve sharper lines.

Another tip is to wipe down your surfaces with a damp sponge just before you paint them. This will help the paint flow from your brush and you’ll find it a lot easier to apply. You’ll get less brush marks doing it this way because your paint will not drag as much.

Oh, one more. Keep your brush wet too!! Have a bucket of water handy and submerge your bristles any time you have a break from painting. If you’re working for more than a couple of hours at a time, swill your brush out every now and again. This stops the paint drying near the ferrule and splaying your bristles.


Best Tools to Apply Water-Based Gloss


Water-based gloss can be tricky to apply unless you’re using the correct tools for the job. You need a brush that will hold its shape, but is soft enough to ‘lay off’ your gloss and achieve a nice finish. You also need a mini-roller roller to apply water-based gloss to any large flat areas.

The best paint roller for water-based gloss is probably the Two Fussy Blokes 5mm nap. By using a roller like this you’ll achieve close to a ‘spray like finish’. They hold loads of paint, they’re easy to use, and the finish is awesome. Available online here.

As for the paintbrush, I like the Purdy monarch elite. It holds loads of paint, you can strike a sharp line, and it stands up well. Available online by clicking here.



Is Water-Based Gloss Better for the Environment?


The simple answer is, yes, for a few reasons. Production being the main one. Oil-based gloss is kept at a higher temperature as it is being made, meaning it takes a lot more energy to produce, thus more carbon. Then, you need to clean all the tools used to make oil-based gloss after each batch. For this, they use large amounts of white spirit.

The chemicals used in oil-based gloss are another factor. Also, the clean-up; you may dispose of white spirit and turps responsibly, but others do not. Some of the white spirit used in cleaning brushes will end up in our waterways.

Using Water-Based Gloss – by Mike Gregory

Updated May 9, 2024 | Posted May 6, 2021 | 4 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

    A touch of paint conditioner in water based trim works absolute wonders. Makes paint cover far better and flows out. Reduces brush marks.
    Well worth it especially on flat doors as slightly extends wet edge

  2. Anthony Royer

    Thanks it was a an interesting read specially about wiping a damp sponge I’ll try that next time I’m using the gloss

  3. Woter


    Thanks for taking the time to post.

    My experience of water-based gloss paint is that it never fully hardens. Even after years, it’s still soft and has an almost tacky feel. One can easily dig a fingernail in it, whereas oil-based paints cure rock hard.

    I’ve read several posts alluding to how water-based gloss has come on leaps and bounds. Could you confirm if the manufacturers have overcome the hardening issue. Or if it’s not considered an issue, do water-based paint now go as hard as oil-based?

    Thank you.

  4. An idiot

    I have just had an interesting disaster! I undercoated a previously satin sheen MDF kitchen sill with a good water-basd primer and then used a high gloss oil-based paint to seal the MDF as after ten years it wax showing some blistering due to water absorbtion. Leaving the gloss 24hours, it was still a bit tacky but I decided to go ahead anyway and apply a finish coat of water-based satin sheen top coat of the final colour. DISASTER. Within minutes, the top coat, though drying quickly, failed to grip the high gloss coat below resulting in the satin wood shrinking and tearing itself apart. I suspect that the oil-basd gloss was still giving off its volatiles and so simply preventing the water-based top coat from adhering.
    Several hours later, in desperation, I used a paint scraper and removed what I could from the sill with a view to starting again. Interestingly, all the paint layers came away readily and I was left with a pretty much virgin MDF sill. After a quick clean with white spirit and leaving it overnight to dry, I started again. Two coats of primer and two coats of water-based satin sheen later, I had a nice looking sill.
    I have been diy decorating for 40 years and this is my worst mistake. I hope you can learn from it. I should have let the gloss cure completely for several days and then sanded it I believe – more haste less speed!


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