Water-Based Gloss – A Full Guide

Updated May 15, 2024 | Posted Sep 7, 2023 | Professional insight, Product Advice | 1 comment

As a Professional Decorator, I’ve been using water-based gloss on and off for the past 15 years or so.  I thought it was time I sat down and wrote a complete guide on the topic. I’ll take you through everything you need to know from the best water-based gloss paints available, the different types, tips on applying it, and the best tools to use. I hope you find it useful.


Why Have People Started Using Water-Based Gloss?


Gloss was once the most popular finish in peoples’ homes, and it’s still relatively popular now. It stands loud and proud, like your room’s décor is wearing a sharp suit. However, when I started my trade some twenty odd years ago, it was all about oil-based products.

That was up until 2010, when the EU brought in legislation that restricted the amount of chemicals called VOCs a manufacturer was allowed to use in the production of paint. This affected most types of trim paint, but especially gloss.

The oil in oil-based gloss is an alkyd, and one of the properties of an alkyd is it turns yellow over time.

VOC’s slowed down this process, meaning before 2010, your oil-based gloss wouldn’t lose it’s colour for a number of years. However, now the problem of discolouring, or “yellowing” is a major issue, especially in rooms starved of natural light.

Water Based or Oil Based Paint – Gloss and Satin

This led to a sort of genius. Suddenly, homeowners were turning away from oil-based products and wanted an alternative. Which in turn, led manufacturers to develop better water-based satinwood and gloss paints.


The Advantages of Using Water-Based Gloss


We’ve established that oil-based gloss is no longer as good as it once was, but there are other advantages of using water-based. Firstly, it is better for the environment, especially at the manufacturing stage. The vats used to mix the paint do not need to be heated like they do in the production of oil-based products, which reduces the amount of carbon produced. Plus, less harmful chemicals are needed for clean up.

There are also advantages for the user. You will find water-based gloss a lot quicker and easier to apply. Clean up is a lot quicker and easier too, especially when it comes to getting paint off your skin.

The other advantage is the longevity of your finish. The good water-based gloss products are very durable, and they keep their colour for many years.


Fully Water-Based Vs Hybrid Gloss


It is the oil in oil-based gloss that gave the paint its high-sheen and it’s difficult to replicate that in a water-based paint. The solution is something called alkyd emulsion, or hybrid gloss.

Although primarily water-based, hybrid gloss still contains a little bit of the alkyd oil. This gives the gloss its sheen and durability. Plus, it helps with the overall finish. You can buy fully water-based gloss, but broadly speaking, these do not achieve the sheen level one would expect from a gloss. Plus, a lot of them look cheap and plasticky.

It’s important to know that hybrid gloss products will still yellow eventually, but they keep their colour for years longer than the oil-based alternatives, and hybrids are generally a lot better than water-based.


The Best Water-Based Gloss Paints


There are a lot of poor-quality water-based gloss products out there. Even some of the trade and designer brands can be difficult to achieve good results with. There three products I think it’s worth considering if you’re trying to find the best water-based gloss on the market. I’ll go through each of them now.


Johnstone’s Aqua

This is by far the most popular water-based gloss amongst Professional Decorators.

This is partly down to the overall finish and performance, and partly because it is so readily available. Johnstone’s Aqua is a hybrid which is available online or from any Johnstone’s Decorating Centre.

The sheen level of this gloss is fantastic. You should apply one coat of Johnstone’s Aqua Undercoat, followed by two coats of gloss. You can buy it in any colour, and it comes at a very reasonable price when purchased online.

The only real downside is Johnstone’s Aqua can “wreck your brush” on a hot day, unless you take steps to keep your brushes wet (I’ll get into that further down the blog). Other than that, I think it’s brilliant. A good solid trade product!

Teknos Futura Aqua 90

Teknos Futura 90 is probably the easiest trade gloss to use. Again, the process is one undercoat and two coats of gloss. This is also a hybrid, and it’s available in white, or any RAL or BS colours.

Apply everything with a mini-roller, and then simply lay it off with a soft brush. This is probably the best gloss in terms of sheen level.

Benjamin Moore Advance

The two products I have just talked about are standard trade paints. Benjamin Moore Advance is a premium high gloss. So, if price isn’t an issue, then this is the option you should go for. Apply one coat of Benjamin Moore Stix Primer, followed by one coat of gloss. Overall performance, durability, ease of use and overall finish are unrivalled!

Benjamin Moore do not make a “Brilliant White”, but don’t worry. They do make various “shades of white”, that are basically just white in my book. I’d suggest going for “Super White”.

Painting Water-Based Gloss over Oil-Based Gloss


Water and oil don’t mix. Plus, oil-based gloss continues to get harder and harder as time passes. This means painting over oil-based gloss with a water-based paint can be tricky. Life is made a lot easier if you use one of the products I have just mentioned and you go with the recommended undercoat.

You will still need to sand the oil-based gloss down to create a key (thousands of tiny scratches for your water-based paint to cling onto).

If you’re not using one of my recommended products, then make sure you use an adhesion primer. Something like Zinsser BIN Aqua will handle the adhesion and opacity, which makes the perfect base for you to apply a water-based gloss paint.


Tips for Applying Water-Based Gloss


Water-based gloss paint can take a little bit of getting used to, but providing you follow a few simple steps, you shouldn’t have an issue.


Keep it Wet

If you are applying water-based gloss on a hot day, then you will probably notice your finish is quite stringy and your tools clog up. If you experience either of these issues, then don’t panic, the paint is just drying too quickly.

Wiping over a surface with a damp cloth before you paint it will help with the application and stringy brush marks. It gives your paint chance to settle. You could also us a paint conditioner (more info the next tip).

There is also a quick fix to stop your tools from clogging when working with water-based gloss. I keep a tub of water close by and simply swill my brush out every hour or so. Easy really.

Use a Paint Conditioner

There are paint conditioners available that help you achieve a good finish when applying water-based gloss. They work by slowing down the drying time of the paint, thus giving you a longer working time, and allowing brush or roller marks to settle.

Paint conditioners are fantastic. The conditioner I know and love is called FlowTrol. Never add too much. Remember your gloss has already been developed to be applied straight from the tin, and messing around with it too much will not have a positive effect. But a splash of conditioner in a kettle of paint really does work wonders.

conditioner for water-based paints

Use a Mini-Roller

Using a mini roller to apply water-based gloss will help you achieve a good finish. You will be able to apply the paint more evenly and you will avoid brush marks. What I normally do is cut-in around the edges with a brush, roll the larger areas, then “lay off” by passing my paintbrush over the surface of the gloss very lightly. Do this, use a good quality paint and good tools, and you will achieve an amazing finish.


Best Tool For Applying Water-Based Gloss


If you only take two things away from this guide, make it to use use good quality gloss, and use appropriate tools. Having the correct tools for the job will make all the difference. I’m happy to give my recommendations.


Paint Roller

The best roller for water-based gloss is probably Two Fussy Blokes. It will apply generous amounts of paint, whilst cutting back on orange peel. This roller doesn’t shed a lot, but it’s always good to de-lint a new roller with strong masking tape before you start.

Paint Brush

I like using the Purdy Monarch Elite XL paintbrush when I’m working with water-based gloss. It holds its shape and is less likely to twist up than a lot of other paintbrushes. It also holds a great amount of paint, will cut sharp lines with ease, and is soft enough to lay off and avoid brush marks.




How long Does it Take Water-Based Gloss to Fully Cure?

Depending on the water-based gloss product you go for, the paint is normally touch dry after a couple of hours, but this doesn’t mean it has finished curing. It usually takes around 30 days for a paint like this to cure and fully harden. So, if you can, wait a few days from finishing your decorating before having a carpet or flooring fitted.


How do You Speed up the Drying Process of Water-Based Gloss?

The easiest way to speed up the drying process of water-based gloss is to ventilate. The initial drying process of water-based products comes down to evaporation of water from the paint. So, after you’ve painted a room, the air can feel humid with the added moisture, and this slows the drying process. Just open a window and pop a blow heater or fan in there.


Will Water-Based Gloss Turn Yellow?

Fully water-based gloss will never turn yellow. Hybrid paints will, but it generally takes many years for it to happen (depending on the product). However, there are arguments to use a hybrid gloss over a fully water-based, which include sheen level and durability.


How Durable is Water-Based Gloss?

This depends completely on the product you’re using. As explained earlier in this blog, there is a huge difference between the quality of water-based gloss products available in the UK, and this includes durability.

The good quality water-based paints are almost as durable as oil-based. The lower-quality products can scuff and chip very easily. My advice would be to stick to the products I recommend on the guide.


Final Thoughts


The decorating industry has changed a lot over the past decade or so. I used to think of water-based paint products like electric cars: I knew we’d all be using them one day, but they just weren’t good enough to make the switch.

Things are a bit different now. Water-based gloss out-performs oil-based in a lot of instances, so there is really no reason not to use it. It is a learning curve, but hopefully this guide has given you all the information you need. Just use a good quality product, apply it with good quality tools, and follow my tips. Do all this and you’ll achieve a great finish every time.

Updated May 15, 2024 | Posted Sep 7, 2023 | 1 comment

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Gregory is a Professional Painter and Decorator who works in the Northwest of England. He mainly sub-contracts for large decorating firms and works on a wide variety of projects.

1 Comment

  1. Leonard Davis

    I have brought from the UK to the Caribbean Valspar water-based gloss Trade paint. I am applying it externally on wood 30 feet from the sea. Out here they refer to water-based paint as emulsion, is this a correct reference? I’m using water-based paint rather than oil to allow the wood to breathe. I cannot obtain water-based primer here so am using the Valspar as a primer as it is a primer and finishing coat combined.


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