As a professional decorator, I’m often asked whether you should use water-based, or oil-based paint on the woodwork in your home. Once upon a time it was a simple choice, now it isn’t so easy. I use both, so I’ll take you through the pros and cons of each.
The Benefits of Using Oil-Based Paint
Oil-based is by far the more traditional choice and still the more widely used, however the paint itself is changing. The oil used in oil based gloss, satin and eggshell is an alkyd, and one of the properties of alkyd oils is it turns yellow over time.
In the past, chemicals known as VOCs held back this discolouration, but EU law now restricts the use of VOCs and the problem is very noticeable. “yellowing” is more of a problem in gloss as it contains more oil than it’s satin and eggshell counterparts. Lack of natural light is also a massive factor. So, oil based paint will yellow a lot quicker in say a hallway than a conservatory.
I find the science involved in paint development fascinating!!
That being said, oil-based paint is very durable and gives a lovely rich finish with little effort, which is why I sometimes use it. You should avoid oil-based gloss where you can, or go for a brand such as Crown Next generation which won’t yellow quite as fast. A great oil-based satinwood to look out for is Dulux Trade.
The Benefits of Using Water-Based Paint
The technology in water-based paint has improved a lot over recent years. It can be difficult to use as it seems to have no body. Something else it lacks is opacity, meaning you may have to apply additional coats of paint. The paint isn’t as durable as oil-based either.
There are some advantages of water-based though. You can apply multiple coats in a day, clean up is a lot easier, it is better for the environment and the main one, water-based paint will never turn yellow.
Some water-based paints are better than others. WRX Satinwood is one of my favourite products in white. You can apply WRX directly to previously painted surfaces without the need for an additional primer, it’s durable, and it will not break the back. Available online by clicking here.
If you don’t mind paying extra and you want the best water-based satinwood on the market, then Benjamin Moore Scuff X is the obvious choice. This is a premium paint, so it is very expensive. However, it seems to go and go, it’s easy to use, it’s durable and it looks absolutely stunning. Click here to see online prices.
Hybrid Paint – Neither Water-Based or Oil-Based Paint
Hybrid paints such as Crown Fastflow, Dulux QD and Johnstone’s Aqua are a sort of compromise I suppose. They are a water-based paint with an oil carrier, meaning there is just a little bit of oil in there to help it flow. Being as there is some oil in hybrid paint, it will yellow over time. The other downfall is brush care. If you are using a hybrid paint throughout the day, you should wash your brush regularly and wipe the surface you are painting with a damp cloth as you apply the paint. Doing these two things will save your brushes and ease the flow. I think the best range of hybrid products are the Teknos Aqua range, but there are other products available.
This is what I mean about hybrid paint being a compromise –
- Hybrid paint stays white longer than oil based but won’t last forever like water based.
- More durable than water, not as durable as oil
- Easier to apply than water, not as easy as oil
- Easier clean up than oil, not as easy as water
- And it goes on like this. If you see the advantages of both oil and water, this may be the way forward.
Best Paintbrushes to Use for Oil-Based and Water-based Paint
I thought I’d include a little section on the best brushes to use for each product, as this can be the difference between a glorious, or substandard finish. This section is based on my opinion as a decorator.
The best brush for oil-based gloss is the Hamilton Perfection. This is a natural fibre brush (hog hair) which holds a lot of paint and will not clog. Available online by clicking here.
The best brush for oil-based satinwood or eggshell is probably the Purdy Monarch Elite. These hold loads of paint, keep their shape well, and will cut a straight line with ease. Available online by clicking here.
The best paintbrush to use in water-based paint is either the Purdy Monarch Elite, available here, or the ProDec Ice Fusion Ovel. The Ice Fusion brushes are lovely, will not break the bank and hold loads of paint. Available by clicking here.
The best roller for either water, or oil-based paint is probably Two Fussy Blokes. You’ll find it holds loads of paint, spreads it evenly and cuts down on orange peel. Available online here.
When should you use oil-based paint?
I still like using oil-based paint for exterior wood, especially front doors. The other time I use oil-based paint is when blocking a stain. Water-based stain blocks and adhesion primers are improving all the time, and there are benefits to using them. However, sometimes you need a heavy-duty oil-based paint to do the heavy lifting.
Do painters still use oil-based paint?
6 years ago, I ran a poll for Professional Decorators to see if they used water- or oil-based paint on interior woodwork. 80% still used oil-based. I ran a similar poll in 2022 and only 34% said they still use “mostly oil-based”. The rest said they had switched to water-based paints.
This shows the improvement to water-based paint over recent years.
Can you still buy oil-based paint UK?
You certainly can! They might be less popular now than they once were, but there are thousands of oil-based paint products still available in the UK. I can remember when VOC restrictions came into place in 2010, and the consensus was “oil-based paint will be outlawed altogether soon”.
Then I can remember having a conversation with a paint chemist, and I asked him how long oil-based paint would be available. He seemed to think it would be driven by legislation. So far, this hasn’t been true either.
Instead, water-based paint has just got better and better, and people are switching over because they prefer it.
Does water-based paint last longer?
Water-based paint retains its colour for longer. A good water-based paint is durable enough to last as long as oil-based (so do your research into the best paint products before you order).
Water-Based or Oil-Based Paint – Gloss, Satin and Eggshell – by Mike Cupit
What do Decorators Prefer to Use?
Water-based paints are starting to come into their own, I find they can be a bit translucent and the brush marks don’t flow out as nicely as oil, but it’s definitely getting there. Spraying seems to be better at the moment.
Water-based all the way for me. You can apply it faster and it never yellows. I know it often takes an additional coat, but it goes on so quickly and dries within a couple of hours, so it probably takes less time overall.
Modern water-based paint has changed for the better, while oil-based has been affected by ever tighter EU regulations. Not only will water-based stay looking new for longer, but it is just as durable and the finish is just as good as the oil-based alternative.
This blog doesn’t mention anything about exterior decorating products? I can see the benefit of using oil-based paint on any exterior surfaces, simply because the paint needs to protect the surface and withstand UV rays. The other quality an exterior paint needs to have is flexibility, as exterior timber and other substrates will expand and contract with the weather.
Usually play jobs by ear. I personally prefer oil-based, but if the customer has children, pets, breathing issues etc I recommend water-based. Ultimately leave the decision to them, but I always use Johnstone’s products.
I have used Dulux trade satinwood since it first came on the market, and to this day I still haven’t found anything better. Water-based paints are starting to become a viable option, but I’ll stick with what I know for now.
Benjamin Moore scuff X satin is a fully water-based paint which flows beautifully, settles lovely, dries superfast and never yellows. On top of all that it’s incredibly durable.
1 downfall is the opacity of the brightest white they do – ‘chantilly lace’, but it’s still better than any other water-based bright white.
I love oil-based products, however water-based has its place in the market. Opacity of oil-based is the best hands down, but the down side is the toxins & drying times. When redecorating domestic properties, the problem lays with children & pets & the god awful smell that lingers for days.
Water-based is much harder to apply and to get a consistent finish, nevertheless the finish can be awesome after 2 or 3 costs depending on product. This can increase productivity by up 50% & 75% with drying times being so quick.
I only use water-based paint as I can’t stand the yellowing which comes from using oil. I’m looking forward to the day when all oil-based paint is outlawed.
Oil-based on about 70% of my jobs. Don’t get me wrong, water-based paint technology is getting better, but it isn’t quite there yet. I do like some of the hybrid paints like Johnstone’s Aqua or Crown Fastflow. The Teknos Aqua range is a great choice too. Paints like that are just so much quicker and easier to apply than oil-based. Another paint I like is WRX satinwood, which is fully water-based, easy to use and leaves a great finish.
Oil-based is way better to use, more play time for any problems with it, cuts better, less coats, better opacity. On any hand painted furniture or kitchens I’ve gone back to oil-based. Bring back the days of having a gallon of white Undercoat and gloss in the van, 25 quid from wallpaper johns to do a ton of jobs with it. All this water-based stuff is way too complicated.
Oil-based is a superior finish, especially on new woodwork. I find it harder wearing, which is due to the flexibility of the paint.
Water-based is more environmentally friendly however I think it’s marketing is based on profit more than its green credentials. It’s a cheaper product to produce
Always oil-based. I don’t know what paint people are using if it goes yellow in 3 days. Oil paint needs ultraviolet light to keep it white, so as long as it’s in daylight it’s okay. Water-based is no good for high traffic areas as the grease off your hands wears it off in my experience.
Oil-based mainly for exterior decorating, due to my location and water based mainly for interior. Tikkurila Intact 40 leaves the best feel of all the finishes, but it’s not a brilliant white and opacity not great . My go to is Caparol haft primer then 2 coats PU satin. Sometimes use otex akva as the adhesion primer. I explain to the customer the benefits of water-based and the fact its a 3 coat system rather than a 2, then I price accordingly
Oil based for me. You get a far better finish with oil. Water-based never looks finished.
Oil-based paint not only yellows, but does not last these days. I’ve been in the trade for 50 years and cannot believe how bad oil paints are now. I have done many experiments with both and will never use oil paints again!
Oil-based is better flowing, but yellows! With the right brushes ie synthetic and application method, water based can be just as sharp.
I mostly use water-based paint nowadays. I don’t see the point in applying a product which is going to discolour and look naff a couple of years after you’ve applied it. Plus water-based is better for the environment, smells better, is faster drying and will clean up with warm water. It’s a no-brainer for me.