Water Based or Oil Based Paint – Gloss, Satin and Eggshell

By Mike Cupit


As a professional decorator, I’m often asked whether you should use oil based, or water 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.


Oil Based Paint

This 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 has a yellow tinge to it, which actually bleads through over time. Back in the day, 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 satin and eggshell. 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.

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.


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. One more thing to think about, if you are painting over an existing oil based coating you may need to apply an adhesion primer prior applying your finish coats.

There are some advantages 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 not turn yellow.


Hybrid Paint – Neither Oil Based or Water Based

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.


This is what I mean about 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.


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