Painting 101: Oil or Latex?

Learn the advantages and disadvantages of using oil-based and latex paint.
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Oil-based paint should never be poured down a drain.

Oil-based paint should never be poured down a drain.

Should you use oil or latex paint for your painting project? Here are some of the pros and cons of each product.

Oil-Based Paint

Advantages of oil:

  • It goes on smoother
  • Covers more thoroughly in one coat
  • Shrinks less
  • Takes longer to dry so you have more working time
  • Holds up well in high-traffic areas

Disadvantages of oil:

  • It's more likely to crack, fade and yellow over time.
  • The fumes can be overwhelming.
  • Cleanup solvents like mineral spirits and turpentine are necessary for washing brushes. These hazardous chemicals need to be managed carefully (look in the phone book's government pages for local facilities).

Other important considerations:

  • Oil-based paints should never be poured down a drain. Disposal is regulated by local waste management agencies (look in the government pages for more information).
  • Many cities have local hazardous waste collection centers that accept old paint and stain. No matter which formula you reach for, oil or latex, use a laundry or bath sink for minor cleanup. Paint can ruin kitchen disposals.

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Latex (Water-Based) Paint

Advantages of latex:

  • Doesn't yellow over time
  • Is better for the environment
  • Dries faster
  • Much easier to clean up by using soap and water
  • Latex is far more forgiving, primarily for cleanup, making it a great choice for the weekend warrior.
  • Many painters are finding latex is more widely available than oil.

A disadvantage of latex is it swells the grain of wood, making sanding between coats a necessity.

More Painting Tips:

  • All paints contain chemicals, so wear gloves when tackling large projects to minimize direct skin exposure.
  • If you're painting a wall or doing some simple effects, reach for latex. If there's wood involved, you may want to consider oil-based paint.
  • When in doubt, tell the experts at your home center what you're doing and they'll be happy to offer advice. With all the new products out there for latex paint, you can tackle almost any decorative finish!
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