The Basics of Alkyd Paint

A variety of paint colors.
What You'll Need
Proper respirator
Adequate ventilation in the work area
What You'll Need
Proper respirator
Adequate ventilation in the work area

Alkyd paint, or oil-based paint, is popular in applications that require a high gloss, durable finish. They are the most suitable choice for furniture, cabinetry, and trims. Alkyd paints provide a lustrous, heavy-duty finish that stands up well to dirt and stains. These paints are also easy to clean repeatedly without losing their color.

The Makeup of Alkyd Paint

Though alkyd paints are known as oil-based paints, they actually do not contain any oil in the basic composition. Alkyd paints differ from latex-based paints in several aspects, including the thinner and binder used in the paint. The thinner improves the texture and flow of the paint so that it is easy to apply. In latex paints, the thinner is water, which evaporates once the paint has been applied onto a surface. In alkyd paints, the thinner is usually a chemical solvent such as spirits and alcohol.

The binder is a crucial component of any paint. It influences the gripping properties of the paint and affects properties such as the gloss and shine, toughness and resilience of the finished paint layer. In alkyd paints, synthetic resins are used as binders. In comparison, water-based paints use latex as a binder.

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Benefits of Alkyd Paint

Alkyd paints are durable and resistant to wear-and-tear. These paints are widely preferred for high traffic areas in a home such as hallways and playrooms for children. Also, these paints are resistant to humidity and moisture. As a result, they are good choices for kitchens, bathrooms and also cabinets and furniture. The lustrous finish is also resistant to stains. The paint can be wiped down for easy cleaning. Stains are not absorbed easily and discoloration does not set in. The paint retains a uniform sheen for a long time.

TIP: Our painting consultant Pam Estabrooke, of ProTect Painters, suggests, “When brushing oil trim paint, take care not to pass the brush through the paint too many times. Several thin coats are better than one heavy coat.”

Alkyd paints have superior adherence and they stick to any surface. It can be used to provide a durable finish on unfinished wood. You can apply alkyd paint over an existing layer of latex paint, but you cannot apply latex paint over alkyd paint. This is because the smooth glossy surface provides minimal adherence.

If you want to use latex paint over alkyd paint, you must prepare the surface beforehand and apply primer. Alkyd paints are thick and provide a durable coat over any surface.

TIP: Pam says, “Oil or alkyd paint tends to spatter more than latex. If you are rolling paint, overprotect areas you do not want to be painted, including your hands and arms. Remove all jewelry.”

Drawbacks of Alkyd Paints

The main drawback of alkyd paints is that they are not as environmentally friendly as latex paints. Because they use chemical solvents, they emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that are toxic. Exposure to VOCs can cause health problems such as breathing disorders, nausea, headaches and is dangerous to babies, young children and pregnant women.

As a result, the use of alkyd paints is generally discouraged and also prohibited in some areas. When using alkyd paints, it is important to ensure you have adequate ventilation and to wear a respirator to prevent being overcome by the fumes. Remnants of alkyd paints are not easy to clean up. You must use thinners or solvents to remove alkyd paint from the brush or roller.

TIP: Pam adds, “Do NOT store rags with paint thinner in a sealed container. Soak them in water overnight before disposal.”

Alkyd paints cost more than water-based paints, which puts off many buyers. This is especially so because new varieties of latex paint offer greater durability and lasting properties than earlier versions.

TIP: Pam reminds you, “Alkyd paint also takes longer to dry. This will extend the time between coats. Longer dry time will also impact the ability to use the space. If the paint was used on trim, 24 - 36 hours will be needed before moving furniture back and foot traffic.”

Pam Estabrooke, district manager of ProTect Painters, contributed to this article.