When to Choose Oil-Based Paint over Latex Paint

Cans containing various colors of paint.

Knowing whether to use an oil-based paint or water-based latex paint may at times seem perplexing. Water-based latex paint is the more popular choice, yet there are certain situations in which you’ll benefit from using an oil-based paint.

Latex Paint

Compared to oil-based, or alkyd paint, latex paint is low odor, quick drying, and cleans up easily. It is often the paint of choice when it comes to interior paint projects. It is thinned with water, so you don’t need to deal with paint thinner and it comes in many different finishes, which compete very well with their oil-based counterparts

Oil-Based Paint

On projects where you use an oil-based paint you will require additional time for the paint to dry. A second disadvantage to oil based paint relates to its fumes. When applying this paint you should use a respirator, particularly if the surface to be painted is larger and is in an enclosed area. Normally, you will also require additional ventilation during application and even while the paint dries.


In cleaning brushes, rollers, etc., after painting with an oil-based product you need to use a paint thinner or solvent to remove the paint. Clean up after applying latex, by contrast, requires only water.

TIP: Our painting consultant Pam Estabrooke, of ProTect Painters, suggests , “Check local regulations for disposal of oil based paint products and waste. Do not allow rags that have been saturated with paint thinner to get sealed in a closed container or bag. Soak them overnight in water before disposal.”

Surface Preparation

Oil-based paint can flake if the surface it is applied to is not primed properly before painting. Latex is usually more forgiving and is not as likely to flake and peel if not primed with specific types of primer.

TIP: Pam adds, “A tinted, low-odor, oil primer is an excellent choice for sealing wallpaper before it is painted with a latex paint.”


If you are painting an area of your home where you need superior adhesion, this is where an oil-based product will usually be a better choice. A surface that may need better adhesion may include a chalky surface or a surface that previously has had several layers of oil-based paint applied to it.

TIP: Pam says, “For adhesion, an oil primer cannot be beat. Use a tinted oil primer on cabinets or furniture prior to the top coat. Give the primer coat a light sanding before painting to get a professional, smooth finish.”


For a surface on which you expect more wear, an oil-based paint should definitely be your choice. Not only will the paint have a harder finish, but it will be easier to clean. You also want the durability of an oil-based product when you paint furniture, which normally gets more wear. An exception to using oil based paint would be where you plan on a faux finish. For this, you should use a layer of latex paint and then coat your faux surface with a oil-based varnish to protect it.

Because of its durability and stain-resistance, an oil-based paint is also the better choice for painting bathrooms, kitchens, interior trim, and areas of the home that are more vulnerable to staining.

TIP: Pam says, “Over time, oil paint, especially in white or lighter shades, will yellow.” Stain Coverage For a surface that is stained or has permanent marker on it, use an oil-based primer to cover or remove the stain. Then apply a final coat of either an oil-based or latex paint.

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