The Difference Between Water Based and Oil Based Paint

May 09 2022 0 Comments

A fresh coat of paint is a great way to improve a space quickly and affordably. However, approaching painting always seems to bring about a variety of questions such as colour choice. One question that many people have is what paint to choose for your project. There are two major types of paints: water based and oil based with many people not really knowing the differences. Let’s take a look at the difference between water based and oil based paint and how to choose what type of paint for your next project.

difference between oil and water based

What is the Difference Between Water Based and Oil Based Paint?


Water based paint is often referred to as latex paint or acrylic latex paint. It contains a plastic resin that allows it to better adhere to walls. This and the paint pigments are suspended in water. Meanwhile, oil based paint consists of the particles of paint pigments suspended in an oil, which is typically linseed oil. Thus, the primary difference in composition is the added resin in water based paints as well as whether water or oil is used as the solvent. However, these two paints can perform quite differently. With water based vs. oil based paint, which is better? Let’s break down the differences by category. 


1. Durability


A major difference between water based and oil based paint is durability. Oil based paints will dry into a very hard shell, providing excellent long-lasting protection. By contrast, water based paints can rub off. This means that water based paints are not good candidates for high traffic areas that tend to have lots of scuffs like base boards or shelves. Instead, oil based paints are the way to go in these areas. 


2. Cost


One difference you will note is cost. There is typically less of a demand for oil based paint when compared to water based paint. As a result, oil based paint is typically lower in cost. It is important to remember that there are wide ranges of price points within both types though depending on the quality of paint and manufacturer. 


3. Longevity


Oil based paints usually have a higher sheen after the paint is applied. However, these types of paints can fade significantly over time. Meanwhile, water based paints tend to have a lower sheen but generally maintain it for a longer period of time. Thus, water based paints tend to win out in terms of longevity. This is also a reason why water based paints are favorite choices for exterior areas. 


4. Odor


One of the biggest differences between water based and oil based paint that people immediately notice is the odor. While water based paint does have an odor, it is fairly slight. On the other hand, oil based paint has an extensive odor that takes a while to go away. You will want to ensure you use this type in only well ventilated areas. 


5. Application


Water based paints are difficult to apply in less than ideal weather conditions. Even a little bit of water will thin out the paint (since it absorbs the water). However, oil based paints are largely unaffected by things like extreme temperatures, humidity, and the presence of water (they repel water). However, water based paint has a much quicker drying time. It can be ready for a second coat in only a few hours while oil based paint will need to sit nearly an entire day. 


6. Environmental Impact


Remember that strong odor from oil based paint? This is because this type of paint releases high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are chemical compounds that can have negative health impacts. Most commonly, people may experience irritation of the eyes or throat and headaches. However, they can cause more serious issues as well. Thus, oil based paint will have a major impact on indoor air quality for about three days until the VOCs dissipate. 


What Paint to Choose for Your Project


Now that we’ve discussed the basic differences in water based vs. oil based paint, you are probably wondering how to choose what type of paint for your next project. This ultimately depends upon the type of project at hand as there are general situations where one type of paint is preferred compared to the other. Let’s discuss some of the common preferred uses. 


For exterior painting, water based is typically the way to go. This is primarily due to the fact that it will hold its sheen without much fading. This type of paint is also more pliant, meaning it will be easier to apply, a favored trait for outdoor jobs. 


When looking at painting interior walls, you will generally want to use water based as well. In addition to being able to paint more quickly with water based, most people want to avoid the odor and VOCs that come from oil based paints which can be quite severe when painting large surfaces. However, if covering an existing coat, make sure to use the same type. Simply apply some vinegar to a rag and rub the wall. If the paint comes off, it is water based. 


For baseboards and trim, you will want to opt for oil based paint. The major reason here is that these areas can take a lot of abuse and oil based will hold up to scrapes and impacts much better. It also provides a smooth finish that makes these areas pop. 


Window frames are another area where oil based paint is great to use. This type of paint is far less likely to cause the window to stick when closed, which makes opening and closing it much easier. 


If you find yourself painting masonry, water based is the type of paint to chose for your project. The reason for this is that it adheres much better and lasts longer. This is because water based paint has a resistance to alkalis, allowing it to bond better with brick, stone, concrete, and other types of surfaces. 


Finally, when painting items like bookshelves and cabinets, oil based paint is likely to be favored. Again, the major factor here is durability. Since these surfaces have lots of use, the additional resistance to damage is a huge benefit. 


Water Based vs. Oil Based Paint


When considering the differences between water based and oil based paint, it all comes down to their individual properties and which apply best to the task at hand. Thus, when wondering how to choose what type of paint, there are clear situations where water based is best and others where oil based would be preferred. When in doubt, you can always ask a paint professional for assistance and advice. 

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