Oil Based Paint or Water Based?

Should you use oil based paint or water based? That is a really good question. That decision can make a big difference in what you're trying to do.

Oil Based Paints

Let's first talk about oil. Oil paints and glazes have a petroleum or alkyd base to their formulation. And they require a solvent based cleaner. It takes mineral spirits or turpentine to clean most oil paints. They also take much longer to dry.

Oil also gives off a very unpleasant odor and fumes. So you will always need good ventilation where you're using it. I recommend even using a mask that will protect you from the fumes.

However, there are times that these oil paints are desirable. For example, if the object you are painting needs to be very durable. Cabinets and furniture need to have a harder, more durable finish. Thus oil can provide that.

If you're starting a faux finish on furniture, a good recommendation is that you could use water based paints and simply top coat it with an oil varnish. Then you'll have the protection you want without having to use too much oil.

Because oil dries much slower, you may also want to use it to give yourself more time to work with. An oil based paint mixed in an oil glaze can give you plenty of working time. I will say though, this is a rare necessity. There are many alternatives with water based paints. More on that later.

Another area you might choose oil is with primers. As we discussed on our primer page , oil may be needed to cover certain stains. If the wall has water staining marks or permanent marker drawn on it, then the wall will have to primed with an oil based, stain killing primer.

Oil, stain killing primers are designed to be used with water based top coats with no problem. Just make sure you definitely have a well ventilated area to work in. Unfortunately, these oil primers have very strong fumes.

Water Based Paints

For the most part, everything else you do will be with water based paints, glazes, and textures. Even if the can does not say 'water based', you can find out if it is by reading the clean up instructions. If the instructions say to clean up with soap and water, then you know it is water based.

The paint or glaze may be called 'acrylic' or 'latex'. This also tells you that it is water based. That also means it will dry faster. The fumes and odors will also be less intense. You should expect some odor and I recommend to still work with good ventilation. That is always a good rule with any paint.

These water based paints are more earth friendly as well. That's a really good thing. With the advancing development of water based paints, it is becoming less and less of a necessity to use oil.

There are even new trim paints that are acrylic (water based) that can be painted right over old oil paint. When it cures or dries completely, it becomes a very tough finish.

There are also plenty of additives that can be added to water based paint to make it dry slower. These additives also help the paint become even easier to work with. Some of these additives are latex paint extender, floetrol, and in some cases just adding water is all you need.

So unless you have a specific circumstance that calls for an oil based paint, you'll be just fine using water based paints.

I know making initial decisions can be difficult and a little overwhelming, I hope some of these tips and suggestions have helped you in making those decisions.

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