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What is Latex Paint?

Latex paint is the most popular choice for home projects for both experts and people who enjoy DIY projects. Although called it’s called latex, or acrylic latex, these paints are actually water based. They are available in just about every color that you can think of, and this type of paint can be found in a number of finishes, including flat, satin, gloss and semi-gloss.



One of the main reasons that latex paints are such a popular choice for indoor and outdoor projects is that they remain flexible even after they have dried. Flexibility is a major selling point for outdoor projects because it means that the paint is less likely to crack or break as temperature changes cause wood to expand and contract.


Other benefits of using latex paints are that they’re easy even for less experienced painters to use, and they can be easily cleaned up with water. At Tool Nerds, we love a paint that allows us to make a mistake without it turning into a major problem.


Latex paints are also often available in formulas that resist mildewing, yellowing and/or mold. If you live in an area that is very humid or intend to paint a bathroom, this can be a huge selling point.



Like anything, there are a few downsides to using latex paints, and one of the big ones is the smell. Unless you’re using a green or eco-friendly latex paint, paint fumes are going to be strong, and they’re going to stick around until the paint has completely dried.


Another potential drawback of latex paints is that you may need to expend a lot of effort on prepping depending on the surface you’re painting. This is especially true if you’re painting with latex over a surface that was previously painted with an oil paint. In these cases, you can expect to have to strip almost all of the old oil paint before laying down latex if you want it to adhere.


Latex paints also tend to be a poor choice when you need to paint a metal surface. While metal surfaces are listed as being among the materials that latex paints can be applied to, the reality is that latex paints are water-based, and water and metal result in rust.


Improved formulations may mean it takes a while for rust to form, but you’re always going to be risking rust if you use a water based paint on a metal surface. While you can paint metal with a latex paint, at Tool Nerds, we think you should consider some major prep work or a different type of paint when rust is a possibility.

What is Latex Paint Used For?

Latex paint can be used for just about any indoor or outdoor project, but it tends to be particularly useful indoors because it can be cleaned up with soap and water and doesn’t require ventilating the area being painted.

Some of the areas where latex paint is most commonly used include:

  • Drywall and plaster
  • Porches
  • Siding of a variety of types, including wood and cement
  • Stucco

What is Oil Paint?

While latex paints are basically made of water, oil paints are mainly composed of petroleum distillates and organic solvents. In the past, oil paint was the go to for home projects due to its durability. It was a particular favorite for high traffic areas in a home, such as doors, floors and handrails. However, as ecological concerns have required manufacturers to change their formulas, latex has displaced oil paints as the home paint of choice.

Oil paint



One of the most attractive things about oil paints is that they dry hard and then continue to harden with time. This makes them an excellent choice for areas that need a hard wearing surface.


Another major draw of oil paints is that they prevent blocking. Blocking is when two painted surfaces stick together even after the paint is dry. For example, doors and door frames or windows and windowsills may stick when opening and closing them. Oil paints keep that from happening.


Oil paints are also a great choice for metal surfaces since they are both moisture resistant and do not allow moisture to travel through them once they are dry. This can help prevent or delay the formation of rust on metal surfaces.



The biggest advantage to oil paint is often what also leads to one of oil paint’s largest downsides, which is that it can become brittle and crack since it is hard and not particularly flexible. Since this type of paint doesn’t have a lot of flexibility, given enough time, a home that settles frequently or materials that expand and contract due to temperature changes are likely to end up covered in cracks and chips given enough time.


Another drawback to using oil paints is that they cannot be used to paint over something that has latex paint on it. You’ll need to completely strip the area you’re painting to get the oil paint to adhere. Additionally, oil paint can be difficult to clean up. To get oil paint off of brushes and other surfaces, you have to use toxic solvents.

What Is Oil Paint Used For?

As with latex based paints, you can use oil based paints just about anywhere, but they may perform better in certain parts of your home than others. At Tool Nerds, we think that oil paints are best suited for high traffic areas where you want a paint that will be hard as nails.

Metal surfaces are also a great place to use oil paints since they can retard the development of rust, and many metal surfaces undergo a lot of wear and tear. Oil paints also work well on:

  • Floors
  • Outdoor railings
  • Steel gutters
House paint

What Is Enamel Paint?

If you are interested in a home project but aren’t very familiar with types of paint, you may be confused about enamel paint. Enamel paint is most commonly associated with oil paint, but there are also latex enamel paints on the market now.

Depending on whom you ask, there may be different answers to what is enamel paint. However, for the most part, it simply refers to a paint of any kind that has a hard and glossy finish. As with latex and oil paints, enamels of both kinds have their pros and their cons.

Oil based enamels are very durable, but they contain a large amount of volatile organic compounds, which can be very bad for the environment. The amount of VOCs in a number of oil based enamel paints exceed some state limits, so it can be difficult to get a hold of them.

However, latex enamels aren’t a perfect alternative. Although they have fewer VOCs, these types of paint aren’t as durable or glossy as their oil-based counterparts. Additionally, they show more brush marks, which is probably not something you want if you’re going for a smooth and glossy surface.

Enamel buckets

Differences Between Latex and Oil Paint

When comparing oil and latex paints for home projects, there are benefits and downsides for both types of paint depending on what you want to do. There’s no clear-cut best paint for all circumstances.

To help you decide which type of paint is right for your home improvement project, we’ve created an easy to use chart that will allow you to compare latex and oil paints.

 Latex PaintOil Paint
Drying time8 to 24 hours1 to 6 hours
Color RetentionResists fading, even in the sunlightMay fade in bright sunlight and become chalky
DurabilityEasier to stain, but resists cracking and peelingResists staining, but may crack and turn yellow
ApplicationLatex goes on in thin layers, but may require multiple coatsThick layers reduce the number of coats required for coverage but may be harder to work with
CleanupSoap and waterRequires solvents like turpentine or paint thinner
Mildew ResistanceMost contain mildewcide to prevent mold and mildewMildewcide is also a typical component of oil paints
ApplicationsWorks on most materials, but a pre-treatment or additional prep work may be needed for masonry; not a good choice for metals that may rustAble to be used on just about any material; may be prone to cracking on materials that expand and contract
Painting blue

How Do I Properly Dispose of Paint?

As important as selecting the right paint for your project is, it’s also essential that you know how to get rid of leftover paint. By correctly disposing of paint, you’re ensuring that you’re not creating health hazards or damaging the environment.

Until you’re ready to dispose of paint, you should make sure it’s sealed up tightly. If you plan to use the paint again, this will keep it from drying out. Additionally, it will prevent paint fumes from leaking out.

Safely Disposing of Latex Paint

Just like the properties of different paints depend on their ingredients, how you go about oil paint, latex paint and stain disposal depends on what’s in them. With latex paint, the process is fairly simple, and your main goal is to dry the paint out.

If you’ve just got a bit of paint left, you can simply leave the open can in the sun for a few hours. When you need to get rid of more latex paint, put a one to one ratio of latex paint to cat litter in a paint can, and stir the mixture together.

Leaving the lid off, let the kitty litter and paint mixture dry for an hour or two in your garage. Once the paint has dried out, you should be able to throw it away with the lid off. However, it’s a good idea to check local laws or regulations to make sure it’s okay.

Safely Disposing of Oil Paint

Although you may be able to get rid of latex paint by drying it out, oil paint is a hazardous material, and it has to be disposed of by professionals. Along with disposing of paint at a recycling center, many home improvement stores, such as Lowes or Home Depot, will allow you to drop off unused paint at their locations.

House Paint Types, Uses and Disposal

by Tyler Saunders time to read: 19 min