Types of Water-Based Paint

Top down view of open cans of pastel paint. There is a stirring stick inside each can.

Water-based paint is a staple in almost every interior and exterior painting project. This type of paint is easy to clean up, dries quickly, and doesn’t have a harsh odor like some oil-based paints.

Before you head to the store to buy paint for your next project, learn about the different types of water-based paint from our experts below…

This is the third of three in a series of "Ultimate Guides" to different types of paint. Click for the Ultimate Guide to Oil-Based Paint and Ultimate Guide to Non-Toxic Paint!

History of Water-Based Paints

The earliest “paint” in human history was made from clay, berries, and different types of flowers. Once commercial paint pigments became available, individual customers would blend these store-bought pigments with their binder (vehicle) of choice to make their own paints. In the early days, binders included animal fat, cow’s milk, and even eggs.

In 1865, D.P. Flinn received the first patent for a water-based paint. Flinn's formula blended water with potassium hydroxide, zinc oxide, milk, resin, and linseed oil. In the following decades, manufacturers continued to improve formulas for paint products.

The introduction of latex in the 1940s revolutionized the paint industry. The material made it possible to produce higher quality water-based paints with enhanced applicability. Modern “latex” that goes into the paint consist of a synthetic polymer that has unique properties and characteristics, and should not be confused with latex rubber.

The Two Types of Water-Based Paint: Acrylic Paint and Latex Paint

Acrylic and latex make up the two types of water-based paints and each have their different purposes. Latex and acrylic paint are used primarily to paint homes, structures, and spaces. (Some paints used for artwork and hobbies are also referred to as “acrylic,” but this article focuses on acrylic paint for houses.)

Comparing acrylic and latex water-based house paints gets confusing. Both words have become generic terms when referring to water-based paints, but they each have distinctions. Paint manufacturers use different naming conventions, which makes it difficult to know what you’re getting. Sometimes you’ll even see paint sold as “acrylic latex paint.”

While both types of paint have similar characteristics, you’ll want to know which one you need for your next painting project.

Acrylic Paint

  • In general, any paint labeled “acrylic” has more acrylic polymers than latex paint. Because of this, acrylic paint typically costs more and provides better adhesions, durability, and resiliency. The extra cost isn’t worth it for interior drywall, but for kitchen cabinets or outdoor furniture, it makes a lot of sense. Some manufacturers use the word “enamel” in the paint description to describe acrylic paint that is especially durable.
Read Acrylic vs. Latex Paint: Which is better?

Latex Paint

  • To save costs, latex paint contains a lower ratio of acrylic polymers. This type of paint is perfect for a vertical surface like your walls but won’t wear very well on a piece of outdoor furniture. Professional and DIYers love this paint because it provides greater coverage than acrylic paint, is less expensive, and more eco-friendly.

For the best results, we recommend discussing your project with a professional. Don’t forget the importance of selecting the right paint sheen once you’ve found the right type of paint.

*Pro tip: Paint with a higher percentage of volume solids is typically higher quality. To find the volume solids, look on the paint can or the spec sheet from the manufacturer.

Water-Based Paint Advantages

Water-based paints adhere well to a variety of interior and exterior surfaces. As a result, you can expect these paints to have significant resistance to paint failures such as flaking, peeling, and blistering.

The primary benefits of water-based paints include:

  • Durability - Superior adhesion to most substrates and has better flexibility than oil-based paint.
  • Color retention - Resists chalking and fading.
  • Ease of application - Smooth and even application with less brush drag.
  • Mildew resistance - Additives reduce mildew growth and help maintain the paint's fresh appearance.
  • Versatility - Can be used on a variety of substrates, including wood, concrete, stucco, brick, aluminum siding, vinyl siding, and galvanized metal.
  • Odor – Significantly less odor than oil-based paints.
  • Drying time - Dries in one to six hours, which permits same-day recoating.
  • Cleanup - Easy cleanup with water and soap.

Water-Based Paint Disadvantages

While there are many advantages to water-based paint, there are a few reasons some select oil-based paints for their project, such as:

  • Water-based paints become difficult to use when the temperature falls below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Water-based paints can show more brush strokes and don’t “lay-flat” like oil-based paints if proper technique isn’t used.
  • Water-based paints can have poor adhesion on raw metal, glossy, and shiny surfaces.
  • Water-based paints can raise the grain on un-primed wood.
  • Oil-based paints are preferred in humid, wet, and damp exterior applications.

Do You Have Oil- or Water-Based Paint?

To test whether the paint on your wall or furniture is water- or oil-based, try digging your thumbnail into it. If you can make a dent, it's latex. You can also rub a hidden area with a rag dipped in rubbing alcohol. If you can remove paint, it’s water-based, if it stays put, it’s oil-based.

Not all water-based paints can be applied on top of oil-based paints, so always consult with the manufacturer if you’re covering oil-based paint with water-based paint and vice-versa. Painting is the number one improvement project for homes, offices and other spaces. For most professional and do-it-yourself painters, water-based paints have become the preferred choice.

Professional Painters Near You

Feel overwhelmed? You can count on our experts to take care of the entire process from start to finish. We work closely with Behr and Sherwin-Williams to provide our customers the highest quality paint at the absolute best price possible.

Five Star Painting specializes in interior and exterior painting for both residential and commercial customers. Our experienced painters take care of the entire project from start to finish.

Schedule your free estimate online today or give us a call!