Oil-based or water-based – which paint should you choose?

Choosing between oil-based and water-based paints depends on the job you’re doing and the look you’re aiming for. Here are some of the differences to take into consideration.

January 11, 2024

Oil-based paints are like the heavyweights in the paint world. They give a rich and durable finish, making them great for doors, trim, or cabinets that need to withstand wear and tear. However, they can be smelly, so you need good ventilation.

On the other hand, water-based paints, also known as latex or acrylic paints, are more eco-friendly. They dry faster, have fewer odours, and are easy to clean up with just soap and water.

However, water-based paints might not be as tough as oil-based ones, so they may not be the best choice for high-traffic areas or surfaces that take a beating.


  • Initially achieves higher sheen levels but can become dull over time.

  • Dries harder, providing excellent wear resistance.

  • Less suitable for exteriors, breaking down in UV light and lacking flexibility, leading to potential cracking.

  • More tolerant of extreme temperatures and humidity during application.

  • All surfaces must be completely dry before application.

  • Has a stickier feel and emits high VOCs during application, resulting in a strong odour.

  • Generally has longer drying times compared to water-based paints. Turps or specialised cleaners are required for cleanup.


  • Offers a lower sheen finish but maintains it for an extended period.

  • With improved formulations, water-based paints can dry hard, resist damage, and exhibit flexibility, reducing the likelihood of cracking.

  • Excellent for exterior applications, resisting UV rays and maintaining colour and sheen over time.

  • Adverse weather conditions can affect the drying time of water-based paint, but it can tolerate some moisture on surfaces before application.

  • Lower VOC content, has a milder post-painting smell and is faster to apply.

  • Cleans up is easily with soap and water.

If you're unsure, it's always a good idea to consult with a local painting professional for advice tailored to your specific job. They can help you make the best choice for your project.

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