Latex vs Oil-Based Paint - Juniper Home

Latex vs Oil-Based Paint

Tips of the Trade

Reader Sarah recently emailed me with pictures of her pair of beat up Bentwood chairs that she’s looking to fix up. She was hoping to get advice on upholstery and painting the frames.

She wanted these chairs to really pop. Since she only has a pair, my suggestions were on the bolder side. I thought it would look great to paint the frames a bright orangey-red color and upholster the seats with this uber kid-friendly faux ostrich in aqua, which I happen to be using in another project for a client in Florida (Hi, Lisa!).

After writing Sarah back with my thoughts on oil-based vs latex paints, I figured I would bring up the topic here with you guys. I’ve painted dozens and dozens of furniture pieces in my time. I love the look and wear of oil-based paint on furniture, but I love the ease and convenience of using latex.

Side note: I recently tried the Behr Paint and Primer in one (latex) and I was pretty impressed with the results! I only had to do one good coat with a little touch up as a “second coat.” Not bad, though I wish it was available in a gloss finish.

Here’s a very basic outline of my experience with both types of paint:

LATEX (water-based) PAINT
My Uses:
Light-use furniture

Easy clean up with water
Cheap and very accessible (lots of colors)
Dries to the touch fast

Requires several coats usually to get even coverage, usually need primer
Can peel easily – especially if lower quality
Can take weeks to fully harden/cure

My Uses:
Heavy-use furniture

GORGEOUS (to me) – amazing gloss and depth
Very durable
Covers stains remarkably well, without primer

A pain to wash up after – as in, you need chemicals
Requires a steady hand and smooth application
Takes 12-24 hours (or more) to dry

Any other thoughts out there on the pros and cons of latex and oil-based paints?

Miles Redd’s black kitchen featuring oil-based lacquer; from the NYT.

Post Script: I’ve really been feeling the love lately from my readers! Thank you for all the kind and encouraging emails! I love getting each and every one and am trying my best to respond to everyone individually.

Also {trying to say this very nicely}, I’m not in the business of giving out free advice. If you’re looking to hire a decorator, please feel free to contact me about my rates and availability (more info here). Right now I’m am taking on clients to begin in the month of November.

If you have a single design predicament that you would like me to help with (like Sarah’s request for chair advice here), I charge $25 per question, payable via paypal. Please email for more information. Thanks!

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37 thoughts on “Latex vs Oil-Based Paint

  1. Oh, thank you for this advice! I've been wondering about using oil paint on some furniture, but haven't been sure. Now I think I'll take it on!

    Just to choose a paint color now… :) You'll probably be hearing from me later today!


  2. An excellent idea for the chairs… and I love love love black cabinetry in kitchens… when we {eventually} redo our kitchen I plan on using black cabinets.. I love them.. I also wanted to tell you that I have been reading your blog for some time and it is my first daily read. I love looking at your work. There are blogs out there that post ideas and inspiration and ask for advice but never show their work.. I love seeing your actual work.. my favorite to date is the monogrammed umbrella holder.. keep up the good work!
    I adore your daughters' room as well.. very lady like..

  3. I love that suggestion for the chairs! I have been meaning to try out that faux leather because of its durability- now I must buy some :)

  4. Thanks for the tips! I've never thought about using oil based paints on furniture, but I bet it would look awesome!

    Also, I think you were incredibly gracious in your post-script. I'm an artist (wall murals,etc) and it drives me crazy when acquaintances or friends of acquaintances think that I'll work for free just because I'm nice or because I've met them before or whatever. TIME IS MONEY, PEOPLE!! :)

    Anyway, I love the color and pattern you chose for the chairs. You are so talented. Thanks for a great daily read!

  5. painted a dresser w/ good quality latex. what a mistake. despite prepping the dresser properly for paint, the latex is chippy, peely and a general mess. wish I'd gone with oil because the fixing of the mess will be worse than the cleanup & drying time would have been with oil.

  6. I must concur with everyone who has been singing your praises. I spend a lot of time looking through blogs for stylish (affordable), unique (practical) DIY for the home and I can honestly say – it is an absolute pleasure to have found yours. I check yours every day and have found a ton of amazing ideas. Bravo, my dear, BRAVO!

  7. Well, I know latex is better for the environment, but I always use oil on my furniture pieces now. Too many things sticking to surfaces months after painting with latex has made me wise.


  8. I'm so glad to know that I have a place to go for one or two questions and you will be able to help…that's AWESOME!! Also, I absolutely love this blog post. I am just now realizing that I like oil based paint better but it took me LOTS of paint to even figure out which paint was good for what, where, and when :)

  9. I agree with your comparison of the latex vs. oil based paints. Because I was recently pregnant, I switched to doing everything latex to avoid exposing my baby to harsh chemicals, though who knows if the amount is really significant enough to worry about. (Your thoughts on this Jenny?) I would add that the impact of oil based paint on our environment is another negative (chemicals making their way into our water, etc.). I have even heard that some paint companies may be phasing out their oil based paints for similar reasons. The look is unmatched by latex though, that's for sure!

  10. I have been thinking of trying out an oil based paint for our front door – for the durability, but also because I've heard oil based paint doesn't show as many brushmarks as latex because of the long drying time.

    I think you give out plenty of free advice and tips! I love coming to look at your blog everyday.

  11. Thank you! I am about to tackle a high-gloss paint job for some chairs and was wondering what to use. I may rent a spray nozzle for a more even finish. I love your blog. I wish you still lived in Boston so we could go get a drink!

  12. Well said, Jenny.
    Also loving that you suggested faux ostrich! We used some to reupholster 2 wingbacks at my mom's and they're super hot!

    Totally the chic showroom look for lo-dough!

  13. I'm giggling over here! Yes, you did say that very nicely, and I'm glad you are not just giving your time away! It's a lot of work to dole out individualized advice, and you should be paid for it!! Kudos!

    And, I LOVED this bit of advice about the paint. I never really thought of painting with oil-based, but I suppose it might be a good idea for my coffee table! Wonder if it comes in spray paint! I would imagine not.

  14. I have the same question as Anne. Is latex really that much better for the enviroment, and is oil unsafe for kids/pregnancy?

    (And if your lawyer husband gets to charge $1000 to write a letter, you DEFINITELY get to charge $25 to answer advice about decor) :)

  15. I have a question about your pelmet Boxes ( I have always refered to them as cornices – is there a difference?) I have tried this but they always seemed to "curve inward" in the center and I wonder why yours do not. They seem so taught and straight! They are just lovely, the tim surely makes them look so professionally made….hope to hear from you, stop on over to Pandora's Box..

  16. I had my bathroom cabinets painted in latex, and they are now peely and dirty in places. I had my kitchen cabinets painted in oil, and they are incredibly beautiful and smooth and have a very hard surface. The smell though – I definitely lost a few braincells to that project (although I hired it out, and the cabinets were painted in my painter's garage, the stink in the house was fierce for a month).

  17. Good for you for stating that your services aren't free! It is often difficult or annoying to tell people that you don't just do things out of the kindness of your heart. I make wedding cakes as a hobby, and one time a friend of a friend asked me to make her wedding cake (well it was more of a "you could do my cake, couldn't you"). And I could just tell that she would want it practically for free. So I replied, "oh you couldn't afford me."

    The other times I've made wedding dresses or bridesmaids dresses for friends, I've charged them money. Even though these are dear friends, I find that it becomes unenjoyable when you do it for free (besides that point that it takes hours upon hours to make a wedding dress).

    Your ideas are inspiring! Keep them coming.

  18. Call me a lazy girl, but I've had wonderful success with plain old spray paint. The color opps are wonderful and I've not had a peeling issue yet!

    You know how some people will put anything in the dishwasher? That's me with spraypaint.

    My fav is a bunch of big wooden frames in different finishes that I just spraypainted black–amazing result for $5 worth of paint!

  19. was painting last weekend and got paint all over my hands. my husband found an organic way of removing it: water, butter, and soap. scrub scrub scrub. healthier way. It actually worked!

  20. As a follow on from Esther's comment, it's much easier to clean brushes of oil-based paints if you use oil (any cheap cooking oil), wiping off the excess with kitchen towel, before finishing with washing-up liquid. You may need a tiny bit of white spirit, but will dramatically reduce the amount you need.

    Love your recent projects, the girls' bedroom and your mum's house.

  21. Thanks for the advice about something I've been wondering about for a while…latex in the wrong place is just awful! And thank you for your beautiful and practical blog.

  22. I know I've already posted a comment here days ago but I had to come back and re-read how you so graciously told freeloaders to take a hike or pay up…he! he! I have been spending an inordinate amount of time answering simple design questions (which I enjoy doing) but am realizing that all this time isn't paying the bills. So my hat's off to you for being clear with people how you work (and showing me how it's done). Forever grateful!

  23. Hello! Have a ?. Read your article on the latex v. oil base debate! Very well written and I loved the way you broke down what and where! There is a piece of wide wood around my stairwells. Not Molding and not, baseboard it goes about a foot up from stairs. I started painting that wood white to go with my floor moldings which surround my sunken living room. Looked beautiful absolutely killed my back and what's more, I was stupid, impatient and used latex. I just could not bring myself to sand all of that by hand without any sanding tool. Guess what happened? Still had to sand at least a little to get latex paint to adhere to that stair molding, trim what ever you want to call it. It looked great but then my next delimma is that when I scrub floors have to be careful the railings/and their floor trim does not get banged up, because of course it will come off! So, what is your best advice???? The third dilemma is this: It is very difficult to know where to stop with white paint!!! The entire house has a maple/ provincial (pecan) look to it and I would have to do the entire house!!! That would be a back breaker, and really exhorbent in cost, to replace wood. Plus are we going too far and painting all white and then down the road darker woods will be all of the rage again.!!!
    Please let me hear from you, your input and advise!

  24. You asked for thoughts on Latex vs Oil. I'm thinking I will go with oil if using colored paint; however, I did just read today somewhere that white oil paint turns yellow over time. I think this happens when it's not in sunlight. It made me changed my mind about painting cabinets with white oil-based paint.

    Just sharing what I learned.
    I LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog.

  25. I prefer latex paint and I have never had an issue with durability. However, my new favourite paint for furniture is Annie Sloan chalk paint. Hardly any prep, great durability, low VOC and the finishing wax adds a wonderful subtle sheen.

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