How to Choose Paint for the Kitchen

After you select the colors for your kitchen, you need to select the right type of paint. If you don’t pick the right kind of paint, the colors won’t look how you expect them to, and performance (durability and washability) may be less than stellar.

Oil-based and water-based (or latex) are the two main types of paint for residential use. The main difference between the two is in the cleanup of paint tools and equipment. Oil-based paints are cleaned with solvents, such as mineral spirits or paint thinner. Water-based or latex paints clean up with soap and warm water. In addition, latex paints generally have less of an odor than oil-based paints when they’re applied and as they dry.

Oil-based paint was at one time considered the best choice because of its durability. However, it contains toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are released into the air as the paint dries. Because of these VOCs (air pollutants), oil-based paints are no longer available in many parts of the country. Don’t worry, however, about not having durable paints available. Today’s generation of latex paints are as durable as previous generations of oil-based paints and without the VOCs and the messy solvent cleanup.

You also have choices in the finish. Most of today’s paint manufacturers offer five different finishes: high-gloss, semi-gloss, satin, eggshell, and flat. All finishes are usually available in either oil- (if sold in your area) or water-based paint. Don’t be surprised if you need to buy paints in more than one finish. Different areas and elements of a kitchen have different needs and may require different finishes.

  • High-gloss paint is the most durable and is easiest to clean after it’s dry, because its hard surface is very stain-resistant. On the downside, its high gloss shows flaws in the wall surface, plus the gloss fades over time. High-gloss is most often used on woodwork and trim, backsplash areas (the vertical surface at the back of the countertop around the sink), and cabinets.

  • Semi-gloss paint is not quite as durable as high-gloss but is still a very popular choice in kitchens. Semi-gloss is fairly durable and easy to clean. It does show surface flaws but does not lose its gloss over time. It’s also a good choice for doors, woodwork, trim, and cabinets.

  • Satin finish has become very popular in the last dozen or so years. As its name implies, it has a softer-looking appearance and is not as glossy as either of the previous finishes mentioned. Even so, it’s still relatively durable and easy to clean. One drawback is that its softer finish is less resistant to moisture, so it’s not the best choice for high-moisture areas, such as a backsplash. Satin is still a good choice for most kitchen walls and woodwork.

  • Eggshell is very similar in look and durability to satin. Its pros and cons are the same as satin, and many folks can’t tell the difference between the two even when samples are placed side by side.

  • Flat paint is a good choice if the wall surface has a lot of flaws that you just can’t get rid of. However, you can’t wash flat paint easily without damaging the paint surface. If your kitchen walls take a lot of abuse — for example, if you have little ones who love to run their hands along the walls as they walk — a flat finish should not be your first choice. Go with eggshell or satin.

So which finish should you use where? Professionals recommend satin/eggshell or semi-gloss on kitchen walls and semi- or high-gloss on kitchen ceilings. Any of these will provide excellent protection and make cleaning dirt and grease as easy as possible. For really high-traffic areas where the walls are constantly getting bumped and rubbed, consider using flat or satin because they’re more easily touched up than gloss or semi-gloss finishes.

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