Selecting the Best Paint Finish for Walls and Trim

It used to be that walls were always done in a flat finish paint and the trim, and by trim I mean all woodwork, was painted with a gloss finish paint.  The only exceptions were kitchens and bathrooms where everything was done using gloss paint. Times have changed. Today, when a house is built, the standard is all walls and ceilings are painted with a flat finish; and trim with a semi gloss finish. The paint job that comes with the new house is like the tires on a new car….good, but by no means the best.

How do you know what paint finish to use, and where to use it?

Now,  a homeowner has many options – they can chose flat,  eggshell,  satin, semi gloss and gloss for walls; and satin, semi gloss and gloss for trim.  I’ve been a custom, residential painting contractor for over 20 years; of which, the last nine in Indianapolis, IN and before that in the Pasadena and Los Angeles, CA  area  (where I became very good at repairing cracks in walls thanks to the many earthquakes in the region). Here is my advice:

  • Kitchens and baths –  because of the humidity in these rooms, I always recommend using a satin or higher finish (sheen).  It gives you the ability to wipe down the walls when an accident happens. Spaghetti sauce on a kitchen wall painted with a flat finish will be there forever!
  • Hallways – there are two schools of thought….a satin or higher finish lets you  wipe  off dirt, mud in most cases, but a satin or higher sheen can be difficult to touch up if marred.  A high quality flat paint will have a certain scrub durability,  but, if necessary,  is very easy for a homeowner to touch up.
  • Living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms are usually painted flat or eggshell. The reason may not be what you think. A paint with a sheen will show off any imperfections in the walls like cracks, nail pops, bumps (wavy walls) due to uneven framing and a host of other issues. Even if all of the issues are addressed before painting, many of them will resurface in a year or so, usually in the same place. I know from past experience that these imperfections can drive some people nuts, even when everything is explained to them upfront. I’d say about 90% of the walls I paint are flat,  and that is the safe way to go.
  • Trim – I like to use oil based paint here. Oil is harder than water based paint, and wears much, much better. Recently the trend is toward satin and semigloss. High gloss looks too industrial for most people.  A satin or semigloss finish will highlight the woodwork without being overpowering.

So, if you have great walls or don’t mind the glaring wall imperfections,  a semi gloss or gloss finish can be dramatic and set off a room. Just remember that your walls will need extra prep work to make them as perfect as possible. This is when a highly skilled painter becomes your best friend.

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2 responses to “Selecting the Best Paint Finish for Walls and Trim”

  1. Clay says:

    Good explanation of the differences in these types of paint. So what’s the logic on selecting a finish for exterior painting?

  2. editor says:

    Well Clay, I always like to recommend a satin finish on the exterior of a home. It repeals water that can harm your homes exterior, and every time it rains, any dirt or grime that is on your house will wash off. Its like your house gets a bath when it rains. This is not the case with a flat finish paint.