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Flat, Gloss, Eggshell… Oh, My! Which Paints are Best for Busy Family Homes?

Over the years, customers and website visitors have asked our thoughts on picking the best paints and finishes for busy family spaces, nurseries and kid’s rooms. While we’re not professional painters, we seem to make a hobby of painting, re-painting, and re- re-painting our homes, so we feel qualified to tackle this question.

Happily, it’s an easy answer…

Since paint formulation and finish have as much impact on long-term satisfaction as color choice, selecting durable paints with easy-clean finishes is key. Here’s a look at the basic differences between interior paints commonly found in home improvement stores, plus some low-maintenance ideas for painting high-traffic areas and busy family spaces.

The Basics: Interior Paint Types and Finishes

Water-based latex and oil-based enamel are the two most common paint types used for home interiors. Oil-based paints were once considered to have a more durable, easier-clean finish than latex, but that’s no longer the case. Today’s fast-drying water-based latex paints rate higher in scrubbability than oil-based paint, and that’s not all. Latex paint emits far fewer smelly VOCs (volatile organic chemicals) than oil-based paint, making it the ideal choice for busy family homes.

Interior paints also come in several finishes, referred to as “sheen,” which describes the amount of reflection or shine the painted surface has when dry. Listed here from the lowest sheen to the highest sheen, paint finishes range from: matte, flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, gloss. Semi-gloss and gloss are usually reserved for trim and cabinetry while walls generally are painted in a less glossy finish, usually flat or eggshell.

Durability and Cleaning: It’s in the Finish… Or is it?

Years ago, satin or semi-gloss wall finishes were popular for dirt-prone high traffic areas since they were easier to clean. But nowadays, decorator-inspired flat and eggshell wall finishes are far more popular and paint manufacturers have responded in kind. Lower sheen finishes are now formulated to be as scrubbable and easy to clean as the semi-gloss of old, so there’s no need to sacrifice style for an easy-clean finish.

Faux Finishes: Worry-Free Solutions for Busy Spaces

Faux finishes such as ragging or sponging are fun, creative and very livable options for kids’ rooms and other busy family spaces. Along with the variety of textures you can create, faux finishes tend to hide dirt and fingerprints. And if disaster strikes in the form of a crayon, it’s easy to camouflage with a few strategic sponge pats. When painting a base coat to faux finish over, choose a satin or semi-gloss which won’t absorb the top coat too quickly, allowing you to get creative with the faux layer.

Our Faves?

Regardless of finish, our hands-down favorites are Home Depot’s Behr Premium Plus and Premium Plus Ultra (with the built-in primer) – both offer great coverage, durability and clean-ability at a reasonable cost. In fact, Consumer Reports 2011 agrees with us 🙂 and lists these Behr paints as a top value.

We also love Sherwin Williams ProClassic Semi-Gloss for trim, especially if painting over an oil-based paint — it’s expensive but goes a long, long way.