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Flat, Gloss, Eggshell… Oh, My! Which interior paints are best for busy family homes?

Over the years, we’ve been asked about the best paints and finishes for busy family spaces, nurseries and kids’ 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 very qualified to tackle this question.

Happily, it’s an easy answer…

Paint formulation and finish have as much impact on long-term satisfaction as color choice. Luckily, there are plenty of durable, easy-clean choices in variety of finishes and paint formulations. You just need to know your options so you can pick the best combination for your needs.

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 & Finishes

Water-based latex and oil-based enamel are the two most common paint types used for home interiors.

  • Oil-based Paints — This paint formulation once had a more durable, easier-clean finish than latex, but that’s no longer the case.
  • Water-based Latex Paints  — These paint formulations now 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 home interiors. You can even find VOC-free paints.

Interior paints also come in several finishes, referred to as sheen. Sheen 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: Does the Finish Matter?

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.

Our Interior Paint Faves

Regardless of finish, our hands-down favorites are Home Depot’s Behr Marquis Interior 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’ annual paint review consistently 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. Lowe’s Valspar Reserve, Signature and Ultra round out our list of top contenders for interior paint year after year.

Brushes & Rollers Matter, Too

Remember! You can buy the top-rated paint on the planet, but sub-par brushes and rollers will ruin your look. Pro-quality brushes and rollers are worth the extra dollar or two, believe me! Here are some great deals for you.

The Woolie Dual-Roller faux finish paint kit makes it easy to create a multi-dimensional look in any room.

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. Our favorite tool for this is the Woolie Dual-Roller Kit, shown here.

Along with the variety of looks 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.

Traditional faux finishes are (at least) a two-step process. First you’ll paint a base coat, then hand-apply a sheer overcoat with a sponge or cheesecloth rag. A satin or semi-gloss base cost is best for this process since it won’t absorb the top coat too quickly. This allows you to get creative with the faux layer.

Or, you can use our recommended Woolie dual-roller kit and get a great multi-dimensional look in one step. Here are some other faux-finish paint kits that you can use to create a variety of looks.