Water Based Vs Oil Based Paint

A common question asked is: which is better, water based vs oil based paint?

Although there is no right and wrong answer to this and it’s all down to individual preference, we delve deeper in to the main pros and cons of each choice.

We compare the two main type of paints you can purchase.

Paint Technology

Owing to research and development of water based paints it has developed significantly in the past twenty years.

This is mainly due to legislation brought in to reduce VOC content that paints can give off.

When this legislation was brought in water based paints tended to be very thin and would take a lot of coats before getting the relevant thickness.

Obviously painters and decorators as well as DIY users were less than impressed with water based solutions as they entered the market.

This perception still holds true for a lot of users who are reluctant to try newer paints.

Paint manufacturers are constantly researching and developing their paint lines.

This is resulting in some quality water based products that will rival oil based paints in terms of application, durability and longevity.

oil based vs water based

Benefits and Disadvantages

Oil Based Benefits

  • Mostly resistant to moisture
  • Durable, good for wear and tear
  • Easy to clean glossy finish
  • Retains shine for long period
  • Easy to apply
  • Smooth finish

Oil Based Disadvantages

Water Based Benefits

  • Quick Drying times
  • Easy to clean rollers and brushes afterwards
  • Virtually no scent
  • Good for painting external areas
  • Better for environment
  • Not as thick as oil based paints

WB Disadvantages

  • Because it is fast drying there is no play in the paint
  • May require a few coats
  • To completely harden takes time
  • Don’t work well in low temperatures
  • Needs average temperatures, not too hot or cold

Oil Based Paints

Oil based paints were favourable with painter and DIYers as quite simply they were the only paint options.

The main positives of oil based are that they stay wetter for longer which enables any mistakes in the painting like brush marks to be rectified.

They can also be rubbed down in between coats and this enables layers of gloss to get a shiny and sophisticated finish.

The famous door at ten Downing Street is an example of this.

oil based paint on door at 10 Downing Street

Water Based Paints

More environmentally friendly than its oil based alternative, water based has seen a dramatic increase in products.

Main positives as listed above are that they are environmentally friendly, easier to wash out and clean up, low odour, dry fast.

Although the paint technology has improved no end, there still are some problems

Adhesion issues

Using water based products over the top of oil based products doesn’t tend to end well.

Oil and water don’t mix, an experiment you try in school explains this problem.

If surfaces aren’t prepared adequately then the paint is most likely to fail, peel away, and chip off.

This is due to a water repellant barrier that the oil produces after it has cured off.

The solution: To make a water based paint stick over the top of older oil based coats is to ensure that the substrate is keyed properly.

The best way to key is to lightly sand back the existing coat with sandpaper or scotchbrite.


Temperature plays a big factor in the drying and curing time of water based paints.

Water based paints tend to dry off quickly if temperatures are adequate but if it is too cold then it may have problems curing off and subsequently adhering.

Similarly if the paint is applied in warm conditions it may cure too quickly.

Our advice: Always check the manufacturers data sheets to see the temperature ranges to apply the paint. If in doubt, wait or use another suitable product.


Water based paints have been developed and come on a long way in the past ten years.

Thats not to say that oil based products still don’t have their place as there are certain times where it will be the better solution.

Paint manufacturers are constantly tinkering with the ingredients of their products, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad.

How do I choose? Go on recommendations, apply the paint and once you are happy with a product, stick with it until they change it again!

Further Reading

The Best Gloss Paint- Water based and Oil based

The Toughest Interior Paints