Now then, I wasn’t going to post this as I thought you might all know the answer, but I get asked this a lot so I’m going to assume that some of you don’t. So I thought it might be worth laying it all out as a guide for you to virtually cut out and keep. Every day I am asked which paint to use for a radiator, for a skirting board. Or when to use gloss. Or eggshell and so on. So here we are: What Paint to Use on Which Surface: A Guide.
We’ll start with the walls as that’s the biggest area. Now I’m sure you know that’s basically emulsion but you need to consider what finish you want. In recent years, the trend has been for ultra flat matt paint with a slightly chalky finish. This is because it holds the colour really well and gives a wonderfully soft, almost powdery, finish. This is the paint that will change with the light which means that sometimes it can look almost velvety. This is the paint that makes it so hard to find the exact shade because it changes according to the weather, the climate and the time of day. It’s beautiful stuff.
But it’s not tough. You put this in your hall at your own peril because it attracts fingerprints and black marks and can chip easily too. And you can’t wipe it down. Shall I say that again – you can’t wipe it down. So it’s not the most practical in high traffic areas – by which I mean halls and stairs etc because it is not washable.
For that you will need something with a slight sheen to it that you can take a cloth to. It’s not like the ultra shiny vinyl silk of the 1980s, but even a three per cent sheen is better than nothing. Now you have to look out for the different names so Mylands call theirs Marble Matt Emulsion, because it contains ground marble powder that gives it a hard wearing finish. Little Greene have Intelligent Matt – also washable and hard-wearing as opposed to their Absolutely Matt, which has a stunning flat finish and is not classed as washable. Farrow & Ball estate emulsion has a two per cent sheen and is enormously popular but it won’t like a hall wall. Their Modern Emulsion has seven per cent sheen and is washable and wipeable. I’m not going to list all the brands but hopefully this gives you a sense of what to look out for.
But – there’s always a but isn’t there – the more matt the paint, the flatter the finish and the more it will hide any lumps and bumps on the walls. This paint will always look good no matter how poor your painting skills are (once you have applied enough coats that is) whereas a shinier paint will show up every lump and bump on the wall. So you might want to consider that too.
When it comes to kitchens and bathrooms, however, use the paints with a higher sheen as the super flat ones can end up with water marks from condensation etc and they will stain. So again you need to look for the ones with a slight sheen.
And here Dulux can be a good place to go with its Easycare range that, for the bathroom, is moisture resistant and protects against mould and, in the kitchen, is grease and stain resistant – the marks will simply form into beads that can be wiped off. It’s based on the hyrdophobic qualities of leaves, in case you were wondering, Dulux also offers a flat matt paint that, they claim, won’t mark like traditional chalky paints.
But Marianne Shillingford, the company’s creative director, advises that it can be hard to get a super flat matt in an intense bright colour because of the amount of pigment required with the matting agent. “It’s easier to get a lower sheen in rich muted atmospheric colours and gorgeous greys,” she says.
It’s also worth noting that you can also use gloss paint on walls. Traditionally used on woodwork as the high shine makes it tough on skirting boards and doors, while gloss also looks good in bathrooms and small spaces as the shine bounces the light around. Consider it also for a ceiling where it will reflect the light not just from electric bulbs but the natural stuff that comes through the windows as well. I have used it in a tiny bathroom and while it’s a nightmare to apply, a really good finish can look like lacquer if it’s well done.
Gloss paint used to all be solvent-based and take ages to dry – as well as giving off a strong smell – but these days there are lots of quick-drying water-based gloss paints around which are more environmentally friendly and have a much lower VOC content (volatile organic compounds*). Gloss tends to be around 80 per cent sheen and is fully washable and tough.
In recent years gloss fell out of fashion – possibly because of the drying times and the smell, and along with flat chalky paint, everyone wanted a softer eggshell finish.
Now the first thing to note, and this is the question that everyone asks – you can’t use emulsion on wood and metal. It will just chip off. You must use a wood paint for a wooden surface. And that basically means eggshell . (or gloss). These days you can get matt eggshell for wood and eggshell with a slight sheen that matches the walls – which is perhaps where the confusion arose – but you can’t put matt wall paint on the skirting boards or the radiator. Most companies will have a wood and metal paint that will do the same job.
Right, now that that’s been cleared up, you are basically free to choose the finish you want. If, for example, you have panelling on your walls – currently all the rage – you will need an eggshell or specialist wood paint to cover it – even if it’s on the wall – for the reasons above.
Finally floor paint. I have used water-based floor paint from Farrow & Ball and it’s not as tough as an oil-based paint from, say Little Greene. But it dries faster which is a major consideration when you are already living in a house. With two teenagers and a cat. If I were starting again, or had yet to move in, I think I might chose an oil-based paint for the floors. Some people swear by Ronseal Diamond floor paint which is acrylic but it comes in only 10 colours and it’s white or cream, black or grey and many of us require a little more subtlety of shade than that.
I have used images of my own house to illustrate this and below is the unfinished (at the time of writing) spare room with its metallic gold ceiling, which is acrylic paint. That means I was also able to paint the plastic light fitting to match the ceiling as well. The window frame is about to be painted to match the walls.
VOCs are solvents that are released into the air as soon as the paint dries. Paint used to contain lots of them and in addition to causing headaches and dizziness there was a question over whether they were actually carcinogenic. Their presence in paint is now heavily regulated although, according to the British Coatings Federation, paint contributes less than one per cent of the VOCs found in the UK – exhaust fumes, fabric softeners and cleaning products being among the other, greater, contributors. VOCs are not banned but must remain at low levels – reduced from 400g per litre in 2007 to 300g in 2010.