Ask LH: How Can I Choose The Right Paint To Use?

Ask LH: How Can I Choose The Right Paint To Use?

Dear LH, I have lots of painting work that I need to do on an old house, both internal and external. The range of options and advice from different people on paints to use is wide and varied. Any cheat sheets you’ve come across or other advice? Thanks, Paint Misbehaving

House painting picture from Shutterstock

Dear PM,

As luck would have it, Kotaku editor Mark Serrels just finished painting his property. His advice? “If in doubt, ask Bunnings!”

The reason there’s so much conflicting advice about house painting is because the process isn’t the same for everybody. The “best” paint will depend on a large range of factors, including the surface type, its location, whether it’s been painted on previously and the kind of finish you’re going for.

If you’re not fully sure about the colour you’ve chosen, a water-based paint is probably the best way to go as these paints are easier to remove. Oil or alkyd-based paints are more difficult to take off, but they provide a shinier and more durable finish. Oil-based paints also take longer to dry out, which could be handy if you’re planning to paint in the summer heat.

See also: Top Tricks For Hassle-Free Painting

While we’ve not come across any notable “cheat sheets”, most house paint companies contain plenty of useful information on their websites, including FAQs and detailed glossary pages for novice users. Here are a few of the major paint types to get you started:

Primer: This is an undercoat that prepares a surface for proper painting via a binding layer. A primer provides better paint adhesion and stronger durability. Naturally, it’s a good idea to choose a tint that closely matches the paint colour that will go on top of it.

Interior/Exterior: This is self-explanatory, really. If you’re painting an outdoor surface, use an exterior paint, which will be labeled as such. While it’s technically possible to use an exterior paint indoors, this isn’t advised. They use harsher chemicals that may be harmful in closed environments and also have a stronger smell.

Enamel: Because of their hard, glossy finish, oil based paints are sometimes referred to as enamel.

Acrylic Water-based house paints use acrylic as a binding agent. It comes in several varieties including acrylic latex, acrylic enamel or acrylic latex enamel. Acrylic latex will be suitable for the vast majority of interior walls.

There are also plenty of “specialty” paints available that include additives to suit a variety of purposes. These include everything from anti-mold properties to fire retardants and insulation that reflects heat.

Unfortunately, it’s usually necessary to remove any existing paint before applying a new finish. This tends to be a time-consuming process that involves sanding, striping, cleaning and masking the surfaces before you even think of cracking open a tin of fresh paint. (If the house if very old, you also have to be mindful of lead-based paints.)

While selecting the right type of paint is obviously important, the main consideration still comes down to colour. After all, you’re going to be looking at these walls for a long time to come so it’s not something you want to get wrong. One tool that can help in this area is ColorSnap Studio. This is a mobile app that digitally paints your house to help you pick the right colour.

We’d also love to hear from our readers on this one. If you’ve recently painted a house, please share the lessons you learned in the comments section below.


Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our [contact text=”contact form”].


  • Paint selection can also be governed by one’s tolerance of volatile organic compounds. If you find that painting is a headache…literally, then consider VOC free organic or natural paints that contain only natural plant oils (such as citrus oil), and I don’t mean just water based, as the standard hardware shop water based paint still contains VOCs. With zero VOC you get no headache and with some paints absolutely no scent. I’m not going to tell brands, but an internet search should bring them up.

    • this is the road we went when we were preparing our daughters room before she was born. i dont think we found any organic ones at the time, but we went with the no/low VOC option. worked a treat.

    • I used that dulux spray paint without the paint huffing chemicals recently on a project for me, it was terrible, bad coverage, took days to dry. Ended up leaving it for 2 weeks to fully cure then went over the top with a normal type spray paint.

      • G-man, all I can say is that you maybe used the wrong brand. I’ve used Volvox and Livos paints from Germany and Natural Paints from somewhere in South Australia. All pretty good.

  • Unfortunately, it’s usually necessary to remove any existing paint before applying a new finish. No, you only need to do this if the paint is in really bad condition (flaking, peeling, etc). And even then, you only need to remove enough so that all the loose bits are gone and the surface is smooth.

    Don’t bother with oil based paints unless you really need to. I painted my trim and doors with a white Dulux oil-based enamel and it was a complete PITA to use and clean, smelled bad, and worse, a year later it’s noticeably yellowed. I’ve since painted other things with a water-based enamel and it’s so much easier and hasn’t yellowed.

    Don’t skimp out on painter’s tape. The cheap stuff simply doesn’t work. I’ve had good experiences with the green tape (can’t remember the brand but it has a picture of a frog on it).

    • I second Dman’s advice…. Especially with Oil based paints not being worth the effort… Rule of Thumb: Stick with Acrylic / Water-based paint

      • I find oils give better coverage, less coats especially on yellows and reds, yes fumes are an issue, but for hardwaring bright colours. I can’t go past oil enamels.

  • I work in a hardware store in the paint department so I can give you a pretty basic breakdown if it helps.

    Recommened painters kit would include: Low tack painters tape (Frog Tape is pretty good), drop sheets (plastic or cotton, whatever), sandpaper, scraper, paintstripper and paint brushers/rollers (check before buying them to make sure you’re getting the right ones for the right purpose).

    Undercoat: If the surface has been stained, or has dark patches, go for a PSU (primer/sealer/undercoat) which will help hide the stains. If the stains are due to water leaks, make sure that the leakage is treated and the surface has completely dried out. You can find an undercoat for every surface. Your paint specialist can point you in the right direction to make sure you have the right prep for your surface (or Zinsser…. that stuff is pretty good).

    Interior walls use a water based acrylic paint. Low sheen paints will give you a better level of washability (how easy it cleans), and are pretty common on walls. When working out how much you need, always double it as you always need to do 2 coats of paint to obtain great colour opacity. Valspar is a paint and primer in one, and Wattyl ID/Dulux Wash and wear are pretty good too.

    Interior wet areas (kitchen, laundry or bathroom): best to use a Kitchen and Bathroom specific paint. This already has the antifungal additive in it and it best suited for wet areas. Used to be in a semi-gloss finish, but you can get some brands in a lowsheen finish.

    Skirting boards/ architrades: Enamel paint is best for this as it’s hardwaring. You can get this in oil or water based now. Water based is easier to clean up and doesn’t smell as much, but you get the shiniest finish using oil based enamel.

    Ceilings: Ceiling paint is always a flat white. It’s hard to clean, but it doesn’t have any sheen so the light won’t cause any glare on the ceiling. You can get ones that come in a purple/pink colour that dry to white but most people prefer to go for a straight white. You can get this tinted if you want. That’s totally up to you.

    Exterior walls need to be done with an exterior water based paint. It’s formulated to withstand the outside conditions. Solargard and Weathershield are the two biggest names and are fantastic products.

    We normally reccomend water based paints for people with allergies, kids or confined spaces as it doesn’t smell as much as oil based but it does clean up in water.

    Make sure you clean your brushes and rollers and don’t use them until they’re dry. I recommend that you clean your roller before using it to get rid of any loose fibres too.

    And, so you know, if the paint is pretty cheap, it’s probably not going to cover as well as something more expensive as it will be a little bit more watery than it’s dearer counterparts.

    If there is something you’re unsure of, the specialists at any paint store or big box hardware store are full of advice. And don’t be afraid to call paint manufactures either as they can troubleshoot on the spot.

    Best of luck.

  • Exterior paints are UV resistant and may even rely on the UV to bleach them in the case of white paint, so will yellow with time if used indoors but remain white outdoors.

  • Make sure you understand the different levels of sheen and gloss. Went semi-gloss Weathershield on my previous weatherboard house – the dirt seemed not to stick to it so much and was easy to wash clean.

    A high pressure wash and sugar soap of external walls before painting is worthwhile. Plus bog and patch any holes beforehand.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!