Enamel vs Latex Paint

enamel vs latex paint

Taking on a major paint project can be a pretty arduous task. You have to plan out how much paint you need, do all the prep work, and factor in drying time and multiple coats. However, one thing that a lot of people seem to overlook is the type of paint they use. Depending on the surface you’re painting on and a few other factors, you’ll want to decide between enamel or latex paint. Down below, we’ll compare and contrast enamel vs latex paint, list the pros and cons of each, and discuss where you might want to use each paint type.

enamel paint and latex paint

The Main Differences Between Enamel vs Latex Paint

The main difference between enamel paint and latex paint is the difference in paint bases.

Enamel paint is oil-based, whereas latex paint is water-based.

Enamel paints, also sometimes referred to as hard-surface paints, dry slow but hard, making them perfect for hard surfaces. Latex or water-based paints are fast-drying paints that are more malleable, making them the appropriate paint for projects where the surface may expand or in locations where movement and flexibility are required.

Now that you know a bit more about the chemical difference between enamel and latex paint, we’ll now take you through a few different factors you’ll want to consider when choosing between enamel and latex paint.


Deciding on the finish that you want for your project will help to narrow down your choice of paint.

Eggshell and matte, or flat finishes are only available with latex paints. This latex finish is considered to be the more modern and sophisticated of the two paint types. Latex paint’s finish is easy to clean and is durable enough to withstand all high traffic areas in your home. Satin finish is available as latex paint but can also come in enamel paint.

Enamel dries with a hard glass-like finish that is easy to clean and hard to stain. Enamel paint is available in satin, semi-gloss, or high-gloss. Oil-based/enamel paints are commonly used for trim, cabinets, and other possible high-impact areas due to the high durability of enamel paint’s finish.

Interior Vs. Exterior Use

The flat or eggshell look of latex paint is a modern look that has become popular for use on interior walls and ceilings in homes.

Flexible yet durable, latex paint is also easy to clean and water-resistant, making it ideal for most interior projects. While durable and waterproof, latex paint remains slightly flexible even when completely dry, making it ill-suited for the exterior climate.

Conversely, the hard glossy finish of enamel paint can look harsh and dated over large areas indoors but is well suited for the outdoor sunshine and elements. Although oil-based or enamel paint tends to fade and yellow over time, exterior oil-based paints in neutral or earth tone colors such as beige, tan, or taupe will be less likely to break down and fade than other oil-based paint colors.

Paint Fumes

Fumes from any paint in significant amounts can cause lightheadedness, headaches, irritation to the eyes, or trouble breathing.

Latex paint has a milder odor than enamel paint, making it a better choice for walls and bigger projects. Being higher in fumes, oil-based enamel should be reserved for smaller projects or used outdoors when possible.

With either type of paint, if you must be indoors, work in a well-ventilated room or area and open doors or windows to circulate airflow if possible.


Paint additives, extenders,  or conditioners can improve your painted project’s overall final look by slightly thinning the paint, elongating the drying time, and allowing the paint to level itself and lay flat for a smooth finish.

Floetrol, shown below, while not the only brand available, is the most popular paint additive for latex paints. Penetrol, also shown below but not the only brand available, is the most popular paint additive for oil-based paints.

Drying Times

Thick even coats of paint can create a smooth brush mark-free finish when the paint is left to level and dry properly.

Latex paint dries faster, so paint must be laid quickly and left to level. Enamel paint takes longer to dry but has a better finish due to the oil-based paint actually absorbing the surface being painted. A longer drying time allows for enamel paint to be manipulated for longer to ensure the perfect thick even coat.


Cleanup of latex paints typically requires only water and a rag. As latex paints are water-based, clean-up is fairly easy.

Enamel paints require paint thinner, such as the one pictured below, for cleaning brushes and surfaces that paint has spilled on.

enamel paint

What Are The Advantages Of Enamel Paint?

Oil-based enamel paint’s longer drying time may seem like a disadvantage, but the longer drying time gives you more time to work with the paint for a perfectly smooth coat. Enamel paint also goes onto surfaces smoother and with better coverage coat for coat compared to latex paint.

The smooth thick coats of enamel paint left to level and dry will result in the desired flawless durable finish.

Ease of cleaning is another advantage of enamel paint. A good rule of thumb is the shinier the paint finish, the easier it will be to clean. Enamel paint is also waterproof, making it perfectly suitable for any outdoor condition.

latex paint

What are the Advantages of Latex Paint?

If you want to paint on unprimed drywall or stonewall or brick wall, you should opt for latex paint and a suitable latex paint sprayer.

It also works well on surfaces that have already been painted with other latex or oil-based paints. In addition, it is a more budget-friendly option that works well on large interior walls.

Colorado Painting

If you live in the Denver, Colorado area and are looking for a commercial or residential paint job, you should look no further than Colorado Painting.

We have been Denver’s best painting company for 38 years, with a proven track record of excellence, no matter what your project calls for. We’ve done it all – interior, exterior, deck staining, and foundation painting, so you can be sure we can handle your job.

Contact us today to discuss your painting needs and get a free estimate.


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