What’s the difference between oil paint and latex paint?

Sarah Robinson

Painters sometimes toss around jargon (we’re sorry!), but you may be wondering what these words really mean. When a painter is recommending latex paint but you’ve heard that oil-based paint is the way to go, here are the differences you should take into consideration.


Latex paint is also known as acrylic paint.  In latex paint, the carrier is typically water with glycols or glycol ethers as a solvent.

Pros of latex paint:

  • Doesn’t yellow over time
  • Better for the environment
  • Quick drying time
  • Easy to clean up, just soap and water
  • Durable
  • Flexible
  • Adheres extremely well to exterior surfaces
  • Resistant to common paint failures like flaking, blistering and peeling

Cons of latex paint:

  • Can sometimes swell the grains of wood, making sanding between coats necessary

WOW Fact: Latex paint does not contain latex from the rubber plant. The term ‘latex’ in the paint world refers to the resin (binder).


Oil-based paint (also known as alkyd) is less popular today. In oil-based paints, the carrier is a formulation of mineral spirits and petrochemical solvents.

Pros of oil paint:

  • Hard, durable finish
  • High viscosity so fewer coats are needed to cover imperfections
  • Less shrinkage

Cons of oil paint:

  • Laborious clean up: you’ll need a paint thinner and have to dispose of that responsibly (you can’t just rinse it in the sink!)
  • It’s thicker, stickier and harder to work with (much less forgiving than latex)
  • It’s stinky! Oil-based paints have a strong odor
  • More likely to crack and fade over time

WOW Fact: Around 50 years ago, the majority of paint used in residential projects was alkyd (oil) based. Advances in paint technology have shifted this pattern; today, around 80% of paint used for residential painting is latex-based.

Don’t forget that WOW 1 DAY PAINTING can help you choose the right paint for your project. You know where to find us!