Enamel vs. Latex: Choose the Best Paint for Your Project

We love home renovation projects. There are television channels dedicated to the pursuit of making our homes more beautiful. Doing this on a dime is not easy, which is why so many people turn to the inexpensive renovation of painting.

Each renovation job requires a different type of paint, and depending on the item you plan to paint, you’ll want to consider each of the paints out there. Two of the most commonly used by home renovators are latex and enamel paints. Small projects typically call for the enamel-based paint, while large scale projects often require latex paint.

enamel vs latex

However, if you’re starting the project, you’re likely wondering which paint works best for you. Below, we’ll look at the differences between the two common paints and decide which is best for your particular job.


Latex Paint

Latex paint is the most common paint on shelves of home renovation stores. Over time, this paint has undergone significant changes for the betterment of the user and environment.

Originally, latex paint had a rubber base, but this was phased out as the water-based solution was perfected. Today, latex paints are considered non hazardous and contain many less volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which is associated with the fresh paint smell so many people love.

Latex paint dries quickly and is an inexpensive option, so this is often used on larger areas, like walls and ceilings. Though it is more useful on walls, it can also be used on furniture, doors, and other surfaces. Glass and fabric, however, have their own type of paints, which can usually be found at hobby stores.

Because it comes in so many finishes, from flat to eggshell, this is perfect for a variety of rooms. It also is easy to clean, which makes it a great option for kitchens and bathrooms.

Painters can use rollers to place coats of latex paint on walls for a smooth finish. Depending on the texture of the wall, you’ll find different naps for the rollers work better. Be sure to lightly sand the walls or furniture between coats to help the paint adhere better.

A few things to note about latex paint. Since it does dry so quickly, you’ll want to cover the paint and rollers when not in use. This means the lid should be placed back on the can while you use the paint in your roller pan. Professional painters sometimes use foil to cover brushes and rollers overnight.

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Also, professional painters recommend latex paint not be used on untreated drywall or wood, as this can damage both materials.

Latex Paint Pros

  • Quick drying
  • Flexible when dry
  • Comes in a variety of colors and finishes
  • Lower VOCs
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to clean
  • Water-dissolvable
  • Color remains the same over time

Latex Paint Cons

  • Must cure for about six months prior to being washed
  • Can dry too rapidly, depending on the weather
  • Peels more quickly
  • Not good for high traffic items

Enamel Paint

There are two types of enamel paint: oil-based and acrylic. Both paints provide a wonderful hard shell that is typically quite glossy similar to glass. These are great for many projects that require a sheen that cannot be found using latex paints, such as lamp posts, hydrants, and other commercial applications.

Acrylic-based enamel paint does not yellow over time as it’s oil-based counterpart. It is also better for the environment and easier to clean off brushes. However, acrylic-based paints will not stick to oil-based paints, so they cannot easily replace preexisting paint coats.

Also, the term “enamel” in paint refers to the need for a solvent, like paint thinner, to remove from items. So, many painters argue water-based acrylic enamels are not as good as a traditional oil-based enamel.

Oil-based enamel paint, though higher in VOCs, is still a common choice by many painters and designers. With its longer dry time, painters often use this for smaller areas that need to be done using a brush. For instance, doors and trim are typically painted with a brush rather than a roller.

With latex paint, brushes can leave behind streaks in the paint. With the quick dry time of latex paint, those lines do not have the opportunity to settle and blend.


Painters also tend to use enamel paint on projects that require weatherproofing, such as external doors, sheds, and shutters. Since it is oil based, the water is repelled from the surface. This also allows for longer wear before the need for repainting.

Enamel paint can be mixed with many chemicals to provide a versatile product. For instance, heat-resistant enamel paint can be used to refurbish the exterior of a grill or smoker. Because it is very durable, it can also be used on handrails, countertops, and floors without as much concern for scuffing or wearing away from heavy traffic.

Please note that not all paints labelled “enamel” are enamel. Nowadays, some companies label their latex paint as having an enamel finish because it is more durable than before. It is not the same as traditional oil-based enamel paints.

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Also, when using enamel paints, the high odor and toxicity can become a danger, so always be sure to ventilate the area you plan to paint.

Enamel Paint Pros

  • Longer drying time allows streaks to disappear
  • Glossy finish
  • Water resistant
  • Extremely hard finish
  • Often comes in spray cans for easy use
  • Can be used on several surfaces, including heat-resistant uses
  • Makes finished products easy to clean
  • Weather resistant

Enamel Paint Cons

  • Requires a longer drying time
  • High VOCs
  • Difficult to clean up
  • Yellows over time
  • Requires vigorous mixing
  • Difficult for touchups (since color changes over time)
  • Must use on fully dry surfaces or moisture will repel the paint

Enamel vs. Latex Paint Clean Up

Latex paint clean up is a dream in comparison to enamel paint. The water-based solution means that you can use just dish soap and water to clean up messes.

When cleaning brushes, be sure to run warm water through the bristles, gently separating them as you go. The brushes will not be clean until the water runs clear. Be advised that leaving any paint behind on the brush or roller will cause it to harden, and leave it mostly unusable.

Also, it may be tempting to rub the brush handle between your fingers to create a spin to get rid of excess water. Doing this will fan out the bristles, though, possibly ruining the brushes for a second use.

When you’re ready to clean up your materials from painting with enamel paint, there are a few more steps to keep in mind. Water will not work on this paint since it is oil-based (remember using it for exterior purposes for this very reason?).

The acrylic-based enamel paints are easier to clean up, but traditional oil-based require paint thinners (or mineral spirits) to remove from brushes and rollers. Paint thinner is hazardous, so it cannot be poured down the toilet or drain.

Fill a small pail with the mineral spirits and wash your brushes. Afterward, strain the paint thinner to remove debris. It’s best to wait a day for the paint remnants to fall to the bottom of the pail, then you can pour the thinner back in its container to be reused.

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Once you have used the thinner several times, this must be disposed of at an eco-center for hazardous wastes.

Paint Disposal

One of the problems homeowners face is getting rid of the cans of paint that litter their basements and garages. In fact, when I purchased my home, I inherited several old cans! Some areas have eco parks or warehouses, where volatile chemicals can be taken. However, many of these turn away any item of which they do not personal dispose. Paint cans tend to be on the list of no-nos. So, what can you do with these empty or half-empty cans?

With either type of paint, look online or call your community centers to see if anyone is accepting paint. Many not-for-profits and clubs work on small budgets, so the offer of a can of paint may be exactly what they need for a theater backdrop or to paint an office wall that was damaged in a storm. Always consider the idea of reducing and reusing when renovating.

Latex Paint Disposal

Latex paint disposal is much easier than most people assume. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) no longer recognizes these formulas as hazardous. Because of this, they can be thrown directly into your trash with a few steps. Depending on how much paint is left in your can, you may have an additional step or two. If the can is basically empty, remove the lid and allow the paint to harden on the inside of the can.

If the can has more than an inch of paint in it, you’ll likely want to dump the paint into a cardboard box. This larger surface area can help it to dry more quickly. You can also add cat litter or a paint hardener (purchased from a paint or home renovation store). Mix equal parts together, and let harden. When the paint has dried in the cans, be sure to leave the lids off, and toss them in the trash or recycling bin (if your area accepts them).

Enamel Paint Disposal

Since enamel paint is considered hazardous, you need to take this to a hazardous waste center or eco park. There will likely be certain days and open hours for homeowners to bring in their waste. It may be tempting to just let this dry and throw it out the same as latex paints, but for the sake of the environment, don’t.