What is Latex Paint Used For?

Walking into Home Depot and Lowe’s as a homeowner is an exciting task. Home improvement and renovation ideas run through your mind at warp speed, but your wallet says you need to stick with an inexpensive project. Enter the painting department.

Walking down the paint aisle, you’ll see many colors and finishes. But what’s with the paint types? Is latex the best type? How do you use latex paint and clean up afterward? Latex is the most commonly used paint composition in homes because it can be used on a variety of surfaces, from furniture to walls.

what is latex paint used for

There are many surfaces in the home that can be painted (and some you may never have thought to paint – looking at you shower curtain). Can latex paint really work on all of these surfaces? Why does it work so well for certain items? And what is the best process for tackling these projects?


Latex Paint

There are three types of paint on the market that are used in home renovation: acrylic, latex, and oil-based. Each of these have their own pros and cons. Most often, latex is the recommended paint for large jobs. This typically means using it on room walls, since this covers a large expanse.

Latex paint was originally made from a rubber polymer in the chemical makeup, giving it the name. However, today’s latex paint has been manipulated to remove the rubber and use some safer ingredients to establish a non-hazardous paint. Today, latex paint uses a water-based makeup, which allows it to be more flexible, easier to clean up, and lower in VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) than its counterpart paints. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is always seeking to change regulations to make these chemicals safer for the environment and people who use it (remember lead-based paint?).

Latex paint can be used on most surfaces, from countertops to wooden furniture. It is suggested that you never use paint on raw woods, as it can swell and damage the wood grain. If using paint on highly trafficked areas, like a floor or countertop, it should be a very short-term solution, since it will wear away quickly when continuously rubbed and scratched. If you want to work with fabrics, select a fabric paint instead of latex.

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Pros and Cons

It’s easy to question why latex paint might be better, but let’s look at the track record for why this is a better paint to use when painting your kitchen.


  • Inexpensive
  • Durable
  • Easy to clean
  • Easy clean up
  • Long lasting
  • Great for various materials
  • Quick dry time
  • Doesn’t yellow over time
  • Non hazardous
  • Lower VOCs
  • Flexible when dry
  • Easy disposal
  • Non-flammable
  • Mildew resistant


  • Chips over time
  • Must cure for about thirty days before it can be cleaned with soap and water
  • Must be stored at room temperature
  • Cannot leave it out without drying quickly
  • Cannot be used on plastic or untreated wood

Using Latex Paint

Using latex paint is easier than oil-based paints. The first step is to prep your wall. You need to fill all those holes with spackle, and give it time to dry. A light sanding of the wall, especially if you are covering a glossier paint, is suggested. Once you have sanded, be sure to wipe the walls down with a dry towel to get rid of dust and debris. If you are working on an unpainted wall, you’ll need to roll out a layer of primer first.

Next, dip a brush or roller, and paint! It is as simple as that. The professional suggestion is to roll paint in a “W” formation on the to prevent streaking. Also, when painting with a brush, go in the same direction to prevent similar streaks. It may be tempting to put a lot of paint on the roller so you need less coats, but this will create clumping and dripping, so avoid this. If painting on wood, always follow the grain of the wood.

Because latex paint dries so quickly, you should be able to work on the next coat the same day. While the paint may be dry in as little as an hour, it’s best to wait two or three before tackling the next coat. Use a fine grit sandpaper (1,000 works great for in between layers), and gently sand down the first coat. This is especially important if you are painting furniture or other objects with many corners and crevices. Add the second coat, and repeat the process if you feel a third coat is necessary. When covering dark colors, consider using a primer to cover it so you don’t need so many coats.

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Cleaning Latex Paint

There are two parts to cleaning latex paint: cleaning it off brushes and cleaning the paint once it has cured.

Once you’ve painted, you’ll have the brushes and rollers begging to be cleaned. It isn’t wise to throw these out, since society always suggests reducing and reusing when you can. If you plan to continue painting within a very short period of time (no longer than 24 hours), consider wrapping the wet paint and brushes in foil or saran wrap. This should hold in the moisture enough to keep it from drying.

To clean the paint off the trays and brushes, simply take it over to the sink and rinse. Using a bit of dish soap will help the paint to dissolve more quickly. Just soap and water will get everything cleaned up, but it will take some time to get the water to run clear. If it isn’t running clear, there is still paint remaining in the bristles, which can damage the brush. Also, try to keep the bristles running in the same direction throughout cleaning to keep the brush usable and stray bristles from compromising future paint jobs.

To clean the walls once they have dried, you’ll need a bucket and a rag. Using a few drops of a mild cleanser, like dish soap, and a bucket of warm water will make the perfect cleaning mixture. When wetting the rag, be sure to wring it well so that it isn’t dripping. Wipe down your walls to remove dirt, hair, and cobwebs. If you find a scuff mark or particularly stubborn stain (kids and crayons are trouble), dip the damp cloth in some baking soda to make a paste that can be used to scrub the marks away. Just be sure to rinse off the spot with fresh water.

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Disposal of Cans

Depending on where you live, there may be strict methods for getting rid of paint cans. Many basements and garages across the country are filled with old paint cans. Most people say they keep the cans just in case there is a chip or injury to the wall. The truth is that it is usually too confusing figuring out how to get rid of the cans.

Because latex paint is water-based and not considered a hazardous material, many states allow you to dispose of these cans in the garbage- so long as you follow a couple of rules. You must let the paint harden before disposal. You can pour it into a cardboard box or leave it in the can. Letting it air dry will take a lot of time, but it is the simplest and cheapest option. You can also purchase paint hardeners from the store or mix it with kitty litter to help it dry more quickly. Mix equal parts of kitty litter to the paint. It should be thick and dry within twenty minutes, otherwise you may need more litter. You can then dispose of the cans in your trash (leave the paint lids off).

An additional idea for paint disposal is to call around to charities. If you have half a can or more, churches, shelters, and other organizations may rejoice at the donation of free paint. Another local option are theater groups, that are working on a limited budget.