Water Based Paint vs Oil Based Paint

New legislation set in place by the European union has been gradually changing the way paint is manufactured. These new regulations are aimed at reducing and removing harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from all paint products. Over the last five years we have started to see the introduction of eco friendly, greener water based paint.

Why the change?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are harmful chemicals that give of gas causing damage to human health and the ozone. These VOC’s compounds are found in many products, aerosols, thinners, oil based paint, nail polish, paint stripper, commercial solvents, leather treatments, pesticides and the list goes on.

Read more on Volatile Organic Compounds

Change is inevitable and for most part is welcomed, but how will these new laws effect the painting industry now and into the future. Can water based paint eventually replace oil based paint.

The benefits of using water based paint

  • Water based paints do not produce gases that harm the ozone as they do not contain any volatile organic compounds.
  • Drying time is considerably shorter in comparison to solvent based paint which can take as long 16 – 24 hours.
  • Paint fumes are no longer an issue with water based paint, making them the perfect choice for schools, hospitals, nursing homes etc.
  • Water based paint does not crack, fade or yellow compared to oil based paint
  • Cleaning brushes and spills couldn’t be easier using water, meaning no harmful thinners and longer lasting brushes.

How do I know if paint is water based?

If you are unsure if the paint you are using is water based or oil based, refer to the label, especially the cleaning process. If the label says use water to clean your brushes, then you are using a water based paint.

Cleaning brushes with water is a blessing for all DIY enthusiasts. Gone are the days of purchasing cheap brushes for the job at hand then disposing of them after they are done.

Water based paint application

As we can see there are a numerous benefits to using water based paint. I think we can agree that water based paint is the better choice for the environment and human health. With that being said, how does it compare to oil based paint.

Unbiased opinions of others

“Water based acrylic paints are a lot less fumy, but might need an undercoat, anyhow, if you’re painting over existing paint or varnish. Until the past 5 years or so, most paint for woodwork was oil based, with just a few premium brands having an acrylic line”

“Acrylic (water based) paints are supposedly kinder to the environment (both immediate and generally) and are easier to work with but alkyd (oil / solvent based) paints generally give a better finish, are more hard wearing and need fewer coats”

“Water based paint requires multiple coats for opacity, you are better off applying an extra coat of undercoat. White acrylic primer undercoat, which is water-based and adequate for indoors, is quick to apply and easy to rub down. Gloss topcoat is not intended for opacity so much”

Saving the planet and conforming to new legislation should always be a priority, but have we sacrificed on quality. After using several water based paints from various manufactures, my answer would be NO. I would say that it will take time, before everyone is on board.

Seasoned painters who have been using solvent based paints for many years may take a little longer to come around. From the opinion of others and myself, water based paint takes more prep and several coats to achieve a great finish. Planning on using water based paint, check out my tips below.

Tips when using water based paint

  • Make sure to give the old paint a really good rub down with an aluminium oxide, 120 grade (fine) sandpaper. By lightly scoring the surface of the the original paint work, removes the shine and helps the new paint adhere to the surface.
  • Dust the surface clean and then give it a wipe down with a clean damp rag removing any dust.
  • Apply a water based undercoat/primer to act as a base coat prior to the final coat coat. If painting bare wood, several coats will be required.
  • Once the undercoat/primer is dry, next paint your finishing coat of water based paint. Leave to dry and apply a second and final coat.


I can honestly say that I was a little disappointed in the finish when using a water based paint. Multiple coats are required and an undercoat even after sandpapering is recommended. The absence of fumes and the simple cleaning process are a huge bonus.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. Please keep me in mind for your painting and decorating needs. Claim your FREE no obligation quotation.