Latex vs Enamel Paint (What’s the Difference?)

Latex and enamel paint are two great paints that are easy to use, durable, and stick on any surface. So, what’s the difference between these two paints?

The main difference is that enamel paint uses oil as its solvent, while latex uses water as its solvent. The difference in the solvent makes both paints have different features and drying times.

Also, when dry enamel paint has a glossy finish, while latex paint has a dry textured finish. 

Latex Paint

What Is Latex Paint Used For?

Latex is a water-based paint known for its flexibility and colorful finish. The word “latex” refers to the ability of the paint to change its form (expand or contract) based on temperature changes. This prevents the paint from cracking or peeling off. 

Since latex is water-based, it dries faster than most paints. It also sticks to any type of surface and allows other paints to stick over it. However, the paint isn’t durable enough for outdoor usage and if exposed to constant water, it will get washed off.

Enamel Paint

What is Enamel Paint Used For?

Enamel paint is an oil-based paint known for its hard and glossy finish. This paint uses oil (synthetic or natural) as its paint solvent. This paint has a slow drying time because of the paint solvent (oil). 

When dry, it forms a thick and glossy finish that repels moisture. You can use it on outdoor surfaces, but the paint must be sealed with a waterproof sealant. 

Because of its glossy finish, it doesn’t allow other paints to stick over it. If you apply paint over it, the paint won’t stick or dry. 

Enamel vs Latex Paint

To know which paint is better, let’s compare their different features. 

The Paint Base

Latex paint is water-based, while enamel paint is oil-based. The base of the paint refers to the solvent used in the paint formula. The paint solvent (base) prevents the paint from drying in the can. For the paint to dry, the solvent (base) must evaporate from the paint coating.

Drying Time

Latex paint dries faster than enamel paint because it’s water-based. For the paint to dry, the solvent must evaporate from the paint coating. Since water evaporates faster than oil, latex paint dries faster than enamel.

On average, latex paint takes 3 hours to dry enough for a re-coat, and 48 hours to dry fully (cure). Enamel paint takes 6 hours to dry for a re-coat, and 3 days to dry fully (cure). However, the dry time of the paints is determined by the humid levels, room temperature, and thickness of the coat. 

Durability

Enamel paint is more durable than latex paint because it’s oil-based and has a glossy thick layer. Its glossy and thick layer is water-resistant and durable enough to withstand heavy use. 

On the other hand, latex paint isn’t durable enough to withstand constant water exposure or heavy use because it doesn’t have a glossy finish. Instead, it has a dry and textured finish that doesn’t repel moisture. Some latex paints are water soluble, meaning the paint will get washed off if exposed to water. 

On average, enamel paint lasts 15 years on heavily used surfaces and 20 years on moderately (semi) used surfaces. On the other hand, latex paint lasts less than 10 years on a surface. However, you can seal both paints to increase their durability. 

Exterior or Interior Usage

Enamel paints are suited for outdoor surfaces, while latex paint is suited for indoor surfaces. Latex paint has a high volume of paint pigments, making its finish more colorful and ideal for indoor decor. You shouldn’t use any of these paints outdoors because they aren’t durable enough to withstand constant exposure to water.

However, if we compare both paints, enamel paint is more durable. That’s because it has a glossy finish that repels moisture and prevents liquid from penetrating its surface (to a degree). If used outdoors, it will last for a few months before getting washed off.

On the other hand, latex paint isn’t durable enough for outdoor surfaces. If applied outdoors, it won’t last more than 1 month because the paint is water soluble and must be used for indoor surfaces only. 

The Paint Bonding

Enamel paint bonds (sticks) better to surfaces than latex paint because it’s designed with alkyd resins that improve the paint’s grip on the surface. However, you can’t use it over surfaces that don’t allow penetration (non-porous).

Latex paint also sticks good and you can use it over all types of surfaces (non-porous or porous).

Thinning

To thin latex paint, use water. To thin enamel paint, use mineral spirits. 

Cleaning

Enamel is easier to clean than latex. That’s because it has a glossy finish that doesn’t attract dust. You can clean it using a clean rag and water. On the other hand, latex paint is water-soluble and has a dry and textured finish that attracts dust, so cleaning it is harder. 

Cost

Latex paint is more expensive than enamel paint because it comes in large paint containers, while enamel paints come in spray cans. However, you get more latex paint at the same price. 

The Finish

Enamel paint has a glossy finish that repels liquid and withstands heavy usage. Latex paint has a dry and textured finish that isn’t durable. However, latex paint comes in different sheens; flat, matte, satin, and high-gloss. 

Related Read: Can You Apply Enamel Over Latex Paint?

Which One Do You Need?

Before choosing latex or enamel paint for your next project, consider these things:

  1. Finish –  Enamel paint offers a glossy finish that makes it hard to be painted over. However, its glossy finish protects the paint from moisture, water, and scratches. On the other hand, latex paint has a dry and textured finish that can be painted over. But, its finish isn’t durable. 
  2. Surface – For busy surfaces, such as countertops or tabletops, use enamel paint because it’s more durable. For decorative or indoor surfaces, use latex paint. 
  3. Exterior or Interior – Enamel paint is suited more for outdoor surfaces than indoor surfaces. On the other hand, latex paint is suited more for indoor surfaces than outdoors. 
  4. Painting Experience – If you are a beginner (no experience in applying paint), use latex paint because it’s is easier to apply, thin, and use.
  5. Budget – If you have a low budget, use latex paint. While it costs more, you get more paint with the price. 

Final Words

Enamel and latex paint are two different paints. Latex paint is water-based because it uses water as its paint solvent, while enamel paint is oil-based because it uses oil as its solvent. The difference in the paint solvents gives both paints a different finish, dry time, and durability. 

Latex paint dries faster, is easier to apply, and bonds to more surfaces than enamel paint. But, enamel paint is more durable, costs less, and lasts longer.

Tony Adams
Tony Adams

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about,

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