Latex Paint vs Enamel Paint (Which One Do You Need?)

When it comes to picking paint for use, two paint types are usually at the top of every DIYers list; latex paint and enamel paint. This is because both paints are easy to use, don’t produce any toxic fumes, and when dry, give a beautiful protective sheen.

Is latex paint better than enamel paint? This is a common question DIYers ask. Another question is do I need latex or enamel paint? The answers to these questions and more will be revealed in this post. So let’s dig in. First, let’s check out latex paint and its uses.

What Is Latex Paint Used For?

What Is Latex Paint Used For?

Latex paint is a water-based paint common for its flexibility and movement. Latex paints are also called acrylic paints. This is because acrylic paints are also water-based meaning that both paints use water as the carrier or solvent in the paint particles.

The word ‘latex’ refers to the ability of the paint to stretch to fit material and environmental conditions. The paint can contract and expand based on temperature variations.

Latex paints are commonly used for covering walls, building interiors, and furniture. Latex paints come in different color shades and can be finished in several ways ranging from flat to high-gloss. This makes latex paints ideal for virtually any type of material.

Now, let’s check out enamel paint and its uses.

What is Enamel Paint Used For?

What is Enamel Paint Used For?

Enamel paint is an oil-based paint common for its hard and glossy finish. Enamel paints are also called oil-based or slow-dry paint. This is because the paint type uses natural or synthetic oils as its carrier or solvent. The oil-based nature of the solvent makes it evaporate slowly from the paint particles which is why the paint is termed slow-dry paint.

The word ‘enamel’ refers to the hard glossy finish of the paint. Enamel paints when dry form a thick shiny film that is very durable and resistant to weathering, heat, and moisture.

Enamel paints are commonly used for outdoor projects such as painting building exterior, front doors, and outdoor furniture.

Since the paint is commonly used for outdoor projects, it is designed with alkyd resins, varnish, or solvents which makes the paint coating very rough. But just how tough is it when compared to latex paints? Let’s do a comparison.

Latex Paints vs Enamel Paint?

To make this comparison helpful, let’s compare both paints using their different features and finishes. Let’s start at the beginning; the paint base.

The Paint Base

Latex paints are water-based paints while enamel paints are oil-based paints. The base of the paint refers to the solvent or carrier used in the paint coating. Every type of paint has a solvent, base, or carrier that makes the paint easier to apply. The base also keeps the paint from drying up in the can.

The base or solvent in latex paints is water while in enamel paints, it’s either a natural or synthetic oil. Most oil paints for wood use linseed oil.

The Paint’s Drying Time

The difference in paint bases transfers when it comes to the paint’s drying process. Since latex paints are water-based, they dry faster than enamel paints. For the paint to dry, the solvent has to be completely evaporated.

Since latex paints are water-based, the solvent (or water) will evaporate faster than the oils in the enamel paint. On average, latex paints dry to touch in about 45 minutes and you can safely re-coat in 3 hours. Some latex paints like acrylic dry in less than 15 minutes and you can re-coat in about 30 minutes.

Enamel paints on the other hand take over 4 hours to dry. Most enamel paints will dry in 4 hours and you can re-coat 6 hours after application. To seal enamel paint however, you should wait at least 24 hours after the paint was applied. This is to allow the enamel paint to fully cure. Also, temperature variations and humidity can affect paint’s drying time.

Paint Strength and Durability

In terms of strength and durability, enamel paints win flawlessly. Enamel paints can last over 15 years if applied correctly. Enamel paints generally last between 10 years on heavily used material and over 20 years on moderately used material. Latex paints on the other hand last about 10 years. Latex paints after 10 years usually show faded patches and uneven color.

The reason enamel paints generally last longer is because of the oil-based nature of enamel paints. When fully evaporated, the oils in the enamel coating give the finish a glossy thick layer. This layer is water-resistant and strong enough to withstand heavy use. This makes the enamel paint last longer.

Latex paints however don’t have this thick glossy sheen because they are water-based. Latex paints when dry produce a dry textured finish. This dry finish is more prone to damage under heavy use. Some latex paints are even water-soluble meaning that the paint coating will come off when exposed to moisture or when washed.

The Paint Coverage

Paint coverage refers to the size of material or canvass that the paint can be applied over. Though both paints can be applied over large surfaces, it’s usually recommended not to cover large areas like walls with enamel paint. This is because enamel paint contains active solvents and paint chemicals that produce a strong odor when applied. The odor is from the reaction of paint chemicals to the atmosphere.

If used over a large area, there will be too much of this odor, causing toxic fumes that can be dangerous if it enters the lungs and eyes.

Latex paints however don’t produce any fume or odor. Latex paints being water-based can be applied over large surfaces. 100 percent latex paints are even safe on baby furniture. So latex paints are more ideal for painting large areas. This gives this round to latex paints. Next, let’s check out…

Exterior or Interior Usage

Enamel paints are common for exterior projects. This is because the paint is strong enough to cope with the outer environment. Enamel paints also produce strong fumes that make them more ideal for building exterior where the fumes produced can be spread in the air.

Latex paints are generally more ideal for interior and decorative uses. This is because latex paints are not very strong and can’t cope with the harsh exterior weather and dust. Though there are latex exterior paints designed for outdoor use, these latex paints are not usually 100 latex. They are also solvent-based.

Also, latex paints have a high volume of paint pigments which makes the paint coating more colorful and ideal for indoor decor. Enamel paints can also be used on interior surfaces but are best reserved for small tasks and touch-ups. Let’s check out…

The Paint Bonding

Paint bonding refers to the ability of the paint to stick to the surface used. Enamel paints generally bond better to surfaces than latex paints. This is because enamel paints are usually designed with alkyd resins which improve the paint’s grip on the material. However, you can’t use enamel paints on surfaces that the oil won’t grip.

Latex paints however aren’t picky when it comes to materials to be painted over. You can use latex paint on metal, plastic, concrete, wood, and even fabric. So latex paints will bond to just about any surface but the paint bonding is not as good as enamel paint.

Paint Thinning

Before applying paint, it’s a common practice to thin the paint to make it easier to apply. Thinning paint also gives it a smoother consistency. It’s easier to thin latex paints than enamel paints. To thin latex paints, you just need water. For enamel paints, you’ll need a solvent like mineral spirit.


One thing many people skip when thinking about the paint to use is paint clean-up. If you don’t clean and maintain the paint, it will turn black due to dust accumulation.

For paint clean-up, latex paints are easier to clean than enamel paint. With most latex paint stains, you just need a clean rag and water to remove stains. For tough stains, maybe some dish soap.

Enamel paints can’t be cleaned that easily. You’ll need a paint thinner or mild solvent like white spirit to clean enamel paints.

The Paint Cost

Both paints have a similar price tag. However, latex paints tend to be a bit more expensive than enamel paints. This is because latex paints come in large paint containers while enamel paints are more common in spray cans. This is another difference between both paints. Since you get more paint in a large paint container than in a spray can, latex paints cost more.

Also, latex finishes cost more than enamel finishes. This is because water-based latex paints aren’t usually left unsealed. If you don’t seal latex paint, it can be easily smeared or damaged. So a clear top coat is usually applied over the latex paint which adds to the overall cost of the finish.

Enamel paints however don’t need to be sealed as much as latex paints because the enamel coat is more durable and will last longer if left unsealed. So you don’t need to purchase an extra sealant.

The Finish

Enamel paints have a glossy finish that makes the paint more ideal for surfaces that will be touched. Latex paints have a dry and textured finish that isn’t too great on heavily used materials.

Also, latex paints can be finished in several ways. You can go for a flat, matte, satin, high-gloss, or even clear latex paint finish. With enamel paints however, you have limited choices.

Now that you know the differences in the paints, which one do you need? That depends on s few factors. Let’s go deeper into that.

Related Read: Can You Apply Enamel Over Latex Paint?

Should I Buy Enamel Paint or Latex Paint?

I would have recommended going for the cheaper paint but enamel and latex paints usually have around the same price tag. So what else matters?

Your Taste

The type of finish you want will determine the paint you get. If you prefer a glossy finish, then go for enamel paints. For a dry finish, go for latex paints. Also, remember that you can finish latex paints by sealing them with any type of sealant.

The Surface To Be Used Over

For heavily used surfaces like countertops and tabletops, it’s better to use enamel paints since the paint is more chip-resistant. Latex paints are more ideal for decorative materials or surfaces that wouldn’t be heavily touched.

The Size of The Task

Since enamel paints produce fumes and offensive odor, they aren’t ideal for large-scale tasks. Using enamel paints over large areas can make it difficult to breathe.

Exterior or Interior Use

Another thing to consider is the environment the paint will be used in. For building exterior or for outdoor furniture, use enamel paint.

Enamel paint is more protective of the material used over. Latex paints are more ideal for indoor tasks and decorative work.

Your Painting Experience

If you are a beginner, then I’ll suggest you go with latex paints, particularly acrylic paint. Latex paints are much easier to use than enamel paints.

Also, latex paints when dry can be easily sanded to remove brush marks and painting mistakes. Enamel paints on the other can’t be sanded that easily. This is because the finish is glossy and thick so sanding wrongly will quickly blur the finish.

Related Read: Chalk vs Latex Paint?

The Paint Application

Enamel paints are common in spray cans which means the paint has to be sprayed to be applied. Latex paints however can be applied using a paintbrush, roller, or spray gun.

So, you have other choices if you aren’t too sure about spraying the paint. Enamel paints also come in large paint containers but not very common.

The Cost

Another factor to consider is your budget and the price tag on the paints. Always go for the best paint that you can afford. Though not by much, latex paints tend to cost more than enamel paints.

Final Words

Overall, latex paint and enamel paint are both great paint choices. But the one you pick largely depends on the task at hand and your taste.

I know how tough this decision can be and I hope the comparison above has made that burden lighter.

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