Water Based Paints vs Oil Based Paints

Painting is not just an art but it is also an important part of all construction projects. Yes, choosing the right color for the painting project is very important; you also need to make the right choice between different types of paint.

Water-based paints and solvent-based paints are the two most popular types of paint for house painters, and both types of paints have their pros and cons.

It is an age-old question of which one to choose, water or solvent-based paints. If you ask a watercolor painter she would say water because water evaporates and leaves color behind. On the other hand, a talented community of oil painters will advise going for oil paint. The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes because both have their pros and cons depending upon the specific conditions you are working in.

Water-Based Paint:

Water-Based paints are water-soluble and water constrained. This means that water-based paint can be either water or water-soluble, and water is the only liquid needed for this type of paint to work. Water-based paints can be used in a wide range of applications including painting walls, woodwork, and furniture. Depending on which water-based paint you use, water-soluble and water-constrained paints may contain solvents (nontoxic) such as water, glycerin, ethanol, propylene glycols, etc.

Acrylic Paints:

Acrylic paints are made from different acrylate monomers rather than alkyd/oil resins.

Acrylics are water-based paints that use water as their base. Acrylic is just a name for water-based paints with acrylic emulsifiers. These are some of the finest water-based paints available in the market today and are very similar to water-soluble oil paint in performance except they dry faster than water-soluble oil paint. In water-based acrylic paint, water acts both as a medium and a binder.

Water is the primary component in water-based paints that gives water its slipperiness. Water-soluble acrylic paints have polar water molecules. The polar water molecules have a mutual attraction for water and make water more viscous (thicker) than oil, which is nonpolar and has no such attraction for itself and other substances of like kind. Water mixed with vinegar or alcohol not only increases the viscosity but also makes it suitable to use on different surfaces including some metals.

Latex Paints:

Latex water-based paints are water-soluble. Latex water-based paints do not contain water as their liquid base; instead, they use water and a blend of latex polymers and pigments to create water-soluble paint. Some water-soluble paints can be thinned down with water and cleaned up using water while some others require the addition of non-toxic solvents for cleaning.


  • It is simple to clean up, and you aren’t required to use any solvents; simply use water to wash your tools.
  • Neither additives nor hardeners nor thinners are required.
  • As compared to solvent-based paints, they have greater color retention.
  • They provide better working conditions and less odor, so they’re safer and easier to handle.
  • Work in confined spaces is less dangerous with these materials.
  • This reduces your chances of exceeding your VOC limit and being fined.


  • Solvent-based paints have a greater tolerance for adverse weather conditions during curing. When the humidity is high and the temperature is low, water-based paint takes longer to dry.
  • Despite solvent-based gloss finishes having greater sheen, water-based finishes maintain their sheen better.
  • While the finish can be easier to clean and tougher than most, it becomes brittle with age.


Solvent-Based Paint:

Solvent-based paint is also called oil painting because it uses oil as its liquid base. Solvent-based paint has solvents (organic compounds) such as petroleum distillates or white spirits/turpentine etc., which remove the color from other objects by dissolving them. Solvent-based paint has been commonly used since the sixteenth century. Oil paint has a slow drying time and is water-resistant.

These types of paints contain mostly synthetic organic compounds or solvents that evaporate leaving behind color particles on the wall or any other surface you have applied it on. Common solvent-based house paints include Alkyd, Oil & Lacquer. Alkyd House Paints were the most popular choice till the 1970s but later these types of solvent-based house paints were banned due to their hazardous fumes. They are nonwater soluble, water repellent, and toxic.


  • Can withstand elements such as heat or moisture causing less damage.
  • Wear and tear are not a problem for it.
  • You can achieve a smooth, high-gloss, or even mirror finish almost completely without brush marks.


  • The chemical odor is strong
  • VOCs are a major concern.
  • Strong chemical odor.
  • Takes a long time to dry
  • Offers a limited range of colors.
  • Eventually, paint hardens and splits into brittles
  • Extensive exposure to ultraviolet can result in dullness and chalky in a short time.


Read: How Quality Painting Services Make a Difference in Your Home

Difference Between Acrylic Based and Solvent Paints

While water-based paint is water-soluble, solvent-based paint is oil-soluble. Water-based paints can be mixed with water and contain water as their liquid base; they can be cleaned using water while some others require the addition of non-toxic solvents for cleaning. Solvent-based paint contains mostly synthetic organic compounds or solvents that evaporate leaving behind color particles on the wall or any other surface you have applied it to.

The water-based paints dry when water is evaporated while solvent-based paint dries through a chemical process in which water and solvents are removed from the water-based paint, reducing its water content. Water-based paints may require two or more coats and will dry faster than solvents or solvent-based paint.

Solvent-based house paint is water repellent, non-water soluble, water-resistant, toxic while water-based house paints are water-soluble, water cleanable. Acrylic house paint is not water-soluble, water cleanable while the solvent base is water-bearing paints.

The solvents in water-based paints have water in them while the solvents in solvent-based paint do not have water.

The main difference between water-based and solvent-based house paints is that water-based house paint is water-soluble and water cleanable while solvent-based house paints are water repellent and water-resistant.

Solvent-based paint has a high gloss finish, oil-based have a low gloss finish. There are glossy water-based paints but they won’t give a glossy finish like oil-based paints.

Acrylic-based paints are less messy and softer than solvent-based, but they require the use of water. On the other hand, solvent-based paints are more durable and provide a wider range of colors, but they are very toxic and contain solvents, which can be harmful to the environment.


Read: Benefits of High Gloss Paint

Water-Based Paints Vs Oil-Based Paints – Which one is Better?

With water-based paint, you can create a world of colors and brush strokes. With oil paint, you can get the richness and depth of color that you want.

The question is not so much about which one is better but rather which one works best for your particular project. It is good to explore both and see what would work best for you.

Oil-based paints are more versatile and provide a better finish. They are also easier to work with as they don’t dry as fast as water-based paints do.

Water-based paints, on the other hand, are the perfect choice for people who don’t want to make a mess in their living room or if you want to paint something outside.

Some of the water-based paints include acrylic paint, latex paint, watercolor, etc. Solvent-free water-based paint works well on most surfaces including masonry, metal, fabric, and some plastics. However, some water-based paints may damage surfaces like lacquered surfaces that have a hard varnish finish because it is not strong enough for water-based paint to hold onto it.

Acrylic paints are environmentally friendly which makes them an ideal choice for painting projects inside your home or office where less toxic options make your environment healthier. This reduces pollutants and improves indoor air quality.

Water-soluble paints are best suited for water-based painting projects, and they can be applied on any surface including wood, concrete, plaster, glass, etc. Oil-based paints can be used on most surfaces but do not work well on exterior walls because they are water-resistant and water causes cracks if it freezes after application.

Water-based paints are less hazardous than solvent-based paints because water-based paints do not contain any VOCs. Water is used to remove VOCs in water-based paint. Water also provides a protective barrier that reduces the amount of water vapor emitted from water-soluble house paint. Solvent-based paints emit water vapor which can cause water damage to the plaster and paint itself.

Water-based paints have water as a solvent whereas water-soluble paint does not contain any solvents. Water is used as a solvent in water-soluble house paint. Solvent-based paints have VOCs as a solvent instead of water.

So it is best to choose water-based paints over solvent-based water-soluble house paint if you are looking for environmentally friendly house paint. However water-based water-soluble house paint may not work well on surfaces that come in contact with water frequently like kitchen walls or bathroom walls,s because water can cause damage to water base water-soluble house paint.


Read: How to Match Paint Colors: Paint Pairing Guide


VOCs is the technical term for a wide range of organic compounds which evaporate readily into the atmosphere. VOCs include many different chemicals including water-soluble house paint and solvent-based paints and some types of adhesives, inks, and varnishes.

VOCs are considered pollutants because they react with nitrogen oxide to form ozone which is harmful to human health. Ozone also contributes to the formation of smog over cities and water vapor in water bodies which deplete oxygen, thus contributing to global warming. They are typically released by industrial activities (such as chemical manufacturing, steel production, dry cleaners), building materials (such as paints and sealants), and various other sources.

VOCs in Acrylic Paints

Water-soluble paints emit water vapor which can cause water damage to the plaster and paint itself. This water vapor also reduces air quality inside your home.

People who are exposed to water-soluble house paint regularly may experience water-soluble house paint symptoms like stinging eyes, watery itchy eyes, allergies, asthma, etc.

VOCs in Solvent-Based Paints

We need to be aware of the negative effects of volatile organic compounds in paint and reduce their usage in household paints.

Solvent-based paints are a common source for VOCs. They are designed to be thinned with solvents like mineral spirits.

These can cause health issues such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, and asthma. Moreover, these contribute to smog and global warming.

There’s a lot of confusion about VOCs and how they relate to solvent-based paints. A lot of people think that solvent-based paints are bad for the environment because of the VOCs, but VOCs are not necessarily bad. VOC stands for the volatile organic compound. All paints have VOCs present, but the amount varies.


How to identify which paint is used in your home?

When we moved into our new house last year, we noticed some water-based paint on the walls of the basement. Our painting contractor told us that it was a mistake and that we had oil-based paint, which is what we asked for. But we were not so sure since we had seen so much water-based paint in the basement.

You can always tell your paint apart by putting a drop of each on a white paper towel and watching how they behave. If you put a drop of water-based paint onto a paper towel and it spreads out and dries quickly, then it is water-based. If it spreads out and dries slowly, like takes a long time, then it is oil-based. If you put a drop of oil-based paint on a paper towel and it spreads out and dries quickly, then it is oil-based. If it spreads out and dries slowly, like takes a long time, then it is water-based.



Both acrylic/water-based paints and oil/solvent-based paints have their pros and cons. Choosing the right type of paint will make your project less hassle. However, there is a specific type of paint for a specific type of surface. For example, you can’t paint a metal surface with water-based paints, you’ll need enamel for that which is oil-based paint. It’s not that water paints don’t adhere to metal, they do, but they can show the reaction resulting in rust.

Look for high-quality paints, whether it’s acrylic or solvent-based paints.


Read: Why You Should Paint Before You Move Into Your New Home?

Need Pro Help?

Don’t know which is the best paint for your project? You might need the help of a pro. At Painters Edmonton, we help our customers decide the right type and color of paint during the process of quoting and color consulting. We use environment-friendly paints, so it won’t cause you any health hazards and looks new for a longer time.

You can contact a house painting company near you for help.

By: Royal Painting Edmonton. (Painters Edmonton)