Latex Vs Enamel Paint: Which is Better?


Last updated: July 11, 2023

How Does Latex Compare to Enamel – Detailed Side by Side Comparison.

Latex paint and enamel paint are two common paint types used across various applications.

They are both popular options, but they differ in terms of composition, appearance, durability, and recommended uses. One is water water-based, while the other is an oil-based paint type.

This difference in bases gives these two products different characteristics that significantly influence their best uses. 

Choosing between such competing options can be pretty challenging without a clear understanding of their differences. 

So this article discusses latex vs enamel paint, drawing out their differences and similarities to make it easier to choose the right one for your next painting project.

What is Latex Paint?

Latex paint is a type of paint that uses water as its primary solvent, so it is also sometimes referred to as water-based paint. It is composed of pigment particles, binders (typically acrylic or vinyl resins), additives, and water. 

The term “latex” in latex paint can be misleading because it doesn’t actually contain actual latex rubber. Instead, it refers to the emulsion of synthetic polymers in water.

When to Use Latex Paint 

Even though latex paint contains acrylic resin polymers suspended in water, making it malleable, it is not usually recommended for use outdoors.

Instead, consider using latex paint mainly for interior walls and ceilings. You can also use latex paint for painting wood, drywall, and other surfaces where flexibility is desired. You could use apply latex paint over surfaces with latex paints or oil-based paints.

Latex Paint Pros and Cons 

Here are the main advantages and limitations of using latex paint 

Advantages of Latex Paint 

  • You can apply it on surfaces with latex or oil-based paints.
  • The paint is easy to clean with soap and water
  • It is fast-drying, thanks to a water-based formula
  • The paint offers a wide range of sheen options, including flat/matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss.
  • It is versatile and can be used on various indoor surfaces, including wood, metal, concrete, and stucco, depending on the specific formulation and additives.
  • It is flexible and breathable
  • It has low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making latex paint less toxic than oil-based paints. 

Disadvantages of Latex Paint 

  • It is only suitable for indoor applications
  • It requires multiple coats to create a durable finish 

What is Enamel Paint? 

Enamel paint is a type of paint that provides a hard, glossy, and durable finish. It is typically oil-based or solvent-based and contains alkyd resin or polyurethane as the binder. Enamel paints are known for their high sheen and smooth, reflective surface.  

Enamel paints do not contain any enamel in them despite the name. Rather, it is called enamel paint because of its tendency and ability to dry into a tough, shell-like coat.

When to Use Enamel Paint 

Enamel paint is commonly used in applications that require a durable, glossy finish. So, consider using it in the following area:

  1. High-traffic areas such as doors, cabinets, handrails, and trim.  

  2. Exterior surfaces exposed to harsh weather elements where it will provide protection against moisture, UV rays, and fading.

  3. Metal surfaces, thanks to their versatility and adherence to various surfaces. 

  4. Woodwork that requires a glossy finish, such as cabinets, furniture, baseboards, and window frames.

  5. Decorative and craft projects due to their vibrant color options and color retention. 

Enamel Paint Pros and Cons 

Like any product, enamel has its share of pros and cons. Here is a look at each.

Advantages of Enamel Paint 

  • It dries into a perfectly smooth coat.
  • It offers excellent coverage
  • The paint forms a tough coat that is incredibly durable.
  • Surfaces with enamel paint are easy to clean and maintain.
  • The paint is waterproof and, therefore, ideal for outdoor use
  • The thick paint has excellent color retention and strong resistance to fading
  • It is highly versatile, suitable for indoor and outdoor applications 

Disadvantages of Enamel Paint 

  • The paint has a strong odor due to its high VOC levels
  • It takes a long time to dry
  • It is challenging to clean 

Latex Vs Enamel Paint: Which is Better?

What is the Difference between Latex and Enamel Paint?

The main difference between latex paint and enamel paint is their bases. While latex paint is a water-based product, enamel paint is oil-based. This difference makes latex paints fast-drying and malleable, while enamel paints are slow-drying and form hard, durable surfaces. 

Latex Vs Enamel Paint Side-by-Side Comparison 

The above introduction is detailed and should give you a good idea of how these two popular paint types compare. However, it is still basic and not enough information to help you make the best selection for your painting projects.

So here is an in-depth look at the similarities and differences between enamel and latex paint. 

Enamel vs Latex Paint: Common Uses

Latex paint is commonly used for interior applications, including walls, ceilings, and drywall. 

It is also suitable for indoor wood projects and other surfaces that require a flexible coating, including trim, siding, doors, window frames, indoor furniture, and artwork.

On the other hand, enamel paint is versatile and can be used for both interior and exterior applications. It is often used to paint surfaces exposed to high-traffic or frequent usage, metal surfaces, trim, cabinets, doors, and furniture.

Some of the areas where enamel paint excels include kitchen appliances, barbecue grills, door casings, outdoor furniture, window trim, sashes, crown molding, cabinet fixtures, porches, floors, handrails, and decks.

Latex vs Enamel: Application

Applying latex paint requires using synthetic brushes. These brushes can work with both latex and enamel paint but are the ideal brush type for applying water-based latex paints. 

However, it is best to use a natural-bristled paintbrush when working with enamel paint. Do not use this brush type with latex paint, as the water in this paint type will clog the bristles, keeping them from working properly.  

Since latex paint dries faster, you must work quickly to get the desired coat on and level it off before it hardens. 

In contrast, enamel paint has a longer drying time, allowing you ample time to apply and level the paint without problems. This slow drying of enamel paint makes it relatively more manageable than latex paint. 

Enamel vs Latex: Finish

When wet, latex paint appears milky, but it dries with a flat or matte finish. However, the paint is available in various formulations, giving it a wide range of sheen levels, including gloss, semi-gloss, and satin.

Enamel paint appears smooth and shiny. It dries into a semi-gross or high-gloss finish, often with a smooth, silky sheen. A coat of enamel paint is almost glass-like when dry.  

So if you want a flat, matte, or eggshell finish, latex paint is the best choice. However, for a hard glossy finish, enamel paint is best. 

Latex Paint vs Enamel: Additives

Both latex and enamel paint can have additives, conditioners, and extenders in their formula to improve the project’s final look. 

These added materials can perform different functions, such as helping you extend the drying time of the paint, especially for fast-drying latex paint. They can also help with thinning the paint or creating a smooth, glassy finish. 

However, while additives, conditioners, and extenders are optional for latex paints, enamel paints typically have them as a requirement. 

In any case, the additives used with latex paint will differ from those added to enamel paint, so consider your paint when purchasing these products. 

Enamel Paint vs Latex: Odor and Fumes

Paints produce fumes regardless of whether they are water-based or oil-based. However, water-based products such as latex paint are low-VOC, meaning they emit fewer fumes and have a milder odor than their oil-based cousins. 

This quality makes latex paints safer to use, especially indoors. The latter, enamel paint, produces more fumes and has a more pungent odor, so you must work with it in a well-ventilated space at all times.

Notice that prolonged or significant exposure to fumes from any paint type can cause headaches, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, and eye irritation. For this reason, latex paints are ideal for bigger projects, such as walls that take longer to complete. 

Enamel paints are better for smaller projects completed faster to limit exposure to strong, dangerous fumes. Alternatively, use enamel paints outdoors to minimize their risk, and wear a respirator mask whenever you’re working with them. 

Enamel Paint vs Latex Paint: Durability

Both latex and enamel paints are durable under the right conditions, but enamel paint generally outperforms latex paints in durability. 

The oil-based enamel paint dries harder than latex paint, forming a tough coat that resists chipping, cracking, and peeling in fluctuating weather conditions and harsh outdoor temperatures. 

Latex paints retain some flexibility when dry and are more prone to damage when exposed to outdoor weather. This is why they are recommended for indoor use, where they last the longest. 

Paint Enamel vs. Latex: Drying and Cure Time.

Latex water-based paints have a thinner consistency with a faster drying time of one to two hours. This quality and their water-based formula make them fast-drying. Therefore, you must lay the paint quickly and allow it to level properly before it dries. 

Enamel paints have a thicker consistency and an oil-based formula, which means longer drying times. Like most oil-based finishes, the paint absorbs into the substrate, with the longer drying time allowing ample time to manipulate the coat as desired. 

Despite the faster drying of latex paints, the coat may take up to 14 days to cure fully. On the other hand, enamel paint typically cures as soon as it is fully dry, in eight to 24 hours.

Latex Paint vs Latex Enamel: Cleanup

Latex paint is water-based, so cleanup typically requires only soap and water with a rag. 

Enamel paints are oil-based, so cleanup is relatively more challenging and typically requires using a paint thinner.

Enamel vs Latex: Cost

While the prices for both enamel and latex paints differ by brand, enamel paints are typically more expensive than their latex cousins. 

Additionally, latex paints are more likely to come in larger quantities, contributing to their lower prices. 

Enamels designed for modeling applications are typically available in smaller bottles, making them more expensive. 

Interior vs Exterior Use

Many people find the hard, glossy appearance of enamel paint rather dated or harsh, making it less popular for large indoor surfaces like walls and ceilings. 

Instead, latex paints are a preferred option for such indoor surfaces due to their eggshell or flat look that makes them versatile with a modern appeal. 

Latex paints are, therefore, the preferred type for indoor walls, drywalls, and ceilings, while enamel paints are popular for outdoor applications like decks and outdoor furniture. 

FAQs – Enamel Vs. Latex Paint 

Are Enamel and Latex Paint the Same?

Is latex enamel paint? No. Enamel paint is a thick-bodied oil-based paint, while latex paint is relatively thinner and water-based. The difference in bases gives these two popular paint types significant differences in physical and chemical characteristics. 

When Should You Use Enamel Paint?

Consider using enamel paint when working on outdoor projects exposed to weather elements such as the sun’s ultraviolet rays, fluctuating temperatures, and rain. Enamel paint dries to form a tough, glossy coat with incredible resilience against extreme weather elements. 

What is Latex Paint Best For?

Latex paint is best for interior projects such as walls, drywall, and ceilings. It offers a great appeal with its eggshell or flat finishes that make it versatile with a modern appeal. The paint also does an excellent job on wood and other surfaces where flexibility is desired. 

Does Enamel Paint Need Primer?

Yes, it is best to use a primer whenever you’re working with enamel paint to promote adhesion. Applying enamel paint, or any paint for that matter, without a primer base, increases the likelihood of flaking and cracking. Even though enamel paint has superior adhesion, priming is still recommended.

Does Latex Paint Peel?

Latex paint is likely to peel and chip off when applied to a dirty surface, as the layer of dirt prevents proper adhesion. This problem is especially common in high-traffic areas. The paint can also bubble and create air pockets in certain weather conditions, resulting in future peeling and chipping. 

What is Enamel Paint Vs Latex Paint Best For?

Enamel paint is best for outdoor projects than latex paint. The paint dries to form a touch coat with superior resistance to cracking and peeling in outdoor conditions. It also enjoys great color retention, meaning that the sun’s UV rays will not cause significant fading outdoors when you coat the surface with enamel paint. 

Latex Vs Enamel Paint Final Take

Both latex and enamel paint are popular, each with a decent share of strengths and limitations. Nonetheless, when choosing for your projects, the environment and project type will determine the best paint to use. 

So, use latex paint when working on indoor projects such as walls, ceilings, drywall, indoor wood trim, siding, doors, window frames, indoor furniture, and artwork. Ideally, latex paint will excel at any indoor project that requires a flexible paint coating.

On the other hand, use enamel paint when working on outdoor projects such as exterior wood furniture, deck, and handrails. It is also an excellent choice of paint for surfaces in high-traffic areas, such as kitchen appliances, barbecue grills, door casings, window sashes, crown molding, cabinet fixtures, porches, and floors.

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