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Exterior Paint Buying Guide

Get some tips on choosing the best exterior paint or primer for your house.

Exterior of house.

Types of Exterior Paint

Solvent-based (oil or alkyd): Oil-based paint dries slower than latex - usually taking 24 hours to cure. It cleans up with turpentine or paint thinner. Oil-based is the best choice if you're going to paint over a surface that's already been painted with an oil-based paint. Latex should not be used over an oil-based paint because it will peel.

Water-based (latex): Latex paint dries fast and cleans up easier than oil-based paint, requiring only soap and water. Another advantage is that latex expands in warmer temperatures and contracts in cooler temperatures so it's durable under varying conditions.

Paint Finishes

Sheen describes the degree of light reflection paint has. Usually the less sheen paint has, the less stain-resistant it is. Different manufacturers may have various trade names for them, but in general sheens are classified as follows:

Gloss is the toughest. It cleans easily and resists scuffs better so it's a good choice for areas in constant use, like door jambs and window casings. For shutters and trimwork, gloss paint provides a nice contrast to the siding. Gloss paint will, however, show imperfections in the surface more than other sheens.

Semi-gloss paints are also durable and easy to clean, but have less shine than gloss. They are, however, just as suitable for trimwork and casings.

Satin (sometimes referred to as eggshell or low luster) offers a good combination of easy-clean and moderate sheen. It works well on siding that's in good condition.

Flat paint is the best choice for vinyl and aluminum siding that's scratched or dented because it hides imperfections well and spatters less when applied. It's also easier to touch up.

Good to Know

If you want to change colors, buy a small quantity of your color choice. Try it out before purchasing several gallons. Paint a small area and wait a few days. Paints can react to each other and cast reflections that may change the appearance.

Characteristics of Quality Exterior Paint

  • Hiding power is the ability of the paint to sufficiently cover or conceal the surface where it's applied. Hiding power comes from the paint's pigment and is affected by the manner and thickness of the application.
  • Color retention refers to tinted paints only. The paint's ability to maintain its original color during exposure determines its color retention.
  • Chalking resistance prevents the white chalky powder from forming on the surface and lightening the color of the paint. Chalking occurs over a period of time when the binder slowly degrades. The telltale streaking of paint (chalk run-down) is one consequence of using a paint that isn't chalk-resistant.
  • Blister resistance will keep excessive moisture from coming through the substrate and affecting the paint layer. If paint is applied over a damp or wet surface, you can count on an unwanted blistering problem.
Good to Know

You can lessen toxic chemicals by choosing a low-VOC exterior paint.


A primer is necessary to help paint adhere to the surface, providing a more uniform appearance and a longer-lasting finish. A primer is also needed if you're repainting over existing bright or dark colors.