Best Paint for Kitchens

A white kitchen with light, natural wood and blue tile accents

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If you want a fast way to cook up a new look for your home, consider a fresh coat of paint for your kitchen. Kitchens are often the heart of the home, and as a result these rooms see plenty of action. Everything from spills, stains, cooking oils, and odors can mar the finish of your kitchen’s walls and ceilings—giving the room a tired or dull appearance.

Revive your kitchen by choosing a new shade of paint that will last, despite the tough demands of this busy space in your home. You’ll need to think about what type of paint is best for kitchens and which finish will last the longest in a room that has moisture, humidity, oils, and maybe even smoke from the occasional batch of burnt cookies.

Oil Paint vs. Latex Paint

The first place to start in your search for the best paint for kitchens is the question of whether to use oil paint or latex paint. You might be drawn to oil paint for its durability and hard-as-a-rock finish, which are definite advantages in a room that might see plenty of spills, splatters, and scrub sessions. But latex paints have dramatically reduced volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and have come a long way in terms of cleaning ability.

Oil-based paints are considered self-leveling, meaning they go on smooth and even. Keep in mind that you will need to wait awhile in between coats of paint—up to 16 hours. This can slow down the progress of your kitchen painting project. Once completed and cured, though, the finish of oil-based paints can be scrubbed with confidence. You won’t need to worry about scratching the paint or losing its luster as you get every last bit of splattered spaghetti sauce or cooking oil off the wall.

The downside is that oil-based paints release significant levels of VOCs and require you to follow special precautions regarding ventilation and paint disposal. You’ll also need mineral spirits or paint thinner to clean up spills and clean brushes or rollers. Something else to consider is the fact that the resins in oil-based paints may be prone to yellowing, especially in areas with reduced lighting or when exposed to the fumes from ammonia. If your kitchen doesn’t have great lighting (natural or artificial) or if you reach for ammonia-based cleaning products frequently, you might want to rethink if oil-based paint is the right choice for your kitchen.

The bottom line is that oil-based paints are a lot of work, and the long-lasting finish may not be worth the upfront hassle.

On the other hand, latex paint offers much lower, safer levels of VOCs that might have you breathing easier without worrying about off-gassing in a place where you’re prepping food. This is one of the biggest reasons that latex paint is a popular pick for kitchens. Both when applying the paint and in the weeks after, you’ll appreciate the benefits of a low (or no) VOC formula.

Latex paint also dries much faster than the heavier, thicker formula of oil-based enamels. Most latex paints are dry to the touch in about an hour and are ready for a second coat in about four hours (or even two hours for some formulas). While this means you can have your kitchen painting project wrapped up more quickly, bear in mind that latex paint takes longer to fully cure—up to 30 days—compared to only seven days for oil-based paints.

When it comes to durability and cleaning, latex paints are a bit of a mixed bag. The flexibility in latex paints comes from the polymers used in the formula, which does increase the paint’s resistance to cracking or chipping. But water-based latex paints are notorious for scratching, developing wear spots, or losing their finish when being cleaned. This can be a challenge in the kitchen, where you might have unexpected spills that call for a thorough cleaning. To solve this problem, many paint manufacturers are offering ‘scrubbable’ or ‘washable’ latex paint formulas. These paints offer increased durability to allow you to clean the surface without compromising the finish of your paint.

To summarize, here are the pros and cons to keep in mind when deciding between an oil-based or a latex paint for kitchen projects. While each one has its advantages, latex paint is generally the best paint to use for kitchens, thanks to the low level of VOCs and the increasingly durable ‘washable’ paint formulas offered.

Oil-Based Paint

Pros

  • Long-lasting finish that is easy to clean

  • Smooth application, self-leveling

  • Fully cured in about 7 days

Cons

  • High VOC output even after paint has dried

  • May yellow when exposed to ammonia or in low-light conditions

  • Tough to clean up and requires mineral spirits or paint thinner to do so

  • Long dry time between coats; up to 16 hours

Latex-Based Paint

Pros

  • Fast dry time between coats; as little as 2 hours

  • Won’t yellow with time

  • Low VOC

  • Easy to clean up using soap and water

Cons

  • Long cure time

  • Less durable for cleaning and scrubbing

The Best Finish for Kitchens

Paint finish refers to the sheen, or lack thereof, that a paint has. It’s technically measured by how much light the paint reflects, but in everyday life, think of it as how shiny a paint will be once it's on the walls of your kitchen.

For the DIYer: Go With a Semi-Gloss Finish

Semi-gloss is the best finish for kitchen paint if you plan to paint your kitchen yourself, and here’s why. Kitchens can be a wet place – whether you’re steaming veggies, washing dishes, or scrubbing the counters clean, there is a lot of moisture happening in a kitchen. Semi-gloss paints reflect quite a bit of light and their sheen minimizes the appearance of moisture that may find its way onto the walls or other painted surfaces. Flat or low-sheen finishes – like matte or satin varieties – are more likely to look spotty from spattered water or moisture in the air.

What’s more, a semi-gloss paint can typically stand up to more robust cleaning. Flat finishes are already dull in appearance, and a quick scrub can diminish their finish and maybe even rub the color off your wall. Semi-gloss paint on the other hand, has an increased amount of resins in comparison to pigment particles, which results in greater light reflection and a sheen. However, the fact that this paint only offers some shine makes it more forgiving when painting your walls.

For the Professional: Gloss All the Way

If you’re wondering whether high gloss paint would make an even better kitchen paint than semi-gloss, the answer is maybe. High gloss paints offer drama and the same durability and washability as semi-gloss paint, but they show every single imperfection. Indentations in your wall? Mistakes in surface prepping? Poor application methods? They’ll all stand out.

So if you want the spectacular shine and easy clean-up of high gloss paint for your kitchen, make sure it’s done right from the start and hire a professional. However, steer clear from this finish if your walls have a lot of imperfections.

Tip

If you decide to use oil-based paint for trim work and latex paint for kitchen walls, make sure that you complete the latex phase of your kitchen painting project first. Allow plenty of time for your final coat of latex paint to dry and ventilate before painting trim with oil-based paint. Otherwise, you risk yellowing your oil-based trim paint with the ammonia fumes released by latex paint during the off-gassing period.

Best Paint for Kitchen Ceilings

Since you don’t often look up at the ceiling, you can typically go with an affordable and quick coat of matte paint for your ceiling, but this isn’t the best choice when choosing paint for kitchen ceilings. It’s a better idea to match the sheen of the walls when painting kitchen ceiling. This is for two reasons.

  1. Matte paint on the kitchen ceiling will show moisture and stains more easily. The kitchen can be a humid or even wet room at times. As steam rises, it may condense on your ceiling leaving damp spots and possibly staining your ceiling if you use matte paint. This is a huge reason to use semi-gloss or gloss paint for the ceiling. It will do a better job of hiding moisture and won’t show spots. And, in the event of a cooking catastrophe (exploding spaghetti sauce, up-in-smoke roast chicken), it will be easier to scrub the paint to remove any stains without ruining the finish.
  2. Do your kitchen an aesthetic favor and use the sheen from your kitchen walls (either semi-gloss or glossy) as your kitchen ceiling paint finish. As the eye travels up the wall, the ceiling finish won’t stand in stark contrast to your light-reflecting walls. Additionally, a semi-gloss or glossy kitchen ceiling will reflect more light and keep the space feeling brighter.