The Best Paint for Living Rooms

A white living room with neutral accents and colorful abstract paintings hanging behind the couch

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Your living room sees a lot of action. It’s where you relax and recharge, entertain, or regroup as a family after a long day. Such a versatile room needs a durable paint. That’s why the best paint for living rooms is one that can stand up to everyday life and look great at the same time.

If you’re thinking about painting your living room, you’ll need to consider more than the color. While picking a new hue is the first step, a successful paint job requires choosing the right type of paint for your living room and the right finish for your needs and lifestyle.

Live large by giving your living room an exciting new look with a fresh coat of paint. But before you do, read our guide to choosing the best paint for living rooms so that you’ll have a long-lasting and beautiful finish to look forward to.

Oil Paint vs. Latex Paint

Oil paint was once the top (and only) choice for home painting projects. It goes on smooth thanks to its rich texture and dries to a hardness that is tough enough to be touched, bumped, and scrubbed. But is oil-based paint still your best choice for living rooms? The answer is probably not.

While it does yield a smooth, color-rich surface with abundant shine and durability, oil paint can be hard to handle. Most significantly, it has high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are chemicals released from paint, and when inhaled can lead to health problems. Because of this, some states have even banned the use of oil-based paint altogether. Additionally, oil paints cannot be disposed of down the drain and you’ll need mineral spirits or paint thinners (also high in VOCs) to clean up paint brushes and tools or any spills and mistakes along the way.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that oil paint takes a long time to dry. Plan to wait up to 24 hours for each coat of paint you apply. That can be a long time when you’re in the middle of a living room paint project and have to keep your furniture, kids, pets, and more away from a room that is normally the center of your home’s activity.

Latex paints are a better choice for living room paint. The water-based formula has little or no VOCs, dries more quickly, and can be cleaned up with soap and water. These are major conveniences that will make your living room painting project go much more smoothly and quickly.

If you choose a good quality latex paint with right finish (more on that in a moment), you can expect to achieve beautiful, long-lasting results. Many latex paints today offer washable formulas that can stand up to being cleaned regularly. And the acrylic binders added to many types of latex paint improve the paint’s elasticity and ability to withstand being bumped without chipping.

Overall, latex paint is a readily available and easy-to-use option for living room paint. It makes the best choice if you’re looking a simple and efficient way to update the look of your living room.

Tip

If your living room is already painted with latex-based paint, you have the green light to paint with either type of paint. However, if your walls have been painted with oil-based paint, you can’t skip straight to latex paint. You’ll need to follow the right prep process and use a specific primer to ensure that the latex will adhere properly.

Oil-Based Paint

Pros

  • Easy to apply; self-levels

  • Resilient finish that resists stains

  • Rich color with high sheen

Cons

  • Contains high level of VOCs

  • Subject to yellowing or cracking over time

  • Must wait up to 24 hours before applying another coat

Latex-Based Paint

Pros

  • Low or no VOC formulas readily available

  • Cleans up easily with soap and water

  • Fast dry time between coats

Cons

  • Thinner formula can be harder to apply

  • Can’t be applied over oil paint without special prep

The Best Finish for Living Rooms

The finish you choose for your living room paint needs to look great and be durable. This leaves several options depending on the look you want to achieve and the traffic you expect in this room.

Overall Best Choice: Satin

Satin is the top recommendation for paint finish in living rooms. It offers a great combination of durability and looks, and many formulas are considered washable.

Paint with a satin finish reflects a low amount of light, but it isn't considered flat by any means. As a result of the added resins that give it this sheen, this paint is able to stand up to general cleaning and wear and tear.

It’s a good choice for most living rooms, since its look strikes a balance between the rich pigment of flat paint and the drama of high gloss paint.

For High Traffic: Semigloss

If your living room sees a lot of action—handprints, sticky messes, and abundant spills—you might want to consider a semigloss paint.

This more forgiving paint finish will take more wear and tear and can stand up to significant scrubbing on the regular. While some people don’t care for the sheen of a semigloss paint and it can amplify imperfections in walls (nail holes, putty marks, etc.), it is the best choice if you need a highly durable and washable finish for your living room.

For a Rich Look: Matte

If you love a luxe look, then a matte finish paint for your living room might be your pick. Matte finishes, also referred to as flat, have no light-reflecting resins are packed full of pigment particles that give this paint a rich color.

If you want your living room paint color to take center stage for its smooth, velvet-like appearance, you might consider a matte finish.

However, this type of finish is only recommended for low traffic living rooms. If your walls see a lot of action or you expect to scrub them on the regular, a matte finish might be too fragile.

Flat finish paints are also sometimes chosen for their affordability. If you opt for a flat finish to save some cash on your living room paint project, realize that you may invest more in the long-run with frequent re-painting of the room.

Best Paint for Living Room Ceilings

Give your living room ceiling a brighter appearance with a fresh coat of paint as well. The best paint for living room ceilings has a flat finish. Why choose this basic finish for your living room?

Living room ceilings might see all the action in your living room, but they’re rarely in the action. This high, flat surface isn’t frequently touched or bumped, and it’s unlikely that it will come in contact with spills or messes. As a result, it doesn’t need to be scrubbed or washed.

So the paint for your living room ceiling doesn’t need to be highly durable or washable. Instead, you can opt for a flat ceiling paint.

FYI

You should know that there is no regulation on what constitutes low VOC paint. The general recommendation is to look for a paint with five grams per liter or less. You might consider learning more about low or no VOC paint to make your buying decision easier.