What's the Best Paint Sheen for the Kitchen?

Modern kitchen
Getty / Michelle Zassenhaus

Because kitchens are places of intense activity, you want your paint finish--or sheen--to be able to stand up to that.

Backsplashes do a good job of catching splatters, but sometimes that spaghetti sauce lands higher than the backsplash. Then what?

Even if you are scrupulously clean, over time grease can mist and carry well beyond the cooking areas.  So you want your paint sheen to be as durable and easy to clean as possible.

 Which one should you choose?

Bottom Line

The best paint finishes for kitchens are satin and semi-gloss.  

They have the right amount of sheen, so that they can be wiped down with minimal effort.  Yet they do not have too much sheen.  Excessive sheen accentuates wall flaws and produces too much light bounce.

Flatter paint finishes, while easy on the eye, are more difficult to keep clean.  With matte or flat paint that cannot be cleaned, often the only cure is to paint over it.

Five Levels of Sheen Spectrum

The amount of resins and binders is what gives paint its sheen, according to Sherwin-Williams.  More resins means a glossier and more durable paint finish.  Paint that has a higher amount of paint pigments (thus increasing the pigment-to-resins ratio) is flatter, duller, and less durable.

Think of paint finishes as running along a "glossiness" spectrum, ranging from flat to glossy. The full list:

  1. Matte or Flat: This finish has no sheen at all. While attractive, it is impossible to clean the kinds of stains found in kitchens  Avoid at all costs. If you insist, though, paint areas away from the stove and food prep areas in flat/matte.
  2. Eggshell: As the name implies, flat but with a tiny bit of sheen, just like an uncracked egg.
  1. Satin: Barely a sheen, but more than eggshell. Excellent sheen for kitchens.
  2. Semi-Gloss: A pronounced sheen and dangerously close to garish.
  3. Glossy: Almost like a mirror finish.  While this is the absolute best in terms of cleanability--stains easily wipe right off--most homeowners consider this sheen too flashy. Worse, glossy paint can feel industrial, like a school cafeteria.  Also, imperfections on the wall are quite pronounced with glossy paint.