Here is Why Choosing a Plain White Paint is Nearly Impossible

Why Plain White Doesn't Exist in Decorating
Can You Really Find Plain White Paint?. ©Camilo Morales/Blend Images/Getty Images

Plain White Paint Exists, But Are You Sure You Want That?

It's true that "plain white" paint does exist. You can ask a paint store to give you the purest white paint they have, and you will get it. This paint will be bright and almost unbearably white, and you may not actually like it after all. Read what not to do in the paint store.

Most likely, your search for a simple and plain white paint will have you looking through strips and samples.

The quest to find a white color that has the clarity of pure white, without the blinding cold of its whiteness is more challenging than it would appear.

How Many Variations of White Paint Are There?

There are hundreds and hundreds of white paints available, and most of them are considered white. This makes choosing a plain white paint color nearly impossible. You can't change the proliferation of paints available, but you can change how you search for the perfect one. 

Why Are There So Many Shades of White?

If you have used neutral colors in decorating before, you may know about those pesky undertones that complicate colors. White, though some may not consider a color, can have undertones as well. Unless your white paint is free of pigment, there will be an undertone of some type. Paint manufacturers offer white paint with many different undertones, but still they are named white.

Swiss Coffee is a popular white paint that is available from a variety of manufacturers.

While Swiss Coffee is considered a white paint, it's warmer than a pure white. To complicate matters, each paint manufacturer has its own color formula which makes each brand a little different. Much of the undertone variations are due to creative choices made by each paint manufacturer. These creative choices are where undertones come in.

When the decision is made to warm up or cool off a white paint color, the undertone does the work. 

Now That You Know About White Paint, How Do You Choose the Right One?

It's crucial to identify the undertone of any paint that you're considering. White paints are particularly tricky, as they not only have undertones, but their very nature can reflect ambient colors from around the room. If you choose a white paint with a gray undertone, it will read even more gray if you've just painted it in a north-facing or dimly lit room.  

The most common undertones you'll contend with in white paint are:

  • Blue
  • Gray
  • Green
  • Pink
  • Yellow  

Cool undertones like gray and blue, are best in rooms with plenty of light to warm the space up. Warm undertones like pink and yellow can warm up a cool room. Green can be either warm or cool, depending upon its blue or yellow dominance. White paint with a green cast is generally not flattering for most rooms, so it's best to choose a slightly more saturated green if that's the color you truly want.

What's the Best Way to View White Paint Choices?

The best way to see exactly what undertone your white paint might have, is to compare it to other white paint colors. Most paint companies pair all of their white paints on strips.

Viewing the strips you can easily see the color undertones. If you're still unsure, bring out a color wheel, and compare the white paint color to each color to get a better view. 

When is it Best to Use the Elusive Pure White Paint?

Pure white paint looks best as trim and doors. There is nothing more crisp than semi-gloss millwork in a bright white. Your challenge is to find that pure white, with no undertone, for the freshest look.