Which is better, Oil paint or Latex paint

So which is better, oil or latex? Who cares. Yes that’s right. It doesn’t matter. The reason is doesn’t matter is that oil paints are being phased out. So the argument is redundant. That being said, oil paints, otherwise known as alkyds are still available is some limited applications where nothing else would work. Those products are mostly specialized coatings used in industrial applications.

For the rest of us DIY types and contractors like us who paint people’s homes and offices. latex is a perfect and in many cases preferable modern alternative.

But before I sing the praises of latex paints, let me first deal with the truths and misconceptions surrounding oil based, alkyd paints. It’s important to clear the air because there are many people out there who only used oil paints before and still feel cheated that they’re no longer available. Oil paints are fabulous. They dry hard as nails, come in high gloss finishes if that’s the look you want and they give long-lasting protection.  The irony is that the very factors that make alkyd paints ideal are also they’re undoing.  Oil paints dry to a hard and brittle finish. They don’t flex in any way.  So if you paint these coatings on something like a boat or the outside of your house, the surface will crack as the item expands and contracts with temperature and humidity changes.  That cracking wouldn’t in itself be a problem if we were prepared to keep touching up the paint but nobody ever does it.

The only people who I can think of who would be an exception would sailors.  My dad was in the navy and he said the rules were simple.  “If it moves, salute it, if it doesn’t, paint it.”  A humorous statement obviously but with an underlying understanding of the need to continually be painting the ship!

Why are latex paints better? They flex where alkyds don’t.  Latex paint is plastic and latex never truly dries out and hardens the way other coatings do. That’s critical when you start to imagine how much your front porch expands and contracts throughout the day as the temperature changes and the sun comes up and moves across the sky.  True, latex paints don’t last as long as oils, will dull down over time and will fail eventually, but they’re also a better choice for the environment.

Unlike latex paints, oil paints are poisonous. As they dry, they give off gases otherwise known as VOC’s, (volatile organic compounds).  These compounds include some nasty things like, fluorine, chlorine, bromine and sulfur.  Breathing this stuff even when working outside is dangerous to human health and if we’re all using the same products imagine all of those fumes accumulating in our atmosphere. On top of that problem, disposal and clean up means using even more chemicals.  Say goodbye to oil paints.

Now for the exceptions and this is an area where the Canadian government has had to backtrack in recent years.  One product category that many home owners are familiar with are deck stains.  Water based products turn out to be a poor substitute for any stain you want to use on a horizontal surface outdoors. Water based products sit on top of the wood and eventually peel off.  What’s worse is that once that happens you need to sand it all off and start all over again.  Oil based products are absorbed into the wood and eventually fade away but don’t peel.  So a high quality oil stain on your deck can be touched up in faded areas with a colour stain and then the whole area coated with an almost clear, UV protective coating. Some products are a one-coat option.

Of course you could simply choose to never stain your deck and then the whole argument is mute.  We stain many decks and fences every year and it’s work we appreciate but if you ask me, it’s a waste of time.  I built my deck out of pressure treated wood and then I let it go grey.  It’s simply one less chore to do around the house.  But don’t tell anyone that I said that.