Are there any paints that are scrub-able?

Seriously, what are you doing to your walls that you need to scrub them? We do get asked this question enough to make me wonder sometimes. Modern paints are very good overall and latex paints are getting better if you ever need to wash them. If you have a really stubborn stain on a wall like a shoe scuff mark, it’s best to use chemicals instead of elbow grease. Scrubbing paintwork usually ends up taking the paint off.

Back in the olden days, not so long ago, you could really get to work on anything painted with oil (alkyd-based) paints but as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, those days are over. The newer hybrid paints, otherwise known as waterborne alkyds are more durable than most latex paint but still not as durable as oil.

So back to how to get marks off. I suggest a mild soap like dish soap. It’s a good start because dish soap contains a de-greaser and hand prints and shoe polish are basically oil based anyway. If you like chemicals, those white scrubby pads that look like sponges, (I won’t use a brand name ’cause no-one is paying me) work wonders but someone told me they contain heinous concoctions and I haven’t verified their claim. It was enough to scare me off ever buying them but they are really effective.

An alternative is Methyl Hydrate otherwise known as denuded alcohol. The nice thing about “Meth” as we call it is that it’s low odour, and doesn’t scratch. It works on windows, metal and is one idea if you go lightly. You can buy it at a hardware store.  Don’t confuse Methyl Hydrate with Acetone.  That’s the stuff that is used in nail polish remover.  Acetone will take the paint off of anything.

Friends of mine swear by vinegar, baking soda and borax for everything. Try that. It’s also dirt cheap, available everywhere and the best environmental choice.

But if you know you’re going to be washing walls, paint with that in mind. Generally speaking, the more shinny a paint is, the more it will hold up to washing. That’s why most people paint doors and trim with semi-gloss paints and walls with eggshell sheens.

Don’t paint anything in a matte or flat sheen as those products are usually the least able to withstand even being touched let alone washed. We used to joke that the only things that should be painted with matte sheen paints are art galleries and architects offices. That was where we assumed no one would ever take a dog or a child.

But aside from that bad joke, we do get asked if there are any products that are matte finished and washable. In the industry we use the term wipe-able so that way we’re off the hook in case you go crazy with a scouring pad on a wall. Benjamin Moore’s Regal line is a wipe-able Ulti-Matte finish and clients tell us it works. It’s about ten dollars per gallon more than most paints but if you plan on staying where you are for a while it’s a small premium to pay. Sherwin Williams Emerald brand and Duration brand are also available in a flat finish that is washable and resists burnishing, (developing a shine from rubbing) as you sometimes get in high traffic areas like stairwells and entrance ways. I confess, I haven’t used it yet but I’m sure I will soon.

We love working with matte finish paints anyway because older homes in Toronto are almost all made with lathe and plaster, the walls aren’t smooth anyway. Years of paint and repairs have only made them more uneven. Matte paints help to mask the imperfections in walls and ceilings. And that helps reduce glare caused by excessive or badly placed lighting. We see people installing halogen spot lights in older homes and that shows up even more imperfections in walls. So buy a good quality name-brand washable flat paint.

If you really want a washable paint and you’re going to scrub it anyway you will need to look to the commercial and industrial coatings.  We have painted walls in factories and labs using Sherwin Williams industrial coatings for places where they literally wash the walls monthly with alcohol. Those paints are available on order, they are expensive, sometimes come as two part formulas so require mixing and an added step planning how much to use. We wear respirators when we apply them so you’ll need to move in with Grandma while your house airs out for a few days.