White Goes Boldly If Primer Has Gone Before

A good paint job will make an enormous visual difference, last a long time and stand up to repeated washings, experts say. A good white paint job will also be compatible with various decorative styles.

As in any project, prepare the surface by cleaning and patching before painting. Wash the woodwork with a solution of water and a good household cleaner. Rinse the woodwork and let it dry. Patch the walls and the trim so all surfaces are smooth. Some painters suggest painting the trim first, then the walls. It’s easier to wipe a little paint off woodwork than to get trim paint off a wall.

The good thing about white is that it generally doesn’t fade, says Jack Greenwood of De Vaul Paints in Santa Ana. “Most water-based paints will not yellow . . . maybe a little, but over time [and] because of dust and dirt.”

Latex or vinyl (water-based) paints are the common choice for the home painter and are best for walls. However, latex semigloss and enamel (glossy) are not as abrasion-resistant as oil-based paints (especially important on window sashes, handrails and sills) and can’t be cleaned as often as oil-based paints.


Latex trim paints dry quickly, and this makes it difficult to avoid lap marks--even for the most experienced painters. These paints dry to a softer and more flexible film than oil-based paints. Objects placed on a latex paint surface, such as a shelf, can stick in place if left a long time, even after the paint has dried.

On the plus side, latex paint is easy to clean. Spills wipe up with water, and brushes can be quickly cleaned in the sink. And because it doesn’t contain petroleum-distilled solvents, latex paint is less of a threat to the environment.

Oil-based paint provides a tough, durable finish that’s ideal for woodwork. It dries slowly to a hard surface.

But “once you go into oil-based paints, they tend to yellow quite rapidly,” within as little as three months, Greenwood warns. The degree of yellowing also depends on how much light the surfaces get; while a dark room can slow the fading of darker colors, a sunny or well-lighted room will slow the yellowing of oil-based paints.

The paint comes in four levels of gloss: flat, eggshell, semigloss and gloss. Clean up oil-based paints with paint thinner (also known as mineral spirits).