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How To Choose The Best Paint Finish

Picking the right paint sheen and finish for each room

When it comes to selecting paint finishes (or sheens), many people get confused and overwhelmed.  Should it be flat, matte, egg shell, satin, semi gloss or glossy?  Which looks best?  Which is most durable?  Which is most wipeable?  Which is most stylish?  And, does it even matter?

How to pick the best paint finish for your walls and every room of the house

The truth is it’s not that complicated if you follow these principles based on the room’s needs…and if you use this one cool hack.


Please note that this article contains affiliate links.  You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.


Guidelines for picking the best paint finish

best paint finishes for wallsThere are many types of paint finishes and these go from least shiny to most shiny:

  • Flat finish
  • Matte finish
  • Egg Shell Finish
  • Satin Finish
  • Semi-gloss Finish
  • High Gloss Finish


The challenge here is the trade-off between what’s most stylish (and looks best) vs what is most wipeable and easy to clean.  And, the needs differ a bit based on room of the house and whether you are discussing walls or trim paint.  And, the other challenge is that you don’t want a hodge-podge of finishes across rooms. The more consistent you are the better.


In general, the flatter or less shiny you go on the walls, the better the paint looks.  Flat and matte finishes are much more stylish.  Egg shell and shinier generally looks cheaper and more dated.


Flat and matte finishes show the imperfections in the wall less (and most houses have imperfections…believe me….probably 95% do…even in high end homes)…and the older the home is, the more imperfections they have.  This could be due to the way the house was built, how the house has settled as well as from previous paint jobs and minor damage to wall over time.


picking the best paint finishes for floors and wallsAlso, flat and matte finishes are easier to touch up, if you need to.  Egg shell and satin finishes will reflect the light more, so they highlight and touch ups (and you will need to repaint the whole wall) as well as any imperfections.


BUT, the shinier you go, the more wipeable the paint is.  And we all know that people (and pets) brush up against the walls.  Or your kids may draw on the walls or splash food on the walls (yes, my brother and I were guilty on both counts).


Or your dog may get muddy or jump in the brook (ours did this all the time) and then they come inside and shake it all off (we had THE best dog…but very predictable.  They shake off the rain or mud inside the home, right?).  Or you may brush against the wall while carrying groceries, bags or laundry or your computer case.  Stuff happens.


So how do you resolve this apparent contradiction between style and practicality?  And, how do you keep consistency throughout the home?




best paint finish for every room of the houseIf you upgrade the paint to a paint that is wipeable, then you can really use whichever paint sheen you want.  Within Sherwin Williams, if you upgrade to their Duration or Emerald lines, you can buy a great paint in flat or matte finish that looks awesome and is fully wipeable.  Voila…perfect solution as it’s the best of both worlds.


Personally, I prefer Duration over Emerald.  Duration costs a bit less, so it will save you a bit of money.  But, the reason I prefer it is that is just goes on smoother and looks better.  Our painters find it faster and easier to work with Duration.  It seems to cover up imperfections better. So, Duration would be my recommendation.

Paint finish recommendations by room or area of the house:

How to choose the right paint finish for every roomMain common areas: Matte or Flat

These look the best and are the most stylish. Traffic is generally not a concern here.


Bedrooms: Matte or Flat

These look the best and are the most stylish. Traffic is generally not a concern here.


Hallways and entryways: Matte or Flat (may want to upgrade on paint quality)

Note:  Many painters recommend egg shell for these areas because people tend to brush against the walls in these areas and egg shell is more wipeable…especially among cheaper paint brands/lines.  But, egg shell look cheap and dated to me.  Plus I don’t like mixing the finishes from the main living areas to the hallways.  It looks cheap and tacky.  Instead, upgrade to a higher line of paint that is wipeable, such as Sherwin Williams Duration.


Bathrooms: Matte (upgraded) or egg shell (if using cheaper paint)

how to find the right paint finish for your bathroomBathrooms are tricky as they get more moisture and fluctuate in temperature and humidity.  They also tend to get less air circulation.  And, the walls are cleaned more often in this room.  For this reason, many painters recommend an egg shell finish.  But, as I’ve mentioned before, egg shell looks a bit dated.  Instead, I would upgrade the paint in this room.  In fact, if I had to recommend the most important area to upgrade the paint, this would be it.


For Sherwin Williams, I would upgrade to Duration.  If you’re using Benjamin Moore, they have a special upgraded paint called Kitchen & Bath.  Both are great options.  They will cost you a bit more, but this is a small area, so you won’t need that much paint here.  It may cost you an extra $20-$50 or so…and it is so worth it in my opinion.


Also take special precautions with newly painted bathrooms, as these areas take longer to cure (due to less air circulation).  Often, it will take 4 weeks for bathroom paint to cure (regardless of the grade you select) vs 2 weeks for the rest of the house.  After you paint, try to keep the doors open when it’s not in use (for the first month). If possible, open the window (if you have one and if it’s not raining or humid).   And, importantly, try to avoid taking showers for longer than 5 minutes during the first week.  Better yet, if you can use a different bathroom for this, even better.


Kitchens: Flat or Matte (ideally upgraded line)

How to choose the right paint finishThe kitchen is often the busiest room of the house.  So here, you may want to consider upgrading the paint as well.  I would recommend going consistent here (in color and sheen) with adjoining rooms…and especially if you have an open floor plan.  I would not be so worried from moisture or splattering by the stove as you should have a backsplash in these areas to protect the walls. But, upgrading the paint makes sense to me in this room which gets a lot of traffic.


Ceilings: Flat

And, I would not worry so much about the grade of paint here, as the ceiling doesn’t get a lot of traffic.


Paint finish recommendations for trim and base molding:

Trim:  Semi-gloss or satin

Most people prefer a semi-gloss finish for base molding and other trim as it’s classic and timeless.  And, it just contrasts better with the walls.  Semi-gloss is what the majority of people use and prefer, and it just looks right.  But, if you prefer a less shiny look, satin is also a great look.  It’s a bit more modern and contemporary.  Some people love this finish as the trends gravitate towards less shiny finishes on most surfaces (e.g. matte and satin for floors, honed countertops and brushed nickel fixtures and stainless steel appliances).  Others prefer semi-gloss as it will have more contrast with the floors and walls. Both are great choices.  Semi gloss is a safer choice.


Paint finish recommendations for kitchen cabinets:

How to choose the right pant finish for your homeMy top choice for this would be satin as it’s most stylish.  But, semi-gloss is also a great option if you prefer a shinier looks.  Both are great options; it just depends on your personal preference.


Is there a difference in cost for the sheen levels?  Which paint finishes cost more and which are less expensive?

Generally there is not a major cost difference for different paint finish levels.  But, the flatter (or less shiny) you go, it will save you a bit of money.


Conclusion for best paint finishes

I think it’s important to be consistent on your paint finish for the walls. The more consistent you are, the better your home will look.  If I had to choose one finish for all of the walls in home, my recommendation would be matte…and upgrade to a wipeable line for the bathroom (or if you can afford it, the whole area).  This will give you consistency and durability for all of the areas.  For trim, I would choose semi-gloss.


Do you need any paint shade fan decks?

Amazon can help with that. It’s so much easier when you have the full color wheels and can see all of these in your own home (vs. going back and forth to the store MULTIPLE times).

Sherwin Williams             Benjamin Moore
best paint finishes for walls - sherwin williams best paint finishes for walls - benjamin moore


Helpful tools if you are going to paint yourself

best paint finishes for walls - blue painters tapeHere are some painting tools that may come in handy if you’re going to do the painting yourself. Also, be sure to check out my article on the Top 10 DIY Painting mistakes and how to avoid them. The products below can be found on Amazon and delivered straight to your door.

  • Painting brush – this one costs a bit more, but it’s totally worth it. It will help you paint faster and more accurately. If you’re going to paint yourself, don’t skimp here. Incidentally, this is Amazon’s Choice as well.
  • Painter’s tape – a must have. Use for all the trim as well as ceiling area
  • Paint roller kit – this includes a tray. Use the brush for the edges and the roller for main areas of the wall (and ceiling).
  • Drop cloths – Yes, you’ll need them for sure. Some people have some on hand, but often not enough if you are doing many rooms.



Related painting articles:



How To Choose The Right Paint Finish

2 thoughts on “How To Choose The Best Paint Finish”

  1. Hi.

    Thank you for the super informative website. One question.

    For bathroom trim in a one-bedroom apartment do you recommend using the same tint & paint finish on the trim that you use on the walls? It would obviously save some money but might not look the best.

    Thanks again,

    1. Rico – No, I would recommend using white for the trim. It looks MUCH nicer and more upscale. Also, it will be easier for painting the door as it should be white on both sides.

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