Many do-it-yourself painters spend hours selecting the perfect paint colors, but give far less thought to the sheen they’ll use. That’s short sighted, according to Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute.
“Paint sheen affects not only the initial appearance of a paint job, but also its long-term performance,” says Zimmer. “So, it’s important to carefully consider your options when choosing a paint.”
Leading paint brands come in as many as six different levels of sheen, which is basically a measure of the reflectivity of the paint once it’s applied.
Flat paint is the least reflective, followed by increasingly “shiny” options like matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss and–shiniest of all–high gloss.
The Deciding Factors
If the condition of your walls is impeccable, you can choose any level of sheen your eye desires. But if you have sloppy sheetrock, uneven surfaces, or otherwise imperfect walls, be aware that paint with a higher sheen will make these defects more apparent, while a coating with less sheen will help conceal them.
There’s another aesthetic aspect of sheen: The shinier the paint, the more it will reflect light, rather than absorb it. So, if you want to brighten your surroundings without inflating your electric bill, consider using wall paint with some significant sheen–trading up from a flat paint to, say, a semi-gloss coating. The difference will be apparent.
Some of the reasons sheen level is important have to do not just with the appearance of your paint on day one, but rather, the way it will look years later.
“Paints with higher sheen are tougher, more durable, more mildew resistant, and more stain-resistant than those with a flat or matte finish,” says Zimmer. “They’ll hold up better over time. If the room you are painting is heavily used, it’s wise to select a wall paint from the glossier side of the spectrum.”
Kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms are clearly candidates for semi-gloss, or even high gloss wall paint; so, too, are rooms that are frequented by guests, children, or pets. On the other hand, walls in lesser-used spaces such as entranceways or spare bedrooms will likely hold up well even with flat or low-sheen paint.
Should they ever become soiled, glossier paints are much easier to clean too. High gloss and semi-gloss paints, in particular, will easily give up fingerprints and many other common stains with just light scrubbing. As a result, they’re ideal for use not just on walls, but also on windows, doors, and baseboards.