The Difference Between Water Based Paints and Solvent Based Paint

Fifty years ago paint products were all solvent-based as it was believed they were the strongest and most durable.  Solvent based paints were used for their ease of application, and the durability factors once applied to the walls.   The solvent based pains are slowly becoming extinct as they are more and more being replaced with safer and environmentally safe water-based paints.

In this article we will explain the difference between the water based paints and solvent paints to better understand how they can impact the adherence of the paint colour to a surface.

water based paint cans

What is The Difference between Water Based Paints and Solvent Based Paint

Advances in paint technology brings us forward to 2020 where most paint products are water-based.  They have become safer to use in house painting as they don’t give off Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s).  In fact because of the lower emissions of fumes and odours todays paint allows painters to use it in their daily jobs, making homeowners happy that within a couple of hours the they can put the furniture back in to place and get their house back in order.

It used to be with the oil-based paints that the painter used to have to wear masks to apply the paint and the homeowner did not want to be in the same space while they were having their home painting done.  The strong oil based VOC was powerful enough to cause strong headaches, troubles breathing and just overall feeling of being unwell.  In the 1970’s lead based paints were a hazard to work with because of their level of lead contanment.

Technology is a great thing that has been brought into how paint product manufactures now make their paints with.  Todays water-based paints are equal to if not better than their solvent-based equivalents as they continue to offer excellent durability, quick dry times, ease of application  and best of all less if any odour and little to no emission that would harm our environment or our health.

Solvent Based Paints

The solvents in the solvent based paint products give off very strong fumes and smell that make it difficult for painters to use without wearing a mask.  These odours and fumes were and still are especially noticeable when you walk into a commercial building that’s been freshly painted as commercial buildings are more likely to be painted with a solvent based paint because it has a longer durable coating.

Because of the high volumes of traffic in a commercial building, the strong formulation of the solvent paints like oil based paints also known as alykd are typically used for commercial buildings and offices as they tend to last longer and they wash better than the water based paints.

Back in the 1970’s many homeowners painted with one of the most powerful odour and fumes emitting paint product Oil Paints as they were popular for painting kitchens and bathrooms where the moisture and humidity were more prominent than any other rooms around the house.  Oil-based paints or a.k.a. solvent do contain natural oils such as linseed or a synthetic alkyd but are made up of pigments, resin and a solvent thinner.  It is said that once the solvent thinner begins to evaporate or paint begins to dry, the resin element in the formulated paint creates a hard coating.

Although rare in today’s interior home painting, oil paints can be used on trims and baseboards and doors especially exterior doors as it will give the utmost of durability factor.  Most painting companies today will recommend a semi-gloss paint finish on the trim, baseboards, cove molding and interior doors, while and eggshell sheen  finish for interior walls.

Oil-based paints are extremely durable and can withstand routine contact, making them ideal for moldings and trims. And because the resin of an oil-based paint creates a hard coating that isn’t breathable, this option resists stains and rust over time. Keep in mind, though, that oil-based paints have a stronger odor than water-based paints, and will take more time to dry. They’re also harder to clean, too.

Although they were of top quality and durability the fact of the matter is as we all became more “environmentally conscious” paint manufacturers decided to make changes to the formula of making their paint products safer for the environment and our health, yet continuing to keep the high quality performance of all their paint products.  Natura interior Paint can from benjamin moore

Water Based Paints

Water-based paints also named latex paints have a quick dry time, little to no smell and are environmentally safe.  Water based paints are made up of a pigment, a binder and a percentage of water.  They adhere well to the drywall surface if properly prepped and are easily used to paint over existing oil-based paints.

Because water-based paint products dry quicker than the solvent based paints and produce very little to no odor or fumes, the homeowner can safely stay in the same room whilst the painter is painting.

When painting any room using water based paints is the enviro safe way to go.  With a huge array of paint colour choices and paint finishes that have great durability and wash factors.  Today’s water based paints are just as durable and easily washable as their almost extinct solvent based paint predecessor, the biggest difference is they do not emit strong fumes or odours making them human and environmentally safe to work with and to be around.

How To Tell The Difference Between the Water Based and Oil Based Paints

A quick way to know if the paint on your current walls is oil-based or water based is by wiping it with a wet rag.  The rag can be wet with soap and water or alcohol.  Once you have wiped the walls several times and remove the rag take a look and see if there is paint on it.  If there is paint on the rag that means the paint is water based whereas is there is no paint on the rag that clearily says it is an oil a.k.a. solvent based paint.

What is Paint Made Of

Paint is made up of pigments, binders, and liquid that are compounded together to create the paint.  Pigments are fine powders or particles like that of titanium dioxide and provide the different paint colours and shades along with the coverage details.  Binders are plastic polymers that bring the pigment together to form a durable coating.  Latex or water based paints have 100 percent acrylic binders while the oil paints have linseed or synthetic alkyd oils.  Liquids are the mineral spirits used in oil based paints that bring everything together to create a tough and durable coating or film.  While liquids in oil paint evaporate those of the latex or water based paints stay flexible, yet durable.  The water liquid helps latex paints to keep its colour most noteably on the exterior in direct sunlight.

Choosing an Enviro-Friendly Painting Company

If you are doing your own DIY painting these tips will be useful as information is always key to understanding things better.

Knowing that paint manufacturers like Benjamin Moore Paints has been approved and certified by the Asthma Society of Canada (ASC) as a Asthma & Allergy Friendly because of its low emission of VOC’s,  and it exceeds performance standards, to ensure the lowest possible if not non existent allergenic and sensitizing chemicals are omitted such as that of their Natura Paint makes us all rest easier.

water based paints like benjamin moore natura paints is asthma and allergy friendly according to Canadian Asthma Society Contact us and rest easy in knowing that todays house painters in Ottawa use the highest quality paint products that are safe for homeowners and their families, and for the painters who use them daily for all painting services.


This post was originally published on Apr 30, 2017 at 13:57 and edited on Mar 14, 2020 at 14:16