You’ve picked the perfect paint colors, but have you considered those paint finishes? The right finish can change more than just the look of your room—it can make it easier to keep clean, too.

By Amanda Lauren
Updated: June 20, 2019
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As if choosing the right paint colors isn’t hard enough, home updaters must also consider the different types of paint finishes, which are hugely important to the final look of a newly painted space. If you have children and pets at home or a lot of people coming in and out, certain paint finishes can be a magnet for dirt, debris, and scuffmarks. Some of these finishes even clean better than others.

Just as certain paint colors can make your home look dirtier and different paint brands offer varying color quality and durability, certain paint finishes can ruin the spotless (or close to it) look of your home, while others can make keeping a clean-looking home easier; picking the right one might mean the difference between daily cleaning stress and regular satisfaction with the cleanliness of your space.

Kate Lester of Kate Lester Interiors says the general rule of thumb when selecting a paint finish is that the higher the gloss (or shine), the greater the durability. But it’s important to keep in mind that the glossier the paint, the more likely it is to show dirt. This ultimately means that different surfaces in the home and different rooms should have different paint finishes—high-gloss paint finishes might do best (and look cleanest) in low-traffic spaces.

The key to choosing the right paint finish is really more about finding a balance between aesthetic, durability, and cleanability than anything else. Here are the paint finishes you’ll want to avoid (and choose) for an easier-to-clean home, according to top interior designers.

High gloss finish

According to Alexis Rodgers of Home with Alexis, high gloss paint is high-maintenance. “For paint finishes, a high gloss finish will not be forgiving to things like nail pops (which can happen over time, especially if you have a lot of art or even shelving installed on the walls), cracks (which are inevitable when a home settles), or where a painter may have made a mistake (drips, spills, roller marks, etc.).”

If that glossy wall you painted a year or two ago starts to chip or peel, it can put you in a precarious position. Lisa Rickert, CEO and Creative Director of Jolie Home, says, “Glossy finishes show any and all imperfections on a wall and [are] nearly impossible to touch up without repainting the entire service.” So, any area of your home that will get a lot of wear and tear is not ideal for a high gloss finish.

On the other hand, there are rooms where a high gloss finish can keep the space looking clean. Maureen Stevens of Maureen Stevens Design recommends a high gloss finish where you want a high impact look, such as on doors. “Or perhaps even a hallway or a special room in your home,” she says.

The benefit of high gloss paint is that it reflects light really well, so it may be best to consider for windowless or low light spaces such as bathrooms, powder rooms, or even home offices.

Glossy finish

A glossy paint finish looks great in rooms such as kitchens, especially for people who cook a lot. This is because food spills, oil splatters, etc. will wipe off glossy paint far more easily than it will with other paint finishes. It just takes a sponge or rag, and everything should come off the wall without leaving a stain.

Semi-gloss finish

Semi-gloss paint is slightly glossy, but doesn’t reflect too much light. Lester likes using semi-gloss paint on any wall paneling or area that sees a good amount of wear and tear. “Our in-house standard when designing a home is to use a semi-gloss for baseboards, door casing, and doors,” she says.

Satin finish

Satin finish paint tends to have a velvety quality. This finish needs to be applied very carefully because it can reveal flaws and brush strokes, making touchups a challenge. Satin finish is also very easy to clean, though, which makes it a popular choice for children’s rooms, foyers, and high-traffic hallways.

Eggshell finish

Eggshell has just a touch of gloss to it. Rodgers says, “An eggshell finish has a little bit of sheen to it (like an eggshell does), and while it’s nice if you want a little more light reflection, it’s harder to touch-up.”

Tammy Price of Fragments Identity says eggshell is her preferred finish for all walls. “It is the easiest paint to wipe clean and is great for all areas of the home, including bathrooms and kitchens,” she says. “I only use a gloss or semi-gloss paint on base, case, trim, and cabinetry.”

Matte finish

Rickert says that a matte finish product (think Jolie Paint or chalk paint) can hide imperfections of texture and brushstroke. It can even be used to create a suede effect with darker hues.  If the wall gets dirty or needs a touchup, you can easily apply more paint. “Personally, for large walls, I prefer a matte finish on the walls to contrast with a satin sheen on millwork and doors. It creates dimension and depth to vertical surfaces,” she says.    

The downside, according to Stevens, is that matte paint is harder to clean than glossy paint is. So, for example, if you have matte finish walls in your dining room and you accidentally drop a plate of food or spill a glass of wine, it’s very important to take care of the mess right away. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to clean the walls; cleaning matte finish paint quickly and thoroughly can save you the trouble of figuring out how to paint a room all over again.

Flat finish

Flat finish is a type of matte finish paint that does not have any gloss. “A matte finish is almost a flat finish, but more solid and forgiving,” Lester says. The designer says application is key. “When applied correctly, it is durable and it cleans up nicely.”

Lester says that a flat (or matte) finish tends to be the best selection for drywall walls and ceilings. This is because those areas tend to get so much light reflection that there is really no need to use a more reflective glossy paint finish. “To achieve a perfect matte finish on the walls and ceilings, I turn to a flat finish,” she says. “Flat finishes provide a uniform matte look, so furniture, fabric, and accessories can pop. They also offer the most coverage because they have the most pigment—just remember that all matte finishes are not the same.”

Stevens likes to use flat finish paint on ceilings because it can hide imperfections. She says it is because flat finish paint rarely shows dirt, which is helpful for difficult-to-clean ceilings.

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