Latex vs Enamel Paint- Unmasking the Difference

Painting has a long evolutionary history; it stretches as far back as 40000 years ago. To put it into perspective, that’s even before the domestication of dogs. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that the world abounds with paint types; all we can do is figure out their differences and similarities. In this writeup, I’ll hinge on latex vs enamel paint.

Latex paints are water-based paints; they were initially known commonly as regular wall paints; this alias has ebbed over time due to the emergence of several types of water-based paints other than latex. 

Enamel paints have had an even more zigzagged nomenclature through the years. It used to be that oil-based paints are enamel paints, thanks to their hard and shiny appearance upon drying.

Nowadays, almost all top-notch paints are labeled enamel, so the original enamel/oil-paint association is becoming somewhat ambiguous.

However, there are still more oil-based enamels than other enamel paints. Therefore, if you describe a paint as enamel, it will resonate with what most people have in mind, i.e., a first-rate oil-based paint.

In this article, enamel paint loosely translates to an 0il-based paint while latex paint is water-based; keep that in mind as you read along.

What Is Latex Paint?

Let’s take a close-up view of latex paint! It’s an emulsion of polymer particles in water and has a special feature of hardening on exposure to air.

Latex is mostly white, but there are orange, yellow, and scarlet forms. Latex is available naturally and synthetically/artificially.

Latex paint is mainly made from synthetic latex. Synthetic latex is a substance that mimics the characteristics of natural latex. Instead of harvesting from the rubber tree, synthetic latex is processed from petrochemicals.

Synthetic latex is used to make paint because it solidifies through water evaporation and coalescence of polymer fragments. It means they form films without the emission of harmful organic fumes.

What Is Enamel Paint?

Image of Oil Paint. So, Can I Use Afm Sealer On Oil Based Paint?Enamel paint is paint that dries to a lustrous and hardened finish. It’s for coating outdoor surfaces or those susceptible to wear and temperature variations.

Don’t confuse enamel paint with porcelain/vitreous enamel! The latter is powdered glass fired to surfaces at high temperatures; it then dries to a hard, polished coating.

To better understand what enamel paint is, read its etymology below:

Originally, oil-based paint had the best durability profile; it dried hardest with a higher sheen than the others. So, painting professionals reserved the enamel label for top-notch oil-based paints.

Oil-based paints’ poor toxicity profile, high yellow-aging tendency, and environmental degradation effects have prompted a shift to water-based paints and urethane paints.

The current water-based and urethane paints have hardness, durability, and sheen profiles similar to oil-based paints. They’ve therefore assumed the enamel paint tag.

From the etymology above, the term enamel paint describes various paint types, i.e., oil, water, acrylic, nitrocellulose-based/lacquers, and urethane paints.

Different companies have adopted the enamel paint designation because people associate the term with a strong, durable, and lustrous coating.

In that regard, there is oil-based enamel paint, water-based enamel paint, acrylic enamel paint, urethane enamel paint, etc.

Presently, there are still more oil-based enamel paints in the market than any other enamel paint. It’s because all the original enamel paints were oil-based.

With time, they’ll be crowded out with water-based, urethane, and acrylic enamel paints as they have a better safety and aging profile.

Can Latex Paint Also Be Enamel Paint?

As I’ve highlighted above, the original enamel designation translates to oil-based paints. But in modern times, many painting companies have adopted the enamel label to indicate that the paint dries hard and is durable. So can latex paint also be enamel paint?

Absolutely! Many latex paints are enamel. There are also acrylic enamel, nitrocellulose, urethane enamel paints, etc. So, latex paint can also be enamel; the principal reason for calling it ‘enamel’ is to show it dries hard and strong.

However, I clarify that the enamel paint reference in this article is for oil-based enamels. It’s because most of the enamel paints still out there are oil-based.

Advantages Of Latex Paint Over Oil-Based Enamel

  • It’s more affordable
  • It has a faster drying and curing time 
  • Latex paint is easier to apply
  • The paint is easy to clean up 
  • It maintains the paint color over a more extended period
  • Latex paint is eco-friendly and less toxic to humans

Drawbacks Of Latex Paint

  • It’s not as durable as oil-based enamel
  • Latex paint can come out when you clean with water
  • It has an inferior leveling profile
  • The paint shows brush marks and streaks due to its quick drying time

Advantages of Oil-Based Enamel Over Latex Paint

  • Enamel paint is more durable
  • The paint is more tolerant to heavy impact and scratches
  • This paint doesn’t come out when you clean the surface with water
  • Enamel paint has an excellent leveling profile
  • The paint smoothens out brush marks and streaks thanks to its long drying time
  • It adheres firmly to the substrate

Disadvantages Of Oil-Based Enamel

  • It’s more expensive than latex paint
  • This paint is difficult to handle and apply
  • The paint is toxic due to high VOCs emission
  • Oil-based enamel loses yellows over time
  • It has a slow drying time leading to long and tedious waits before recoating

How Do You Tell If a Paint Is Latex Or Oil-Based Enamel?

I’ve already defined both oil-based enamel paint and latex paint. I’ve also listed the advantages and downsides of both dyes. On a similar account, how do you tell if a paint is a latex or oil-based enamel?

Telling the two paints apart is a surprisingly simple task you can carry out. You only need turpentine or acetone and a clean cotton rag; the process is as below:

Look for and identify a clean and hidden spot on your painted surface.

Then, apply a small amount of turpentine or acetone to the clean cotton rag.

Wipe off the painted surface with your doused rag.

If the paint comes off or if your rag stains with the paint color, it’s latex paint or water-based paint. If the paint doesn’t come off, it’s oil-based enamel.

That’s it! Simple and straightforward, right? It’s what we’re here for; to guide.

Comparative Review Of Latex Vs. Enamel Paint (Similarities and Differences)

Let’s have a detailed look into different aspects of these paints.

Surface Adhesion

Oil-based enamel shows stronger adhesion to surfaces compared to latex paints. It’s due to the binding mechanism of oil-based paints, i.e., water and solvents evaporate, leaving polymer molecules that form strong hydrogen bonds with each other.

Latex paints also bond strongly with substrates, but the binding is weaker than oil-based enamels.


As mentioned earlier, oil-based enamel paint poses a health risk to humans and is an environmental pollutant. On the other hand, latex paint is environmentally friendly and is not as harmful to humans. 

In that respect, the disposal modes for the two paint types vary markedly. So what happens when you’ve finished your painting project and have leftover paint? You need to handle appropriately and dispose of all kinds of paint responsibly.

The best thing to do (for both latex and enamel paint) is save for touch-ups or give to a neighbor or friend. If the paint can is unopened, store it for future use. That’s where the similarity for both paints ends as far as disposal is concerned.

For oil-based enamel, do not dump! Dumping means pouring, discharging, or spilling, whether intentionally or accidentally. It’s illegal to discard oil-based paint, and it attracts penalties like fines and jail terms.

Don’t pour into the ground, any water body, or drains. Instead, take the enamel paint to household special waste collection, which you can search and find online.

Latex paint is water-based! Therefore, it’s considered non-hazardous; you can pour leftovers into sinks or drains connected to sanitary sewers and water treatment plants. But don’t pour to the ground or water bodies.

Lastly, how do you dispose of empty paint cans for the two paint types? You can do so by conducting online searches regarding waste disposal.

For oil-based enamel paint containers, I recommend against putting them in your regular garbage bags; consult with your local council haulage services first.

For latex paint cans of five gallons and below, recycle or dispose of them with ordinary household waste. 


Image of paint brushes. So, How Do You Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Paint Thinner?With the quality of paintbrush aside, no paintbrush is better than the rest. Each of the brushes has different characteristics that suit different painting situations. The brushes vary in bristle angles, length, thickness, bristle stiffness, etc.

Enamel paints work well with both natural hair brushes and synthetic brushes. The natural hair brushes include hog brushes and pig hair brushes. Latex paints are more compatible with synthetic brushes; natural hair brushes soak up the water component of latex paints.


Oil-based enamel paint has a more pungent odor than latex paint. All oil-based paints release fumes called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The fumes have a strong smell that nauseates; the smell lingers for at least three days.

Suppose you stay within the vicinity of the oil-based paint; you will experience a mild headache, vomiting, eye irritation, respiratory problems, and lightheadedness.

Latex paint is water-based! It also has an odor but is not as strong as oil-based enamel paint; the odor dissipates comparatively faster than oil-based paint.

To minimize the odor effects, ventilate your working area before you begin painting or use a fan to circulate air. 

Applying oil-based enamel paint to smaller surfaces like doors, trims, and baseboards is a risk aversion measure. It reduces the amounts of VOCs released to the environment. Use latex paint on walls and large painting projects as it has low VOC content.

Also, use oil-based enamel paint on outdoor projects if possible; this prevents you from inhaling the toxic fumes.

Fluctuating Weather Conditions

Oil-based enamel paint is better suited to handle fluctuating weather conditions. It dries to form a solid and impenetrable coat on surfaces. The enamel paint is therefore suitable for exterior applications.

But, oil-based paints turn yellow as they age. Exposure to adverse weather conditions, especially UV rays, hastens this yellowing process. Your surface loses its sparkle and looks different from the original paint color.

Water-based paints like latex don’t yellow when they age. It’s advantageous as the paint will maintain its color on the painted surface for a long time.

The pitfall of latex paints in fluctuating weather conditions is the poor durability profile. It leads to faster peeling and flaking compared to oil-based enamel. Latex is water-based, so frequent rainfalls could wash away the paint or loosen its attachment on the substrate.

When you apply oil-based enamel on outdoor surfaces, high temperatures and low humidity accelerate the drying and curing time. The reverse is true if temperatures are low and relative humidity is high.

Pigment/Binder Proportion

Pigments dictate the paint color, while binders determine the paint sheen level and durability. Latex paint has a high pigment to binder ratio; this explains its richly-colored appearance.

Oil-based enamel has a high binder to pigment ratio; this accounts for its higher sheen level and durability than latex paint.

Thinning Agents

Paint thinning refers to reducing the thickness of paint to make it more flowable and easily applicable. It’s done by adding agents called paint thinners to your paint. The paint must be soluble in the thinning agent for the process to be feasible.

An agent known as floetrol is, currently, the most popular additive/thinner for latex paint and other water-based paints. The agent enhances the flow and leveling characteristics of the said paints.

Mineral spirits or turpentine is the thinning agent for enamel paint; it’s so because enamel paint is oil-based.


Clean-up is necessary to remove accidental spills and general cleaning of equipment after you’ve finished the painting task.

Latex paint needs water as a clean-up agent; the paint is water-based, making it easily soluble and washable with water.

On the other hand, enamel paint requires turpentine or mineral spirits for clean-up. It’s because it is oil-based, and oil is soluble in organic solvents like turpentine. 

Advancement in mineral spirits manufacture has led to the production of odorless mineral spirits. These don’t have toxic aromatic compounds and are therefore safer.

Interior vs Exterior Use

Image of a painter painting concrete wall. So, What Is Concrete Painting?Interior vs. exterior comparison between the two paints is circumstantial. You need to do a cost-benefit analysis before settling for latex paint or enamel paint.

Latex paint is better suited for both interior and exterior walls, but not floors because floors are high traffic. Enamel paint is perfect for outdoor surfaces, mostly wood, and metals.

Latex paint isn’t too bad for outdoor surfaces; it’s only that oil-based enamel is better. But oil-based enamel paint tends to yellow when aging, mainly in the presence of UV radiation/sunlight.

Therefore, don’t use white or brightly colored oil-based enamel on outdoor surfaces. I recommend you to use muted color shades like blue or beige in that regard; otherwise, use latex paint.

You can also extend with the enamel paint beyond trims, doors, and baseboards to walls and other interior surfaces. But it will cost you more as oil-based enamel is more expensive than latex paint.

Plus, the strong odor and high VOC content pose a health and environmental pollution risk. The positive side to this is higher durability, better luster, and low cleaning frequency.  

Waterproof/Water Resistance

Oil-based enamel has better waterproof properties than latex paint. As you may already know, water and oil don’t mix; that’s the rationale behind the water-resistance nature of oil-based paints.

Even when it comes to cleaning oil-based paint spills, water just won’t work! You have to use mineral spirits like turpentine or acetone.

On the other hand, latex paints are water-based and can therefore mix easily with water. Also, soapy water and other water-based solutions can clean it up. But, they only yield to water when still wet; once they dry, they become water-resistant, though not as much as oil-based enamel.

Therefore, even latex paint is good enough to withstand water; but it will give way under extreme water accumulation conditions. Not so for oil-based enamel; the paint shows a near-total water resistance.


Oil-based enamel has a more radiant/polished appearance than latex paint. The reason is rather apparent; from our day-to-day encounters, oil is more shinny than water.

By extension, why do we apply oil to our bodies? To give us a glow, it makes us look “new.” By the same token, oil-based paints make surfaces appear brighter or sparkly.

However, advancements in water-based paints research have led to the production of latex paints with higher sheen levels than the primordial forms. But it’s not as polished as oil-based enamel.

While the oil-based enamel still has the props for glossiness, we have to make do with the modern latex paints as there’s a global initiative to pull away from oil-based paints. So, it’s a good thing to sidestep them if possible. 


Enamel paint is more durable than latex paint!

The paint additive that confers durability is the binder; it holds the paint constituents together to prevent wear and tear. Enamel paint has a higher binder proportion than latex paint. As a result, the former is more durable than the latter.

Enamel paint does not crack, break or scratch easily once it dries on a surface.

Make no mistake, latex paint is also durable! But enamel paint edges it a little; there’s got to be a winner in every race.

Ease Of Application

Latex paint takes little effort to apply than enamel paint. The former has excellent flow properties, better surface coverage, and short drying times before recoating.

Oil-based enamel is a little challenging to apply because it’s more viscous and takes longer to dry before recoating.

Uses and Cost

Latex paint is suited for painting large surfaces, mostly concrete walls. As a result, latex paint is commonly known as regular wall paint.

Enamel paints are perfect for trims, moldings, doors, outdoor furniture, and surfaces that are exposed to frequent handling and abrasion.

Since enamel paint dries harder and is more durable, it costs more than latex paint.

Drying and Curing Time

Latex paint takes about 1 hour to be touch-dry and 4 hours to dry for recoating; the curing time before washing is 14 days.

Oil-based enamel paint takes 6-8 hours to be touch-dry and 24 hours to dry in readiness for recoating. Its curing time is 3 to 4 weeks.

Due to oil-based enamel’s long drying and curing time, it has plenty of time to level. It helps to smooth out brush marks and streaks. Latex paint has a shorter drying and curing time; hence it’s difficult to eliminate brush marks and smudges.

Does Oil-Based Enamel Need Primer?

You already know that the enamel paint in question adheres strongly to surfaces, it has high durability and is resistant to cracks and scratches. With all the above top-quality attributes, does oil-based enamel need primer?

While the enamel paint seems to fire on all cylinders, it still needs a primer. Why? Remember primers do not only provide an excellent gripping surface, but they also even up the surface and patch up defects.

Also, it still provides additional binding strength to the oil-based enamel, despite the enamel paint having an already excellent bonding property.

Whatever good attribute the enamel paint possesses, the primer kicks it a notch higher. So go ahead and lay that primer foundation, then follow with oil-based enamel.

What Happens When You Put Latex Paint Over Oil?

As you may already know, oil and water don’t mix! And guess what? Latex paint is water-based. In that respect, what happens when you put latex paint over oil?

The latex paint won’t bond well with the oil paint, or if they do bond, it will be a weak bond. After a few weeks, the latex will peel and flake off of the surface, meaning you’ve wasted your money, time, and paint. 

There’s an art to painting latex paint over oil-based paints. It involves ample preparation and meticulous artwork. If you apply the latex over oil directly and in a rush, it will fail, and you’ll have to start over the entire painting project! That’s brutal, isn’t it?

Read ahead to find the solution around the complicated subheading above.

Can You Paint Latex Over Enamel Paint?

Oil-based paint is what you’ll find in most homes, especially for older houses. But, there’s a global campaign to move away from oil-based paints to water-based paints.

It’s due to health and environmental conservation concerns. If you plan to make the above transition, you might be wondering, can you paint latex over enamel paint?

You can! But it’s not as straightforward as it sounds; you need to take a detour to get there. The detour involves priming the surface with an oil-based primer, sanding, and applying the oil-based enamel.

Directly using latex paint over oil-based enamel paint is a big mistake. The waterborne latex paint won’t attach well and will begin peeling away after a few weeks.

The takeaway message from the above is that water-based paints can’t directly go over oil-based paints. 

But if you are an environmental conservation enthusiast and you want to transition from oil-based to waterborne paints, I’ll show you how to do just that. 

How to Paint Over Oil Based Paint With Latex

As I’ve mentioned above, contemporary professional painters and DIY enthusiasts tend towards water-based paints (e.g., latex paint), away from oil-based paints (e.g., oil-based enamel). It’s therefore essential to know how to paint over oil-based paint with latex.

Below is the process:

Materials Needed

  • Latex paint 
  • Latex paint additive (floetrol)
  • Clean rag
  • Water-based primer
  • Synthetic paint brush (polyester-made)
  • Sandpaper
  • Painting buckets
  • Protective gear (a face mask, a pair of gloves, and protective goggles)

Procedure 1

First, wear all your protective gear.

Then, ventilate your working area; if the working area is in an enclosed space, use a fan to circulate air. 

Next, sand down the wall using sandpaper (180 to 220 grit) and vacuum off the accumulated debris. Sand thoroughly to remove all the oil-based paint.

Then, apply a water-based primer on the wall and let it dry for about 4 hours.

Sand the primer coat lightly and remove the dust.

Meanwhile, open the latex paint and mix it with floetrol in a container or a bucket.

Afterward, take the polyester brush and immerse it into the paint. Beat the brush against the container sides to remove excess from the bristles.

Paint your workpiece gently but firmly to work the paint well into the substrate; this is the first latex paint coat.

Let it dry for 3 to 4 hours, then apply the second latex coat using the same protocol for the first coat.

Lastly, clean up your painting equipment and accidental spills using water.

There you have it! You’ve successfully painted latex paint on a surface previously coated with oil-based paint.

The procedure above is pretty long; you can make it shorter by using an alternative method just before you start sanding. Here is the process:


  • Latex paint 
  • Latex paint additive (floetrol)
  • Clean rag
  • Oil-based primer
  • Synthetic paint brush (polyester-made)
  • Painting buckets
  • Protective gear (a face mask, a pair of gloves, and protective goggles)

Procedure 2

Clean the floor thoroughly and let it dry.

Then, instead of sanding, apply an oil-based primer on the oil-based paint. Take note that in procedure 1, we use a water-based primer. Why is this different?

In procedure 1, sanding removes all the oil-based paint, so you can just apply a water-based primer before applying water-based paint.

In procedure 2, you can’t use a water-based primer because it doesn’t form an excellent binding agent between the oil-based paint underneath and the incoming water-based paint.

After applying the oil-based primer, let it dry for 24 hours.

Afterward, apply the first layer of latex paint using a synthetic bristle brush. Let it dry for 3-4 hours before laying down a second latex paint coat.

Then clean up the oil-based stained equipment and spills using turpentine. For latex paint spills and stained equipment, clean up using soapy water.

Here’s How to Apply Latex Over Oil Based Paint:

Can You Use Enamel Paint Over Latex Paint?

We’ve seen from above that you can paint latex over oil-based enamel paint. But what if you find yourself in a somewhat opposite situation where you want to paint an oil-based paint over water-based paint? Can you use enamel paint over latex paint?

You can paint oil-based enamel over latex paint! The usual drill, i.e., priming, painting, and clean-up.

We’ve discussed up there that it’s challenging to apply latex paint over oil-based paint. It’s relatively simple when it comes to putting oil-based over water-based. So, in short, you can’t put water-based on top of oil-based, but you can put oil-based on top of water-based.

How to Paint Enamel Paint Over Latex Paint

If you’re looking for strong and durable paint to coat your surface, oil-based enamel paint is the way to go. The paint is suitable for trims, doors, baseboards, and moldings. I’ll show you how to paint enamel paint over latex paint in this segment.


  • Oil-based enamel paint 
  • Turpentine
  • Clean rag
  • Oil-based primer
  • Natural paintbrush
  • Painting buckets
  • Protective gear (a face mask, a pair of gloves, and protective goggles)


As usual, wear all your protective gear and ventilate your working area.

I insist on aeration and wearing protective gear when dealing with oil-based paints as they are more toxic than water-based paints. The oil-based paints emit high VOCs and have a solid nauseating odor.

Next, clean up the surface by wiping it with a damp cloth.

Afterward, apply the oil-based primer to prep your workpiece for the enamel paint. Let it dry for 24 hours.

Then, open the oil-based enamel and pour it into a mixing container. Add turpentine and stir well. The turpentine serves as a paint thinner; it lowers the viscosity of the enamel paint for easier application and better paint coverage.

Upon uniform mixing of the paint and turpentine, take the natural hair brush and dip it into the container.

Pelt the brush gently against container sides to remove excess paint. 

Apply the paint gently but resolutely and ensure you don’t miss the edges of your workpiece.

Let this first oil-based enamel coat dry for 24 hours before you apply a second coat.

Lastly, clean up your painting tools and the spilled enamel paint using a clean cloth soaked in turpentine. 

Voila! You have your surface covered in oil-based enamel paint.

Is Interior Paint Latex or Enamel?

We often paint buildings both internally and externally to make them look attractive and new at all times. Different building surfaces require different types of paint. So, is interior paint latex or enamel?

You can use both latex and enamel paint on interior surfaces. The deciding factor is what kind of interior surface you are painting and what goals you want to achieve with the painting. 

There are interior walls, interior furniture, trims, floor moldings, kitchen cabinets, doors, and ceilings based on the kind of interior surface.

Based on the goals you want to achieve, you can choose high durability over the ability to maintain paint color or choose the latter over the former.

The above scenarios can only materialize when you use one of the two paints for interior use; either latex or oil-based enamel paint. Some of the desirable features of the two paints are mutually exclusive, so you have to choose one.

The best choice is oil-based enamel paint for interior furniture, baseboards, trims, moldings, and doors. It’s because most of the mentioned materials take a lot of impact and are therefore prone to wear and tear. 

In this case, it’s the protective character and durability of the paint that matters. Oil-based enamel has a better protection and durability profile than latex paint. So, it fits the mentioned purpose.

Also, the items I’ve indicated are not large workpieces, so they don’t need much paint. It minimizes the oil-based paint’s health threat and environmental pollution effects.

For interior walls, I highly recommend latex paint. It’s easier to handle and apply. It’s also cheaper than oil-based enamel. Additionally, interior walls don’t experience frequent touching that may accelerate wear and tear. 

Also, interior walls are large-surface projects that require plenty of paint. I contraindicate oil-based paint because it’s much more expensive than latex paint and produces a stronger, more lingering odor. Latex paint carries the day here.


We’ve now come to the concluding segment of the review! I’ll just recapitulate what we’ve learned concerning…

Latex vs Enamel Paint

  • Latex paints are water-based paints, while most enamel paints are oil-based
  • Each of the above paints fit different purposes
  • There’s a global shift away from oil-based paints to water-based paints
  • You can paint latex over enamel paint, and you can also paint enamel over latex
  • How to tell apart latex paint from oil-based enamel paint
  • How to paint over oil paint with latex
  • The advantages and hitches of the two paint types discussed

You’ll find all of the above, alongside detailed definitions of the paints in question. 

As I’ve already said in the introductory segment, there are numerous types of paints worldwide; I lost count. So keep coming back here for more information on paints, including emerging trends, new painting techniques, how to deal with situational matters, et cetera.

I bid you a fond valediction for now.