Quick Guide to Paint Sheens

Nothing can change the look of a room like a new color, or even just a fresh coat, of paint. Deciding which paint to use can be difficult, though, given the variety of paint finishes, or sheens, available. But once you understand how the different sheens are intended to be used, the task is much less daunting.

Why Are There Different Sheens of Paint, Anyway?

The most common sheen types, from highest sheen to lowest, are gloss, semigloss, satin, eggshell and matte (also called flat). One of the main reasons for the varying shades of paint available for interior painting is the fact that different gloss levels reflect light to different degrees.

Areas of the home that receive a lot of natural light or that have a great deal of artificial light may end up appearing too bright if you paint the walls with high-gloss paint. Using matte or flat paint in these areas can help to diminish shine and make the room’s lighting seem more subdued.

Similarly, areas that don’t get a lot of light can end up looking too dark when the walls are painted using matte paint. Using semigloss or gloss paint in these areas can lighten up the room and create a happier feel in dark or windowless areas.

Different Sheens and Ease of Cleaning

Gloss sheens are known for being much easier to clean than matte and eggshell sheens, and therefore gloss, satin and semigloss paints are better choices for areas that tend to get the dirtiest. Their relatively slick surface makes for quick cleaning with a sponge or soapy cloth, and ordinary cleaning generally won’t damage the paint.

Matte and eggshell finishes are more delicate and, therefore, more difficult to clean. Scrubbing vigorously to get the dirt out can result in removing a layer of paint. So glossier paints are better for high traffic areas or where there is more activity likely to result in dirt and smudges on painted surfaces, such as a child’s room.

So, Where Should You Use Gloss Paints?

Since high-gloss paints are extremely reflective of light, they work best in kitchen and bath areas as well as accent areas like trim, baseboards and cabinets. The main problem with gloss paints is that they are so reflective that they show even small imperfections in the painted services. Semigloss paints offer slightly less reflectivity than full gloss paints, so they offer the benefits of high-gloss while reducing somewhat the problem of showing imperfections.

Satin paints provide some of the ease of cleaning associated with glossier paints, but they aren’t quite as reflective as gloss and semigloss paints. They work well in living and family rooms, children’s rooms and playrooms, laundry rooms and dining rooms.

What about Matte and Eggshell Paints?

Both matte and eggshell paints work best in areas where the walls won’t attract a lot of dirt and where you want to cultivate a warm, cozy feeling. Bedrooms are ideal areas for flat paints—the least reflective sheen of paint available. Flat paints can also work well to create a more subdued feel in living and family rooms too. Eggshell paints make a great choice for these types of areas if you want a warmer feel but still desire greater ease of cleaning than flat paint can provide.

YMMV, of course, and not all paint manufacturers use the same definitions, even if they use the same sheen classifications. So try to see a painted sample of the finish before making your final decision.

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