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The Difference Between Interior and Exterior Paint

Do you know the difference between interior and exterior paint? Paints manufactured for interiors and exteriors have specific qualities that allow them to serve purposes for different projects.

As you might guess, interior paint is meant to be used inside and exterior paint outside. But what makes them able to do such different jobs?

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between interior and exterior paint to better understand these two types of paint. You’ll also learn why you need to use the right one to get the best finished result for your painting project.

Painting a house exterior blue. Knowing the difference between interior and exterior paint means you'll choose the right paint for the right job.

Is There a Difference Between Interior and Exterior Paint?

While both make walls more attractive to look at and offer additional protection, interior and exterior paints aren’t interchangeable. The differences between interior and exterior paint are the unique properties and features that make them ideal for indoor or outdoor use.

As you’ll see, interior paint is more resistant to stains, easier to clean, and has fewer additives. On the other hand, exterior paint can withstand different weather conditions and UV rays, changes in temperature, and mildew. It also has more additives.

It may be tempting to use interior paint for your fence or exterior paint for your bedroom but you’ll be shortchanging yourself by doing so. If you use an unsuitable type of paint indoors or outdoors, the paint won’t last as long and you may even risk your health because of VOCs.

What Is Interior Paint?

As the name suggests, interior paint is used to cover up the interiors of your home. They’re used to cover floors, ceilings, walls, doors, trim detail, and cabinets.

Paint is made up of essential components: solvents (which make paint wet), resins (provide adhesion), pigments (give it color), and additives (lend paint specific properties). Interior paints are generally made with water-based paints or solvents.

The resin is what makes the pigment bind and adhere to a surface. Since the interiors of your home aren’t subject to harsh weather conditions and dirt, the resin in interior paint is more rigid.

Person painting interior trim in a house.

What Are the Characteristics of Interior Paint?

  • Interior paint has a greater concentration of rigid resins, allowing them to come in contact with different objects without coming off.
  • This type of paint is water-based and washable. If kids make a mess on the wall, it can be easily cleaned with a sponge and certain kinds of soap.
  • After applying a fresh coat of interior paint, the newly painted room needs proper ventilation for up to three days. Adequate ventilation allows any toxic fumes to dissipate into the air. We have a blog post of tips for removing the paint smell from a room to help you.

Aesthetic and Decorative

Interior paint is used mainly for creating aesthetically pleasing indoor living spaces. It can match or complement specific color themes or evoke a particular look and feel. Some homeowners use interior paint to create decorative walls with murals or patterns for a visually striking effect.

Interior paints get their hues and opacity from added pigments. Most paint companies have a fan deck of colors or swatches you can choose from.

Abrasion Resistance

As previously mentioned, rigid resin particles are a difference between interior and exterior paint. These pigments can withstand abrasion from scrubbing and cleaning.

If you have children in the house, you’re painfully aware that they love drawing all over walls. Another main difference between interior and exterior paint is good interior paint is washable, and you can scrub off most drawings and stains.

Stain Resistance

It’s impossible to keep our walls as spotless as the day they were painted. As time passes, accidents, stains, and spills do happen. Thankfully, interior paint manufacturers anticipated this and have made their paints resistant to most stains and scuffs.

This feature is especially handy for children’s rooms, kitchens, and hallways.

If you look closely at your indoor walls, they have a sheen and finish that is difficult for most types of stains to stick to. You can often wipe away unsightly marks with soap, water, and a light sponge.

This is another critical difference between interior and exterior paint. While exterior paint can be cleaned, it isn’t as easy to remove stains and marks from it.

A child's room painted light green.

Low or No Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are paint solvents or particles that dissolve into the air as it dries. The strong odor of fresh paint comes from VOCs that evaporate into the air.

Are VOCs safe to breathe?

No, not really. They’re considered dangerous paint fumes with harmful chemicals. They come with health risks, so newly painted rooms are left empty for a few days before people can move in.

Breathing in VOCs has been associated with throat and nose irritation, respiratory issues, asthma attacks, nausea, and headaches. More severe cases can result in cancer or kidney damage.

This is another notable difference between interior and exterior paint. Interior paints are available as zero VOC or low VOC versions, which make them the best fit for homes.

Uses for Interior Paint

Interior paints can be used to paint any interior. With their many colors, they’re one of the best and quickest ways to make a home more pleasant and inviting.

You can find them in several finishes and with different features, such as:

  • Matte finish interior paints can be used for ceilings. They’re non-reflective and will absorb any light that’s directed towards them.
  • Glossy paints can be used for kitchen cabinets or even wooden surfaces. They have different sheen levels, so you can choose how shiny you want your painted surfaces to be.
  • Enamel paints are glossy and firmer than other paint after drying. They’re the ideal choice for areas of your home exposed to heat, humidity, and smoke.
  • Emulsion water-based or quality latex paints can be used for walls, ceilings, and other indoor painting projects. These are hardwearing paints that tend to be glossy. The glossier the paint’s finish, the more durable it is.

What Is Exterior Paint?

One difference between interior and exterior paint is exterior paint covers the outer walls of your home or office. You can use this paint on stonewall masonry, bricks, cement, and other exterior surfaces.

Although some exterior paints are water-based, most are oil-based paints. They are known for being durable and capable of withstanding harsh weather elements.

This means outdoor paints are long-lasting and don’t chip off as easily.

Person painting a house exterior a cream color.

What Are the Characteristics of Exterior Paint?

  • Exterior paint has softer resin particles. These flexible particles allow the paint to withstand more damage.
  • They are fade-resistant with UV protection, so they don’t fade quickly under the sun.
  • This type of paint solution needs sunlight to cure or harden.

Weather Resistance

Because resins in exterior paints are softer and more flexible, pigment adheres to the surface even in inclement weather.

A good coat of exterior paint will protect your home from rain, the heat of the sun, snow, and humidity. Quality paints wick moisture away from the wood, prevent temperature fluctuations in the home, and act as a barrier against insects, dust, and damage caused by weather.

This durability is another difference between interior and exterior paint.

Mildew and Fading Protection

Exterior paints contain special additives allowing them to hold up in outdoor conditions. These additives range from antimicrobial agents to UV protection. Antimicrobial and fungicide properties provide mildew resistance while preventing fungal growth.

How they hold up to UV exposure is another difference between interior and exterior paint. Interior paints continuously exposed to sunlight fade quickly, while exterior paints are fade-resistant. Some exterior paints even need sunlight to cure or set.

Two townhouses painted different exterior colors.

High Additive and Volatile Organic Compound Content

Additives are added to all types of paint. They can range from antimicrobial additives, thickeners, or certain chemicals to enhance the paint.

A significant difference between interior and exterior paint is that exterior paints require many more additives to withstand harsh weather. Higher additives mean more outgassing and more VOCs.

Though VOCs are harmful to humans, they give paint its fluidity and allow the paint to be transferred from containers to painting surfaces. Exterior paints generally have higher VOC levels that are released in small amounts over time.

Uses for Exterior Paint

Exterior paints are designed for the outer walls of your home, building, or office. Here are a few more of its applications:

  • Flat sheen exterior paints allow the surface of brick walls to breathe.
  • Exterior latex paints can be used on stonewalls and stucco surfaces. Choosing a flat exterior paint will allow these surfaces to release moisture.
  • It can be used to paint roofs, wood window frames, exterior walls, and outdoor furniture.
  • Exterior paints are also used for many restoration projects, like touching up monuments and historical sites.

Wrapping Up the Difference Between Interior and Exterior Paint

A can of yelllow paint.
Know the difference between interior and exterior paint for your painting projects.

It may seem evident that interior paint goes inside your house and exterior paint goes outside, but it helps to know why they’re made for different uses. As you now know, they’re not interchangeable and using an exterior paint for an interior project, and vice versa, won’t give you the best results. It could even be dangerous.

Now that you know the differences between interior and exterior paint, you can confidently choose the right paint for your painting project!

Looking for inspiration for your DIY painting needs? Read more about Interior Painting and Exterior Painting on our website.