Latex Vs. Acrylic Paint (Here Are The Differences)

Benjamin Panico
by Benjamin Panico

If you are struggling to decide what type of paint to use, you are not alone. There are many types, colors, and finishes to choose from, and at first glance, they can seem the same. However, there are major distinctions between latex and acrylic paints that make one better or worse for any given project.

The main difference between latex and acrylic paints is the solvent. Latex paints are just water-based, whereas the solvents in acrylic paints contain chemicals. This difference means that once dry, latex and acrylic paints have many different qualities. It’s important to understand the different qualities so you can choose what’s best for you.

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The Composition of Paint

First, a very brief primer on paint. (You can read a longer overview here.) All paints are made of pigments bound to resins, which are dissolved in solvents and mixed with additives.

There are obviously many different pigments used to create every color imaginable. There are also a lot of potential resins, which provide various qualities to the paint. Additives are different chemicals, like mildewcide or UV-blockers, designed to give the paint special properties.

Types of Paint

When we talk about “types or paint,” we really mean the bases or “solvents.” With this in mind, there are truly three main types of paint. However, oil-based paints fell out of favor years ago with the invention of acrylic paint, since it is not as safe.

Acrylic and latex paints are the remaining types, with acrylic paints using chemical solvents and latex using water. Both have acrylic resins, which is extremely popular due to its durability. Acrylic resin is very weatherproof and will not fade in the sun for five to ten years.

For this reason, you may see the term “acrylic latex,” which is latex paint with a water base and acrylic resin. In this post, “acrylic paint” is paint that uses a chemical base and acrylic resin.

Comparing Latex and Acrylic Paints

The difference in solvents may seem small, but it actually has major implications. From the painting process to the durability and longevity of the paint, there are many important distinctions between the two. Depending on the location of your project, one type may be vastly preferable to the other.


Latex paint is typically used for painting larger areas. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one, it is cheaper and available in bulk sizes. Second, it is easier to apply and tends to provide better coverage with fewer coats.

Latex paint also dries very quickly. Therefore, it is possible to complete a painting job with latex paint in one day. Acrylic paint typically needs more coats, so it can be a multi-day project.

Note: Keep in mind that paint’s drying times also vary by the finish. The glossier the paint, the longer it will take to dry before applying another coat. Be sure to check the can for instructions.

Finally, latex paints are easier to clean up after painting. You can remove dried paint with warm water. To clean up acrylic paints, you need a specialty cleaner or rubbing alcohol.

Health Risks

The chemicals used in acrylic paints do create extra hazards. For one, they require heavier ventilation than latex paints while painting and drying. Acrylic paints are also flammable due to the chemicals. For these reasons, be sure to wear gloves when handling acrylic paints.


Acrylic paints are preferred for exterior paint jobs. When latex paint dries, it becomes harder and more brittle than acrylic paint. It is more durable to scratches but also more likely to chip or crack. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, is very flexible.

When wood expands and contracts based on temperature, acrylic paint is able to hand this variation without cracking. Acrylic paint is also more breathable, which allows moisture to evaporate and prevents mildew and mold.


Both acrylic and latex paint are very water-resistant once they dry. This means that they are easy to clean, and you can wash a painted surface with soap and warm water.

However, as noted above, latex paint does form a harder shell. Therefore, it is more durable to scrubbing than acrylic paint, which can scuff or scratch easily. If you are painting a room that will require regular cleanings, like a kitchen or kids room, latex is a safer bet.

Your Options at the Hardware Store

A final consideration is the types of paint you will actually be able to purchase. Latex paints come in all colors, shades, tints, and finishes. You can find latex paint in any hardware store. In fact, most paints you see will be latex, as water-based paints are very popular for indoor uses.

There are typically fewer colors available for acrylic paints, and it is often more expensive than latex paints. Therefore, if you have a very specific color in mind or if you are budget-conscious, latex might be better for you.

Comparing Latex and Acrylic Paint

Check out the below chart to review and compare all the content we have covered. Depending on your project, some qualities may be more or less relevant to you. Hopefully, this overview will help you determine which type of paint is better for you.

ApplicationVery easy to apply, dries quickly, requires fewer coats.In general, acrylic paints require more coats to fully cover your wall and look even.
Health HazardsWater-based paints are safer. Still, always ventilate any space you are painting!The chemicals in the paint are flammable and hazardous.
DurabilityLatex paints can be brittle and prone to chipping.Very flexible and able to withstand temperature changes without cracking.
CleaningLatex paints hold up better to cleaning.Tends to be softer and, therefore, easier to scratch or scuff.
Color OptionsAvailable in any color and finish. Most paints sold in hardware stores are water-based.It can be hard to find acrylic paints since water-based latex is so popular. You will be limited by fewer color options.
CostTends to be cheaper and available in larger, bulk sizes. Good for those of you on a tight budget.On average, more expensive. However, you may find it worth the investment due to its durability!

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Related Questions

Can I use latex or acrylic paint over other paint?

You can usually paint over something else without needing to re-prime the wall. The one exception is with oil-based paints. If you are in an older house, it is possible the walls were painted with an oil-based paint. Other paint products will not stick to a wall with oil paint.You can use a primer to go over the oil-based paint before repainting your wall. Between latex and acrylic, acrylic paint will adhere better in this situation, since latex is water-based.

How many coats of paint do I need with latex and acrylic paint?

Latex paint tends to have a more even coverage and will look great after two coats. Because it dries so quickly, you may only need to wait a couple of hours between coats.Acrylic paint can take longer to dry, and it can require more coats. After two, you can decide on a third and fourth based on the appearance of the drywall. If you are painting over a different color of paint, you may still be able to see through your two coats.

Benjamin Panico
Benjamin Panico

Benjamin is a freelance writer and graphic designer. He is passionate about DIY projects and finding creative ways to upcycle things headed for the landfill. Based in Oakland, CA, Benjamin enjoys playing guitar and gardening.

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