If you ask Benjamin Moore expert Mark Ferrauiolo, the term “enamel paint” is widely misused. “Oftentimes, people use the term when referring to a paint with a sheen—usually satin, semi-gloss, or gloss—though technically, all paints are enamels,” the product marketing manager notes. “By definition, ‘enamel’ is an opaque or semitransparent glassy substance applied to metallic or other hard surfaces for ornament or as a protective coating. As it relates to paint, it is an opaque film containing resin, pigment, solvent, and other additives. When applied to a surface, it provides both aesthetic and protective qualities.”
In short, enamel paint can be described as a durable coating that dries to an opaque, lustrous finish. Typically oil-based, it’s compatible with most building materials and resistant to heat, stains, and scratches. Due to the formula’s high sheen and durability, it tends to be slightly pricier than low-gloss offerings, such as flat and eggshell.
“Enamel paint is well-suited for cabinets, doors, trim, windows, and other areas that get heavy use,” says Alexandra Sinclair, director of product information at Sherwin-Williams. “It’s great for high-traffic areas that are subject to wear and tear, so it’s best to use it in places that are prone to damage.” Higher sheen levels translate to “better washability and longer-lasting finishes in areas that get touched and handled often,” adds Ferrauiolo.
On the other hand, the protective paint’s high-gloss nature makes it a poor pick for other applications, such as on walls or ceilings. “It tends to show imperfections like roller-marks and brushstrokes, or uneven textures on smooth surfaces,” Ferrauiolo explains. Sinclair agrees: “Items such as interior drywall have no need to be painted with enamel,” she asserts. “You will likely not want a hard glossy finish on your walls.”
Planning on using enamel paint? Read on for a step-by-step guide on how to properly apply it.
How to Use Enamel Paint
Step One: Wash the Surface
It’s extremely important to first clean the surface to remove any dust and debris that could get trapped underneath. “High gloss paints can tend to highlight imperfections on a surface, so it’s important to properly prepare the surface before painting to ensure a quality paint job,” Sinclair says. “To do this, thoroughly wash the areas to be painted with a good cleaner, degreaser, or emulsifying dish soap, then rinse with clean water and let dry. Sand any scuffs and other irregularities to create a surface that is truly ready for paint, then remove all sanding dust with a clean, damp rag.”
One very important point to note: “Removal of old paint by sanding, scraping or other means may generate dust or fumes that contain lead,” she emphasizes. “Exposure to lead dust or fumes may cause brain damage or other adverse health effects, especially in children or pregnant women. Controlling exposure to lead or other hazardous substances requires the use of proper protective equipment, such as a properly fitted respirator and proper containment and cleanup.”
Step Two: Prime the Surface
Once the surface is fully dry, carefully apply primer. This step is crucial for materials that are susceptible to warping, such as wood since it will prevent chips in the paint. If you’re treating an outside surface, be sure to use a primer that’s designed for the outdoors.
Step Three: Mix the Paint
Stir the enamel paint with a stick long enough to reach the bottom of the can to ensure all of its components are evenly distributed.
Step Four: Apply the Paint
Once the primer has dried, it’s time to apply the enamel. Using a high-quality paintbrush with the paint is key since a cheap brush can create unsightly streaks and marks in the finish.
Where to Buy
Enamel paint is available at most houseware stores and big-box retailers, including Home Depot Lowe’s, and Ace Hardware. Each major paint brand offers its own take, from BEHR Premium’s Urethane Alkyd Enamel and Benjamin Moore’s waterborne alkyd ADVANCE Interior Paint (featuring its proprietary Gennex Color Technology) to Sherwin-Williams’s Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel and Rust-Oleum’s industrial-strength High Performance Protective Enamel.
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