The Best Exterior Paint for Every Outdoor Surface

Purchase the right paint for your outdoor project—be it mortar, wood, flooring, or trim—and get long-lasting, beautiful results for your hard work.

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Best Exterior Paints, According to House Painters

Photo: istockphoto.com

Painting the outside of your house may not be your idea of a good time. But, if you use the right house paint, you can expect the results to look fresh for a decade on a stucco surface and as long as 7 years on siding. The best exterior paint, be it latex- or oil-based, forms a durable bond on siding, decks, or whatever else you’re painting outdoors and offers protection from the elements while giving it a fresh, new look. Using the wrong paint, however, can lead to cracking and peeling within a year.

Because outdoor surfaces can be subjected to extreme weather conditions, including harsh UV rays, temperature fluctuations, and battering storms, the best protection comes from a quality paint designed for the material you’re painting. Keep reading to learn what makes an excellent exterior paint and why the following formulas made the list as some of the best for particular outdoor projects.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Sherwin-Williams Duration Exterior Acrylic Latex
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Rust-Oleum Zinsser PermaWhite Exterior Semi-Gloss
  3. BEST FOR BRICK OR STUCCO: Valspar Duramax Flat Masonry and Stucco Paint
  4. BEST FOR WOOD SIDING: Sherwin-Williams Emerald Exterior Acrylic Latex
  5. BEST FOR PORCH FLOORS: BEHR Premium Low-Luster Interior/Exterior Porch Paint
Best Exterior Paints, According to House Painters

Photo: istockphoto.com

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Exterior Paint

A home’s exterior is the foundation for creating pleasant curb appeal, which makes choosing the right exterior paint essential. The best exterior paints stand up to weather conditions, resist moisture, and protect wood surfaces, while providing a low-maintenance surface. No matter the outdoor project, consider the following factors before purchasing paint.

Durability

Top-of-the-line latex and acrylic paints usually contain higher-quality ingredients, such as more acrylic solids and pigments. They’re often thicker and more viscous (sticky) than lower-quality paints. This does not hold true, however, for oil-based paints, which are typically thinner and runnier. In general, oil-based paints are more durable than either acrylic or latex paints, but they tend to yellow more quickly. Also, due to their high VOC levels (see Low VOCs section below), they’re becoming less popular. The quality of both acrylic and latex paints has been dramatically improved in the past couple of decades.

Durability also relates to the number of coats applied; more coats will render a more durable surface. Well-mixed paint also affects durability, since ingredients can settle to the bottom of the can over time. If it’s been a while since the paint was purchased, stir it thoroughly before use. Also, applying paint with a paint roller or brush instead of a sprayer can leave a thicker, more durable coating on a surface.

Sheen also is an indicator of durability; the higher the gloss, the more washable and durable. Paint finishes range from a low-sheen, eggshell finish to a high-gloss enamel for trim or exterior furniture. Be aware, however, that high-gloss sheens will show flaws in the surface, such as rough patches, whereas flat or matte sheens can help camouflage minor discrepancies.

Low VOCs

Chemicals and solvents found in paint products can emit toxic fumes known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Carbon-containing substances create noxious fumes during the painting process. These compounds have long been added to oil-based paints to improve their hardness and increase drying time. Many acrylic and latex paints also contain VOCs to a lesser degree, although the trend is toward reducing or eliminating the compounds to offer a healthier painting experience.

These malodorous fumes can cause headaches and nausea if inhaled and, while less likely to bother you when painting outdoors, you may still wish to choose a paint labeled as “Low-VOC” or “Zero-VOC.” Of the two types of exterior paints—oil and latex—oil paint is higher in VOCs. The amount of allowable VOCs varies by state, but in general, a “low VOC” label indicates the paint contains fewer than 50 grams of VOCs per liter. For those seeking minimal fumes, look for No-VOC or Zero-VOC paint, which contains fewer than 5 grams of VOCs per liter.

Dry Time

Different paints have different dry times, and waiting until the first coat is dry before applying a second coat is key to achieving a quality finish. Most latex paints dry to the touch within a couple of hours, and a second coat can be applied in 4 to 6 hours. Oil paint, however, dries to the touch in 6 to 8 hours and may require up to 24 hours before a second coat can be applied. Dry times are usually listed on the paint can.

While paint may feel dry to the touch in a few hours and even be ready for a second coat, it may not be cured. When the paint’s liquid ingredients have evaporated, the paint is completely cured. Cure time varies by paint, with latex and acrylic taking a couple of weeks and oil-based paint taking up to a month to cure. Cure time can be slower in humid and cold conditions and faster when the temperature is above 50 degrees and the humidity level is low. Until the paint is cured, care should be taken not to brush against the painted surface.

Lasting Color

Low-quality paints can contain cheap pigments, such as talc, clay, and silica, that tend to fade over time, especially if the painted surface has a southern exposure and receives direct sun.

Keep in mind, too, that dark colors are more likely to fade than light hues on your exterior. If a dark or bright shade is chosen for trim or shutters, look for “titanium dioxide” on the ingredient list. This pricey but long-lasting pigment is usually found only in premium paint lines. For those looking to create faux textures, such as painting to look like wood, try exterior paints that contain UV protectants to keep the painted-on effects from fading.

Weather Resistance

Good paint should be able to handle whatever Mother Nature throws its way. Oil paints are very good at withstanding rain and are easy to clean. Until the development of acrylic-based latex paint, oil was the standard exterior paint for many years.

Acrylic is a binder that allows latex to flex slightly, making it less likely to become brittle and crack and, therefore, able to better repel rain. The highest quality latex paint labels feature the words “all acrylic” or “100 percent acrylic.” While cheaper paints will often contain a small amount of acrylic, they usually don’t contain enough for the paint to be truly weather resistant.

Climate Suitability

Paint needs vary by region, and a paint that’s suitable for the high desert region of New Mexico may not be the best choice for a humid area, such as Louisiana. Paint additives can make the difference between a paint job that lasts more than a decade and one that lasts only a couple of years.

For paint jobs in humid or rainy areas, paint labeled as “mildew resistant” may be preferred. If the sun shines most of the time, paint that is labeled “UV resistant” can be helpful.

Surface Suitability

While there are exceptions, the general rule is to use the same type of paint that’s already on the surface. For example, if your siding was already painted with latex, choose latex. Conversely, if it was painted with oil, choose oil. Putting oil paint over latex often causes bubbling and peeling, as the solvents in oil paint may melt the latex.

It’s also more successful if paint is compatible with the material that’s being painted. Paint designed to cover wood siding may not adhere as well to aluminum or vinyl siding. Compatibility is usually listed on the paint can and in the product’s online description.

  • For siding: Today’s composite and fiber-cement siding hold exterior paint very well if first coated with an acrylic masonry primer followed by one or two coats of exterior latex or acrylic paint. When purchasing pre-primed siding, the primer step can be skipped.
  • For wood: Wood is porous, and as such, it tends to absorb moisture, which can cause many types of paint to release and peel off a surface. When painting exterior wood, oil-based paint offers the best protection and longest-lasting results. Next in line are high-quality exterior acrylic paints, which have been improved and are less likely to crack and peel than latex paint.
  • For brick: Painting brick, concrete, stucco, or any type of exterior masonry first requires applying a masonry primer that will help the paint adhere. Follow up with a good-quality masonry paint containing elastomeric ingredients that will flex slightly if the brick expands or contracts, rather than becoming brittle and cracking. Using an exterior paint brush can make application easier, too.
  • For porches and patios: Exterior walking surfaces, such as patios and decks, see a lot of traffic and require durable paint. Look for paint designed specifically for decks; it will offer added protection for horizontal porch and deck surfaces where water can pool. High-quality deck paints are available in both oil-based and water-based options, and while oil-based will last longer, water-based will not fade as quickly.

Prep and Application

Adequate prepping is essential for a long-lasting exterior paint job. For the best adherence, the surface must be clean of all dirt and grease. It should also be dry, as paint does not adhere well to damp surfaces. In addition, any loose or peeling paint should be scraped away. Smaller projects, such as patio furniture, can be prepped using a paint stripper to remove existing paint.

Like any painting project, proper precautions keep paint from accidentally getting on trim or other items. Draping nearby objects with drop cloths keeps them protected from splatters, and using painter’s tape can help create a clean, crisp paint edge. Exterior paint is easy to apply with exterior paint brushes, which are well suited for working the paint into seams and woodgrain. For narrow siding strips, use small paint rollers relatively the same size as the strip. The quickest application method involves a paint sprayer, but it’s also the riskiest in terms of accidental overspray. To ensure the paint adheres well, a combination of techniques can be used, such as spraying or rolling on a coat of paint followed by brushing in a process known as “back brushing.”

Our Top Picks

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing an exterior paint. To make the search easier, below is a list of some of the best options based on category. All of these paints are high-quality and can help deliver a long-lasting finish to help with curb appeal goals.

Best Overall

The Best Exterior Paint Option: Sherwin-Williams Duration Exterior Acrylic Latex
Photo: sherwin-williams.com

Made with advanced acrylic copolymers for lasting durability, Sherwin-Williams Duration paint is the Best Overall option for many exterior painting projects. The paint contains a high amount of acrylic solids and is self-priming so DIYers need only apply a single coat to prepainted work and two coats for covering bare wood. One of the manufacturer’s top paint lines, Duration is designed to resist cracking, blistering, and peeling.

As a bonus, Duration is low-VOC, so it’s less likely to create objectionable fumes than some other exterior paint options. Available in more than 100 color options, Duration can be applied in temperatures as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit, making it versatile as well as long lasting. One gallon covers up to 300 square feet.

Best Bang for the Buck

The Best Exterior Paint Option: Rust-Oleum Zinsser PermaWhite Exterior Semi-Gloss
Photo: amazon.com

Protect and update the look of siding, sheds, and outdoor furniture with Rust-Oleum Zinsser PermaWhite Exterior Paint. Zinsser, from Rust-Oleum’s professional line of paint and coating products, is a pure white latex paint that’s well suited for painting numerous exterior surfaces, such as siding, Adirondack chairs, and picket fences. The paint is self-priming, so only one coat is needed on previously painted materials and two on bare wood.

Zinsser has mold- and mildew-inhibiting ingredients to protect exterior wood, as long as the surface is clear from any existing mold or mildew before painting. The paint offers good coverage and, like many Rust-Oleum products, blocks stains from bleeding through. It comes in a semi-gloss sheen that repels dirt and moisture. One gallon covers up to 100 square feet.

Best for Brick or Stucco

The Best Exterior Paint Option: Valspar Duramax Flat Masonry and Stucco Paint
Photo: lowes.com

Latex-based Valspar Duramax Flat Masonry and Stucco Paint dries to an ultraflat finish to make surface imperfections on brick virtually unnoticeable. The paint contains elastomers to help resist cracking and peeling. It’s available in a 5-gallon bucket (enough to cover 650 square feet) and can be applied by brush, roller, or sprayer.

Duramax contains FlexShield365 technology that’s designed to increase its resistance to weather extremes, such as high winds and driving rain, while offering a measure of mold and mildew resistance. The paint is a 100 percent acrylic formulation, so it effectively covers hairline cracks in existing paint for a smooth surface look. It comes in a 1-gallon tintable can of exterior white. A single gallon can cover up to 130 square feet.

Best for Wood Siding

The Best Exterior Paint Option: Sherwin-Williams Emerald Exterior Acrylic Latex
Photo: sherwin-williams.com

Available from Sherwin-Williams, Emerald Exterior Acrylic Latex Paint resists blistering and peeling and provides a high-hiding flat finish to conceal imperfections in siding. The low-VOC paint contains mildew-resistant additives and mildewcide, so it is well suited for use in humid areas.

Emerald Exterior is a self-priming paint that produces a smooth, flat coat and does not require a separate primer application. One gallon can cover up to 250 square feet and provide a strong, resilient surface that discourages dirt. The paint is easy to apply by brush, roller, or sprayer.

Best for Porch Floors

The Best Exterior Paint Option: BEHR Premium Low-Luster Interior Exterior Porch Paint
Photo: homedepot.com

Porch and patio floors see a lot of traffic and need a tough paint to stand up to it. BEHR Premium Low-Luster Interior/Exterior Porch Paint fills the bill without scuffing, cracking, peeling, or wearing down underfoot. Behr Porch and Patio floor paint contains a mildewcide to help keep mold and mildew from forming and is suitable for use on concrete and wood surfaces. The paint is also UV- and fade-resistant.

This premium porch paint provides a strong, low-luster finish, ideal for most porch applications. One gallon can cover up to 400 square feet. It comes in traditional slate gray and can be tinted to create other colors. Behr Premium dries to the touch within 1 hour in temperate weather, and a second coat can be applied after 48 hours.

FAQs About Exterior Paint

Now that you know more about the characteristics that can differentiate exterior paints, there may be new or lingering questions. The following answers to some of the most popular questions about exterior paint may help.

Q: What kind of paint is good for outside?

Any paint designed for use outdoors should be labeled as “Exterior Paint.” Paints used exclusively indoors do not contain the ingredients necessary to resist damage from rain, snow, and temperature fluctuations.

Q: What is the longest-lasting exterior paint?

Oil-based paints have the longest useful life, but tinted, water-based paints are less likely to fade.

Q: Do you need a primer for exterior paint?

On bare wood, a primer is usually required. However, paint-and-primer combination products do not require a separate primer.

Q: Can you paint over old exterior paint?

Painting over an old painted exterior is a good way to seal any existing hairline cracks in the material and add to its weather resistance. The general rule, however, is to apply oil paint over old oil paint and acrylic or latex paint over old acrylic or latex. If you want to paint over old exterior paint with a different type of paint, some new types of primers are available to help the transition between the different types of paint.

Final Thoughts

A new coat of paint will protect siding, trim, and a host of other outdoor items. Even if painting isn’t among your favorite DIY projects, it’s well worth undertaking to protect and beautify exterior siding and other items.