Decorating DIY: What paints to use for what

Lisa Comfort - What Paint to use

I used to follow my Dad around the house helping out with DIY jobs when I was younger. So I learned quite early on about what paint to use for what, but I know a lot of my friends didn’t know much until they moved into their own place and started decorating. They said they would have welcomed a no-nonsense simplified guide on what paint to use for what project. So that is what I am going to do! Not exactly a guide but sharing all I know about painting for decorating!

For those of you who have dabbled in decorating already, you probably won’t need to read on!

After opening two shops and being lucky enough to own our own flat, I have had to muck in and do a lot of decorating over the years. I am by no way an expert and I am sure if a professional read this they would think I had missed a lot out, but this knowledge has served me fine over the years and I am sure it will you too.

Lisa Comfort - What Paint to use

Painting walls

So in general you use emulsion to paint walls. Emulsion is water based and dries quite quickly. That means brushes are easier to clean and can be washed clean with water, no need for white spirit. Walls should ideally be prepped first by sanding down and smoothing the surface but I have to say I have painted plenty of rooms where I didn’t bother with this!


For doors, furniture and anything made of wood, you want to use either eggshell, satin or gloss. These have a matt to shiny finish. Gloss tends to last longer and is more wipeable. Eggshell, as lovely as it looks, is not always as practical. Our front door was painted in eggshell and quite quickly got Poppy scratch marks up it! It is now gloss and has stayed in a much better state for longer.

You can get acrylic based/water based or oil based eggshells. The latter is more hard wearing but it takes ages to dry. Anything oil based needs white spirit to clean brushes as well.

For wood, it is important to sand down first and then prime with a wood primer in either white or grey/black before you add your top coat.


I paint a lot of mdf. We have a lot of pdf at the shops. This stuff is a pain to paint. You can use wood paints for the top coat but a pdf primer is best to use first. Expect to need to paint at least 4 coats of paint. MDF absorbs paint like there’s no tomorrow! We use acrylic eggshell paint for a lot of what we have a the shops as it dries quickly. Leyland do a really good acrylic eggshell.


We have painted stairs in our flat and also in the Clapham shop. I used Johnstones Floortred and also yacht paint. The latter is super hard wearing but doesn’t come in many colours! The former is fine but needs new coats every coupe of years. I have also used floor varnish over the top that has made it last a few more months, but often discolours so it isn’t great for white stairs!

Other surfaces

You can now buy paints that pretty much go on anything. Annie Sloan chalk paint is great for this. It is thick and doesn’t require a primer or base coat. But I have found that it can chip off more easily so just be wary. I also would always use the wax she sells alongside it as this makes the surfaces wipeable.

Lisa Comfort - What Paint to use


I thought I would add a little something on brushes as these make your decorating life slightly less painful if you have the right ones.

I have a tapered paint brush for getting into corners and this often means I can avoid using masking tape as it is easier to get a neater finish.

The tall thinner brush in the middle is great for sat windows or anything with grooves. It is tapered into a point which is really useful.

I then have a mixture of different widths of brushes. There is nothing more annoying than having a big space paint and a really small brush.

I haven’t included them in the photo, but don’t forget about rollers. Most people know about the big fluffy ones – to be used with emulsion on walls. But the title spongey ones – they are great for painting wood and MDF and make the job a lot quicker!

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