6 Tips for Picking the Right White Paint Shade

Justine Harrington
Updated September 15, 2022
Bright and modern open plan apartment
Photo: FollowTheFlow / Adobe Stock

It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation

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Picking the right white paint is an art form. White isn’t just white—it has many different shades, nuances, and undertones. You also have to consider lighting (both artificial and natural) and your home’s existing color palette. It can be a tricky process, which is why it’s important to know what to look for before you start your home painting project

Whether you want to turn your living room into a chill oasis, give your home office a fresh look, or brighten up your kitchen, here’s how to pick the perfect shade of white paint for any space. 

1. Assess the Undertones

White can be a warm or cool color, depending on the tone. Warm whites have a yellowish undertone, while cool whites have more of a blue or green undertone. Mixing cool and warm whites is a no-no; instead, adhere to the following guidelines: 

Cool Whites

If you have a room with cool colors (green, blue, purple), it’s best to pick a white with blue undertones to match. It’s also generally a good idea to do a cool white with blue undertones if the room gets a lot of natural light to offset the warmth of the light. 

Warm Whites

Go with a warm white if your space has a lot of warm colors (red, orange, yellow). Warm whites also work well with natural materials, like stone, brick, and wood. 

Pure Whites

Pure, bright white shades have the least amount of undertone. This means you have a little more freedom with decor and accent colors. If you have a bold-colored sofa or chair, for example, a pure white shade might work best. Pure whites also look best with a lot of natural light.

Geography plays a role here, too. If you live somewhere with an abundance of cold, gray weather, a warm white will work well. If, on the other hand, you live in a sunny climate, you may want to opt for a cool, crisp white.

2. Think About Lighting

Modern open plan living space with lights on
Photo: JRstock / Adobe Stock

Depending on the lighting in your home, that white paint color you loved in the store may look totally different when you’re at home. Artificial lighting (like lamps and light fixtures) affects the tone of your walls, as does the amount of natural light in your space. Consider the lighting in your home and how it will impact the undertones in your paint. 

You can also adjust your light fixtures to match the undertones by pairing the Kelvin rating on your lightbulbs with the undertones of your paint. (Lower Kelvins equal warmer lights and higher numbers equal cooler lights.) Doing this will allow for consistency and flow, giving your space a more polished look. 

3. Size Up Your Space

When it comes to picking white paint, it’s crucial to consider everything else that’s in the room. 

The undertones in your white shade should go with everything from your flooring and window treatments to your decor. 

4. Paint a Large Swatch 

Now’s not the time for a tiny paint chip. In order to make sure that you’re picking the right shade, you’ll want to test it by painting swatches as big as you can and in multiple places if possible.

5. Test at Different Times of Day

White bedroom with wooden bed by the window
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

In rooms with a lot of natural light, white paint can look different throughout the day. When you’re doing a test run, check to see how the paint reacts to the natural light source in the morning, late afternoon, and early evening.     

6. Get a Professional Opinion 

When in doubt, enlist the help of a pro. A professional interior painter (or the person at your local hardware store) can answer all your questions and work with you to choose the best white paint color. This way, you’re more likely to get it right the first time, which means you won’t have to make multiple trips to the store.

And if it’s in your budget, hiring an interior designer is always worth it. Designers are usually professionally trained, and thus skilled at understanding what works best in a space.

5 secrets to picking a white paint shade, including assessing the undertones or hiring an interior designer
Photo: Kirill / Unsplash
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