What is Enamel Paint?

Becca Stokes
Written by Becca Stokes
Updated July 21, 2022
Can of green paint
Photo: Alyssa Stasiukonis / EyeEm / Getty Images

Enamel paint is the perfect option if you're looking to achieve a glass-like or glossy hardened finish

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

If you’re getting ready to repurpose that antique clawfoot bathtub you’ve had languishing in the basement for months, you probably already know painting will be a big part of the process. While browsing craft stores and searching the internet, enamel paint will inevitably come up as a potential option. 

You might see a lot of different types of paint called “enamel paint,” which is an umbrella term meaning one thing: This paint is going to dry and leave behind a glossy, strong finish. Its lacquered look isn’t the only thing that makes it popular, either. Enamel paints are strong, long-lasting, and easy to clean. Does it get much better than that?

How Is Enamel Paint Made?

Enamel paint was introduced just after the end of World War II as an alternative to baked enamel —a material used in factories on things like ovens and tubs, which also leaves behind a hardened shell on the object’s surface. Baked enamel at the time was more expensive and impossible to DIY. 

Most enamel paints are made using solvents (though recently, some water-based options have been making their way to market). Your favorite enamel paints are combined with a resin in factories before being sold ready to use. When that mixture is exposed to air, it starts to immediately harden into a glass-like coating. 

Something that distinguishes enamel paint from other types is the fact that it is made of two reactive ingredients, the pigment itself and the solvent, whereas other paints designed for coating surfaces are made up of nonreactive chemicals. Don’t let that make you nervous; it’s a paint with a long history that is easy to use safely. 

When Should I Use Enamel Paint?

If you’re preparing to paint a high-traffic area like a bathroom or a stairway, then enamel paint is a perfect choice. People commonly use it in spaces that see a lot of use, and that will hopefully, be on the receiving end of a lot of cleaning products, too. Local painting pros can help you to determine which type of paint is right for your project, but here are a few places to consider for enamel paint:

Bathroom and Kitchen Fixtures

Your bathroom and kitchen faucets and knobs get a lot of use, and you probably spend a lot of time disinfecting these areas, too. Because enamel paint is waterproof and durable, it’s a great option for moist areas that receive a lot of cleaning. Enamel paint will evenly coat metal, so it works well if you want to refresh your faucets without buying and installing something new.

Exterior Walls

If you’re repainting your house, enamel paint will stand up to changing temperatures, harsh sunlight, wind, rain, and other elements that can cause other types of paint to quickly fade or chip. The glossy appearance will also boost your curb appeal with a fresh look.

Patio Furniture

Enamel paint is also a good candidate for refreshing outdoor furniture. Faded furniture made of metal, wood, or even plastic can get a new look with a few coats of enamel paint. You can either apply it by brush or using spray enamel paint. Be sure to wear a painter respirator mask to protect yourself from the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in enamel paint.

Appliances

Whether you want to give your grill a makeover or need to hide a couple of scratches on the fridge, enamel paint is your new best friend. Look for appliance-specific enamel paint for interior appliances, or buy a heat-resistant enamel paint for grills and ovens. Most enamel paint will tolerate temperatures up to 500° Fahrenheit, while heat-resistant products can withstand temperatures around 2,000° Fahrenheit.

Doors and Windows

Glossy enamel paint spruces up interior and exterior doors, door frames, and window frames while withstanding high traffic and extensive exposure to sunlight and fluctuating temperatures.

Cabinets

Because enamel painted surfaces are easy to clean, this paint is ideal for use on cabinets. Kitchen cabinets are regular victims to food and grease splatters so a fresh enamel coating will make for easy cleanup.

Handrails

Handrails, often made from metal or wood, get a lot of hand traffic. Apply one or two coats of enamel paint to keep them from looking worn out. Because it is so durable, enamel paint will works well for outdoor handrails.

What is Enamel Paint Best For? 

Enamel paint is impressively versatile. This paint can coat many different types of surfaces, even challenging materials like metal, glass, or plastic. Unlike latex paint, enamel paint will not make wood swell, so it works great for decks, too. The glossy finish is just as attractive for exterior walls as it is for outdoor furnishings or household appliances. 

What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Enamel Paint?

There’s a reason so many different types of paint exist. Some projects will be perfect for enamel paints while others would fare better with a different option. Let’s break down those pros and cons of enamel paint.

Pros

  • Can be used on many different types of surface from metal to concrete to hardwood

  • Doesn’t turn yellow with age

  • Goes on smoothly

  • Leaves a hard, glass-like glossy finish

Cons

  • Requires mineral spirits or other professional solvents to clean

  • Expensive (1 gallon can cost up to $90)

  • Difficult to mix

  • Strong odor (VOCs)

Pink paint can
Photo: Isabel Pavia / Moment / Getty Images

What’s the Difference Between Enamel Paint and Acrylic Paint?

For the most part, the main difference between enamel paint and acrylic paint is that enamel paints are almost always oil-based, and acrylic paints are water-based. If you’re painting an interior wall in your home, chances are you’ll be using acrylic paint and not enamel for the following reasons:

  • It takes longer to dry than acrylic paint.

  • Enamel paint has a shiny, bump-free, high-gloss finish and acrylic paint leaves behind a matte finish.

  • This paint requires no primer coat, but most acrylics do.

  • It contains Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and acrylic does not.

  • The paint holds its color with time; acrylic paint can change color with age.

FAQs

Is enamel paint water or oil based?

Enamel paint is typically an oil-based paint, but some options on the market are water-based. Water-based enamel paints tend to dry faster, in less than 8 hours, while oil-based enamel paints may take 24 hours. Oil-based enamel tends to be more durable and retain its shine for longer than water-based enamel paint.

Are enamel paints waterproof?

Enamel paints that are oil- or lacquer-based are waterproof, making them great for outdoor surfaces. But water-based enamel paints are not waterproof, so double-check the paint can before painting your patio furniture.

Which is better: enamel or latex paint?

If you’re looking for durability or outdoor use, opt for enamel paint. Enamel paint is typically oil- or lacquer-based, so it dries hard and it’s ideal for exposure to the elements. Latex paint is water-based and has more flexibility when it dries so it won’t hold up as well to changes in temperature or exposure to wind, sun, or rain.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.