Choosing the right paint sheen

When to use what sheen

Choosing the right paint sheen can be quite daunting. Am I the only one at the paint counter who answers each of their questions with “whichever is the cheapest”? Well, that answer doesn’t always hold up when they ask you what finish you want because the price is the same irrelevant.

couple holding hands painting

High traffic area

When painting a high traffic area it’s important to try and use either a high gloss paint or a semi-gloss. The reason is that its shine is higher on these two finishes and this makes the surface easier to clean. That is unless the surface you are painting is not the highest quality.

An area in rough shape

If the surface that is being painted has been painted maybe a million times in the past and there are a never-ending number of layers chipping off, then picking a paint finish that will not highlight your flaws is the better solution. For instance, my staircase is about 200 years old and has probably been painted a hundred different times. Paint with a higher sheen is only going to show every uneven surface and highlight all the imperfections. Here, you can see the difference between my first picture and the second one. The first picture shows the stairs in a high gloss black and the second shows it in a matte flat black paint. The first highlights all its flaws and the second hides them all!

staircase painted in a high gloss

staircase painted in a matte finish


The more sheen the more durability

The downside to using flat paint is it’s less durable. The basic rule of thumb is that the higher the sheen the more durability and the lower the sheen the less durability.

When to use what?

Really anything in the Kitchen you want to either be a high gloss or a semi-gloss. The kitchen needs the most durability because the surfaces get washed often. The family room is also a high traffic area and needs to stand up to traffic. A satin finish would be great. The dining room can get away with an eggshell because it’s a low traffic area. The goal is for clean smooth looking walls. For bedrooms you can use matte or flat paint because it’s a low traffic area. Ceilings are another area where flat paint is recommended, but also keep in mind that several manufacturers make paint blends specifically for ceilings.

I like to use this graphic to help me figure out what paint sheen to chose.

paint sheen choices

Thanks so much for reading along,

Much love,

Kori ~ From the Farmhouselife

I'm Kori

and I’m so glad you’re here! Home design has always been a passion of mine. I love to find new ways to make my home feel and look beautiful.. Here you’ll find design tips, DIYs, inspiration boards, tips on organization and cleaning, entertaining, and so much more! Need help designing your space.. check ​out my E-Design page!

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  1. Joseph says:

    Nice article, thanks for sharing such an important tips.

  2. Claire says:

    Did you do anything additional to seal your steps? I need to repaint mine and have a similar issue, but as it’s a floor I’m not sure I feel comfortable using the matte paint. They get used all the time. I’ve been wondering about using exterior paint or paint made for decks as it may hold up a lot better over time.

    • korilynmartin says:

      A urethane would be great. If you want to keep the look matte then use polycrylic or polyurethane if you want it shinier.

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