What is satin paint? When, why and where to use it

Door being rollered with white paint
What is satin paint? We explain all... (Image credit: Getty Images)

Knowing the answer to what is satin paint helps you decide if it’s the perfect choice for your next paint project. Should you use a satin paint rather than a gloss paint or even a matt paint on your walls, windows, doors and skirting boards?

Satin is just one of many types of paint that can be used on your DIY paint projects. But why choose satin paint above other paints? Its subtle finish is often one reason that it frequents many homes, but it's more than just its finish. Here we take a look at what satin paint it is, where you would use it and what qualities it brings to a project. 

What is satin paint? How it differs from other paint

The term satin refers to the finish of the paint. It is one of the popular finishes on the market alongside gloss, matt, eggshell and to a lesser degree semi-gloss.They all have varying levels of sheen, which effectively means the reflectiveness of the finish. A satin paint sits somewhere between gloss and matt and is closer to eggshell than the others. 

A matt paint has a flat finish, which means it is the least reflective while a gloss finish is highly reflective and has a high sheen finish. Each of the finishes bring something slightly different to the table in terms of looks.

But it's not just the aesthetic appeal that’s important, the different finishes bring different properties. For example, a matt paint provides a less reflective finish which brings with it the added bonus of covering up imperfections. On the downside it is not as durable as satin and gloss paints and cannot be cleaned as thoroughly as higher sheen finishes. 

When it comes to satin v gloss both are more durable than matt – and allow for more cleaning – but their sheen means they are more likely to show imperfections.

Satin paint – like the other finishes – are commonly available in water and oil based forms. Water based paints are more environmentally-friendly containing less VOC’s, can be cleaned with water and are the choice of paint for most DIYers. Oil-based paints are typically more hard wearing, and are often preceded with the word Trade such as Dulux Trade Satinwood paint from B&Q. But they are more prone to yellowing – especially if a brilliant white paint.   

What is satin paint used for? 

Satin paint's sheen level sits in between gloss and matt providing a good balance between finish, durability and cleanability, making it a popular choice in homes. It’s often the favoured finish when painting skirting boards, windows, doors and trim. 

Its subtle sheen helps hide imperfections while at the same time providing a durable coating that is easy to wipe clean. This makes it a good choice for high traffic areas such as living rooms, hallways, and bedrooms, plus its resistance to moisture makes it a good option for kitchen and bathrooms.

However, it’s not just a paint for wood, it can also be used on metal with Dulux Satinwood being suitable for both. But, you can get specific metal paints like Hammerite Metal Paint from Amazon which has a Satin Black finish.

Emulsion paint doesn’t use the name satin in reference to its finishes, but it is worth noting that it typically has a choice of Matt and Silk, with Silk offering a mid-sheen finish very similar to satin. 

Where not to use satin paint? 

Satin paint is a versatile paint, but it is the finish rather than the type of paint that determines where you shouldn’t use a satin paint.

One of the downsides of satin paint is that it has a higher sheen than matt, which means it will show imperfections. So if you have a surface that hasn't been well prepped or you have walls that need a lot of prep you are better off using a matt paint.

Aesthetically, walls are often painted with a matt finish and woodwork with a satin or gloss to create a contrast that looks good.  

Is satin paint washable? 

Yes. All paints are washable, but the difference is to what degree you can clean a finish before it becomes noticeable. As a general rule satin paint is durable and perfectly able to cope with being wiped down regularly. Use a mixture of warm water and a kitchen sponge to get rid of most marks. 

You can use sugar soap for more stubborn marks, but regular use will remove a thin layer of the surface each time it is used  – and effectively the sheen, which will become noticeable. Check out our What is sugar soap guide for more information on how to use it. 

Should I use water or oil based satin paint? 

Water based paint is the popular choice – especially for DIYers – as it has a host of plus points. It is easier to apply than oil based paint, dries quicker, stays white for longer, contains less VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) – making it more environmentally-friendly – is slightly cheaper and it is easier to clean brushes, rollers and tools.

However, oil based satin paint has its plus points as well. If you’re an experienced DIYer the difference between applying water and oil-based paint is nominal and while it takes longer to dry and apply it has a tougher and more durable finish when fully dried. Make sure to check out our guide on how to clean paint brushes for both types of paint. 

Steve Jenkins

Steve is Homebuilding & Renovating's DIY content editor, and has been a writer and editor for two decades. He is an avid DIYer with over 20 years of experience in transforming and renovating homes. He specialises in painting and decorating, but has strong all-round building skills, having previously worked in the industry for 10 years.