Two Mistakes You Should Never Make When Painting Your Walls White

Lessons learned the hard way.

I was convinced the 1960s brick ranch was it the minute I walked through the door. There is a lot less stress involved in the home buying process when you let your emotions take the wheel, as long as you two have a good track record. It was a combination of the one-level living, open floor plan, large yard, and, truth be told, white walls that did me in. Now I've watched enough episodes of House Hunters to know you never hinge the decision on whether or not to buy a house based on paint color, wallpaper, or hardware finish. But, show me an empty house surrounded by white walls and I'm a goner. It's rife with possibilities, yes, but I also just love clean-looking walls.

The problem with clean-looking walls is that they may not be, well, clean or easy to keep clean. When it comes to white paint, there's more to think about than cool or warm undertones. Here's what to consider about finish and quality when it comes to painting white walls.

River House living room with white walls and blue accents
Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Elly Poston Cooper

Choose the Right Finish

What I didn't realize when staring at all those crisp, blank spaces in my soon-to-be home was that they would be a beast to keep clean. We had repainted nearly every room in our prior home in my favorite Decorator's White by Benjamin Moore, so I had a false sense of confidence. The one factor for which I was not accounting in our new digs? The previous owner had painted every single one of those glorious walls in flat paint, instead of the eggshell finish we had (smartly, if I do say so) selected for our old house. If I had reached out and touched them even once, or pulled myself away from the lalaland of imaginary Pinterest boards where I was already curating design inspiration for every room of the house, I would have realized things weren't quite as they appeared.

Choosing the right paint finish is important, especially for white paint that shows every smudge and scrape. A washable finish is a necessity for high-traffic rooms, so flat or matte paint finishes are out. Eggshell or satin finishes are a good choice for stain resistance, durability, long wear, coverage, and ease of cleaning. Glossy finishes are low-maintenance because they are washable, stain-resistant, and easy to clean, but they can be problematic on white walls. Keep in mind that if your walls aren't smooth or have cracks or blemishes, shinier paints may accentuate those flaws.

Quality Matters

Another point to consider is quality. Fast forward three months to the day I set out to wipe down the walls for the first time, hoping to remove all the smudged fingerprints and other signs of move-in day. As I set upon my task of getting this blank canvas once again sparkling, I quickly found the messes weren't wiping away like they did with my old Decorator's White. Not only were the stains and smudges more set in, but the paint started rubbing away, leaving a grainy effect, once I started to give it a little extra elbow grease. I found myself pledging to never again underestimate the power of a good finish—and a high-quality paint. They're details that might not make their appearance known until well after the literal paint dries, but could be even more important than color choice.

While it may be tempting to buy a cheaper paint—it's white, after all—a good quality paint has many benefits. A less expensive paint may not end up saving you money if you have to paint it again in a few years. A better quality paint lasts longer. It's also more durable and resists cracking and fading, meaning it may hold up to the scrubbing and washing that you may need for white.

Cleaning White Walls

After living with these hard-to-clean walls for over a year, I realized a workaround for removing marks and dirt without the need for excessive rubbing is a bit of bleach mixed in with powder laundry detergent and warm water. A quick swipe and the smudges and splatters are goners. Will this cleaning hack ever convince me to go ahead and opt for a matte or flat finish and a cost-saving, lower-quality product? Absolutely not. If I've learned anything it's that when it comes to paint, finish and quality matter.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles