Flat or Eggshell Paint? The Great Debate

You may not know this, but there’s a great debate that often goes on between those who specify paint colors and those who are doing the work of painting. Unfortunately, those who are having their homes painted seem to get caught in the middle! Should you use flat or eggshell paint? My hope is that by reading this article, you will be able to make an informed and educated decision regarding this great debate. I wish it were a win-win for all involved, but you are about to learn that it’s not . . .

Flat or Eggshell Paint? The Great Debate

First things first: paint comes in various sheens. Sheen refers to the finish of the paint, or how shiny a paint is. Different paint companies may have different  sheen options. For example, Benjamin Moore features 7 sheens. From lowest to highest sheen, they are:

  • flat
  • matte
  • eggshell
  • pearl/low lustre
  • satin
  • semi-gloss
  • high gloss

regal select benjamin moore paint cans

The graphic below shows which sheens are recommended for what substrate.  It also shows that options with less sheen are more forgiving of imperfections, while those with more sheen are more durable:

Note: the misspelling of “architectural” in the above chart is not mine, it’s straight from the Benjamin Moore website.

 

To add to the confusion, different paint lines within a given paint brand may offer different or limited sheen options. For example, Benjamin Moore’s Regal Select line offers sheen options in flat, matte, eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss, while its Advance line is only available in matte, satin, semi-gloss, and high gloss.

While Benjamin Moore has 7 sheen options, Sherwin-Williams has 14! But let’s not get lost in the weeds. I want to hone in on the two sheens most commonly used for walls.

Because the question is always: should I use flat or eggshell paint for my walls?

Regarding pros and cons, the biggest pro of flat paint is that it provides excellent “hide.”  It masks imperfections and creates a more flawless finish. Flat paint will always be better for builders and painters. It costs less, downplays flaws in drywall, and can be touched up easily without showing roller marks. In new builds, it is almost always used by builders and painters. Painters often paint rooms that require modifications after initial painting. Maybe an outlet has to be moved, or furnishings are brought in that scuff up the wall paint. When those things happen, they can just open a can of leftover paint and touch those spots up quickly without the wall finish being affected.  Using flat paint means less work for builders and painters.

black door into bedroomThe Decorologist

BUT, flat paint is recommended for ceilings and very low traffic areas for a reason. It’s not as durable or easy to clean as eggshell or other higher sheen paints. So if you have pets or kids (or even husbands) that touch or bump into walls, flat paint will easily mar. It’s important to clean dirt and stains from flat paint walls as quickly as possible. The longer you ignore them, the harder the walls are to clean. You can use a magic eraser sponge on them if you are light-handed, but if you scrub very hard it will take the paint right off the wall.

From the perspective of a Color Designer/Consultant, I typically specify eggshell on walls for multiple reasons that benefit the people who are dwelling in the home. Eggshell paint cleans easier, covers better, wears better, and lasts longer than flat paint. You can clean scuffs and marks on the wall easily with a warm, damp cloth. The finish lasts many years longer than flat. If you use eggshell paint and aren’t abusive to your walls, it can easily last a decade and still look great. If you use flat paint, your walls will likely look shabby after just a few years. For the end user, it’s ultimately better.

Eggshell paint just looks richer than flat paint. The slightly higher sheen creates light reflection, which in turn gives the colors more depth and richness. Depth of color is what makes colors interesting and dynamic, especially if you are painting neutral paint colors. I even specify an eggshell finish for staging homes to sell.

modern bathroom design with light green paint by the decorologistThe Decorologist

There are two drawbacks to eggshell paint, but I’d like to counter them both:

1. Eggshell paint costs more.

Ok, it does. But only a little more! About a $1.50 a gallon more in Sherwin-Williams paint and $2.00 a gallon more in Benjamin Moore paint. So yes, it’s about 5% more for the paint itself. Because it can show roller and brush marks more easily, it requires more skill to roll it out properly and generally more time to do that. And time is money for builders and painters.

Here’s my counter argument: The increased cost of eggshell paint is slight, and if it lasts you twice as many years as flat, you are actually saving a lot of money and labor in the long run.

white slipcovered breakfast roomThe Decorologist

2. Eggshell paint can show wall and application imperfections.

Flat paint definitely downplays a poor drywall job or other surface imperfections. If you want to downplay textured walls and ceilings, flat paint is definitely the way to go. If you are a novice painter, it won’t show your inexperience as much, either. If you need to touch up a wall for some reason, you can just repaint the small area, rather than repaint the entire wall.

Here’s my counter argument:  If you are hiring professional painters, they have the skill to apply the eggshell paint in a way that won’t show roller and brush marks. And if the drywall is imperfect to begin with, just fix it rather than downplay its flaws with boring, flat paint. And if you are in an older or historic home, embrace the patina of the aged walls and enjoy the enhanced beauty and durability that eggshell paint provides!

flat or eggshell paint walls in bedroomThe Decorologist

When discussing this flat or eggshell paint finish debate with graduates of my Psychological Color Expert™ course in our private Facebook group, these were a couple of comments that draw from real-life experience:

“When we built our house I asked for eggshell instead of flat paint. The builder gave me a quote for the eggshell and it was several thousands more $. Being over budget already, we reluctantly went with flat. Well, within 20 months or so of living in our house, we paid that much PLUS all of the inconvenience to have almost every room in the house repainted in an eggshell finish, just due to scuffs, wear & tear! On my next build, we will be using eggshell!”

– Tracy, Paint Color Consultant and Homeowner

We just repainted a garage, that was of course flat paint. Was not easy to wash prior to repainting and it soaked up new coats like crazy, had to paint over 3 times. To add to that the paint I ordered was changed to a lower quality because the company was out of what I wanted. So bottom line was it cost more in paint and time than if it had been painted with eggshell finish to begin with. And yes, new finish is eggshell and it can be scrubbed if necessary!

– Terri, Professional Painter

should I use flat or eggshell paint for my walls?Pin this for later!

 

black and gray master bathroom design by Kristie Barnett The DecorologistThe Decorologist

I’d love to hear your take on the great debate in the comments below. Have you used flat or eggshell paint for your walls?  Which do you prefer and why?

 

Find out how you can become an expert in specifying interior paint color with my intensive certification training course:

paint color training course by the decorologist

 

 

65 Comments

  1. Nan

    Interesting thoughts. But doesn’t Benjamin Moore’s matte finish clean much better than flat, while leaving a flat finish (which I prefer)?

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Nan, there are “scrubbable” matte finishes that are easier to clean than flat paint, yes. But they still are not as durable and cleanable as eggshell. The higher the sheen, the stronger/more resilient the finish.

      Reply
  2. Becky Barton Porter

    Thanks Kristy! This is very helpful!

    Reply
      • Becky Barton Porter

        I meant Kristie! I knew that!

        Reply
  3. pattimeade

    Eggshell. Definitely eggshell. Not only does it add luster and depth to the walls, enhancing the color, but the sheen allows light to be bounced off, creating a brighter room.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      It does make for a brighter, lighter room. Thanks for sharing your experience, Patti!

      Reply
  4. Carolyn

    Hi Kristie…that is really good valuable information. I am having my kitchen cabinets professionally painted. Do you recommend semi-gloss or gloss finish? I bow to the experts when painting cabinets.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Probably semi-gloss for the cabinets. If your trim is also semi-gloss, that’s ideal!

      Reply
  5. Kim

    I prefer the look of matte and it’s easy to touch up like flat

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Matte is definitely a better choice than flat for walls. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Kim!

      Reply
  6. Marcey Ochoa

    Kristie, what color are the walls in the breakfast nook pic in this post?!! I’m looking for that exact white warm color!!! Do you also know it’s undertones? I would like to pair it with sage and reds and honey oak floors! Thanks girl! Also, we had flat in our last home…a GA home ..builders there tend to use drywall with no texture so based on your explanation, now I understand why they used it. We live in Texas now with orange peel textured walls and although I would love to mask the ugliness, I still can’t bring myself to use flat for all the reasons you mentioned.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Marcey,
      I specified BM White Dove in eggshell for that breakfast room. It has a slight yellow undertone. White Dove is also on the trim there, but in semi-gloss (which makes it appear whiter because of increased sheen/light reflection). Good luck on your new paint job!

      Reply
      • Marcey Ochoa

        Thank you! Just adore you and all the goodness you bring to design and all of us ordinary women (and men), who just want a beautiful home! Blessings to you!

        Reply
        • Kristie Barnett

          Thank you, Marcey! What a sweet thing to say – you just made my day. 🙂

          Reply
  7. Cheryl Swarthout

    I am wondering what you (and your knowledgeable community) recommend for shiplap walls on a good-sized entry hall, including staircase. My color will be Benjamin Moore Dove White. Thanks, Cheryl in MI

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Cheryl,
      I typically specify shiplap in whatever I’m specifying for trim, since it’s architectural. So if it’s a modern farmhouse look and the trim is satin, I would go with satin. Or if the trim is semi-gloss, definitely semi-gloss. I would not paint shiplap in flat or eggshell like the walls. I hope that helps!

      Reply
  8. NYer

    Eggshell is a great finish and the only one I would use on walls if I wanted a little sheen and ease of cleaning. But B Moore makes an easy to clean finish in a flat finish. It’s called Matte finish and you have to ask for it by name. I prefer flat finishes except in bathrooms. So I use the Matte finish. Easy to clean keeps the color.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Thanks for sharing your experience with BM’s matte finish. It’s between flat and eggshell. Definitely better than flat for clean-up and a bit more durable.

      Reply
  9. Molly

    I find flat paint boring sometimes. I’d almost always prefer eggshell.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Thanks for your input, Molly. Eggshell definitely has more depth and richness!

      Reply
  10. Susie

    Hi hired a “color expert” when we built our home 4 years ago who spec’d flat paint throughout the house, except in the bathrooms where she suggested eggshell. I should’ve known better, but I took her advice., since we paid so much for it. My husband is constantly complaining about the state of the walls. He’s right. I think we will end up repainting soon.

    I really appreciate your post. I have always had eggshell in the living areas of our previous homes (which I painted myself with no issues).

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      That’s a bummer, Susie – sorry you have to repaint so soon! If you need help with new colors, let me know – I do online paint color specification on the regular. 😉

      Reply
  11. Karen Lewis

    Definitely Benjamin Moore Regal Matte on Walls and flat on ceiling. My experience has been that Sherwin Williams is inferior and harder to clean than BM. I have raised two boys and found BMoore Regal Matte to be the most durable and easiest to clean.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Good to know, Karen! Thanks for sharing your experience with SW and BM, as well as flat vs. matte paint.

      Reply
  12. Jennifer

    I have 3 boys. Toys, balls, pencils – you name it, it’s up in the air! The second they get tall enough, they are jumping to touch the ceiling. The ceiling in a few of our rooms are eggshell – the painter thought I was nuts!! We renovated our kitchen 2 years ago – ceiling is flat white. It. Looks. Filthy. Can’t wait to paint the kitchen again! Ceiling will be eggshell in there, too.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Oh Jennifer, boy moms have to deal with dirty ceilings as well as walls?! If you have a good painter, eggshell can be used on ceilings. In fact, when I’m working with really good painters, I sometimes specify it purposely for dark accent ceilings in dining rooms. The light reflection from the chandelier is so rich and gorgeous when it’s done well!

      Reply
      • Cathy

        You don’t happen to mention spraying paint in reference to the difficulty of painting with eggshell?

        Reply
  13. Laura

    Hi Kristie! What a well-timed post! We will be starting the renovation in my daughter’s home on Monday, and have been wondering about paint finishes. I’m with you on eggshell for the walls for the durability and depth of color, so thank you for validating that choice! I’ve always used semi-gloss on trim but see a lot of chatter about satin for trim. What do you think? I just know that baseboards take a lot of abuse from vacuums and such, so I’m still leaning toward semi-gloss! How is your renovation coming along?

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Hi Laura! You are right – satin on trim has gotten popular. Some of the popularity of satin trim and matte walls has to do with the popularity of the modern farmhouse look. Satin on trim is like flat on walls – not the best choice! Trim takes a lot of abuse, and it really needs a higher sheen of paint in order to keep it easy to clean and more durable long-term. Thanks for asking about our renovation. We are actually in the throes of getting ready for our daughter’s wedding – it’s a week from tomorrow! But we’re currently working on some changes in the landscaping and leveling rickety brick walkways.

      Reply
      • Laura P.

        Hi Kristie, I’ve been meaning to send you a note of congratulations and best wishes for your daughter’s wedding! I hope you had a spectacular day and the newlyweds have a lifetime of happiness ahead! On the home front, I hope all is going well with your landscaping and walkways. We are making progress at my daughter’s house: cabinets, old tile countertops, soffits and floor have been removed and primer went on today. Paint, new floor, and cabinets this week, new countertop templating next week. Then the bath renovation begins!

        Reply
        • Kristie Barnett

          Thank you so much, Laura! The wedding was so wonderful and special. They are a match made in heaven, truly. Our main brick walkway has now been re-laid and is so no longer treacherous! The yard is still recovering from lots of moving boxwoods and digging trenches for irrigation – more work on that in the next couple of weeks, but it is coming along!

          Reply
          • Laura P.

            I look forward to your updates, Kristie! Now that the glorious wedding is behind you I bet you’ll be able to focus on the Manor again!

  14. Michelle

    Ohhhh…..how I despise flat paint. We’ve moved 11 times and are now expert at discovering the sheen on the walls. In one house we were so impressed with how fresh and clean all the paint looked only to find out after we had been there a few months that EVERY smudge, scratch, dirty handprint, etc. showed up on the walls with kids/dog. The seller had repainted EVERY wall with a neutral flat paint. Cheaper for them in paint & labor, but meant we had to repaint every high traffic area in eggshell. Team eggshell all the way!

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Michelle,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. A great example of why eggshell paint may be a better choice in the long-term!

      Reply
  15. Linda Leyble

    Hi Kristie! I agree with you – loved your excellent article. My only issue with eggshell has been with touch ups. If someone bangs into a wall and you have to fix that spot – it doesn’t touch up easily!

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Yes Linda, that is true! You pretty much have to repaint the whole wall to make the eggshell finish look “perfect.”

      Reply
  16. GeoC55

    I love FLAT paint! I prefer the look of it for walls in living spaces. I find it pretty easy to keep clean. My house is older so flat easily hides imperfections. I think flat paint- especially in strong colors-looks richer with more depth than eggshell. Different strokes…😊

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Flat certainly helps hide surface imperfections. Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts on this! 🙂

      Reply
    • Cathy

      We painted our 5500ft2 with flat 24 years ago when it was built. The main hall winding its way through the middle of the house has been repainted three times. But not all the way up, only about halfway up and it blended perfectly. We have two big doodles (always), and raised our daughter here. The rest of the house has been repainted one time which was recently. We didn’t have any of these problems with handprints and whatever else is on the walls of the people who have a hard time living with flat paint. I have no complaints and it came from Sherwin-Williams. We did all of the trim in oil, because we have a beautiful trim package in this home and it has only been repainted once. You just can’t get that sheen with any other paint on your trim except oil. But as I truly believe, each to his own. Everyone has a different lifestyle.

      Reply
  17. Jenn Carr

    I live in a hundred+ year old mill house, with the typical imperfect plaster walls. I long ago chose to see those ‘imperfections’ as character and decided not to try to camouflage them. That’s the long way around to say: eggshell all the way! And I’ve had lots of large dogs in my household over the years too. Eggshell and a magic eraser have cleaned up pet accidents really well. Also, historic old mill houses often don’t have tons of windows, or particularly big ones, so the sheen in eggshell paint has helped brighten my rooms.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Jenn,
      Thank you for sharing all that. I’m totally with you about higher sheen in old houses. Character, not imperfections! Our wavy old walls have eggshell finish latex, while all of our trim is painted in high gloss oil!

      Reply
  18. Leelee Leman

    Hi Kristy, Great debate, and I’m involved in this one often! Probably preaching to the choir here, but Benjamin Moore doesn’t have the negatives on the longevity points of most Flat paints. With their Color Lock, Gennex Technology product (link below if anyone is interested), as well as the types of pigments they use, I have begun using Nothing But wherever I can, and for any finish the space calls for (though Matte is my Favorite for its sleek, elegant beauty as well as it’s ease of cleaning).

    Over the years of using other paint products, I have avoided Eggshell unless absolutely necessary — due to the “Plasticky” look on the wall with some paint companies. In my opinion, Benjamin Moore is the more cost effective choice, considered in terms of Longevity, Headaches, and Bliss! I promise I do not work for them or get a commission from this post… lol!! https://www.benjaminmoore.com/en-us/interior-exterior-paints-stains/quality-begins-with-chemistry/gennex-color-technology

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Leelee,
      Thank you for all that info – very helpful!!! If you don’t work for BM, they should certainly hire you now. 🙂

      Reply
      • Leelee Leman

        Thanks! Love connecting with you today and love following your various projects!

        Reply
  19. Lyn Mabry

    Thanks Kristie, a great subject and discussion. I live in a 100+ year old home with tall ceilings, large windows and imperfect walls so I choose flat and am really very happy with it. It feels sophisticated and grounded in my space, however eggshell is usually my go to for my clients unless their property is similar to mine. Thanks again for all the good information.

    Reply
  20. Karen

    We just bought a house that has drywall throughout however after researching I see that the texture they use looks to be called “knockdown”. I prefer smooth walls but there is just too much to have redone. So having said all that I usually pick eggshell for my walls but after reading this it seems that the flat paint would show less imperfections. I am not familiar with this type texture. What type would you recommend? We have dogs so I wipe down the walls occasionally.

    Reply
  21. Kim

    Hey Kristie, I just came across this blog again. I totally forgot you did this after we asked questions in the color Facebook class. I showed it to the contractor I am working with on a very large painting project. He was very impressed and I think I was able to change his mind. Yay. But we are doing the same color on a bonus room with slanted walls and he is saying we can only use flat paint here. I looked back through my class notes and cant seem to find this noted if you use 2 different sheens on angled walls of all the same color. This builder is challenging me once again. Any insight would be helpful.

    Reply
  22. Alex Aranoff

    Thanks for sharing! This is super helpful as I start to think about painting my living room and kitchen. Are your thoughts similar between a Benjamin Moore Matte Finish and BM Eggshell finish? I have a little guy – he’s 8 but I always seem to find finger marks on the walls so I need paint that will clean easily… my issue is that I want the least amount of sheen possible!

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Alex,
      Eggshell cleans up easier! Warm water will get rid of finger marks in a jiffy. If you want low sheen, look for a “scrubbable matte.”

      Reply
  23. Colleen

    I’m painting a historic home I just purchased and it has narrow circular stairwells with plaster walls. I love the imperfections in the walls as opposed to new perfectly flat drywall. They are currently painted olive green and shine which highlights the imperfections of the paint job. I’m painting them in Sherwin Williams Alabaster and don’t want them to be shiny. Eggshell or Matte?

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      I would use eggshell, but there will be a little light reflection with that so you might prefer a scrubbable matte. Please make sure you are not dealing with oil-based paint on the walls (which could explain why it looks shiny?) before you put latex/water-based paint over that.

      Reply
  24. Jack

    I’ve been reading all of these various flat v eggshell arguments, and always there are these over-dramatic stories about short duration and dirtiness. What are you guys doing in your houses? I have 2 kids, and I’ve never had the level of difficulty people seem to have with flat painted walls. Sure, there are occasional dirt spots. But, I find they clean up okay. Sure, eggshell would be easier, but it’s not like it’s super difficult or impossible with a modern flat paint. Maybe if I was using a 50 year old formula, but the newer stuff tends to clean ok even in flat in my experience. But mostly I don’t quite understand how everyone’s walls are getting so dirty in the first place. We’re an active family, but we don’t tend to run Wile E. Coyote style into the walls while covered in mud.

    Reply
  25. Jennifer

    Hi Kristie, I came across you as I was googling flat versus eggshell. We are building a new home with a builder and it’ll cost an extra $600 for eggshell rather than flat. It sounds like paying the $600 extra for the whole house (2100 Sq ft.) will be worth it. 😊 This was really helpful.

    Reply
  26. C Stanton

    I am going to paint our kitchen and living room which are connected. Should I use a scrubbable matte or eggshell ? I have chosen Simply White. Benjamin Moore for both. What are your thoughts?

    Reply
  27. C Stanton

    Also, even though I have Simply White, to brighten up room, does the finish still matter to have a brighter room?

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Eggshell is brighter and provides more depth and light reflection. Looks more expensive!

      Reply
  28. Rob

    Hi Kristie, Well-written and informative article. I’m wondering if you would ever go with a pearl finish on walls for high traffic areas or do you think eggshell suffices. I’ve heard the BM Regal Select pearl is quite rich, almost velvety, and doesn’t have quite as much sheen as their satin. I’m a bit worried, though, because the space is quite bright and the walls are not in the greatest of shape. I’d appreciate any thoughts you could share. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Hey Rob! I haven’t used BM’s Pearl myself, but if it is less sheen than eggshell or satin, that may be a better option for your situation.

      Reply
  29. Carol

    Can the finish affect the appearance of the color? I have a situation where I have satin below a chair rail and then decided to use the same color in flat above the chair rail on one wall because there will eventually be white built-ins in front on that wall. I chose flat because the wall above has stucco (I didn’t feel up to the work to change it). The color I want is Colonial Aqua so a blue-green. The satin below looks right but the flat above looks very blue. When I took the same paint and added to the poster board I was previously using in my decision period it looks right. I am not sure whether I just need a 2nd coat or it is the light? I don’t get it.

    Reply
  30. Rachelle

    Hi Kristy, I am having my room painted with Benjamin Moore Swiss Coffee paint. I was thinking of doing the flat version for the ceiling, the satin finish for baseboard, and the eggshell finish for the walls. Does that make sense to you? Do you think using the same color for all three is too much? I was also going to have my bedroom door painted with satin finish too.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Hi Rachelle, it’s not too much to do all the same off-white, and BM Swiss Coffee is lovely. However, there is little to no difference between satin and eggshell. I would suggest using semigloss on your trim – it will last longer, clean easier, and give you a bit more contrast with the wall color. Good luck with your project!

      Reply

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