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

 

 

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
45 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nan
Nan
7 months ago

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

Becky Barton Porter
Becky Barton Porter
7 months ago

Thanks Kristy! This is very helpful!

Becky Barton Porter
Becky Barton Porter
7 months ago

I meant Kristie! I knew that!

pattimeade
pattimeade
7 months ago

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.

Carolyn
Carolyn
7 months ago

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.

Kim
Kim
7 months ago

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

Marcey Ochoa
Marcey Ochoa
7 months ago

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.

Last edited 7 months ago by Marcey Ochoa
Marcey Ochoa
Marcey Ochoa
7 months ago

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!

Cheryl Swarthout
Cheryl Swarthout
7 months ago

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

NYer
NYer
7 months ago

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.

Molly
Molly
7 months ago

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

Susie
Susie
7 months ago

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).

Karen Lewis
Karen Lewis
7 months ago

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.

Jennifer
Jennifer
7 months ago

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.

Laura
Laura
7 months ago

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?

Laura P.
Laura P.
6 months ago

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!

Laura P.
Laura P.
6 months ago

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!

Michelle
Michelle
7 months ago

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!

Linda Leyble
7 months ago

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!

GeoC55
GeoC55
7 months ago

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…😊

Jenn Carr
Jenn Carr
7 months ago

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.

Leelee Leman
Leelee Leman
7 months ago

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

Leelee Leman
Leelee Leman
7 months ago

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

Lyn Mabry
7 months ago

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.

Related Posts

paint color training course

Staging Certification

paint color training course

Color Certification

paint color training course

My Staging Book

paint color training course
Psychological_Styling_Accessorizing_Video_Pic
web-just-the-right-furniture-arrangment-product-image

Small Wall

paint color training course