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The Great Debate: Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Fence Paint 

water vs oil fence paint- painted fences - black fence

The primary function of fence paint is twofold: to safeguard and enhance the appearance of wooden fences. It serves as a protective shield against external elements like rain, wind, and sun, thwarting the onset of rot and deterring insect infestation. Additionally, fence paint plays an important role in adding a splash of colour and visual appeal to the fence, enabling it to seamlessly blend with its environment or stand out as a striking feature. 


When faced with the task of choosing the appropriate paint for your project, a critical decision revolves around whether to opt for oil-based or water-based paint.


Although both options are versatile and suitable for various surfaces, they possess distinct characteristics that influence the aesthetics, application process, drying duration, cleanliness and overall longevity of the paint’s finish. 


Thanks to technological advancements, water-based paints have experienced significant growth in recent years. While in the past, oil-based paints were preferred for their sheen and durability, today, water-based paints have gained popularity and are poised to be the future of the paint industry. 


In recent years, Stock & Noble has been at the forefront of enhancing the quality of water-based fence coatings in Australia. We exclusively offer premium quality water-based fence paints (when compared to existing products in Australia), which might lead you to believe our perspective is biased.


However, in this article, our goal is to transparently share the factual knowledge and insights we’ve gathered from years of research. We are committed to providing you with the information you need to make an informed decision. Ultimately, the choice between renewing your fences with oil-based or water-based paint is entirely up to you. 


In this blog, we’ll explore the differences between oil-based and water-based fence paints to provide insights into their unique advantages and disadvantages. At the end of your read, you will be well-equipped to make the right decision for your health, your fences and the environment.  


Before you begin, it’s important to note that we aren’t comparing our products to house paints, which operate in a different price bracket and quality spectrum, but only to the outdoor world of fence paints.


Understanding the Basics: Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Fence Paints 

When we discuss oil-based or water-based paint, we’re essentially referring to the type of solvent present in the paint that evaporates during the drying process. Water-based paint mostly consists of water as its solvent, whereas oil-based paint incorporates an organic solvent like mineral turpentine. 

This contrast is essential for fence paints, affecting how they are applied, their durability, and their environmental impact. 


Understanding Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) represent organic solvents in a vapour state. These compounds are released into the air during the paint’s drying process as the organic solvent evaporates.  

Comprising petrochemicals and plant-based materials, these vapours are characterised by their strong odour, flammability, and potential harm to both the environment and human health. Prolonged exposure to VOCs can result in headaches, skin irritation, and nausea for certain individuals. Adequate ventilation and airflow are crucial when working with oil-based paint to mitigate these effects. 

In contrast, water-based paints contain solvents primarily composed of water, leading to significantly fewer VOC emissions. Consequently, they are considered a more environmentally friendly and health-conscious option. 


Understanding Paint Bonding: Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Paints 

Oil-based paints create a bond by soaking into the wood, a process that takes time as they penetrate the surface before drying. On the other hand, water-based paints form a bond through adhesion, meaning they stick to the existing surface. This often requires the use of a primer before applying the water-based paint, as the primer adheres to the wood, allowing the water-based paint to stick to it. 


Water-Based Fence Paint: Advantages and Limitations 

Water-based fence paint, often referred to as latex paint, has gained popularity due to its ease of use, quick drying time, easy clean-up and relatively lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These paints offer the following benefits: 


Prolonged Sheen Quality: 

Oil-based paint initially yields a higher sheen, yet gradually loses its lustre. In contrast, while water-based paints deliver a lower sheen, they tend to maintain this finish for extended durations compared to oil-based paints. 


Enhanced Durability: 

Advancements in water-based paint technology have led to remarkable durability, enabling them to dry hard and withstand significant wear and tear. Their flexible nature allows them to expand and contract, minimising the risk of cracking in response to varying weather conditions. 


Perfect for Outdoor Use: 

Water-based paints prove to be an excellent choice for outdoor applications, especially for fences. With their impressive UV resistance, these paints retain their sheen and colour over prolonged periods. Moreover, their flexibility enables them to adjust with the substrate, expanding and contracting in changing climates, making them an ideal option for exterior surfaces like fences. 


Quick drying time:  

Ideal for projects requiring swift completion. Water-based paint typically dries in 30 minutes, and another coat can be applied in 2-3 hours.   


Environmental friendliness: 

Low VOC levels, minimising harm to the environment and human health. Water-based paints emit almost zero fumes and are therefore much safer for the person applying the paint than the world around us. 


Convenient Clean-up: 

Easily washed with water and soap, eliminating the need for harsh chemical solvents. 


Versatility in Temperature: 

Applicable in a wider range of temperatures, accommodating various weather conditions. 


UV Stability: 

Water-based fence paints offer UV resistance and flexibility, preventing surface cracks by accommodating surface contractions and expansions. 


Safe to Use: 

Water-based paints have no combustible substances in their composition. 


Disadvantages of Water-based Fence Paints

Weather Sensitivity: 

Water-based paints are challenging to apply in unfavourable weather conditions. Excessive humidity or low temperatures can extend drying periods, while high temperatures can lead to rapid drying during application, potentially affecting the final appearance of painted fences. 


Preparation Requirements: 

Effective application of water-based paint necessitates thorough surface preparation. Complete removal of any mould, moss, dirt, old paint, or rust through water-blasting is essential. The paint requires a clean surface to ensure optimal performance, achieve the desired aesthetic, and maintain longevity.   


Adhesion Challenges: 

Water-based paint might encounter difficulties adhering to specific surfaces, especially previously painted or varnished wood. In such cases, the application of a primer becomes necessary to ensure proper adhesion. Oil-based fence paints perform better with metal surfaces. 


Oil-Based Fence Paint: Strengths and Weaknesses 

Oil-based fence paint, also known as alkyd paint, is renowned for its exceptional durability and resistance to fading. It boasts the following advantages: 


Long-Lasting Resilience: 

Renowned for its robustness and enduring properties, oil-based paint is a suitable option for fences enduring challenging weather or extensive use. 


Versatile Surface Adhesion: 

Oil-based paint exhibits strong adhesion to diverse surfaces, including previously painted or varnished wood, making it an ideal choice for already painted fences. 


Disadvantages of oil-based fence paints 

High Levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): 

VOCs, known to be harmful to both the environment and human health, are present in higher quantities in oil-based paint compared to water-based paint. This aspect renders oil-based paint a less eco-friendly option. 


Necessity for Chemicals in Clean-Up: 

Cleaning up oil-based paint requires the use of mineral spirits or turpentine, which can be inconvenient and may necessitate the use of protective gear. 


Longer drying time: 

Drying time for oil-based paints typically ranges from 6 to 8 hours, sometimes extending beyond 20 hours for complete drying. Unlike water-based paints, oil-based paints do not lose moisture during the drying process. Instead, the solvents within the oil-based paints interact with the air and undergo oxidation, resulting in a slow and painstaking drying process. It’s important to note that toxic fumes are emitted throughout this entire period. 


Less UV Resistance: 

Oil-based paints are not effective in UV light, as they tend to deteriorate more rapidly and develop a chalky texture over time. Additionally, due to the lack of flexibility within the oil-based paint, it cannot adjust to changes in the substrate under varying weather conditions, leading to an increased likelihood of cracking. 


Fire Hazard: 

Oil-based paint and its associated cleaners, including flammable solvents like mineral turpentine and toluene, present fire risks. Moreover, rags used for cleaning up oil-based paints are flammable, or even spontaneously combust, especially when exposed to sunlight or stored improperly. Therefore, it’s crucial to exercise extra caution when working with oil-based paints for fence painting projects. 


Susceptible to Fading: 

Oil paints are susceptible to fading if exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time. The pigments in the paint can break down, causing the colours to become dull and less vibrant. 


Evolving Trends: Premium Water-Based Paints Catching Up in Durability 

While traditional beliefs have emphasized the superior durability of oil-based paints, recent advancements in research and development have resulted in premium water-based paints that can rival the durability of their oil-based counterparts, especially for timber fences. These new formulations offer enhanced resistance to weather conditions and provide extended protection, eliminating the need for frequent touch-ups or repainting. However, for metal surfaces, the inherent advantages of oil-based fence paints still prevail due to their superior adhesion and protective properties. 


Environmental Impact and Health Considerations 

The debate on oil-based versus water-based paints also extends to their environmental impact and health considerations. Water-based paints, with their lower VOC levels, are considered more eco-friendly and pose fewer health risks during application. On the other hand, the higher VOC levels in oil-based paints can lead to strong odours and potential health hazards, necessitating adequate ventilation during the painting process. 


Ready to Choose the Right Paint for Your Fence? 

Ultimately, the choice between oil-based and water-based fence paints depends on various factors, including the specific project requirements, the desired durability, and the environmental impact. 


Understanding the unique advantages and limitations of each type of paint is crucial in making an informed decision. While oil-based paints have long been favoured for their durability and adhesion, premium water-based paints have emerged as formidable contenders, especially for timber fences. Their enhanced durability, ease, safety and eco-friendliness make them a compelling alternative. 


For metal surfaces, the superior protective qualities of oil-based paints continue to make them the preferred choice. However, the pros and cons of using oil-based should be weighed against the durability offered. 


Overall, it’s a bit tricky to figure out the differences between premium technical-grade acrylic paint, fence paint, premium oil-based paint, and lower-quality oil-based paint. But when it comes to being eco-friendly and having fewer harmful chemicals (VOC), water-based paint is the clear winner every time.


Other factors should also be considered while choosing a fence paint for your property. A ready-to-refer checklist will make your process smoother and give you the confidence to make the right decision. 


If you have any more questions regarding the cost, suitability, safety and application of fence paints, speak to a professional. Our experts are committed to helping you every step of the way to create a beautiful-looking property just the way you imagined. 

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