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I have read that when professionals build houses, they usually use "enamel" paint for thinks like cabinets and builtins that will be subjected to wear.

What are the differences between enamel and ordinary alkyd (oil-based) paints in composition and how do those differences affect the behavior of the paint?

Is applying enamel paint no different than using oil-based paints or does it require special handling?

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You are falsely separating "enamel" and "alkyd", because you can have an alkyd based enamel as well as acrylic based enamel.

Alkyd paint is oil / solvent based paint. Acrylic is water based paint. Some places will not allow you to use alkyd paints any longer because the solvents are VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that are classified as hazardous. Even in areas where not banned, many people who feel they are sensitive to VOCs will not want to use them either, they can out-gas for years after being applied even though you can't smell them any longer. On the other hand many people prefer alkyd based paints because they perceive them as more durable than acrylics. That may be true, but you must also consider that the difference may be 20 years vs 25 years and most people will change colors on something before paint actually wears out.

Enamel is the type of FINISH a paint has, meaning it will be glossy with a hard coat that is resistant to stains or wear and can be easily cleaned. Applying enamel paints of either type is different in that brush strokes will show more in a glossy finish, so you want high quality brushes and you should practice on scraps before doing a final finish if you have never worked with it before. Let it dry in each practice session so you can see the effects of your technique.

  • You can use alkyds to your heart's content, you just have to buy it in <=1 litre (1 quart) cans. We regularly order a dozen quart cans and mix them in a 5-gallon drum and pour them back into the cans. You are not evading anything; this is legal anywhere (except the SCAQMD/L.A., don't quote me on that). I have also bought gallons from S-W, and had them delivered in quart cans. You can also buy paint not intended for architectural use, where the quart restrictions do not exist, e.g. Sign painting. – Harper Feb 20 at 20:02
  • I agree with everything other than it takes years to off gas.+ – Ed Beal Feb 20 at 20:51
  • Ed Beal; up to 3-1/2 years. nepis.epa.gov/Adobe/PDF/900F0D00.pdf. – JRaef Feb 20 at 21:25
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What they use is gloss paints. Because cleanability and wear resistance are proportional to gloss. Flat or eggshell paints are a cleaning/maintenance disaster.

Gloss resists things sticking to it. Unfortunately, that includes other paint. Painting over gloss is a huge mistake, you need to lightly swiff-sand it with a green Scotchbrite pad to remove the gloss and create some "tooth" for the next coat to mechanically adhere to.

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