What finish should I use (flat, eggshell, satin, etc) for the walls in a rental home? In the past I've used eggshell and even satin on walls on the theory that I would be able to clean them (as opposed to repainting them) in between tenants. But I find that I want to repaint entirely in between tenants so the net result is that I've increased my prep time because it takes longer to take the gloss off those finishes. I'm currently considering two options:

  1. recommitting to cleaning the walls, not repainting and just being better about setting a tone that lets prospective tenants know that they are our partners in maintaining the condition of the property

  2. finishing all walls with 'flat' and repainting in between tenants ... still setting the tone mentioned above but accepting that the best way to get a really fresh look for new tenants is to paint, and given that, using the paint that is easiest to paint over.

I'd love to hear some opinions on the matter.

  • Have you tried those new Paint + Primer paints? I know Behr and Glidden both offer Paint + Primer paints. I would be afraid to use it as a true primer; when painting over drywall mud or patches, but for covering previously painted surfaces it works well.
    – Tester101
    Jul 21, 2011 at 12:27
  • I have, and with great results!
    – Nick
    Jul 22, 2011 at 10:35

3 Answers 3


Good question Nick. I manage several rental units and have dealt with the same situations. Originally, flat paints were used in most of the rentals and almost every couple of years they needed repainting especially if kids were in the unit. Flat paint is hard to wash and very susceptible to marring and finger prints etc. The newer flat enamels are better, but not great. I changed over to a harder eggshell finish. Depending on the time a tenant is there, the eggshell really outlasted flat, usually good for 3 to 5 years unless damaged. Satin enamel works great for ceilings, hides marginal imperfections and very easy to clean between tenants. I have also found that since looks is more important than durability, I have used a lot of PVA grade wall paints from Ben Mor. At contractor price, it can be almost half as expensive than premium grade paints, covers well, lasts for several years. I have given up on expecting paints to be show ready after a few years in a rental. Cleaning and touching up walls takes almost as long as painting so a new quick same color wall paint job between tenants freshens up the place and smells new when showing the apartment. I tend to use just a couple of colors for most everything, so I buy 5 gal cans for economy, batch small leftovers and treat older paints with Flotrol. Be sure to keep the color formula in a notebook (ask for an extra sticker) so you can buy a good match later. Changing colors always requires two coats, but one coat of same color is normally fine. You can use your leftovers with new paint if you strain it through a mesh colander and batch it with your new paint, thus slight color changes disappear.


Shirlock gave you a great answer but I'll share my experience from being an apartment painter as well.

The reason almost every rental unit is painted flat is because every unit is painted between every tenant. The reason for this is that you can never trust a tenant to keep the walls in perfect condition. It's not a blame/finger pointer, it's just a fact that if someone lives somewhere for a while, eventually the walls will get marked up.

Using cheaper flat paint almost guarantees that the walls will mark, but I've seen enough places to know that in most cases even the best paint wouldn't have helped. Most places allow tenants to cover that flat with their own colours (upon approval) with a "return to neutral" clause in the tenant agreement.

If you're going to be doing this regularly and want to really cut down your labour you should probably consider investing in a paint sprayer and learning how to use it.


recommitting to cleaning the walls, not repainting and just being better about setting
a tone that lets prospective tenants know that they are our partners in maintaining the
condition of the property

IMHO The tenant is not your partner in maintaining the property unless it's explicitly defined in the lease agreement. Save yourself from having to become the paint condition inspector. The stress isn't worth it.

Resign yourself to repainting and every once in a blue moon enjoy having an easy job. It'll save you a lot of policing and stress.

From a new tenant's perspective, I would NEVER rent a place that the walls didn't look pristine when I moved in. It shows the landlord didn't care and just wanted to turn the place around quickly.

Hope this helps.

  • 3
    Stephen is absolutely right. Tenants are not your partners or friends. They pay to live there, expect you to keep it fresh and rarely care about the property like an owner. Trust me, I have owned many units and managed many more. Really good tenants are a great thing and I bend over backwards to keep them happy, but most use, abuse and complain. Nature of the beast and business. Jul 21, 2011 at 21:34
  • @Nick Very welcome.
    – Stephen
    Jul 22, 2011 at 12:41

I've been a painter at large apt complexes. They use Semi gloss

  • 1
    Can you elaborate on the OP's questions?
    – SDsolar
    Mar 15, 2017 at 5:05

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