3 Main Paint Ingredients You Should Know About

Colorful cans of paint

Ingredients are key when it comes to purchasing good-quality paint.

A thin film of good paint, only a few thousandths of an inch thick, protects, seals, hides, decorates and is not hazardous to the user. It gives surfaces long-term protection at a very moderate price, for some.

It’s in millions of homes and businesses, in nearly all rooms. So, what’s in that paint you’re putting on your walls?

Here are the three main ingredients you should know about!

Paint brush and paint in bucket


Pigment is the ingredient most people first consider when purchasing paint. It provides the texture, color and hiding properties of the paint.

Pigments actually used to be pretty dangerous and included: lead, chromates and asbestos. Dangerous pigments are in very rare use and are outlawed in most places. Titanium dioxide and iron oxides are safe, high-grade pigments and are found in better quality paints. Clay and silica are also used but don’t hold up as well.

Cheaper pigment materials cannot be ground as finely as the better pigments can be ground. You can actually tell whether paint is good or not by rubbing it between the tips of your thumb and index finger. If it feels gritty, it more than likely contains either a cheap pigment or lot of cheap filler — like clay.

Paints with cheaper pigment materials will not normally last as long as paint that contains mostly titanium dioxide or iron oxides, which tests very smooth to the touch.

Paint can and roller in tray


The paint ingredient that holds everything together is called the binder.

Linseed oil is usually the binder in oil-based paint, which is frequently mixed with one or more other vegetable oils.

However, in water-based paint, one popular binder is polyvinyl acetate (white glue). Also, there is a latex undercoating called PVA which is short for Poly Vinyl Acetate.

Paint roller on wall


The solvent in water-based paint is water. In oil-based paint, the solvent is thinner (petrochemical distillate).

When the water is evaporating out of latex paint and when the thinner is evaporating out of oil base paint both processes are referred to as drying. Before they evaporate, the solvents keep their respective pigments and binders in solution and help them penetrate deeply into the surface.

After the solvents have evaporated, they leave a thin hardened layer of pigment and binder that we know as paint.

Other Paint Qualities

There are other additives that help flow, reduce bubbles, control consistency, etc., but remember good paints are not gritty.

Here’s another test you can make. Apply a spot of good paint to any surface. Apply a spot of cheap paint next to it. Once the it has dried completely, put a drop of food coloring onto each spot. The good paint will hold the food coloring together. The cheap one will allow the food coloring to spread.

Further Reading


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