Can You Use Exterior Paint Inside? A Comprehensive Guide

Bob Thomas

Introduction

When it comes to painting projects, homeowners often wonder if they can use exterior paint inside their homes.

There may be leftover exterior paint from a previous project or an appealing color that's only available in exterior paint.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore whether it's safe and effective to use exterior paint inside, the differences between interior and exterior paints, and the potential issues that may arise when using exterior paint indoors.

Can You Use Exterior Paint Inside?

Technically, you can use exterior paint inside your home, but it is not recommended due to various concerns, such as safety, performance, and appearance.

Exterior paints are formulated for specific outdoor conditions and may not provide the desired results when used indoors.

Differences Between Interior and Exterior Paints

Composition

  1. Interior and exterior paints are formulated differently  to the specific conditions they'll encounter. Exterior paints are designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, UV rays, and temperature fluctuations, while interior paints focus on providing a durable finish that can be easily cleaned and resist wear and tear from daily use.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

  1. Exterior paints typically contain higher levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than interior paints. VOCs are chemicals that evaporate at room temperature and can cause unpleasant odors and potentially harmful fumes. Interior paints usually have lower VOC levels to ensure better air quality and minimize health risks for occupants.

Sheen

  1. Exterior paints tend to have a flatter sheen compared to interior paints, which can result in a less appealing finish when used indoors. Interior paints are available in a variety of sheens, from flat to high-gloss, allowing homeowners to choose the best finish for their specific needs and preferences.

Potential Issues When Using Exterior Paint Inside

Health Concerns

  1. As mentioned earlier, exterior paints typically contain higher levels of VOCs than interior paints. Using exterior paint inside can lead to poor indoor air quality and contribute to various health problems, including headaches, dizziness, respiratory issues, and eye irritation. Prolonged exposure to high VOC levels may even lead to more severe health complications.

Durability and Performance

  1. Exterior paints are designed for outdoor use and may not perform well when applied indoors. They may be more prone to chipping, cracking, or peeling due to their formulation. Moreover, exterior paints are not designed to withstand the same level of wear and tear as interior paints, so they may not be as durable or easy to clean.

Aesthetics

  1. As mentioned, exterior paints usually have a flatter sheen, which may not be as visually appealing when used indoors. Additionally, exterior paint colors may fade more quickly when exposed to sunlight, resulting in a less vibrant appearance over time.

Odor

  1. Exterior paints often have a stronger odor due to their higher VOC content. Using them indoors can result in a lingering smell that may be unpleasant and difficult to eliminate.

Alternative Uses for Leftover Exterior Paint

If you have leftover exterior paint and don't want it to go to waste, consider using it for other outdoor projects, such as painting outdoor furniture, fences, or garden sheds.

Alternatively, you can donate the paint to a local community organization or recycling center that accepts paint donations.

Tips for Choosing the Right Interior Paint

  1. Consider the room's purpose and function: When selecting an interior paint, think about the room's function and the level of wear and tear it will experience. For instance, kitchens and bathrooms require paint that can withstand moisture and humidity, while high-traffic areas like hallways may need a more durable, washable finish.

  2. Choose the right sheen: Interior paint comes in various sheens, from flat to high-gloss to high-gloss. Flat or matte finishes are ideal for low-traffic areas and can hide minor imperfections, while satin and eggshell finishes offer a subtle sheen and are easier to clean. Semi-gloss and high-gloss paints are best for areas exposed to moisture or frequent cleaning, like kitchens and bathrooms.

  1. Select a low-VOC or no-VOC paint: Opt for low-VOC or no-VOC paints to minimize indoor air pollution and ensure a healthier living environment. Many paint manufacturers now offer eco-friendly options that meet strict environmental standards without compromising performance.

  2. Test paint colors before committing: Paint colors can appear differently depending on lighting and surrounding elements. To ensure you're happy with your color choice, test a small sample on the wall and observe how it looks in different lighting conditions before committing to a full paint job.

  3. Calculate the amount of paint needed: To avoid wasting paint or running out during the project, calculate the amount of paint you'll need based on the room's square footage and the paint's coverage rate (usually listed on the paint can). Remember that textured or porous surfaces may require more paint for proper coverage.

Conclusion 

While it may be tempting to use exterior paint inside your home, the potential health, performance, and aesthetic issues make it an ill-advised choice.

Instead, opt for interior paints specifically designed for indoor use, and follow the tips provided in this guide to ensure a successful and satisfying paint project.

By selecting the appropriate interior paint you'll create a beautiful and safe living space that meets your needs and expectations.

About the author 

Bob Thomas

A fully certified interior decorator and house painter , Bob Thomas brings immense expertise and knowledge amassed from many years of hands-on experience with residential, commercial and specialty painting and decorating projects of all sizes and scopes.

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