What Is Solvent-Based Paint: A Painter and Decorator's Guide

What is Solvent-Based Paint

As a professional painter and decorator in Fulham, I have painted with every type of paint out there. The two main types of paint are water-based and solvent-based paints.

In this article, I will look at what solvent-based paint is, what it’s made of and used for, and how it differs from water-based paint.

What is Solvent-Based Paint?

A solvent-based paint, also known as oil-based paint, is a type of paint that contains pigments, binders, and organic solvents.

The pigments are the fine particles that give the paint its colour. Binders are like glue; they hold the pigment particles together and form a solid film when the paint dries. Solvents are a special type of liquid that acts as carriers for pigments and binders.

Solvents keep the paint liquid, making it easier for painters to apply paint smoothly onto surfaces. As the paint dries, these solvents evaporate, leaving behind a vibrant and durable coating.

What is Solvent-Based Paint Used For?

Solvent-based paint works well on various surfaces, making it a popular choice for painters and decorators like myself. Its durability, glossy finish, and resistance to wear and tear make it ideal for high-traffic areas such as doors, windows, trims, and metal surfaces like radiators. For example, we used solvent-based paints to paint the woodwork in this lovely maisonette in Fulham.

Also, solvent-based paint is useful for exterior surfaces due to its ability to withstand harsh weather conditions.

Additionally, solvent-based paint is commonly used underwater, where water-based alternatives may not provide adequate protection against moisture and salt exposure.

How is Solvent-Based Paint Different to Water-Based Paint?

Among the hundreds of questions that customers ask me, one that stands out is whether to use solvent-based or water-based paint. The answer depends on individual circumstances, but it all boils down to understanding the key differences between these two types of paint.

Let’s look at the key differences between the two:

  1. Application and Drying Time: Solvent-based paint typically has a longer drying time due to the slow evaporation of organic solvents. In contrast, water-based paint dries faster because water evaporates quickly.

  2. Toxicity and Odor: Solvent-based paints emit strong fumes and are more toxic than water-based paints. Proper ventilation and protective gear are crucial when using solvent-based paints, while water-based paints have minimal fumes and are considered safer for indoor use.

  3. Clean-up: Cleaning brushes and equipment after using solvent-based paint requires harsh chemicals such as mineral spirits or turpentine. On the other hand, you can easily clean water-based with water and soap.

  4. Environmental Impact: Water-based paints are generally considered more environmentally friendly than solvent-based paints due to their lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and reduced harm to the ozone layer.


As we have uncovered, solvent-based paints have unique qualities and applications. Solvent-based paint’s impressive resistance to wear and tear, glossy appearance, and ability to endure harsh conditions make it ideal for numerous applications, including high-traffic areas, metal surfaces, and exterior use.

Understanding these characteristics is vital for anyone tackling a painting project. Knowing what solvent-based paint is, what it is made of, and where it is best used will help you make an informed decision about the best paint choice for your needs.

Happy painting!