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How to Choose the Right White Paint for Your Home

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In this post, I’m sharing how to choose the right white paint for walls, trim and cabinets. Plus the best and most popular white paint colors to get you started! 


Choosing the right white paint for your home can be tricky. 

I mean, have you ever painted a room white, hoping for a lovely bright space, only to have the room look dingy and yellow? Or maybe even slightly purple or pink instead of bright white? 

That’s because not all white paint colors are the same. Paint colors are always affected by their undertones, the lighting in a room and the other colors around them

So, how do you choose the right color white paint?

In this post, I’m going to answer all of your questions about choosing the right white paint for your home and even share some lovely white paint colors that you can use in your own home!

choose the right white paint

Are White Walls a Good Idea for My House?

First things first. Maybe you’re reading this post wondering if white paint will even work in your home, for your lifestyle. Maybe you have young children, or large dogs that seem to create messes just by breathing.

If you’re reading this and the thought of white walls is giving you hives or a panic attack, don’t do it. Don’t paint your walls white. It’s not worth your peace of mind to deal with it. Wait until your kids are bigger, or your dogs are less messy. 

Even though paint has come a long way in the last decade as far as durability and the ability to wipe it clean, it is still white and it will still show dirt more quickly than a darker paint color will.  (With a darker paint color, the walls will still get dirty, you just won’t be able to see it as quickly or easily.)

But if you LOVE white walls and are willing to give them a little scrub or a wipe with a Magic Eraser when needed, then by all means, paint ’em white! 

How to Clean White Walls

While we’re talking about dirty walls, let’s have a very quick chat about cleaning them. Here are three ways to clean your white walls:

  1. Try a damp microfiber cloth to gently wipe away light dirt and fresh fingerprints. Microfiber cloths are great at grabbing dirt and grime. 
  2. Use any soft cloth, dampened with a little water and a drop or two of dish soap to wipe down the wall where needed. The dish soap should help break down dirt and even some oils. 
  3. Grab a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser sponge, wet it, squeeze it out well and then wipe away. (Be careful with this though, as it sometimes wipe away the top surface of the paint too!)

If none of those work on your walls’ messes, you could always grab your white paint and a brush and do a little paint touch-up. I do this all the time, especially at high-traffic corners and near light switches. If the marks are caused by grease or oils that seem to seep through your paint, try using a stain-blocking primer Like Zinsser and then painting the area again. 

Will White Walls Make My Room Look Bigger?

If you live in a small space, you’ve probably asked this question. And the answer is, more than likely, yes, white walls will help your room to appear larger.

That’s because light tends to reflect off of white paint (and other light paints), rather than being absorbed by it. White walls appear to recede away from you, rather than advance towards you, making the space seem bigger. 

So, while white paint can’t actually make a room any larger physically, it can make it appear larger than a room with darker walls. 

dining room from entry HML

Why Do White Walls Look Yellow, Pink or Purple?

The reason your walls may not look like you envisioned them after painting them white, is because most white paints are not pure white. They are made up of other colors and have something called an undertone that is either warm or cool.

Warm whites are cozier and cool whites are brighter. 

This undertone is generally a good thing because it prevents white paint from looking too stark or too bright.

But the undertones need to be considered when you’re choosing white paint for your home. Especially if you want to choose the right white paint to fit into your whole home color scheme

How Do You Identify the Undertones in White Paint?

The trick with discovering the undertone of a white paint, is the same as identifying the undertone in any paint color…and that is to remember that you can’t look at a color in isolation to find it’s undertone. You have to compare it to something else.

Here are a couple of ways to identify the undertone of white paint colors: 

1. Look at the Bottom of the Swatch

If you’re looking at a paint color that’s on a swatch with other paint colors, look at the bottom of the swatch. There you will see the true color that makes up the undertones of all the other colors on the swatch. Some white paint colors will have yellow undertones, some pink and some purple, etc. 

how to choose the right white paint color

2. Compare it to a Piece of Regular White Paper

Yup, you read that right! If the white you want to use is not on a card with other colors, go grab a piece of regular printer paper and compare your white paint that. You will be able to see the true color of the white paint!

white printer paper and paint chips

How to Choose the Right White Paint for Walls

Warm or Cool White Walls?

Which white paint you choose for your walls will depend on whether you want a warm white or a cool white. Remember, warm whites are cozier and cool whites are brighter. So, it really depends on how you want your space to feel

A warm white paint will have a base color (undertone) of yellow or red. 
A cool white paint will have a base color (undertone) of blue, green or grey. 

Consider the Lighting

When choosing paint for your walls, you also need to consider the lighting in the space. 

South-facing rooms tend to have slightly warmer light, due to the sun coming in all day. Which means that the natural lighting will be a yellow-white light and may wash out colors, at least a little. Even still, most whites can work in a room with southern exposure, but a cooler white may be preferred to balance the yellower lighting

North-facing rooms will have a cooler, blue or grey natural lighting. For these spaces, you can use a cool white, but it may seem even cooler and more blue-grey and chilly than it would in another room. A warm white paint color is preferably in a room with northern exposure. 

East- and west-facing rooms will have either warm or cool lighting, depending on the time of day. So, you could use either warm or cool white paint colors in rooms with eastern and western exposure

dining room to living room xmas 2019

In this photo of our dining room which has both southern and western exposure, you can see that the kitchen rather blue in comparison – despite having the same wall and ceiling colors as the dining room. That’s because the kitchen has entirely northern exposure – which does nothing to warm up the white.

Always Test Your Paint Color in the Room

One rule of thumb to always follow when choosing any paint color is not to choose it at the store. Always bring home the largest swatch available and look at the color in the room you plan to paint. Look at it in different lighting (natural and the lighting you plan to have in the room). If you can, paint a large bristol board (at least 9″x12″) with your chosen color and tape that to your wall. Move it around the room to see it as it truly will be in the space. 

Choose the Right Sheen for Walls

There’s a basic rule to follow for choosing the right sheen of paint and that is that the the higher the sheen, the higher the shine and the higher the shine, the easier it is to clean [source]. Unfortunately, the higher the sheen, the more it will show imperfections. 

For white walls, you want to choose less of a sheen. Eggshell or flat/matte finishes will look best on white painted walls, with satin finish coming in third.

  • Eggshell will be a little more durable than flat or matte paint, so choose it for spaces that see some traffic and might get a little abuse, like living rooms or dining rooms.
  • Flat or matte is best in rooms in which the walls won’t really be touched much, like master bedrooms.
  • I would suggest a satin finish for use on walls higher traffic areas like hallways and kids rooms. 

If you’re painting kitchen walls, you will likely want to use a semi-gloss paint because those walls will likely require a LOT of wiping! 

How to Choose the Right White Paint for Trim

Typically for trim you are safe to grab a can of pure white off the shelf at your local store and paint the trim in your whole house with it. This makes it especially easy to do touch ups because you can always just grab another can off the shelf if you run out. 

But, if your whole home color scheme is on the warmer side, or you have a room or two that is painted with warmer colors, you may want to choose a warmer white for your trim that coordinates better with those warmer colors. 

Choose the Right Sheen for Trim

Following the sheen rule above, with the higher the sheen the easier it is to clean, I would suggest a gloss or semi-gloss finish for baseboards and trim

  • Gloss will be highly wipeable and easiest to clean. 
  • Semi-gloss will be almost as easily cleaned, with significantly less shine.

How to Choose the Right White Paint for Cabinets

The same rules apply for choosing a white paint color for cabinets as above with warm and cool undertones. You will want to keep in mind the lighting in the space and how you want the room with the cabinets to feel. 

Warm whites are cozier and cool whites are brighter. 

If you’re painting kitchen cabinets and walls, you don’t necessarily have to paint them the same white. You could choose slightly different shades of white. Or you could choose the same white and just use a different sheen for the cabinets (a gloss or semi-gloss) and the walls (an eggshell). That would give a nice subtle variation and provide some depth, due to how the light would hit each of the sheens differently. 

Choose the Right Sheen for Cabinets

Again, the higher the sheen, the easier the paint will be to clean. If you’re painting kitchen cabinets, you will want to go with a gloss or semi-gloss finish. Especially with white paint, because you will see dirt and spills so easily. 

How to Choose the Right White Paint for Your Home – Video

In case you’re more of an auditory learner, I sat down and recorded a chat about choosing the perfect white paint color. Check it out:

If you want to see more of our videos, be sure to subscribe to our Youtube channel so you don’t miss a thing! 

What is the Most Popular White Paint Color?

Well, that depends on where you look or who you ask. Everyone says something different.

I know that doesn’t help you though and I know how hard it can be to choose a white paint, even with all of the above information. So below I’ve gathered some lovely white paint colors that you could use in your home. Just remember that they may look different on the computer vs real life. And always test paint colors in the room you want to use them!

Pure Whites

Pure white paints contain the least amount of undertone, and are often the “out of the can” base white that you can buy off the shelf. They tend to be rather bright and will work with modern aesthetics or on trimwork.

Here are a few pure white paint colors from the top brands:

pure white paint swatches

Sherwin Williams Extra White SW 7006

Benjamin Moore Pure White OC-64

Valspar Ultra White 7006-24

Behr ULTRA PURE WHITE®

Cool Whites

These cool white paints will have a base color (undertone) of blue, green or grey

cool white paint swatches

Sherwin Williams Pure White SW 7005

Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White CC-20

Valspar Paramount White 7006-22

Behr Whisper White HDC-MD-08

Warm Whites

These warm white paints will have a base color (undertone) of yellow or red

warm white paint swatches

Sherwin Williams Dover White SW 6385

Benjamin Moore Cloud White CC-40

Valspar Swiss Coffee 7002-16

Behr Swiss Coffee 12

Now what?

If you need more help choosing paint colors or how and where to use each of the colors in your home, check out our mini-course, Your Whole Home Color Formula. It’s a simple step-by-step online guide to choosing the perfect coordinating colors for your entire home. 

ywhcf on white ipad no bg smaller

Or if you want help with the whole decorating she-bang, including everything from defining your unique decorating style, choosing colors, planning furniture layouts, and decorating in the right order, check out our course, Decorating Uncomplicated

 

How to choose the perfect white paint

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