How to Pick the Right Paint Sheen

How to Pick the Right Paint Sheen | Diary of a DIYer

So you’ve made the decision to paint your home. That’s great! Painting is one of the easiest ways to make a room look new again. Picking a color will probably be your biggest decision, but don’t forget to consider the sheen.

Paints are available in a handful of different sheens, ranging from super glossy to flat matte. You might be thinking, “What’s the difference?” and that’s a good question to ask before starting this home improvement project. It’s all a personal preference, but certain sheens work better in some applications than others.

So, what sheens are we working with? Let’s dive in!


Flat paint is a basic finish that’s commonly found throughout builder grade homes. It’s non-reflective and is easy to touch up if anything happens to the wall (read: toddlers and their toys). But out of all the sheens, this one tends to get dirty the easiest since there’s literally no shine to it. It’s recommended to use flat paint on ceilings or low traffic areas like bedrooms or formal dining rooms.


Eggshell paint has a soft finish, similar to the way a real eggshell looks. It’s more scuff-resistant than flat paint and is much easier to keep clean. It’s great for areas that get a decent amount of traffic. In fact, most of our home has eggshell paint and it’s held up quite well over the years. Cleaning is simple – you can use a damp cloth to wipe away any fingerprints or grime.


Satin paints fall directly in the middle of the sheen spectrum. It’s a step above eggshell paint, so it’s even better for keeping clean and resisting stains and scuffs. If the room you’re painting gets moderate to heavy traffic (like a dining room, living room or hallway), go with satin paint.


If you’re looking for low maintenance and easy cleaning, semi-gloss is the way to go. This sheen has a slight shine to it. It’s great for high traffic areas and rooms that easily get dirty. It’s also good for damp locations. With this knowledge in hand, it’s a no-brainer to use semi-gloss paint in your kitchen, bath and even laundry room.


Like the name suggests, gloss paint is highly reflective. This sheen is great for accentuating certain areas rather than painting a whole wall – unless you want an accent wall, of course! Trim, windowsills and woodwork all take to glossy paint well. This is a highly durable sheen and is easy to clean with a quick scrub.

Why Sheen Matters

Say your marinara gets a bit too bubbly and splatters on the wall behind your stovetop. There’s no getting that stain off of flat paint (unless the wall was painted red), but semi-gloss or gloss paint? Not a problem. Even if you’re painting your whole house the same color, it’s probably best to buy different paint cans with different sheens.   

Are you painting your home soon? What sheen are you going with? Show me your before and after in the comments or on Twitter!

Header image courtesy of the United Soybean Board. Paint sheen image courtesy of Next Gen Painting.

You thought that was all I had?! Here’s a little infographic to take with you when deciding on a sheen. Pin it for later!