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Emulsion - The Versatile Paint - Part One

May 5, 2008
Emulsion paints are invariably the first choice for decorating walls and ceilings. Understanding more about them will help you to achieve a perfect finish every time.

Paint has come a very long way since man first used it to record scenes from everyday life on the walls of his caves 20,000 years ago. But the paints of today are not just decorative: they are highly sophisticated compounds, with an important protective function.

Emulsion paint - the type that is used more than any other - has seen the greatest advances. But as emulsions become more effective, they also become more specialized, and this leaves the do-it-yourselfer with an increasingly bewildering choice of what to use where.

What is emulsion paint?

Emulsion paint or PEP (plastic emulsion paint) is water based paint. This means that particles of synthetic resin, acrylic or vinyl, are mixed with pigment (which gives the paint its colour) and are suspended in water. As the water evaporates, the particles join to form a film of resin on the surface. It also means that you add water yourself to thin the paint and get it to the right consistency.

The resins in the paint mean that compared to old-fashioned finishes, emulsions are tougher, last longer, the paint retains its colour over a longer period, and the surface can safely be washed down without the risk of paint dropping off in the process.

Emulsion paints are permeable (they allow moisture to pass through), non-toxic and alkali resistant. They are cheaper than oil based (gloss) paints, they dry quickly, and they are relatively easy to apply. The water content reduces the characteristic smell of paint to a faint odour which rapidly disappears. Because emulsion paints are thinned with water, any splashes can be wiped up with a damp cloth.

Where can I use it?

Emulsion paint can be used on walls and ceilings in all rooms. It can safely be applied to plaster, plasterboard, wood and hardboard and asbestos sheeting; and, since it is alkali resistant, it can also be used on surfaces such as brick and cement rendering, all of which have high alkali content.

It will cover surfaces already painted with emulsion or gloss paint; although the latter must be rubbed down to a matt or flat finish first. Lining paper and wallpaper are also suitable - indeed if your surface is slightly uneven you may be able to avoid extra work by applying a textured lining paper and painting directly onto that.

Emulsions with gloss finishes can be used on skirting boards, doors and window frames. Although they are not as hardwearing as conventional oil based glosses, they are easier to apply, quicker drying - and cheaper. Also, because emulsion paint is permeable you can use it on relatively new plaster - even before it has dried out completely.

How thoroughly do I need to prepare the surface?

When using emulsion paint - or any paint for that matter - cleanliness really is next to godliness. Modern emulsions are very good but they are not miracle coatings and they will not give an adequate finish to surfaces that are badly prepared. So while preparation may count for as much as half the time required to-do the job, if carefully done, your efforts will be well rewarded.

Because paint will stick to whatever is immediately beneath it, surfaces to be painted must be free of dust, grease and any loose or flaking paint. They should then be washed down with detergent and rinsed thoroughly with warm water. Some surfaces will need to be rubbed down first, using wet and dry paper to roughen the surface for the first coat. (Do not rub down plasterboard, however, as the surface will be damaged).
About the Author
Interior design is James Holdinski's Business, He is an expert in Designing Blackpool Hotels and is a big advocate of Snickers Workwear in winter he loves to take it easy in a Seasonal Caravan
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