Exterior paint is available in several finishes. The two most popular paint sheens for home improvement projects are flat and satin. Flat paints dry to a velvety, matte finish. Satin paints dry with a slight sheen that has low reflective properties.

There are positives and negatives to both satin and flat exterior paint. It is important to consider the style and location of your home before deciding on what paint finish works best. For example, flat exterior paint gives a more contemporary look, but it’s not ideal for harsh climates. Satin paint is moisture resistant and works well in humidity, but its finish is more classic and traditional in style. 

Before you purchase exterior paint, it is essential to learn about the pros and cons of using flat versus satin finishes. Depending on the location of your project and the overall look you are trying to achieve, one finish will be more appropriate than the other. Understanding the cost, durability, application, and style of each paint finish will help you make the best paint finish choice for your home.

What is Flat Exterior Paint?

Flat paint dries to a chalky, matte finish. It is non-reflective and goes on smoothly. Flat exterior paint is recommended for use on wood decorative components in older homes like doors and window sills. Flat paint dries to a velvety finish that hides imperfections. This is especially beneficial for us in older homes to hide dents and ripples from age. 

Flat exterior paint is available in a variety of colors but dries best in deep, dark jewel tones. It is easy to apply and touch up over time. Best of all, flat exterior paint is one of the least expensive options for exterior paint.

Pros of Using Flat Exterior Paint

There are several benefits to using flat exterior paint. The top pros are its ability to hide imperfections, ease of use, affordability, and vibrant color options.

Hides Any Imperfections

Flat exterior paint is non-reflective, which helps to cover imperfections. Shiny paint highlights dents and scratches. Flat paint covers them smoothly and makes them undetectable. This is especially beneficial when painting older pieces that have a lot of imperfections from wear and tear.

Flat exterior paint is an excellent choice for inexperienced painters or people in a rush. The flat finish hides brushstrokes and uneven paint lines. Instead of highlighting mistakes, flat exterior paint blends to hide them.

Easy to Use

Flat exterior paint is easy to use. It coats on easily and does not require any specific techniques or materials to apply. The flat finish blends beautifully to hide brushstrokes and unevenness in the application. It can be applied with a brush or a roller.

Flat paint dries to a chalky finish that is easily painted over. This makes it easy to change the color often. It also makes touch ups easy to blend in. 

Cheaper Choice

It is affordable to buy flat exterior paint. This makes home improvement projects more accessible. For example, if you paint your door with flat exterior paint, you can give your home a whole new look for around $20. If you get tired of the color, you can easily paint over it with another shade of flat exterior paint. 

Vibrant Colors

Flat paint finishes make bright colors look richer. For example, a high-glossy yellow can look elementary or childish. Matte yellow paint dries to a velvety, modern look. It also makes basic colors look more expensive. Jewel tones like Emerald and Fuschia look amazing in flat paint.

Cons of Flat Exterior Paint

There are some drawbacks to using flat exterior paint. It is nearly impossible to clean which makes surfaces painted in flat finishes more susceptible to mold. Flat exterior paint is not as durable as satin or semi-gloss paint, so it will require more touch-ups. 

Tough To Clean

Flat exterior paint is almost impossible to clean because of its chalkboard-like finish. Wiping the dirt from an item that was painted in flat-finish paint smears. Dust and grim stick to flat paint. 

You cannot scrub or scour an item painted with flat exterior paint because the paint will flake off. Harsh chemicals will also damage flat exterior paint. The only cleaner you use is dish soap and water. Wipe and dab gently to avoid buffing the painted surface. It is usually easier to touch up the paint to cover stains than it is to clean flat exterior paint.

Flat exterior paint cannot be power washed. It is not ideal for use on siding for this reason. Flat exterior paint is not water-resistant. It shows water stains and marks that cannot be removed unless you paint over it.

Afflicted by Mold

Flat exterior paint is not moisture-resistant. The chalky surface prevents water from sliding down easily. Splashes and rainwater will remain trapped on the paint. Over time this will cause mold to develop. Since flat exterior paint is difficult to clean and is damaged by chemicals, removing mold is impossible. 

Homes in humid climates should not have flat exterior paint. The moisture in the air will cling to the painted surface. Mold and mildew will grow easily and quickly.

It is also not a good idea to paint the outside of your door in flat exterior paint if you live somewhere that rains or snows a lot. If you want the modern look of flat paint, consider installing a screen or glass door in front of your primary door to protect the flat exterior paint from the elements.

Do not use flat exterior paint on outdoor furniture that is left outside and uncovered. Flat exterior paint should not be used to paint the entire exterior of your house. Only use it on items protected by overhangs or porch coverings.

Will Need More Touch-Ups

Unfortunately, flat exterior paint is not durable. Cleaning will damage the finish. It is also susceptible to scratches. Flat exterior paint is usually used in high-traffic areas like front entrances. If you have pets or small children that bang into the doors or scratch, expect to repaint often. The good news is that flat exterior paint is cheap and easily hides imperfections. Flat exterior paint requires more maintenance than satin or semi-gloss paint.

If you love the color of your flat exterior paint, purchase extra. Touch-ups are inevitable so it’s a good idea to have backup supplies of your favorite color. 

What is Satin Exterior Paint

Satin exterior paint has a very light sheen with low reflective properties. It does have more gloss than flat paint but is not shiny. The finish is better described as a glow. Satin exterior paint can also be referred to as “eggshell”. 

The reflective properties of satin exterior paint make colors pop. Light bounces off the sheen of the paint and makes colors look brighter. It gives an added glow to soft neutrals like white, beige, and dove gray. It also intensifies primary colors like blue, yellow, and red.

One of the top reasons to choose satin exterior paint is its moisture-resistant properties. Surfaces are slick once they are painted with satin exterior paint. Water flows off the surface easily and does not get trapped. 

Finally, satin exterior paint is very durable and resistant to scratches, peeling, and cracking. If applied correctly, satin paint can last 10-15 years without needing any touch-ups.

Pros of Using Satin Exterior Paint

There are several benefits to using satin exterior paint. Its biggest pro is its moisture resistance. As the paint is used outside, this is a big benefit in preventing mold and mildew. Unlike flat paint, satin exterior paint is easy to clean and is very durable. 

Reflects More Light

Satin exterior paint reflects more light than flat paint. This gives the painted surface a soft glow. The effect is especially beautiful when you are painting in soft tones. It makes surfaces look cleaner and fresher. In particular, white paint looks much better with a satin or eggshell finish than a flat finish.

Satin exterior paint is 25-35% gloss. This is just enough sheen to reflect light without looking too shiny or tacky.

Resists Moisture

The slick finish of satin exterior paint allows water to roll off easily. As a result, satin exterior paint is an excellent choice for siding, doors, and outdoor furniture. There is a low risk for mold and mildew growth.

People who live in humid climates, or areas with extreme rain or snow should consider using satin exterior paint for their outdoor painting projects. Both the color and integrity of the paint will hold up in most environmental conditions.

Its moisture resistance also allows satin exterior paint to be power washed. 

Very Durable

High-traffic areas like porches and decks benefit from satin exterior paint. It is difficult to scratch, dent, or crack. Satin exterior paint can withstand moderate abuse without needing touch-ups. If you choose to use satin exterior paint, it will last for a very long time, making your DIY project a good investment of your time.

Easy to Clean

Satin exterior paint can be rubbed, scrubbed, and buffed without being damaged. The best cleaning materials for satin paint are dish soap and all-natural cleaners. However, you can use stain-removing items like magic eraser pads as well. The pigment will not fade and the coating of the paint will not chip off. 

Additionally, satin exterior paint is water resistant which makes cleaning outdoor furniture and spaces much easier. You can use a garden hose or power washer to make quick work of mud and dirt. Cleaning grime off of your siding is a fast and inexpensive way to brighten the exterior of your home. 

Holds Its Color

Satin exterior paint rarely needs touch-ups. It will not fade from the sun and will not buff off from cleaning. Whichever color you pick will last a long time. Satin exterior paint remains bright and vibrant for years!

Cons of Using Satin Paint

Despite its durability and moisture resistance, there are some drawbacks to using satin paint. It is much more difficult to apply than flat paint because it highlights imperfections instead of hiding them. Satin paint is also more expensive.

Hides Few Imperfections

Because of its reflective qualities, satin exterior paint does not hide imperfections. If you are painting something that is dented, satin paint will highlight the dent and make it appear larger than it really is. Therefore, satin paint is only ideal for use on new surfaces or ones that are in perfect condition. Old items with imperfections should be painted with satin exterior paint. It is also not a good idea to paint uneven or bumpy surfaces in satin paint. 

This also limits the materials you can use to apply satin exterior paint. It is best to use a roller or sprayer. Brushes can leave behind strokes that will be visible after the paint dries. Paint sprayers also work well when applying satin paint, but be careful and keep the layers thin. Drips and pools of paint are not easy to blend out.

More Expensive

Satin paint is much more expensive than flat paint. The good news is that you will need to do fewer touch-ups and the paint will last longer. So while it is a bigger expense upfront, satin exterior paint is a more permanent choice for paint. However, if you are working with a small DIY budget, satin exterior paint may be outside of your price range.

It Dries Quickly

Satin exterior paint dries very quickly. Some people may think this is a benefit as it will help get projects completed faster. However, satin paint does not blend. Brush strokes and uneven coats will show. That means you need to paint quickly while the paint is wet. Otherwise, the final result will be streaky and uneven. Its fast-drying properties don’t leave any room for error. You need to paint efficiently.

Loses Sheen from Cleaning

While the pigment of the paint can withstand cleaning, the light sheen might get lost. Hard buffing can take the shine off the surface. This can make a surface look splotchy or uneven, especially if it is in the sun. Light won’t reflect off the surface if the sheen is buffed off. If this happens, the only option is to repaint the surface. You cannot restore the finish to satin paint once it has dried.

Which Paint Should You Choose?

You should pick your paint finish based on style, where it is being applied, and how long you want the paint to last. 

If you like to change paint colors often, flat exterior paint is a better choice. Flat paint layers apply and blend better than satin paint. However, if you are looking for long-lasting color and do not plan on repainting within 5-10 years, choose satin paint. Satin paint is more durable and the pigments remain bright for longer than those in flat paint. It is better to paint high-traffic areas with satin paint to avoid scratches and dings.

Flat exterior paint is much more modern. If the style of your home is contemporary or farmhouse, flat paint will look better. If your home is traditional or mid-century, satin paint will match the aesthetic of your home better.

Your location should also influence your decision on whether to pick flat or satin exterior paint. Flat paint is highly susceptible to mold and mildew. Do not use it if you live in humid climates. It is also ill-advised for use on items that are rained or snowed on. Eventually, water build-up can cause paint to bubble. 

Additionally, if you want to be able to clean the surface you paint easily, choose satin exterior paint. Flat paint is impossible to clean. This makes it a poor choice for areas that are stepped on and handled often. Areas of your home with little protection from the elements, such as siding, benefit from satin exterior paint as it can be power washed. 


Selecting the paint finish for your home is a big decision. There are pros and cons to selecting both flat and satin exterior paints. The main things to consider are durability and environmental conditions. Unless you like to change the colors of your home often, you probably want paint that is going to last a long time and be able to withstand weather changes. 

In most cases, satin exterior paint is a better choice because of its versatility and because it is water-resistant. While it is more expensive to purchase a gallon of satin paint than a gallon of flat paint, the longevity of the paint saves on future costs as you will not need to do touch-ups or repaint for at least a decade. 

However, if you are on a strict budget or short on time, flat paint is the fastest and easiest way to refresh an area of your home. It will not last as long as satin and is difficult to clean, but those challenges are balanced by flat paint’s affordability and ease of application.

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