Fix-It Chick: Choosing the right sheen

Paints and polyurethanes come in a variety of finishes from glossy to matte. Understanding a little about the shine, or lack thereof, can help inform decorating decisions.

• When using paint or polyurethane, keep the product well mixed throughout the application. Polyurethane’s natural state is glossy; manufacturers add small, rough particles to the urethane to give the product a semi-gloss or flat finish. Left unstirred, particles will settle to the bottom, leaving the majority of the product with a glossy appearance when applied.

Paint, on the other hand, gets its sheen from the amount of binder or resin in the formula compared to the amount of pigment and other ingredients. As the amount of binder decreases, the paint surface becomes less reflective. Stirring paint on a regular basis will keep the binder and the pigment evenly dispersed, maintaining the paint’s color and sheen.

• Glossy paints and urethanes are harder and more durable than products with other sheens. Gloss finishes reflect light and draw attention to areas where they are used. The reflection of light highlights every imperfection on the surfaces the product is applied to. Gloss finishes are a good choice for floors because of the flexibility and durability, but excessive foot traffic might wear the shine away. Choose gloss finishes for furniture and woodwork, or to highlight architectural features both inside and outside a home.

• Semigloss finishes are the second-most-

durable finishes. They are less likely to highlight imperfections but will still reflect light, drawing attention to the surfaces on which they are applied. Choose semigloss for wood trim inside and out, or for walls in bathrooms and kitchens where durability and brightness is needed. Semigloss finishes are easy to clean and work well for plaster walls.

• Satin and eggshell finishes are both reasonably washable and will not draw undue attention to imperfections on the surfaces to which they are applied. Choose satin or eggshell finishes for walls and floors in any room. Satin floor finishes help slow the appearance of wear and tear patterns from excessive foot traffic.

• Flat and matte finishes are the least durable finishes. Use these sheens on surfaces that do not get a lot of wear and tear, such as ceilings and exterior walls. Flat finishes can make even the roughest surfaces look smooth, but they are more likely to attract and hold dirt.

— Have a home improvement question for Fix-It Chick? Email it to Linda Cottin at


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