How to choose a white paint for your walls

living room with white walls and a blue couch

Larissa Dubecki

Posted October 26, 2020

Colour specialist's expert tips for choosing the best white paint for your home. 

So you’re in the throes of redecorating and have decided to go for the failsafe neutral option of white walls? Don’t make the classic rookie error of grabbing the nearest tin of ‘white’ paint.

Choosing the best shade of white for your room can be more complicated than it looks. But with the help of our experts, finding the right white will be a breeze whether you're just revamping one room or tackling the whole house to prep for selling.

Tips to find the right white

Aren't all whites created equal?

In its strictest definition, white (like black) isn’t actually a single colour; it’s what the eye sees when all wavelengths of light are reflected off an object. But pedantry aside, you only have to take a look at the hundreds of whites and neutrals on a Dulux colour chart to understand the depth and breadth of the choices on offer.

“We have around 100 whites that are classified as ‘true’ whites,” says Dulux colour and communications manager Andrea Lucena-Orr. “But all whites come with a base tint, so they might have blue undertones, or pink or yellow, or another colour.” And those undertones, as subtle as they may be, can help set a mood within a room. “Brown or red undertones might help you feel warmer, while blue or green will be cooler,” says Andrea, who reveals that the best-selling whites in the warm Dulux colour chart are Natural White and Whisper White, while the most popular cool shades are Vivid White and White on White.

Which white is right?

White walls open up a room, making a space look bigger. But the cool or warm undertones of your white paint can make a significant difference to the feel of a room. “If you have a south-facing room that’s naturally darker a white will really help open it up,” says Lauren Egan of Lauren Egan Design, who recommends a warm white in this situation for a cosy effect. Conversely, a cooler white works better in a sun-filled north-facing room, although Lauren warns that all-white walls in a room with a lot of natural light “might feel a bit stark and too intense in the middle of the day”. Different whites can suit different types of housing, too. If you’re a fan of modern architecture and live in a minimalist home, a grey-based white will go well with typical materials such as concrete flooring. In a period home, a warmer ‘antique’ colour such as the perennially popular Antique White USA can be a great way to unify the older parts of the home and a more modern extension. 

legs of two people painting their house standing on newspaper

Dulux Wash&Wear takes the stress out of painting.

Finding your perfect match

When matching a white with a bolder statement colour, it’s still important to look at the cool or warm undertones of both paints. Dulux has noted the increased sales of warmer whites, which go with the warm colours that are currently popular such as taupe and greige. “A cool white would just look flat with those,” says Andrea. And don’t forget to factor in your furniture and fixtures such as cabinetry, says Lauren: “Make sure you compare the two together, because it might not result in the best effect.” A yellow-based white, for instance, might look great with natural timber floors and furniture, but if it’s contrasted with a purer white it can start to look grubby.

Before you commit

“Colour is a science, it’s not stable,” says Andrea. Before committing to a shade, it’s important to test it out. A colour chart is a great place to start, but don’t miss the crucial step of trying it out in situ. Small sample pots are your best friend. Try painting a half-square-metre area side by side with the other shades you’re considering. Another idea is painting a piece of white card that you can move around the room to see the effect of the light – both natural and artificial – at different times of day. 

The perfect finish

Now comes the fun part: putting the paint on the wall. First, make sure you invest in a good-quality paint that’s easily wipeable. But before you grab the roller, it’s important to repair any cracks and clean the surface with sugar soap. Preparatory work is crucial, says RACV Trades training manager Andy Anderson. “The darker the shade you go, the more the plaster joins and roller marks will show up,” he says. “You’re not going to get a huge difference between a white and an off-white, but it is surprising how much the imperfections will show up when the light hits it at a particular time of day, which can be maddening.” So get patching, and remember: “The actual painting can be the least time-consuming part of the whole process!”

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