Distemper vs Emulsion: Which type of wall paint is best for you

Wondering why one is more expensive than the other? Which one is best suited for your walls — distemper or emulsion? We’ll have you sorted. By Kriti Saraswat-Satpathy  When ...

4 min read

Wondering why one is more expensive than the other? Which one is best suited for your walls — distemper or emulsion? We’ll have you sorted.

By Kriti Saraswat-Satpathy 

When it comes to picking the best type of paint for home, colour is not the only criterion to consider. The confusion begins from selecting the right type of wall paint, narrowing down to the brand you want, and finally, the hues you’d want to swatch and lock in. If you’ve been researching types of wall paint for home, you may have heard of distemper and emulsion paint. And if you’re unsure of which side of the distemper v emulsion debate you want to land on, we are here to help.


For starters, let’s discuss the primary difference between distemper vs emulsion. Did you know, one of the most common questions on this topic is also ‘what is emulsion and distemper in paint?’ we answer this, along with other common queries such as:

  • What is the purpose of distemper paint?
  • Which is costly emulsion or distemper?
  • Is distemper waterproof?
  • Is emulsion paint washable?
  • Can we apply distemper without primer?

Distemper vs Emulsion

In simple words, both are types of paint that differ in their consistency and appearance.

Distemper is one of the oldest paint options available and is made using a mix of lime, water, pigment, chalk and a binder like animal glue or natural resin.

Being readily available and pocket-friendly, distemper paint has been used for centuries to paint walls as a DIY, quick solution. Today, distemper paint is available in both water and oil-based options, and in two to three varieties such as acrylic distemper, synthetic distemper, and UNO acrylic distemper. 


This paint leaves a static, matte finish on your walls and comes in a host of shades to choose from. 

Emulsion, on the other hand, is a thicker paint that gives a glossier finish than distemper, one which doesn’t fade easily. Emulsion paint is water-based and offers a smooth, durable finish.

It is mixed with acrylic or vinyl resins that make it great for areas that have high moisture. There are three types of emulsion paints, namely, silk, matte and satin, each of which have a slightly different composition, lending a different sheen to the walls.

Because of its thick nature, emulsion paint takes longer to dry than distemper, but it also coats the walls better. You can also opt for a textured pattern with some emulsion paints available in the market. 


Now that you know the distinction between distemper and emulsion paints, we answer some of the other common questions regarding the two. 

What is the purpose of distemper paint?

Distemper paint is a good option for covering interior walls when you want the job done quickly, on a small budget, and are not looking for a very long-lasting solution. You can even paint the walls using a distemper on your own. Distemper paint is best used on ceilings and areas where the walls are not touched too often as the smudges are difficult to get rid of. 

Which is costly emulsion or distemper?

When you see the distemper vs emulsion debate from the cost filter, distemper paint wins hands down being one of the cheapest paints in the market. However, the shelf life of distemper paint, though, is about three to four years. After this, distemper paint tends to fade and smudges and stains begin to emerge. This means you will have to repaint the walls every few years for a fresh, renewed look.

On the other hand, while emulsion paint is more expensive, it stays longer without the need for a repaint job very often. It can also be cleaned keeping it looking new for years, and the sheen it adds to the walls is an added benefit. The gap between two paint jobs for an emulsion wall is longer, making it worth the price. 

Is distemper waterproof?

Distemper paint is not waterproof. It is likely to peel off when wet so it cannot be cleaned as well as emulsion paints. You can scrub it with a dry or slightly damp cloth, but if the stain is too deep, it may still be visible as distemper paint doesn’t allow waterproof cleaning. 

Is emulsion paint washable?

In the distemper vs emulsion debate, the latter scores high in this area. One of the best things about emulsion paint is that it is water-resistant and can be washed using soap and water to clean out any stains and smudges you may spot over the years. This doesn’t affect the sheen of the paint in any way and keeps your walls looking good as new for years. 


Can we apply distemper without primer?

Yes, one of the critical distinctions between distemper and emulsion paint is that distemper can be used on a wall directly, without the need for a primer. In fact, it is also called cement paint and is used for a simple whitewash as well. You may, however, need at least two or more coats of distemper paint when using it directly on a wall. Emulsion paint, on the other hand, cannot be used directly, it requires the walls to be primed and prepped before application. 

Based on how much you want to spend and your usage, you can make the right choice between distemper or emulsion paint for your walls.

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