I started painting the dresser for the guest bedroom yesterday (you can see the “before” dresser here if you missed it) and as I was priming the dresser, I started thinking through all of my favorite “go to” paint products that I’ve come to love and depend on over my years of DIYing as I’ve tried out various products and determined which ones are my favorites.
Over my 13 years of blogging about decorating and DIY, the questions I get the most always pertain to painting — painting furniture, painting cabinets, painting trim, painting exteriors. I think most homeowners know that paint is the cheapest way to update a home, but for so many who are new to DIY, knowing exactly what to buy can be a bit intimidating at first.
So today I thought I’d share my favorite go-to products that I use for all of my painting projects, whether I’m painting brand new drywall, kitchen cabinets, or the exterior of my house.
Behr Premium Plus
This is my general go-to paint for almost everything. I’ll use it for furniture, walls, trim, and cabinets.
You’ll notice that I don’t get the Behr Ultra or Marquee, which are more expensive paints. I’ve tried those others, and I’ve personally never found a tremendous difference that justifies the increased price. I just really like and prefer this one.
For walls, I almost always use an eggshell finish, and for trim (baseboards, crown molding), I use a satin finish. That’s not standard, as most people use a semi-gloss for trim, but I’m not a fan of super shiny paint finishes, so I prefer a satin finish for my trim.
When I’m using this on cabinets or top surfaces (like the tops of dressers, buffets, etc.), I always topcoat with my favorite clear coat, which you’ll find below.
Behr Interior Ceiling Flat
It’s rare for me to paint a ceiling a color other than white. I really like how a white ceiling keeps the room looking open and bright, so I only use color on a ceiling in very rare situations.
I remember the first time I painted the ceiling in the living room of our current house, and I thought it would be a great idea to carry the trim color (Behr Polar Bear) right from the crown molding onto the ceiling. It was awful. For some reason, the Polar Bear on the ceiling had very noticeable red undertones that were never noticeable on the trim. And Polar Bear has been my go-to trim color for years and years. But on the ceiling, it just didn’t work.
So ever since then, I just use pure white right out of the can, and I love a super flat finish on the ceiling that can hide imperfections unlike a higher sheen paint.
Benjamin Moore Aura Matte Finish
For most of my life, I avoided matte finish paints just because they’re so finicky, especially in darker colors. I mean, you just brush your hand across them, and it’ll leave light streaks that are then virtually impossible to remove.
But then I discovered Benjamin Moore’s Aura paint, and it’s amazing. When I want a matte finish on a wall (generally to hide imperfections that will show with a higher sheen paint), Aura is my go-to for a beautiful, cleanable matte finish wall. It’s not cheap, but when I absolutely want a matte finish, it’s the only one I’ll use.
Benjamin Moore Advance
Benjamin Moore Advance paint is a phenomenal paint for cabinets. It goes on beautifully, dries to a durable finish, and is easy to clean.
My one complain about this paint is that the lowest sheen available is satin, and to my eye (at least when used in darker colors) it looks more like a semi-gloss. And with only rare exceptions, I do not like glossy paint finishes. So for me personally, Benjamin Moore Advance is a paint that I would choose only if I were painting cabinets in a light color. If you’re painting your cabinets white, this is an amazing paint for that. If you’re painting your cabinets in a darker, richer color, it’s still an amazing choice as long as you like a finish that’s somewhere between satin and semi-gloss.
Benjamin Moore Aura Grand Entrance
This is my go-to paint for exterior doors. All of my exterior doors are metal, and I’ve always had a hard time getting a really pretty paint finish on metal doors until I found Grand Entrance. This paint is so easy to on, and it leaves a gorgeous finish. I’ve found that it’s also very easy to clean, which is important for exterior doors. It’s not cheap, but I find that the cost is worth the ease-of-use, the durability, and the cleanability.
Sherwin Williams Duration
When it comes to painting things, I have the least amount of experience with painting house exteriors. But after doing some research on the exterior paints that are available, I went with Duration from Sherwin Williams for our house, and I’ve been very pleased with it, and would choose it again without any hesitation. I used it on the pre-primed Hardiplank siding, the railings, trim, and columns on the front porch, and the shutters. It has worked beautifully on all of those.
General Finishes High Performance Topcoat
This is the magic right here, y’all. This is it. This is my absolute favorite, always-have-on-hand, water-based topcoat. I’ve used this on furniture, cabinets, doors, frames and other small DIY projects. I would coat everything in my life in this if I could. I buy it right here on Amazon.
I simply cannot overstate how much I love this product. I tried other water-based polyurethanes for years, and finally gave up on them. No matter how I tried applying the finish — spray, brush, roller — I was never satisfied. I wound up with streaks or bubbles or cloudy areas.
Then someone (and sadly, I can’t remember who) told me about General Finishes High Performance Topcoat, and I’ve never looked back. I would simply never consider using another clear topcoat. If I’m out, and my choices are to wait a few days for an Amazon order of General Finishes, or go to Home Depot and pick up whatever they have on hand, I’ll wait the few days. And that’s saying a lot for someone like me who almost always chooses immediate gratification.
When I painted the door in the studio bathroom black, every time I touched it, it would leave marks behind just from my hands. So I topcoated it with the GF topcoat, and that stopped happening. It completely changes the feel of the paint, and makes it so easy to clean.
And the finish is so amazingly durable that I feel completely comfortable painting kitchen cabinets with Behr Premium Plus, and then topcoating them with General Finishes, and knowing that the finish is going to last. And I’m very hard on surfaces, and yet my own kitchen cabinets don’t have a ding or scratch on them. If I were to choose one paint/finish product that I couldn’t live without, this would be it.
Zinsser Oil-Based Cover Stain Primer
This is my go-to primer for everything except unprimed drywall. As the name suggests, it covers stains amazingly well, and it’s a must for me when painting raw wood. I almost always brush it on, let it dry for a few hours (or overnight, depending on the weather and how fast it dries), and then it sands beautifully with 220-grit sandpaper. It’s just so perfect for getting a great surface for a beautiful painted finish.
It’s oil, so it does stink. I try to use it outside, or if that’s not possible, I’ll use it inside with a fan on and the window open. But it’s the only primer I’ll use, unless I’m needing to prime brand new drywall.
Zinsser Bullseye 123
And speaking of new, unpainted drywall, this is what I use to get it ready for its first coat of paint. New, unpainted drywall is literally the only thing I ever use water-based primer on. For everything else, I use oil-based Zinsser Cover Stain.
So those are my main go-to products, but I’m sure I’m leaving something out. If you have any particular questions about painting (walls, furniture, cabinets…anything), I’d love to help you out! Over my 20+ years of DIYing, I’ve tried painting just about anything that will stand still, so I’ve learned quite a bit about what works and what doesn’t work.
And if I’ve left anything off of this “go-to products” list, I’ll add them as they come to mind, or as your questions bring things to mind.
I’ve also have these other posts about painting that may be helpful to you:
Addicted 2 Decorating is where I share my DIY and decorating journey as I remodel and decorate the 1948 fixer upper that my husband, Matt, and I bought in 2013. Matt has M.S. and is unable to do physical work, so I do the majority of the work on the house by myself. You can learn more about me here.
I hope you’ll join me on my DIY and decorating journey! If you want to follow my projects and progress, you can subscribe below and have each new post delivered to your email inbox. That way you’ll never miss a thing!
Linda ManuelSeptember 11, 2020 at 11:11 am
Well. I will be saving this information for use when I paint anything. I plan on doing my cabinets and using these products! Thanks a bunch for this information. I trust your judgement totally.
CrystalSeptember 11, 2020 at 11:12 am
What did you use to cover the painted floors in the guest bedroom? I can’t imagine General finishes at the price they charge.
I have some hardwood floors in my kitchen that cannot be sanded a 4th time so I’m going to paint them like your bedroom but with light gray/white. First time I’ve seen anything I like when looking at painted floors.
Jill JonesSeptember 12, 2020 at 12:18 am
Love this post, Kristi. Thank you! I have a suggestion for a future post. For the dresser project, can you talk about how you prepped it prior to painting including sanding and what grit sandpaper you used. Also, is it okay to roll paint on furniture or is a sprayer necessary? Thank you, Kristi. Your projects are terrific and you do beautiful work. Jill
Shannon SorensonSeptember 12, 2020 at 12:21 pm
Would the general finished product be good for a kitchen table? I just built a kitchen table and used ultra flat minwax polycrylic for a finish. After 1 week of use I have water spots and scratches on it.
Trudy l vanGiessenSeptember 15, 2020 at 6:17 pm
Shannon, I have used GF high preformance top coat on my DR table that gets used all the time and i did 6 coats have no issues after 6 years is is in great shape still
Lori DavidsonSeptember 13, 2020 at 7:55 pm
Definitely saving this info! So helpful!
JanSeptember 11, 2020 at 11:15 am
Thank you!!!!! This was perfect timing for a few projects I have planned.
CharlotteSeptember 11, 2020 at 11:27 am
Thank-you! I just went through my desk drawer last night and found little slips of paper with the names of what you prefer to use over the years. Now I can toss them and just save this post!!
jenwSeptember 11, 2020 at 11:44 am
Very helpful post! I’ve been using Zinnzer based on your recommendation and love it. I also went with General Finishes top coat when I repurposed an old dresser into a kitchen island. I LOOOOOVE it. I just pet it and pet it, the finish feels SO nice! My only issue is that the top is stained (the body painted) and it’s a working island. The GF topcoat is leaving a LOT of water marks. I used the Flat Out Flat finish (SO yummy!) but the website does state it’s not a tough wearing as the regular High Performance topcoats. Have you noticed any watermarks on projects you’ve used GF on? I’d be willing to sand and recoat the top of my island if another GF product would do better on water resistance.
KristiSeptember 11, 2020 at 11:52 am
Wow, I’ve never had any watermark issues with General Finishes High Performance Topcoat, but I’ve also never used on a kitchen countertop. That’s probably the hardest working surface in a home, and I’ve personally not found any water-based clear coat that is more durable. Of course, an oil-based clear coat will be more durable and will stand up to watermarks better than any water-based finish, but it will also be yellow or amber right out of the can, which is probably not what you’re looking for. :-/
From my own experience with a wood surface in a kitchen (my butcherblock countertops in the condo kitchen), I will tell you that I tried so many finishes, both oil-based and water-based. The one that I finally found was my favorite was mineral oil. I could sand out any mark that got on the butcherblock, re-oil it, and it looked perfect. But of course, a wood top on a repurposed dresser is much different from butcherblock. The dresser top may be veneer, so regularly sanding out imperfections would not be ideal.
I wish I had the perfect answer for you. 🙁 Kitchen countertop surfaces just get such a workout and so much abuse just through daily use that it’s really so hard to find just the perfect finish.
jenwSeptember 11, 2020 at 1:01 pm
Thanks for your input. It is a veneer top. I’ll live with the “rustic” finish until it bothers me too much and try another product. 🙂
Betsy L NickelSeptember 11, 2020 at 3:28 pm
I am totally in love with Rubio Monocoat as a floor and furniture (countertop!) stain. It is safe environmentally and not hard to apply. Look it up! I redid old oak floors that had some nail stains and some shrinking, but the wood was so pretty I had to try to preserve it. I love those floors! Everyone comments on how wonderful they look. I think you would be pleased with this product.
Joan HornungSeptember 11, 2020 at 11:49 am
This is definitely a saver! Thank you for the recommendations – I know it will come in handy. Quick question…I once used water based topcoat, and even a drop of water turned white on the surface. I thought it was because it was water based so had to start all over and use oil based. Is this a problem with your topcoat choice as well? I don’t remember the brand I used but wasn’t your choice I know. Thank you.
TheresaSeptember 11, 2020 at 11:57 am
Thanks for info. If I am painting furniture w water base paint, can I use oil based primer?
Caroline-NDSeptember 11, 2020 at 12:01 pm
But Kristi! You did not tell us what colors you’re using on your dresser! Now we’re going to collapse from the anticipation! 😊
KatySeptember 11, 2020 at 12:37 pm
Do you partner with any of these paint companies? Specifically Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams? Both those companies give discounts to both desginers & painting companies. Not sure about bloggers, but why not if it’s free publicity – they will have local sales reps you can talk to. You can get color kits & order large swatches online for free. And even if you choose a BM or SW color, you can still get it mixed in Behr paint if that’s your go to. I used to work for a national franchise painting company that got a volume discount . I still drop their name to get their 25-30% discount on paint for my home projects.
Marianne McCamentSeptember 11, 2020 at 1:50 pm
Oh my gosh, what a timely post… I’ve always used varathane water based poly on furniture rehab I have done, but recently tried GF High Performance Flat to get a matte finish on a kitchen table and a dresser that I’m redoing. I LOVE the matte finish (5 coats) and feel but I have noticed even if I set my keys on it and slide an inch, it leaves little scratches in the matte surface?! So I’m trying to decide what to do- put varathane satin on top of it to make it more durable or maybe go get GF high performance in a satin finish. I’m encouraged that you say the flat is very durable— maybe I have to wait the entire cure/harden time of 21 days?! I’d love your opinion…
CharlotteSeptember 11, 2020 at 2:04 pm
Thank you, thank you for the post. I have several paint projects coming up and the paint information could not be more timely. Thanks again.
micah thompsonSeptember 11, 2020 at 3:18 pm
Hi Kristi, I love this post. I have a kitchen table that I used BM Advance paint on, then the GF top coat. I chose the satin finish and hate it. It’s like the paint is sticky and if you lay a paper plate over something wet….the paper sticks. I could never get the streaks out either. I’m thinking of going back and redoing the top with the GF flat top coat. How do you suggest applying that, spray, brush, or roller?? Thanks so much
Karen kostyshakSeptember 11, 2020 at 3:48 pm
Kristi, I started following you when you first built your kitchen cabinets. You used some kind of additive to the cabinet paint so no brush marks would be visible, can you remember what it was. Thanks Karren.
ChrisSeptember 11, 2020 at 8:03 pm
In case Kristi doesn’t reply herself, using Floetrol with water-based paints and Penetrol with oil-based paints will reduce brush strokes and increase the open time of the paint. You still need to use good quality brushes. Note that some paints like the Benjamin Moore Advance paint shown, which says “extended open time” on the can, have some additives already so you should talk to the paint store about whether or not further additive is needed.
jenni1stSeptember 14, 2020 at 12:15 pm
Hi Chris (or anyone else who knows – Kristi?), I’m curious if you have tips on using Floetrol.
Last week, I painted a closet and added Floetrol to the paint (Sherwin Williams’ extra white) for the trim. I literally painted it on a windowsill side-by-side with untreated paint (from the same can) to compare the two. I was hoping to find the secret to eliminating brush strokes.
There was no difference – at all. Honestly, the only variance in the comparison was the Floetrol (paint, application, weather, light – all the same), and it made 0 difference. So can you suggest tips to make it do as it smooth brushstrokes?
CharisseSeptember 11, 2020 at 3:59 pm
Hi Kristi, does the General finish ever yellow over time?
Trudy l vanGiessenSeptember 15, 2020 at 6:27 pm
NO it does not. i have used this ALOT and no yellowing
Lori ZSeptember 11, 2020 at 7:35 pm
Thank you for this. I am beginning to paint some desk cabinets this weekend… sanding first. I appreciate you taking the time to mention all of your favorites.
ChrisSeptember 11, 2020 at 8:06 pm
This is a very good post on paints. For a follow-up, how about one on brushes, rollers, and sprayers? A good result is as much about the application as it is about the paint or finish.
JudySeptember 11, 2020 at 8:23 pm
I am planning to sand and refinish two wooden rocking chairs that are on my back porch. The porch is covered, but they still get wet occasionally from blowing rain and they have suffered greatly from East Texas humidity. What finish should I use to protect wood outside…….. If it exists, I would prefer a spray.
Thank you for the list above. I wish General Finishes had been added on my white kitchen cabinetts. They require constant cleaning.
LeeSeptember 11, 2020 at 8:29 pm
Can I use the general finish top coat over a varathane polyurethane (hate , yes this is a strong word, the way it turned out!
Sandy GowerSeptember 11, 2020 at 11:18 pm
It’s unfortunate for me I began painting my kitchen cabinets a month ago. They are now a mess of never drying paint. I would start over using a Kristi suggested paint but I’m unsure how to proceed.
KathySeptember 13, 2020 at 8:22 pm
🙌🏼 Thanks for putting all this in one place! You’ve just half the prep work for me 🎉🎉
DebbieSeptember 23, 2020 at 10:46 am
I have a question about the General Finishes flat topcoat. The can in your pic has a green label but your link to Amazon has a blue label. I read a review on Amazon that said they received the green label can (like yours) and it worked great for them. They loved the topcoat and placed a second order but got the blue label cans and they said it was not the same product. The topcoat was thick and clumpy and could not be used. They compared labels and saw that the formula had changed. Have you had anything like this happen? Maybe it was a fluke?
JackieOctober 30, 2020 at 2:10 pm
I felt good about my paint choices after reading your post!
We used Benjamin Moore Advance ( Simply White) paint on our kitchen cabinets and they turned out great. I sprayed all of the doors with their Advance primer and two coats of paint on both sides. This paint self levels very nicely. In fact I used it for all of the trim in our house and spray painted all of my interior doors (16) with it and three bathroom vanities.
I have also used the GF Flat and Flat out Flat finish as well. It is great to diminish the sheen on furniture pieces that you are not completely refinishing as well. Also used the GF milk paint which sprays very nicely. The Benjamin Moore Aura flat finish was used in a bathroom and absolutely loved the finish. I would have used it in either rooms if I had known about it sooner! You are spot on with your paint choices.