How to Choose a White Paint

How to Choose a White Paint


How to Choose A White Paint

50 Shades of Grey? When it comes to painting your walls, it’s more like 50 shades of white. Design lovers know there’s no such thing as one shade of white paint. There’s egg shell, cream, ivory, snow, alabaster, ecru…shall we go on? White is a safe choice, and it goes with everything, so I get why it’s popular…But - easier said than done! Did you know that there are over 900 shades of white paint? What does “shade” even mean? How can there be over 900 different ways to make a white paint?

First off, I hate to be a stickler, but contrary to what we are taught as kids, white isn’t even a color! It’s true! White itself has no hue or saturation; therefore, it isn’t actually a color at all. So, what is it then? It’s a shade!Paint colors are made by mixing more than one color. But we can’t actually mix colors to make white, so at the paint store, they start with a naturally white pigment; colors are added to that natural pigment to create a paint that is a derivation of white. Each paint color has a mass tone (the color you see when you look at a paint chip), and an undertone (the less apparent underlying color); the undertone is created when there is more of one color added than another. Undertones change how colors reflect in the room.

Undertones of red, orange and yellow create warmer whites. Undertones of blue and green create cooler whites. How do I know what undertone is in the white paint chip I’m looking at? There is one simple step; Compare it to another color. When choosing a white paint, you also want to consider which direction your room faces. A room that faces north won’t get a lot of sun and will have cool blue tones from natural light. A South facing room will receive a lot of sunlight, and an East/West facing room will have light in the morning and in the afternoon, but not in the middle of the day.

So why do I care about the amount of light my room gets? Well, you would want to avoid a white with cool undertones for a North facing room; the natural blues and greens will be amplified if you go with a cool white. Save those cool undertone whites for South facing rooms! 

To recap, the way a white that you’re considering will appear in the room depends on:

  • The undertones in the paint 
  • The direction the room faces 
  • The amount of natural light vs. artificial light – White paints arguably look best in rooms that get a lot of bright white natural light. Yellowing happens in a white room with a lot of artificial light.

For those that don’t care about any of the above and just want a pure white paint, there are some safe options: Benjamin Moore has a color they call Super White, Sherwin Williams has a Pure White and an Extra White and Farrow and Ball has All White. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll go into detail on my favorite non-pure whites, and which rooms they’d be great in. Stay tuned for more advice and tips and tricks with picking a white paint color for your home. White is a simple staple color, but picking the right white paint for your home is harder than you probably anticipate. I am here to help!

Lori Shaw