You put a lot of effort into painting your woodwork. Perhaps you even painted the kitchen cabinets a nice, brilliant white shade. For durability purposes, you’ve used oil-based gloss paint, and now you’ve noticed that all of your white surfaces are rather yellowish. Admittedly, only a few things can be more frustrating. But the real question here is: why does gloss go yellow? Why does it go yellow so quickly?
There are several reasons why your oil-based gloss paint goes yellow, but the main factor is its formulation. In 2010, the EU brought into effect a law requiring paint manufacturers to reduce the amount of solvent in their products. As a consequence, paint brands had to adjust the formulations, and these new solvent-based products are more prone to yellowing.
Why Does Gloss Go Yellow?
Oil-based gloss paint has been the traditional choice for decades for painting trims, moulding, and furniture in high-traffic areas like the kitchen and bathroom. This paint is extremely durable and can withstand routine contact. However, it will always acquire a yellow hue in time. But why? And is there a way to fix yellow gloss paint?
As already mentioned, the main reason for gloss paint turning yellow is the formulation. When the EU changed the legislation regarding the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in paint, manufacturers had to reduce the amount of solvent to comply with the new rules.
However, as one of the leading paint manufacturers – Dulux – explained, when reducing the amount of solvent, they had to increase the amount of another ingredient. That ingredient is the drying oil, which has a yellowish tinge.
That pigment will eventually bleed through the paint, regardless of its colour. However, the problem is more visible on white and other light colour paints.
Now, you may think this issue is new, but it is not. All oil-based gloss paints turn yellow in time. Due to the higher amount of drying oil, though, new paints are prone to turning yellow faster than their predecessors – sometimes in months or even weeks rather than years.
Oxidation-induced yellowing is irreversible, but you may be able to whiten the finish temporarily with a baking soda solution.
Mix ½ cup of baking soda with ¼ cup water to obtain a thick paste. Scrub the yellow spots with a damp sponge and baking soda paste. Leave it for about five minutes, then rinse.
Keep in mind that this is only a temporary fix, and you will have to repaint the surface eventually. To avoid future yellowing, it would be best to switch to water-based gloss paint.
Lack of Natural Light
Some manufacturers write it on the tin, others don’t, but low exposure to UV light can accelerate the yellowing process.
This happens because of chromophores, molecules that form in gloss paint as it dries out. When these molecules don’t receive enough light, they cast a dark yellow hue across the surface. This is why gloss goes yellow behind the furniture and in other darker areas before it discolours in areas exposed to sunlight.
Luckily, the effects of chromophores are reversible, and exposing the painted area to more light will gradually reduce the discolouration.
If possible, move away furniture blocking the light and keep the curtains open during the daytime to increase the amount of light in the room. Increasing the amount of artificial light can also help in rooms that have poor natural light or lack windows completely.
Poor UV Durability
This is the exact opposite of the reason above and generally affects poor quality paints. However, a gloss paint that has poor UV durability is even worse than regular gloss paint that goes yellow quickly.
Not only will the paint turn yellow due to the chromophores if it doesn’t get sufficient UV exposure. It will also get yellow as a consequence of prolonged UV exposure.
There is little you can do about it, and repainting with a quality product is the only way to fix this issue. Even better, you should switch to water-based paint.
Sometimes, you may notice that the gloss paint in your kitchen turns yellow faster than the same paint in other areas of your home. This happens due to the hot steam and cooking grease from your pots and pans.
Water leaking from your pipes can also soak into the moulding or cabinets and accelerate the yellowing process.
If you suspect a leak, fix the plumbing first, then sand down the stain with medium-grit sandpaper. Cover the area with a stain-blocking primer and repaint.
To fix steam and cooking grease stains, don a pair of rubber gloves and goggles and scrub the grime with sugar soap (or another strong cleaning agent). Dry the area with a clean terry cloth towel when you’re done.
Similar to cooking grease and hot steam, cigarette smoke can deposit onto the painted surfaces and discolour them. Smoke is generally easy to wipe off with a baking soda paste or sugar soap.
You should know that oil-based paint is more affected compared to water-based paint due to its slightly sticky surface. Thus, you should avoid smoking indoors if possible.
What Is The Best Gloss Paint That Doesn’t Go Yellow?
The only gloss paint that doesn’t go yellow is a water-based paint. As explained, the drying oil and other chemicals in oil-based paints will always give off a yellow tinge.
Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Gloss Paints
Durability and resistance make oil-based paint the traditional choice for woodwork. Water-based gloss paint is often considered less durable, but it is a better choice for several reasons. Here’s a head-to-head comparison to see why.
Oil-based paint is more durable than water-based. It is also more stain- and scratch-resistant. However, this is only true in normal temperature conditions.
Solvent-based paint dries harder than water-based and is less flexible. Due to this reason, it is more prone to cracking. In the long run, water-based paint is more durable and needs fewer repairs.
If you’re aiming for a true gloss surface, oil-based paint is your best bet. This paint has a high sheen – often referred to as full gloss. Water-based gloss may be labelled as such, but it will still dry slightly matt. In fact, the end result is more comparable to a higher sheen satin rather than the mirror-like finish you might want.
However, oil-based paint gets yellow in time – sometimes in a short time after application. The yellowing process also dulls the finish, reducing the sheen. Water-based paint doesn’t get yellow, and it maintains its finish for a long time.
That said, water-based varnishes also have downsides. Because the paint dries quickly after application, the risk of brush strokes is higher. You can fix this by applying the product with a paint gun; however, this may not be possible in all cases or for all applications.
Water-based paint is undeniably safer to use and more environmentally friendly than oil-based. The former doesn’t contain VOCs, isn’t toxic (thus, it is safe to use around kids and pets), and is not flammable.
How Do You Keep White Gloss White?
Keeping oil-based gloss white can be a struggle, but there are ways to slow down the yellowing process.
The first thing to do is to ensure sufficient light. If your room has little natural light or no windows at all, invest in LED light bulbs and leave them on for at least a few hours each day.
In the kitchen and bathroom, wipe the painted areas with a clean cloth after cooking or bathing and dry them immediately. Getting rid of steam and cooking grease can help maintain your paint as new for a longer time.
If you’re a smoker, you should also avoid smoking indoors. Cigarette smoke clings to the painted surface, quickening the yellowing process.
Can You Paint Over Yellow Gloss?
Due to the glossy surface, painting straight over yellow gloss won’t work – new paint simply won’t stick. However, you don’t have to strip the old paint if it doesn’t peel off.
You should first clean the old paint with sugar soap or another adequate cleaning agent. Let it dry completely and sand with medium-grit sandpaper. Wipe off the dust and prime the surface with a specific primer – wall primer for plaster, a wood primer for wooden skirting boards, and so on.
Now, you can paint over the yellow gloss and give your surfaces a complete makeover. To avoid yellow gloss in the future, choose an appropriate water-based gloss paint.
Oil-based gloss goes yellow for a variety of reasons, but you should keep in mind that all solvent paints will go yellow in time. There are ways to delay the process or temporarily whiten the yellow stains. However, if you want your white surfaces to stay white for the years to come, your best option is to paint them with water-based gloss.