Despite the fact that there are many different types of house paint, most fall into one of two categories: oil and water. Oil-based house paint is referred to as alkyd, while the water-based type is commonly called latex or acrylic. The main differences between the two are their drying processes, their finishes, and the ease or difficulty of clean up.
Oil-based house paint takes longer to dry than the water-based variety, but it contains additives to help speed up the drying process. Oil paints also create a harder, glossier finish, and require special chemicals for clean up. Water based paints, on the other hand, dry quickly as moisture evaporates. Their finish is not as shiny or as durable, but the ease of clean up makes them a popular choice. They can be cleaned up with warm water and a bit of mild detergent.
Within these categories are many different types, starting with primer. While primer may not technically be considered paint, it is a necessary step in most painting projects. Primer is also available in oil-based and water-based formulas. It is wise to select an oil-based primer when using alkyd house paints, and a water-based primer when using latex.
Specialty house paints include anti-condensation or mold and mildew resistant options. These are generally used in kitchens, baths, basements, and any other area that may be damp. While this type cannot completely prevent condensation, mold, or mildew, it can greatly lessen their effects.
Another specialty variety is heat resistant or fire-retardant house paint. While these cannot completely prevent fire, they do withstand much higher temperatures and slow the spread of fire. They are often used for radiators and fireplace surrounds.
Other classifications for house paint include interior and exterior. Water-based options are generally used indoors. While water-based paints can also be used for exterior painting projects, oil-based ones create a tougher finish that is better able to resist the elements.