What is Latex Paint in the UK?

By Sam Wood •  Updated: 09/01/21 

If you peruse DIY blogs as often as I do you will have undoubtedly come across the term “latex paint”. Commonly used by our burger-loving cousins across the pond in the good old USA. But what the heck is latex paint, and what does it translate to in proper English. Well, I was intrigued by this query and decided to do some research of my own. So join me as I jump down this rabbit hole of language and paints.

What is Latex Paint?

Latex paint is an American term for water-based paints commonly used on internal walls. It is what we here in the UK would call emulsion paint.

Dulux Latex Paint

Dulux Latex Paint

Why is it called Latex paint?

So if it is just emulsion why do Americans call it Latex paint? The name comes from the fact that water-based emulsions use a synthetic binding agent (latex) in the paint. From my research, it seems to be that it is no longer natural latex that is used but rather a synthetic lab made polymer that is very similar to latex.

This has become the default name for the paint in the U.S.A over the years. Once a product becomes known by a name like this then it is very hard to change it. Imagine offering an emulsion paint to a US audience where no one knows what it is, I imagine you wouldn’t sell many units. And the same is true in reverse over here, people just know that you use emulsion to paint interior walls. I can’t see either side changing, but as we seem to be adopting more and more “Americanisms” maybe we will someday?

So why do we call it emulsion?

So if latex makes sense as a name, why do we call the same paint emulsion?

Johnstone's Emulsion paint

Johnstone’s Emulsion paint

Well simply put, emulsion paint is an emulsion. Emulsion paint is a pigment bound in a synthetic resin that forms an emulsion with water. So it is literally an emulsion. So both names work in describing what the paint is.

Sam Wood

Wood by name, wood by nature. I am a fully qualified, time-served, award-winning joiner with an NVQ Level 3 in Carpentry and Joinery as well as an HNC in Construction. Beyond my joinery qualifications, I have also earned a degree in building surveying. I believe these qualifications make me perfectly positioned to provide expert advice on many different areas of DIY as well as share all of the tips I have picked up in over a decade working on building sites!