7 Tips for Choosing the Right White Paint

Updated: Dec. 15, 2023

White paint is white hot, but it can also be really hard to nail the right one. Use these seven tips to help you choose the exactly right white.

Even a cursory scroll through Instagram or Pinterest quickly shows all-white home-décor color palettes are still trending white hot, years after the trend launched. There are multiple decor ideas to go with white walls and white trim.

A recent survey released by Ace Hardware and Benjamin Moore revealed up to nearly one-third of respondents say white is their top pick for almost every major room in their home. But if you’ve ever confronted the wall of white paint chips at your local paint or hardware store, you know choosing the best one is anything but, well, black and white. Help is here.

Evaluate the Undertones

There’s an easy trick to help you avoid choosing shades that are too creamy or too icy. According to Kelly Wilkniss, host of My Soulful Home on Smart. Healthy. Green. Living, all you have to do it hold your paint swatch up to a plain piece of printer paper. This will help you determine whether the white swatch you have is a warm white (red, yellow, or orange undertones) or a cool white (blue or gray tones).

“The undertone will reveal itself immediately,” she says. “From here, you will be closer to determining your white choice based on the undertone.”

Consider Natural Light and Direction

Avoid white paint in a north-facing room or a room without any natural light, such as a small powder room, advises Wilkniss. “The lack of natural light in such a room may make a cool white appear drab, and a warm white dingy,” she explains. South-, east-, and west-facing rooms with natural light can go warm, cool or pure white and still look great.

Pick a White That Relates to Your Space

Vancouver-based color expert Maria Killam says that before you grab a white from a best-of paint trends list online, first consider the design of your home. A modern home may be able to stand up to a purer white, but others not so much.

“For instance, in a Tuscan-style house, art gallery white will look blue, because the contrast is so high between basic white and earthy Tuscan travertine,” Killam says. “You won’t get a fresh look — it will just look like unpainted primer.”

Compare White Paint Options

Though everyone wants a go-to list of whites that will work no matter what, “there’s no magic bullet answer,” says Lee Eiseman, director of the Eiseman Center for Color Information and the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. “What you really need is a basis for comparison.”

While making up a few samples can be a bit of an investment, Eiseman says it’s nothing compared to repainting a room when the wrong color goes up. Think of the samples as any other painting tools.

And make sure they’re healthy-sized swatches, too. “There’s only one surefire way to make it work — get the samples and put them up on the wall,” Eiseman says. “Look at it at various times of day to see how the light is reacting to the color and to the rest of your room. By comparing one white to another white — even though you may not be a colorist — your instinct or eye will tell you.”

Consider How White Makes You Feel

Before landing on what seems to be the perfect match, Eiseman encourages consideration of the feelings a color will engender and its physiological effects. For instance, she says, if you choose the purest white, know that it can cause eye strain, and in some cases even headaches.

“It really can impact your vision and create this illusion of brightness that is really disconcerting to the eye, and won’t be comfortable when you sit in that space for a period of time,” she says.

Eiseman explains that warm whites are the easiest to live with long-term.

Don’t Forget Taupe and Greige

When is a white not white but serves a white purpose? Well, when you actually need a taupe or greige, says Killam. So if cream is a little too simple, the palest of taupes or grieges can really lend that same clean, fresh, bright feeling in warmer environments, especially if you have upholstery or surface finishes with warm undertones.

Buy High-Quality Paint

Tonya Bruin, CEO of the home renovation company To do-Done, says it’s not always the hue that does the heavy lifting. “The shade might be the least of your worries — focus on the quality,” she says. High-quality paint contains more color particles, including white, which will lead to a richer, longer-lasting result.

A bonus? Bruin says, “With higher quality paint, it will diminish the number of brushstrokes left behind, making it look like a professional completed it.”