What is the Best Paint for Garage Walls? (Drywall or Unfinished)

Now that my garage is framed and drywalled, It’s time for the fun part of the project. What colors to paint the walls, and what is the best paint for garage walls?

I’m glad I started thinking about this before going to the hardware store.

While doing my research, I saw garage wall paint options that sound like a great idea but can lead to costly mistakes down the road. 

Some even pose a safety threat to your family.

The best paint for garage walls is an enamel interior wall paint with either a satin or eggshell sheen. It’s critical to also use primer on your walls before you paint, whether you’re painting over drywall or exposed concrete block.

That’s the simple answer, but there’s a lot to digest. Let’s look at each part individually so you can make the right paint choice for your garage walls.

If you’re looking for color ideas for your garage floor, check out my new article, which shows color charts and ideas for all the major garage floor paint and epoxy brands. It’s an epic list that you won’t want to miss!


The 5 Best Garage Wall Paints

Behr Ultra Paint: Smart White

The Behr Ultra lineup is their middle-range paint, fitting between the Premium Plus on the low end and the Marquee line on the premium end.

Behr Ultra paints are extremely popular because they’re both stain resistant and washable, which makes cleanup easy. They’re also antimicrobial-mildew resistant, which helps stop mildew from growing under your new paint.

Although the Behr Ultra combines enamel paint and primer, I recommend a dedicated primer coat. This is especially true if you’re painting over new drywall, as I did.

I recommend Smart White, a warmer white that brightens up your garage without making the light look harsh. It’s available exclusively at Home Depot (link below) for around $35 a gallon.

Behr Ultra Satin Enamel Interior Paint and Primer
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Backdrop Premium Interior Paint: Moonstone

Backdrop is a relative newcomer to the industrya socially conscious paint manufacturer out of Los Angeles. Primarily focused on online sales, their entire line of paints is Green Wise certified, low-VOC, and low odor. 

While Backdrop has the basics covered (whites, browns, and greys), their strength is finding different paint combinations that bring out new and unique colors. I recommend browsing through their paint collections to find an accent color perfect for your garage transformation. 

I recommend Moonstone, a cool white with a slight greyish tint, for your primary garage wall paint color. As an accent, I recommend McQueen, a deep purple that takes its name from the King of Cool himself. 

BACKDROP Premium Interior Paint: Moonstone
$49.00 ($0.64 / Fl Oz)
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01/23/2023 10:32 pm GMT

Montage Signature Paint: Snow White

Montage paints are all about creating a more environmental way of producing paint. They make recycled paint produced from raw and post-consumer latex paints. They call this process “upcycling.”

Keeping with the environmentally friendly theme, all paints are eligible for points toward Built Green and LEED certifications. They’re also covered by a 10-year warranty, so you can be sure they’ll last.

I recommend Snow White in a low-sheen finish. It’s a warm white that will brighten up your garage and still be easy on your eyes. It’s available on Amazon and in some smaller paint stores. 

Montage Signature Paint Interior/Exterior Eco-Friendly Paint
$29.99 ($0.23 / Fl Oz)
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01/24/2023 03:12 pm GMT

Glidden Premium Interior Paint: Commercial White

After living in Pittsburgh for several years, I’m a big fan of PPG. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company is one of the oldest paint manufacturers in the United States, getting their start in 1883.

Glidden Premium Interior paints are a low-odor, combination paint & primer. It’s a washable, durable paint designed for high-traffic rooms in your home – like your garage.

Available at Home Depot and Walmart, I recommend Commercial White. It’s a cool, greyish-white that reflects natural light. 

PPG Commercial White Satin Interior Latex Paint
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Prestige Paints: Satin White

We’ve been buying paint the same way for decades, but that might be about to change. Prestige Paints are marketed as the world’s first online-only paint company.

Sold exclusively through Amazon or their ColorPic app, this acrylic latex is built for high-traffic areas and allows easy cleanup.

I recommend Satin White, a slightly warmer shade of white that goes with any decor. 

Prestige Paints Interior Paint and Primer In One
$53.29
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01/24/2023 10:47 am GMT

Should I use Interior or Exterior Paint for Garage Walls?

There’s a lot of misinformation in forums and other blogs, so we will address this first. Even if you don’t listen to anything else I say, getting this one right is vital because it is a safety risk to you and your family.

Never use exterior paint inside your home – even in your garage.

That’s coming straight from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines and from cases reported to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Not to mention it’s the same information that the paint companies will tell you on their websites.

Exterior paints can contain higher concentrations of toxic chemicals, like fungicides.

Outside, the fumes from the paint will dissipate more rapidly, so they’re not as harmful to humans and pets.

Indoors, where the air is recirculated over and over, there’s nowhere for the toxic fumes to go…except your lungs.

Most people think about using exterior paint on their garage walls because it is more resistant to scuffs, stains, scratches, and mold. But many interior paints have similar characteristics without posing a health risk to your family.

For more information on why you should never use exterior paint inside your garage, check out this article, covering the dangers it can cause.


What Type of Paint for Garage Walls? [Latex vs. Oil]

Paint comes in two major types: latex (water-based) and oil-based paints.

Which is suitable for your garage?

This is based on your personal preference, but I’m going to explain why I recommend latex paint instead of oil based paints.

Similar to the interior\exterior paint question above, latex paints will emit lower levels of chemical vapors and less toxic chemicals, so they’re safer to use.

If you’ve got small children, there’s less of a health risk if one of your little ones accidentally swallows some of your garage wall paint.

Before you start with the angry comments…I said, “less of a risk.” There’s still going to be vomiting, headaches, and general nausea. Still, the vapors in oil-based paints can actually cause pneumonia.

When you consider that latex paint can be cleaned up with soap and water and is less irritating to your skin if you get some on you, latex paint becomes the clear choice.


Do I Need to Use Drywall Primer?

If you’ve followed my garage renovation plan, you’ve also got drywall that’s been mudded, sanded, and cleaned that is ready for paint.

Not so fast…you NEED at least one coat of dedicated primer – not a paint-and-primer-in-one.

Many companies will sell a combination of paint and primer, which may be fine for your other walls, but not for your garage.

If you’re repainting your living room wall, for example, you’ve already got at least one cost of paint that you’re covering up. Underneath that, a layer of primer helps make a consistent surface for the paint to adhere to.

Each of those layers helps smooth the paint surface.

Without them, the drywall would soak up the paint much differently than the drywall mud. Primer will seal the drywall paper, allowing the top coat to bind to the surface.

Let me illustrate: Take your fingertips and run them over your new, unpainted drywall and some of the seams you’ve smoothed out with drywall mud. Feel the difference in texture? The garage wall paint will adhere to the bare drywall differently than the mud.

The more layers of drywall mud, the smoother the wall will be and the easier it will be to paint.

If you want to see this in action, take a small section of your garage wall (no more than one square foot) and paint it without a base coat of primer. You’ll still be able to see the difference between the drywall and the mud.

The primer was slightly-off white when it dried, making it easy to tell where I’d already painted and what still needed to be done.

Primer vs paint on wall

Trust me. Take a little extra time to add a dedicated primer coat. You’ll save a lot of time and money in the end. 

I went with a Valspar drywall primer that I picked up at Lowe’s. However, you can find similar products on Amazon (link here) if you’d rather have them delivered cheaply. 


What Type of Paint for Unfinished Garage Walls?

“Unfinished” can mean something different depending on who you ask.

I wrote an article, Does a finished garage increase home value?. It tackles the definition of what a “finished garage” is and isn’t.

The short answer, in this case, is anything with properly installed drywall can be considered a “finished garage.”

With that in mind, an unfinished garage would be either bare concrete block or plywood.

Plywood walls: I would not recommend painting your garage walls if they’re bare plywood walls over studs.

No matter how many coats of paint you apply, it will not look professional. It’s going to look like painted plywood.

Spend an afternoon and a little money and add some batt insulation and drywall. It’ll look better and be more comfortable in the long run.

Concrete walls: If you’ve got concrete block garage walls and are happy with that, this will be really easy for you.

I wrote a tutorial on how you can use Drylok to waterproof your garage walls. Drylok is thicker than normal latex paint and is also more expensive. However, you can tint Drylok to act as a waterproofer and a paint so it only requires one step.


What’s the Best Paint Finish for Garage Walls?

This is where we talk about satin vs. eggshell vs. semi-gloss.

It can be pretty intimidating if you’re a brand-new homeowner shopping for paints for the first time.

You’ll hear terms like gloss and sheen and wonder what the difference is. Both measure the amount of light reflected off the paint.

If you want to get into the weeds on the difference, Sherwin-Williams has a long article covering the details.

For our discussion, we can use them interchangeably.

When choosing a finish for your garage wall paint, there are two essential questions:

  • How stain resistant do you need your garage walls to be?
  • How many imperfections are on your garage walls?

Garages are incredibly high-traffic areas. I mean… it’s the only place in your house where you will have actual traffic (your car). 

If you use your garage as a workshop, that increases the level of abuse that your walls will suffer.

Think about it: your car’s exhaust, road dust, wood shavings from a table saw, lawn clippings from your lawnmower or trimmer…the list goes on.

The higher the gloss paint, the more durable and stain-resistant the finish. That’s why most kitchens and bathrooms are painted with a semi-gloss paint.

But hold on…

High-gloss paints also reflect more light back at you…which shows off every slight imperfection on the wall’s surface. 

Unless you’ve been smoothing and sanding your drywall mud until it’s the consistency of butter, you should stick with lower-gloss paint.

Another thing to consider is how much light you have in your garage. You can get by with a lower sheen paint if you have good garage lighting. But if you have a dark garage, use higher-gloss paint instead.

Painted garage wall

Initially, when I wrote this article, I recommended semi-gloss paint. After seeing how it looked on my walls, I now recommend a Satin finish for your garage walls. 

You don’t have to choose the same paint brand as your primer. However, most people buy them at the same store, so it works out. 

I was no exception. After my test section of semi-gloss paint didn’t work out, I went with Valspar satin white interior\exterior paint.

If you’re looking for some garage paint ideas, I wrote an article with six great tips to help you nail the design of your garage!

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Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including BobVila.com, Home Stratosphere, House Digest, Livingetc, and SFGate. Since 2018, he has helped over two million people transform their everyday garages into something they can be proud of. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and bulldog.