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Add paint conditioner – good , bad or indifferent?

Listed under Blog, Eco, paint Posted Mar 08 2013

Keith Harrison, the chemist at Newlife Paints knows a thing or two about paint. He recycles waste trade paints, modifies them, tints them and the water-based paint for walls, ceilings and woodwork is then sold to trade and DIY outlets nationwide.

newlife paint chemist

Paint conditioners are in the news, at least within decorator circles, discussing the merits and / or (dis)advantages of adding conditioners to water based and oil based paints – to extend coverage, slow down open times, as well as make for a smoother, more level finish.

Water and white spirit seem a distant memory these days in our quest for the perfect finish paint. Floetrol, Owatrol, XIM Latex Xtender are favoured, bit of linseed oil maybe… What is the story from your science perspective

And when you make vinyl matt emulsion paint for instance, do you have lots of leeway regarding how much conditioner, or what type of levelers you can add to the paint at source, or is there a limitation to just how easy-flowing and smooth certain paint types can be made, before durability or colour-fastness are affected?

Your questions are not really simple to answer, but I’ve tried to give a shortish reply.

When you are making a paint, the end result in terms of the overall “package” of flow, viscosity, open time, coverage etc. are all really chosen by each manufacturer as their own product preference. When making the paint, the problem is that many of these features are interconnected.

e.g A more viscous paint may give poorer flow, but help give a good paint thickness and opacity, too thin may give smoother flow but may leave the paint film a bit thin and cause more coats to be needed to build up film thickness. Overly flowable paint could slump down the wall! Increase the wet edge/open time and you could delay drying time.

When making for example a matt emulsion, the manufacturer has a very wide range of choice to affect all these characteristics, but each has to settle on what they think is best for their customers, and then maintain that specification. I think its easier for a small manufacturer as ourselves to tailor finishes for specific customers or end uses. The use of post manufacture additives does help the user to tailor the paint to their own finish or “feel”.

It is important to take care when using these additives and follow their guidance, however, as you may be damaging any warranty the manufacturer may give to the paint, so take care.

Durability and colour fastness are predetermined by the manufacture and not really adjustable by the user.

Hope these comments make sense.


If you have another question about the chemistry of paint, post it here, and Keith will endeavour to answer.

Newlife emulsion paint

newlife paints eco recyclers



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3 comments to “Add paint conditioner – good , bad or indifferent?”

  1. Charles Budd

    Very interesting article. Have you, or indeed anyone, done tests of several different paints with and without conditioners, to see actual performance? That would be invaluable!

  2. Traditional Painter

    Do you or dont you add conditioners? They are especially useful in the hot weather or cold snaps

  3. Imaginative Interiors Imaginative Interiors

    I used Owatrol oil whilst painting a Smallbone kitchen a few weeks ago when it was really hot and found that just a little helped with the flow a lot.

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