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Understanding Paint Breathability

by | Apr 24, 2024

It’s crucial to assess the permeability of paint in terms of its ability to allow air and moisture vapor to move through it. Ensuring that a painted surface can breathe is key to avoiding the entrapment of moisture, which can cause issues like peeling or bubbling of the paint as time goes on. The concept of paint breathability is an essential factor to consider, especially when dealing with older buildings or properties with moisture-related issues.

What Is Paint Breathability?

Paint breathability refers to a paint’s ability to allow water vapor to pass freely through it. This characteristic ensures that any moisture within the walls can evaporate out, rather than being trapped, which could lead to mold growth and structural damage over time.

How Is Breathability Measured?

The measure of breathability is permeance, also known as the perm rating. This rating calculates how many grams of water vapor can pass through a square meter of material in 24 hours. A higher perm rating means better breathability. For example, a traditional lime wash has a high perm rating and is considered highly breathable, whereas standard vinyl or oil-based paints are much less so.

Why Does Paint Breathability Matter?

Choosing the right type of breathable paint can offer several advantages:

  • Moisture Management: Breathable paints work wonders in managing internal humidity levels. They help regulate moisture by allowing it to pass through walls without getting trapped, thereby reducing the risk of dampness and structural issues.
  • Mold Resistance: When walls can breathe, they are less likely to promote mold and mildew growth, as there is no moisture accumulation that typically fosters these conditions.
  • Building Longevity: Porous materials used in older buildings such as brick, stone, and some plasters were designed to work with the environment; using non-breathable paints can trap moisture and lead to decay over time.

Types of Breathable Paints

Now let’s delve into the various types of breathable paints available on the market:

Mineral Paints

Mineral paints bond to the substrate rather than forming a layer on top. This creates a very durable surface and allows for excellent vapor permeability. They are made from natural raw materials and generally do not contain synthetic resins, making them an eco-friendly option.

Lime-Based Paints

Lime has been used for centuries as a building material, thanks to its natural antiseptic qualities and breathability. Lime-based paints continue to be popular for use on historic properties or any application where maintaining the fabric of the building is crucial.

Clay Paints

Clay paints are another option for those looking for natural and breathable coatings. They provide a beautiful matte finish and come in a range of earthy tones. Like lime, clay is inherently breathable and also has the added benefit of being a natural odor absorber.

Acrylic and Latex Paints

While standard acrylic and latex paints are less breathable than mineral or lime-based options, manufacturers have developed more porous versions of these paints to meet the demand for breathability. These are formulated to provide a balance between durability and vapor permeability.

Choosing the Right Paint

When deciding on a breathable paint, several factors need to be considered:

  • Type of Building Material: Understand the underlying material of your wall. If it’s a historical or naturally porous material, it will require a highly breathable paint.
  • Existing Paint Layers: Removing non-breathable layers of paint can be necessary before applying a breathable paint to ensure proper adhesion and functionality.
  • Climatic Conditions: Areas with high rainfall or humidity may necessitate a greater focus on breathability to manage internal moisture levels effectively.

Application Tips

Using breathable paint is similar to using conventional paint, but keep these tips in mind:

  • Ensure the surface is clean and free from any existing impermeable coatings.
  • Apply breathable primer if required, which helps to maximize the benefits of the breathable paint.
  • Follow manufacturer instructions, as some natural paints require specific methods for mixing and application.


Breathable paints offer an array of benefits, from protecting the building’s structure to improving indoor air quality. While they might not be necessary for every project, understanding the importance of paint breathability is vital for anyone working with older buildings or trying to tackle moisture-related problems. By choosing the right type of breathable paint and applying it correctly, you can ensure the longevity of your property.

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