Can You Use Exterior Paint Inside? (Why You Shouldn’t)

Can you use exterior paint indoors? It’s tempting to think there’s probably not much difference between interior and exterior paint. Surely it will be ok to just use that leftover exterior paint for an inside project 

While that may save you a bit of money, it could be very dangerous for your health. This guide is here to explain why you should never use exterior paint indoors, and what you can do if you have. 

What Is the Difference Between Interior & Exterior Paint? 

Highlight Painting House Exteriors

All paints are made from the same four kinds of ingredients. The different colors come from pigments, which are created from plants, animal matter, minerals, or synthetic material.  

Additives like thickeners or chemicals will give it a shiny or matte finish and may add extra protection against things like fungus. Resins bind up the pigments and make the paint stick where it is painted.

Solvents like water, turpentine, or mineral spirits bring these components together and dissolve them into a liquid. As the paint dries, this solvent evaporates. 

When it comes to interior vs exterior paint, exterior paint may contain different kinds of additives than interior paint, as it will need to deal with different environmental factors.

Outside areas will encounter rain, snow, sunlight, high winds, mildew, fungus, and more. Changes in temperature may make the paint expand or contract, so the acrylic resins in exterior paint are flexible enough to cope with this.  

The additives can combat UV damage and fading, mildew, and fungus. There is often less range with exterior paint finishes. It's usual to only find gloss enamel, semi-gloss, or flat exterior paint. 

Exterior paint may also emit more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) due to the harsher additives needed. This is one reason why exterior paint should not be used indoors. Most exterior paints tend to be water rather than oil-based.

Oil-based paints can release VOCs that are harmful to the environment, and some states have banned their use by law.  

Interior paints are designed to be easy to clean and more resistant to scuffs and marks. They can sometimes contain plastic to give them a smoother finish, which also helps make it easy to clean and resist dust.  

It’s not usual for interior paints to need additives such as fungicide, and they should also emit less VOCs than exterior paint. Their range of finishes is much wider, with paints such as eggshell, gloss, satin, and even some faux-finish paints.  

Can You Use Exterior Paint Inside? (5 Reasons Not To)

It's tempting to want to use up leftover paint, especially if you're in the middle of a big project. You may think it will save time and money, but using exterior paint inside is not a good idea.  

1. Not Safe For Indoor Use

The ingredients that help exterior paint do a great job in keeping the outside of your house looking bright are the very reason you shouldn’t risk using this paint indoors.

The chemicals in these paints can be harmful to people, especially if you’re regularly in a poorly ventilated room with them.

2. Exterior Paint Emits More VOCs

Cans of Exterior Paint

Exterior paint gives off more VOCs due to the chemicals in them. Therefore, any areas where these paints are used should be well ventilated - ideally completely outdoors!

Being exposed to VOCs can lead to lightheadedness and nausea and should be avoided especially by pregnant women, children, and pets. 

3. Lack Of Ventilation For Odors In The Paint

Exterior paint also has a stronger smell (another side effect of the VOCs) which may linger long after it has dried. Places with poor ventilation will be affected more.

4. Some Paints Are Flammable

Any exterior paints that are oil-based may be flammable, which is not a desirable feature for any paint used inside the house. 

5. More Expensive

Because of its more specialist ingredients, exterior paint costs more. You may think it will save money to use up all the paint, but it’s better saved for an area that will actually benefit.

Indoor spaces don’t need protection from the weather or changing temperatures. 

You can use exterior paint indoors, but you really shouldn't. As the reasons above explain, it's not safe due to the ingredients of exterior paint, and it's not recommended by experts.   

However, if you are determined to do so, follow these tips to be as safe as possible. 

Ventilation Is Key

Open all windows and doors, use fans and any other air filtration equipment you have available to reduce the effects of the paint fumes and VOCs. The room should be ventilated while painting and for at least two or three days afterward.

This is standard even when using interior paints, so it may be wise to leave it longer when using exterior paint, as the odor can linger in less ventilated areas for months.

Wear Protective Gear

Again, when working with paint, masks should always be used, as should outerwear to protect your clothes and gloves to protect your hands. 

Leave The Premises For A Few Days

If possible, leaving the house well-ventilated and empty for several days while it dries could be a good way to prevent yourself from inhaling too many VOCs.

Harmful Effects of Using Exterior Paints Inside 

Applying Exterior Paint with Paint Roller

The biggest reason not to use exterior paint indoors is the volatile organic compounds that can be emitted.

In outdoor areas, there is enough ventilation that there shouldn’t be too much risk to health, but in a more concentrated indoor area, especially a room you use often, the health risks are increased.  

Over-exposure to VOCs could cause symptoms such as headache, breathlessness, fatigue, nausea, skin problems, and dizziness. You can have eye, nose, and throat irritations, and even lung irritations.

Extreme cases can see damage to the central nervous system, liver, or kidney. Saving a few extra dollars is really not worth the risk! 

What To Do If You’ve Already Used Exterior Paint Inside? 

If this warning is coming a little too late, here are some tips for making your house as safe as possible. 

  • Open all windows and doors
    get as much airflow into the room as you can for as long as you can. 
  • Consider hiring a professional to remove the paint
    professional decorators will be able to safely remove exterior paint from your walls, making your home much safer. 
  • Paint over the exterior paint to seal the VOCs in
    To prevent the VOCs from continuing to be emitted out into your living environment, consider painting over the exterior paint when it is fully dry.
  • Leave the home for a few days until the smell has gone
    If you can, leave your space well ventilated for a little while so the odor has time to dissipate.

Can You Use Exterior Paint For Garage Walls? 

Garages may feel like the exception to the interior/exterior debate. They can be enclosed on four sides, but one of these sides can typically be completely opened, exposing it to the outside and its weather changes.

It may seem tempting to opt for an exterior paint that will withstand all the activities you may use your garage for.  

Exterior paint is still not recommended for garages as they are still interior spaces, but due to the large garage doors, it is safer to use exterior paint here. Latex paint is a great option for a garage, as it is easier to clean, dries quickly, and works better on rugged walls.  

Can You Mix Interior & Exterior Paint? 

Interior and exterior paints have the same basic components and could, in theory, be combined, but still should never be mixed. Strong VOCs make exterior paint unsuitable for use indoors, and combining interior and exterior paint would increase the amount of VOCs the paint might emit.  

Using interior paint on the exterior of the house won't work as it isn’t created to deal with weather, mildew, and aging like exterior paint, so mixing the two would make the paint useless both inside and out.

It may also not be a good idea as exterior paints can be oil based, whereas interior paints are usually water based, as these two types don’t mix well.  

Using Exterior Paints Correctly 

It’s important to follow the correct guidelines when painting the exterior of your house. If done improperly, you may damage your home, yourself, and your bank account.

For many of us, the best solution may be to hire a professional. But should you be attempting it yourself, always buy the best materials possible. The better quality primer and paint, the longer they will last.  

Prepare the surface before painting by cleaning it and ensuring it is dry and not flaking. Old paint may need to be scraped or sanded first.

Avoid any paint containing lead, cover any nearby areas or furniture that may be sprayed or splattered with paint, and be sure to apply the paint with the most appropriate tools, whether that’s a sprayer or a roller. It’s always best to paint outside when you have good weather! 

Using Exterior Paint Inside FAQs

Can you paint an exterior door with interior paint?  

If the door will be exposed to the elements, it may not be the best choice to use interior paint on an exterior door. 

Is exterior paint more durable than interior?  

Yes - because it needs to be able to cope with the weather, exterior paint is made to be more durable. Additives to the paint make it able to cope with big changes in the temperature as well as mildew and fungus. Exterior paint should last up to ten years.  

How do I get rid of paint smell fast?  

Opening all windows and doors and using fans to increase ventilation is the best way to get rid of paint odors. Other home remedies such as bowls of white vinegar may also aid in ridding your house of paint fumes. 

Can breathing in paint fumes make you sick?  

Yes - paints contain some volatile chemicals that, if breathed in, may cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, and breathing issues.

Too much exposure to paint fumes can also cause long-term health issues, so always wear protective gear such as masks when painting. 


A fresh coat of paint brightens up any home, both inside and out, but always ensure the materials you choose are the right ones for your project! Interior and exterior paints are intended for very different purposes.