Updated: Sep 22
Does this sound familiar? You want a blank slate for the room you're decorating so you decide you want to paint the walls white. Simple enough. Now you need to pick out the shade. You go to Lowes only to find a million different whites. It starts to feel overwhelming so you go back home and search Pinterest for the "best white paints for walls". You're now hit with various charts all claiming to be the best shades of white for the year. Seeing all the swatches next to each other make some colors look green and others tan. Of the shades you like, it's hard to tell what the colors would look like on a larger scale. You've honed in a couple specifics: Dove White, Alabaster and Pure White. Now you're searching for blog images that have used these colors on their walls so you can see the swatches at a larger scale. Hesitantly, you pick Dove White because you liked that particular blogger's room the best. Did you pick the right white? Sadly, these factors don't have a ton to do with your particular space.
Today I'm going to teach you the steps on how to pick the right white paint color. Sure you can start with Pinterest or bloggers but how do you know it will work in your space? I have three stages that will give you confidence and help you choose the right white.
Start with a few proven whites
The process of choosing a white paint is complicated enough so start with shades that are widely used. All of the colors below are popular for a reason: they look good in homes. They have a degree of warmth and look good in a variety of lighting. I'd choose 3-4 of these whites that range from warm to crisp so that you can see how the various colors impact the room. Once you've narrowed down your selection, go buy a small sample from your local paint store.
Once you have your samples, paint them on post-it note pads. This is my favorite way to test larger swatches of paint for a couple reasons. First, if you paint the sample on your actual wall, your eye will have a difficult time seeing the true color compared to your current wall color. This is especially true if you have a deep or vibrant color on the wall. Let's say that you currently have a beige wall, if you paint your white options on the wall you're not looking at the white tone but how the white looks contrasting to the beige. By painting on a swatch of paper, you're allowing your eye to see it in it's true form. I also really like post-it note pads because they're sticky and can be left on your wall. You also can move them to different sections of the room.
Compare the white to your trim color
If you're not painting the trim then it is vital that you compare your white paint options to the current trim or moulding in the space. You'll be shocked by how much whites can clash due to the undertones. This becomes most obvious when you compare your swatches to the current trim color. As much as you may want a warm wall color, if your trim is a cooler white then the wall color will look out of place if has yellow undertones.
It's also important to compare your swatches to several different segments of trim through out the space. I've seen rooms that have been touched up over time and opposing walls will have different trim colors but it won't be obvious until the room is painted white. If this is the case then I would just bite the bullet and repaint the trim as well.
If you are painting the trim does this mean you now have to figure out two different whites? I personally like to do the wall and the trim in the same color! The only difference is that your trim will have a paint finish that's one level glossier than the walls. So if you have a matte finish on your walls then step your trim finish up to eggshell or satin. The change in the finish will add enough contrast between the two surfaces and you no longer have to worry about clashing colors!
Leave your swatches up for a whole day for varying light
White is one of the most difficult colors to pick because it reflects light and lighting is different in every single house. It's important to leave your swatches up through out the day so that you can observe the color when the windows are open during midday versus when it is lit by artificial light in the evening. If your walls are in an area with windows that are high and reflect the sky then the paint may appear more blue when all the indoor lights are off. As you play with the lights and watch the color though out the day, your confidence will grow in which color you like the best.
These rules can apply to any color you're looking to paint but whites are one of the trickiest colors which is why there are so many options -- not every white looks good in every space. After following these steps the options will no longer feel overwhelming but you will be able to methodically eliminate shades that clash or reflect the wrong tones. Take your time with the decision process and play around with your options now that you know how to pick the right white paint color!