All of those terms refer to the different sheens available in your paint aisle. The more sheen, the more the paint will reflect light and seem to shine. Gloss has the highest sheen, while flat (which is sometimes called “matte”) has very little or no sheen.
Sheen is also a good indicator of stain resistance and how washable a coat of paint will be. Glossy finishes are much more stain-resistant than satin and flat. Gloss is also very easy to wipe down and wash, while low-gloss paints take a little more effort to clean. This makes higher-gloss paints very useful in kitchens, bathrooms and some dining rooms. They also make for striking entrances, such as front doors.
One thing to consider: along with the sheen, the general quality of the paint is also a consideration in stains and washability. A good quality satin may be more stain-resistant and washable than a low-quality semi-gloss.
A downside of gloss paints is their reflectivity. Reflective finishes make imperfections in a wall surface much more obvious than low-sheen paints. A satin (or “eggshell”) finish is much more forgiving of holes and patches than a paint with more sheen. Low-sheen paints such as satin or flat are good on walls that have a lot of holes or holes that have been filled in.
Family rooms, living rooms and bedrooms are all places where artwork and mirrors have been hung over time, so low-sheen paints work well to disguise those holes. Satin is also well-suited for the trim and molding in any room.
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