The Trick to Choosing the Right Paint Color + 12 Perfect Neutral Paint Colors


Learn how to choose neutral paint colors for your home with the right undertones. Plus 12 perfect neutral wall colors to get you started.

We've all been there. You pick paint for your home only to find that once you get it on the wall it's not what you had in mind. Ugh! It is too green when you wanted grey, or too grey when you wanted tan.

Where did you go wrong? Isn't a neutral a neutral?

Not quite.

The mistake you're making when picking neutral paint colors

Most of the time when we're picking a neutral palette color we're often picking a shade that's pretty light. We choose shades that are enough to give us some color on the wall, make our baseboards and moldings pop, and are a perfect backdrop for the other colors we have in our whole home color palette.

The problem is when you look at these really light shades on the paint swatch, it's really difficult to tell what the undertones of the color are.

Usually we don't see it until it's all over our walls, we've already spent hours or paid someone to paint, and have to either start all over again, or live with it. -Double Ugh!

In the first few homes I painted I made plenty of mistakes, but I learned some tricks along the way and, not to toot my own horn but, I haven't made a color mistake in a very long time. I cover a few of these tricks in my on demand class on color but I wanted to share one of my favorite tips with you about neutral colors.

If you’re stumped when it comes to picking neutral wall colors for your home, you’re not alone!

In fact, recently I asked my readers their biggest struggles are when it comes to decorating their homes, and I would say about 70% of them mentioned color. So I'm here to help!

There are a few key things to look at before you decide on a paint color, especially if you're going for a light shade. I'm going to walk you through the steps and teach you how to choose the right neutral paint color for your home.

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How To Pick The Right Neutral Paint Color

First things first.

What are neutral colors?

Neutral does not mean grey, white, or brown.

In home decor, neutral colors means light to medium colors that work nicely with other colors.

That means that most neutral wall colors have different colored undertones like grey, blue, yellow, brown, and green. This is why you have to be careful when choosing neutral tone color palettes.

The last thing you want to choose if you dislike the color green is a neutral paint with a green undertone. This is the big mistake most people make when choosing neutral paint colors for their home.

Undertones are sneaky, but I'll explain how to see the undertone clearly in even the lightest shades.

To choose the right neutral paint color for your home, you must look at the undertone.

How to choose neutral colors for painting walls

First you have to decide: Do you want a cool neutral wall color or a warm neutral wall color?

That said, there are cool neutral colors (that have blue or green undertones) and there are warm neutral colors (that have brown, red, orange, or yellow undertones.)

I myself am a cool color person. My entire house has blues and greys with very few warm colors. So naturally when choosing a greige for my walls, I went with something with a lot of grey in it, but enough brown to give it some warmth. I guess you could call it a perfect greige.

But if you decorate with a lot of red and wood tones, you would probably go in the direction of a warm neutral.

Neutrals are just one part of making your whole house color palette. Because neutrals are usually in parts of our homes we can’t change, like trim, flooring, and cabinets, they tend to be the base of your home’s color palette.

There are a lot of things to consider when deciding between warm neutrals and cool neutrals like your unique lighting situation, the other colors you use (or are stuck with in your home) and which colors you want to highlight and which colors you want to downplay.

For a complete step by step way to consider all these components and create a color palette you love, check out my color course, Color Made Clear.

How to use undertone to pick the best neutral color palette

When you’re choosing neutral paint colors for your home, it can be pretty confusing. But there’s one simple tip that makes it easy to see what undertones a neutral has to pick the right color for your home.

Always look at the darkest shade on the paint swatch. It's where the color is the most obvious and it will tell you what undertones are going to show up, even in the lightest shades.

Examples of identifying the undertone of a paint color

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Take your hand and cover the small color tiles at the bottom of the photo so you just see the 3 large color tiles. They're all pretty similar.

If I asked you which one was the most true grey you could probably spot it pretty quickly right? (Passive Grey)  But if I asked you which one was the most green you wouldn't be able to answer as quickly.

Now take your hand down and look at the tiles along the bottom. This is similar to what you see on a color strip in a paint store.

The shades go from lightest to darkest. So now, look at the darkest shades of each of the three colors above and tell me which one has the most green. Aloof Gray right?  Repose Gray has the most brown in it, but also has black so it is a true greige and Passive Gray has a black base so it is a true cool grey.

Make sense?

Using the darkest color on the swatch will help you see the true base of the color!

Ever ended up with the wrong paint color on your walls? My free guide, How To Choose The Right Paint Color Everytime, will walk you through simple steps (and tricks) so you never end up with the wrong paint color again! >>Get it here.

The 12 Best Neutral Paint Colors

SW= Sherwin Williams and Behr Marq.= Behr Marquee found at Home Depot

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Cool neutral paint colors with blue and grey undertones

Warm neutral paint colors with brown and red undertones

Cool neutral paint colors with green undertones

Test Colors to Choose the Right Neutral Paint for Your Home

You'll want to start by getting a few samples and testing them to see which one you like best. Remember, colors may be different in your home depending on the lighting and the surrounding colors so don't just start painting without doing your homework. Follow these 8 tips to be sure you've chosen the right color.

Tip: If you’re painting a large open living space sometimes it is a good idea to choose a color and then paint one room one or two shades lighter or darker to give some contrast when looking into the room from another room!

12 of the best neutral paint colorsPin

Hopefully this helps give you a starting point and the confidence to choose a neutral wall color you will love.

Frequently Asked Questions - How To Pick Neutral Paint


How can I find a grey that doesn’t look like lavender or light blue?

You’ll want to make sure that there’s no blue undertone. If you want a straight grey go for a black undertone but honestly it’s better if there is a tiny bit of brown too so it doesn’t end up too cold and looking like concrete. This post will help you understand undertones and how to determine them.

My living room has warm accent colors and a grey stone fireplace. What soft neutral wall color won’t clash with the grey fireplace?

To bring the warm and the cool colors together you’ll want to go with a true greige. The base color will have a lot of brown in it and even though it will look grey in the lighter shades it will not be stark and be the perfect transition between your color palette and the grey fireplace. More on picking the perfect greige here.

I have a bathroom where the floor is grey with yellow undertones. What color would downplay the yellow in the floor?

Yellow is a warm color so you’ll want to avoid any paint color that has yellow, orange, red, or even brown undertones. Instead go with a color that has cool undertones like a light grey shade that uses black or dark blue as its base color (undertone).

I'm renting a house and can't paint any walls. However, could I use your tips to create a whole home color palette through décor to bring out the color?

Absolutely. In fact the trend now is to have white walls and have the actual color palette be on the furnishings and accessories. Instead of picking a neutral for your walls, use your cabinetry or large pieces of furniture as your neutral base.

Do you have a trick for toning down a bright/darker blue so it’s a little more neutral/toned down?

Take a dark blue paint sample to your paint store and have them look up the color formula. They can usually recommend a shade to mix into the existing paint which will fix it for you.

What do you think about light grey walls and dark trim?

I tend to lean toward bright white trim, but dark trim can be done! Search Pinterest or Google on “dark trim” and there are a bunch of examples that might help you decide if it's right for you.

Other Things to Consider When Choosing Colors For Your Home

A lot of factors go into selecting colors for your home, and it goes way beyond paint color.

Things like your home color palette, existing colors in your home (that you may not be able to change), and the color of the natural light, or lack of natural light can change the way a color shows up in your home.

In my self-paced online color course, Color Made Clear, I walk you through all the steps to choosing and using color in your home to create a pulled together and cohesive look, even if you have things like cabinet color or floors you can't change.