How To Choose The Right White Paint

Inside: How to choose the right white paint for walls, cabinets, or trim. I’ll teach you the simple steps to choosing paint that will help you avoid getting the wrong color. Sometimes it’s just a matter of choosing a white paint with a hint of grey or a hint of brown. + I’ll share the best white paint colors to give you a starting point.

Have you ever painted your walls white and had them turn out more pink, more purple, or a little dirty looking? So frustrating.

Here you thought you couldn’t go wrong. I mean white is white, right? –Well, not really. 

Choosing white paint for your home can be tricky because there are a lot of slight variations in white paint and a lot of things to consider: natural and artificial light, other colors in the room, and how you want the room to feel.

So today, I’m going to walk you through how to choose white paint for your home and give you a list of best white paint colors as a starting point so you can avoid costly painting mistakes and be on your way to a home you love.

>>Want to learn how to create a color palette you love, even if there are colors in your home you can’t change? Click here to learn about my course, Color Made Clear

how to choose the right white paint for your home

Should you use the same white in every room?

The short answer is no. In this post you’ll learn how different whites look a bit different in each space depending on lighting and other colors in the room so picking the right white paint for each individual room is important to get the right feel.

That said, you may find a white that does work in multiple areas of your home, which does make life (and touch ups) easier, for sure.

In my own home I used a warm white in my office because I wanted to soften the white lights I have and I spend a lot of time working in here and blue light strains my eyes more.

In my front sitting room though, I used a cool white on the walls.

This is a great example of choosing a white based on how you want a room to feel.

using two different white paint colors

Why Do Your White Walls Look Too Yellow, Pink, Or Purple?

The reason some whites end up looking yellow, pink, or even purple is because most white paint colors aren’t pure white. They are a very very light shade of a color.

To the naked eye, they look white, but if we look closely we can see they have a tiny ounce of color. That evident color is the undertone and it will show up ever so slightly once you paint your walls.

The undertone is what makes your white less stark or bright, which is a good thing. But if you get the wrong undertone it can be a disaster.

How Do You Identify Undertones In White Paint?

Identifying undertones in white paint is a lot like identifying undertones in neutral paint colors.

If you’re looking at a paint swatch with multiple shades on it, you’ll look at the darkest shade to see the undertone.

For example, when you look at a few white paint strips next to each other, the light shades at the top look very similar. It’s not enough to choose your color based on these shades alone.

You’ve got to look at the darkest shade on the swatch to really see the undertone or base color that those light shades are made from.

When you look at those darker shades you can see that some whites will have a yellow undertone, some a blue undertone, some a purple undertone, and some a grey to choose the right white paint

Let’s take a closer look at 3 examples.

In the first photo, below, you can see that the darkest shade has a little bit of brown, and you can definitely see yellow in the other colors on the swatch. So the undertone of even the lightest shade will be a warm yellow.

The next swatch looks almost the same in the lightest shade, but if you look at the darker shades, you can see a lot of green, so there will be a slight green undertone even in the lightest shade.

And on the last swatch, even though the name of the lightest shade leads you to believe that the color is a very true white, studying the darker shades will teach you that there will be a blue undertone, making this a cool and crisp white.

undertones in white paint

Related: 12 Go-To Neutral Paint Colors For Your Home

How To Choose The Right White Paint For Walls

So then how do you take this information and choose the right white for your walls?

Warm or Cool Whites

First you need to decide if you want the white in your room to be a little bit warm or if you want a cool white.

Cool whites will be brighter and warm whites will feel a little more cozy, so it really depends on the feel you’re going for.

Lighting In The Space

You also need to take into consideration the lighting in the room you’re painting.

Rooms with northern exposure don’t get direct sunlight and the natural light coming in has a blue hue to it. This will enhance any whites with blue, grey, or purple undertones.

Southern exposure rooms have the most intense light and have a natural warm hue with the direct light coming in, although the light can and will shift throughout the day.

And eastern and western facing rooms will have cool light and warm light depending on the time of day.

Paint Sheen

For walls it’s best to go with as little sheen as possible. Flat paint will absorb the most light and give you the truest color, but they also show the most wear and smudges. So going with an eggshell or satin sheen is usually best, especially in high traffic areas or if you have kids, so you can easily wipe them clean.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices for white paints, definitely get samples and paint a nice size sample on each wall in your room. This is because the light will hit each wall differently and you’ll want to see how it looks at different times of the day as well as at night when you have artificial lights on.

How To Choose The Right White Paint for Cabinets

The same undertone rules apply for choosing white paint for cabinetry.  You’ll want to decide if you want a warm or cool white and take the lighting situation into account.

You’ll also want to choose a really durable paint and go with a glossy sheen so you can easily wipe down your cabinets.

If you’re painting the walls next to your cabinets white, you don’t necessarily have to choose the same color for both the walls and the cabinets. You may want to go a shade darker or lighter for one or the other, or maybe even a little cooler or warmer for one.

Remember the color could read differently on cabinets vs. the walls because of the sheen you choose or it could be that the sun hits the wall with the cabinets differently than it does the wall.

You can’t tell unless you look really closely, but the white I used on the walls in my front room is different from the white I used on the built in cabinetry.

The wall color is a cool white (White On White by Glidden). It has a slight blue undertone which makes it really crisp. Even with direct (warm) sunlight coming in here in the late afternoon, this room feels cool because blue absorbs red. — The blue undertone absorbs a lot of the warm tones in the light coming in.

On the built ins, I needed the shelves I built on top to match the store bought cabinets below, which are a barely off white with a slight yellow undertone. So I got a custom color match mixed.

The very slight variation in whites in here makes the built ins pop just enough and warms up this room a little bit too.

DIY built in bookshelves

How To Choose The Right White Paint For Trim

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for bright white trim. I usually just buy high gloss pure white paint right off the shelf and don’t even bother looking at color swatches for trim.

Using a bright white (unmixed) paint also means that you can find it again when you need to do touch ups.

However if your home’s color palette needs a warmer white for the trim, you should go with a neutral off white and avoid too much yellow in the undertone. A neutral white will have a dark shade with some brown and/or grey in it. It won’t have a lot of orange though.

Paint Sheen

It’s best to do trim in a gloss. If you don’t want it to look shiny, do a semi gloss, but the shinier the easier it will be to dust and wipe down.

Remember that the glossier the paint the more reflective it is. Which means it will absorb less light and therefore absorb less of the colors around it. In fact, glossy surfaces will bounce the other colors in the room around more.

Best White Paint Colors

Now you’re armed with a lot of really good information about how to choose white paint colors for your home, but I know that standing in the paint aisle can be really overwhelming, so I thought I’d give you some of my favorite white paint colors as a starting point to help you choose your perfect white(s).

best white paint colors for walls cabinetry and trim

Neutral White Paint Colors

Neutral white paint colors will take the bright starkness out of your white but they go great with both cool and warm colors so they’re really versatile and timeless.

(In order left to right)

Simply White – Benjamin Moore

Snow Fall – Behr

Swiss Coffee – Benjamin Moore

Greek Villa – Sherwin Williams

Warm White Paint Colors

Warm white paint colors will be your least bright off whites and bring warm tones into the room. They’re a great way to make the natural blue light in northern exposure spaces feel a little bit warmer and cozier since they’ll counteract the blue.

Keep in mind though that any color looks more intense in rooms with northern exposure.

(In order left to right) 

White Dove – Benjamin Moore

Alabaster – Sherwin Williams

Swiss Coffee – Behr

Cool White Paint Colors

Cool whites will be the brightest and have the most crisp feeling. The blue undertones are a little brighter than cool whites with grey undertones. Blue absorbs red so if you’re trying to counteract too much warm light coming in, choosing a white with a slight blue/grey undertone will tone down the red hue of the light.

(In order from left to right)

Extra White – Sherwin Williams

White On White – Glidden

White Diamond – Benjamin Moore

How to choose white paint for walls cabinets and trim

One more tip…

Paint companies seem to be moving away from providing swatches with the different shades of the color on the same swatch, which makes identifying the undertones more difficult, especially if you’re new at this.

One way you can still identify the undertone is to look at the color swatches around the color you’re looking for. In other words look at the entire wall of paint samples as a swatch. They usually go from light at the top, to dark at the bottom and those dark shades will have your undertone.

They’ll also go from cool to warm as you move from side to side.

I do think that looking at the swatches like I’ve shown here in my photos is the best way to go because you can see them in your own home and get a good feel for how they’ll read with the lighting you have. Of course the swatches are just a starting point.  If you’re serious about finding the right colors for your home and have a brand of paint you typically like to use, you should buy a paint deck so you have all the colors on hand.

Paint decks are so helpful because they show the various shades of each color and you can use the neighboring colors to go a little cooler or a little warmer from one strip to the next.

>>You can find most brands’ paint decks on Amazon here.


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How To Choose The Right White Paint

About Corey

Corey is the creative behind Hey There, Home where she shares easy-to-follow and beautiful home decor and entertaining ideas. Her mission? To make home decor accessible to everyone, even if you don't consider yourself crafty, and to empower people to decorate their homes in a way that they can actually be lived in, not just looked at.

17 thoughts on “How To Choose The Right White Paint

  1. Ana says:

    Hi Corey, Thank you for the great tips in your articles. It is very helpful. I would appreciate your suggestions whether to go with greige or white for wall paint. We have espresso bean brown SW on our trim and doors throughout the house, brown and beige glass tiles in kitchen and fireplace and travertine stone on the floors. We have cherry kitchen cabinets and espresso furniture with beige leather sofa. It is an open layout. Kitchen is in north end and living room on the south end of the house. I am looking for very light airy feel and trying to get away from the yellow or beige/brown. The granite counter tops are beige with some deep grey streaks in it. I love greys but dont think that will go well with travertine which has beige/yellow in it. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

    1. Corey Willis says:

      Hey there Ana!
      Picking color can be really hard.  I’ve definitely made my share of color mistakes but I’ve learned a ton through some trial and error and now I have a system  that works.  
      I can’t recommend specific colors for your house since I can’t see it in person, but I’m hoping that you’ve already stumbled on this ultimate resource page I’ve written about color and choosing paint. Once on that page, you can download my free guide on choosing paint colors. 
      I’d also like to point you to my free on-demand video class “3 Simple Steps For Choosing & Using Color In Your Home Like A Pro”
       Finally, feel free to explore my color course, Color Made Clear. We do a deep dive into all questions like this, walk you through all the steps to work with existing colors and help you come up with a color palette that will give you the exact look and feel you’re going for.

      I’m always an email away if you have any other questions!

  2. Sam says:

    Hi Corey,
    What white would you use for a kitchen that gets eastern sunlight and cabinets that are a maple with a tint of orange? Want to tone down the orange. I’m thinking of painting cabinetry, just not now. Installing white quartz and white backsplash. I believe the trim is Pure White by SW

  3. Vicki says:

    Just wondering, is it SW Greek Vanilla or Greek Villa? (The last neutral white you recommended?). I am trying to decide on a slightly warm white for trim, doors and kitchen cabinets in the new home we are building, which means I can’t try it out there, as I need to decide ahead of time. So I plan to try out the colors on foam core board sheets in my current home and look at them in various lighting situations and different times of day. Also, the natural light now in September will be different than the natural lighting at the time we are actually painting our new home. Our painter will be using SW, and I am considering Alabaster, Dover White, Greek Villa, and maybe Timeless White, which is an hGTV SW color. I decorate in warm colors and antiques and want a warm cozy feel. This color will be on the trim, doors and most cabinetry all throughout the house as I want it to be consistent, so it needs to look good in big rooms with lots of windows as well as in small room with no windows, like the laundry room and half bath. Also, I don’t like trim and cabinets to look too shiny. I have read about others using satin for trim and cabinets. I like eggshell best for walls. Any thoughts on these colors and sheens?

    1. Corey Willis says:

      Hey Vicki, thanks for pointing out that typo – yes, it’s indeed SW Greek Villa and I’ve fixed it now. Your plan to test paint colors on foam sheets in various lighting is so smart – good job! Regarding the sheen, it’s really a matter of personal preference. Satin is in the middle between flat/eggshell and semi-gloss/high gloss, so it is cleanable and durable. This Sherwin Williams article might help you make the choice. Best wishes!

    2. Johanne says:

      Another tiny typo…. especially if your new at this (you’re)

    3. Corey Willis says:

      Thank you Johanne! Have a wonderful day 🙂

  4. Merlyn says:

    Hi Corey

    Loved your post!

    I plan on painting my cabinets, walls, ceiling, trim, SW shell white. Would the home end up looking too creamy/yellow? I’m going for the monochromatic look to prevent yellower cabinets. If the doors remain pure white, would the contrast against shell white look too stark? Shell white is the whitest color available through the builder.

    Other than painting the walls shell white, I have considered the other option of sherwin williams agreeable grey.

    My countertop is dallas white granite which is a white background with flecks of grey and cream. My backsplash is subway tile in the color desert grey. My flooring is light grey wood like tile.

    Would appreciate your insight.


    1. Corey Willis says:

      Hey Merlyn! With so many colors to choose from, it’s tough to know whether you’re getting the right one. This page is rich with resources for you. Not only does it list all my color tips, but you can download a free guide to choosing the right paint color every time! Best wishes for an amazing day!

  5. Great tips Corey! I made several mistakes choosing white paints in the past, especially related to the finish. :/ This is super helpful! 🙂

    1. Corey Willis says:

      Glad to help, Stephanie!

  6. Carol Ballard says:

    Hi what would you use to paint the inside doors and a back door in a kitchen .
    A semi gloss pure white !
    Doors get a lot of use

    1. Corey Willis says:

      I would definitely use a semi gloss, Carol, so they’re durable and can be easily cleaned. I do prefer pure white but I also have my baseboards and other trim in my home done in pure white. So I would go with the same white as your baseboards and trim in a semi gloss for your doors as well. Hope that helps!

  7. Diane Jones says:

    If you buy paint often for projects, ask the paint store for paint deck. Often they provide them to you. Never hurts to ask!

    1. Corey Willis says:

      You’re right Diane! They can only say no, right??! Thanks for the great suggestion 🙂

  8. Sarah says:

    This comes at a time when I’m looking to paint all the walls ‘white’…:) My 14 yr.old daughter painted her bedroom over the March Break and she also wanted something just a little away from ‘white’. She had light and darker pink stripes on her walls and we had a small quart of the light pink leftover from several years ago. So she dumped that pink into a gallon of plain white and is extremely happy with the results. The pink is more noticeable in the morning, south exposure, and looks more plain white in the evening with less light coming in. She did everything herself….filling the holes, taping the trim off, and priming first!!

    1. Corey Willis says:

      Hi Sarah, I love your daughter’s idea! So glad you’re both happy with the results!

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