Are Foam Paint Rollers Any Good? When to Choose Them


If you’re getting ready to do any new painting projects around the house now that the weather is cooling off, you’re probably wondering about the types of rollers you should use. When it comes to painting walls, you can either select nap rollers or foam rollers. However, the type of roller you will want to pick will depend a lot on the paint job you’re trying to achieve.

Are foam paint rollers any good? Yes, foam paint rollers are suitable for certain types of painting jobs and also are a budget-friendly way to get the job done since they cost less than nap rollers. Foam rollers work well on smooth surfaces, with thinner paints, with large surfaces, when matching the trim, and for short term use.  

Since there isn’t a lot of information available on the Internet today about when you should use foam paint rollers and how to use them, we’ve created this article to help you out. We’ll cover the benefits of using foam paint rollers and when you should use them below.

Foam Paint Rollers and Nap Rollers

If you are getting ready to complete a painting project around your house, you’re probably wondering when you can use foam paint rollers. Foam paint rollers are cheaper than nap rollers, and also do a better job when it comes to specific painting jobs.

While there are other types of paint rollers available on the market today, the two most common types of paint rollers you’ll find are nap rollers and foam rollers. Nap rollers are comprised of several different types of fibers and strands. On the other hand, foam paint rollers are made up of foam, cost less, and do well with particular painting jobs.

Knowing how and when to pick what type of paint roller for the kind of painting job you are planning to accomplish can make a huge difference in how well the project looks when you complete it. So, you’ll want to take some time to get familiar with paint rollers and what types to use when. That way, you’ll be able to achieve the results you want with your painting project.

Here are some things to consider about paint rollers before starting your project:

  • Trying to find a one-size-fits-all approach with paint rollers when you are repainting your house will probably leave you with less than desirable results.
  • That’s because there are vast differences between foam rollers and nap rollers. So, you have to figure out what roller to use when.
  • Different types of paints, like gloss, semi-gloss, and flat color, all roll on walls differently, and the kind of roller you should use will vary with the type of paint you apply.
  • Foam rollers work surprisingly well on most smooth interior walls.
  • Nap rollers work better for painting the exterior walls of your home.

To help you decide what type of roller to use when we cover some basics about paint rollers below. That way, you’ll get the paint roller that’s perfect for the job you are trying to accomplish at home.

Don’t Skimp on Roller Quality

No matter what type of roller you wind up using, the first rule of thumb when it comes to painting rollers is not to skip out on quality paint rollers. Getting a high-quality paint roller means you’ll wind up with a better paint job overall, and you’ll also be able to clean much more quickly.

If you’re shopping on a budget, we understand how difficult it can be to pass up some of those cheap rollers. And while you might be able to get out of your local home improvement store with a smaller bill if you buy affordable paint rollers, you won’t wind up with as good as results. A high-quality paint roller will provide better coverage, a faster painting process, and a more straightforward cleaning process.

The bottom line is if you can invest in a better paint roller, you should even if it costs more. The amount of time you’ll save when you paint and clean-up will be worth the price.

Understanding Good Roller Covers

So, if you’re going to purchase a good roller cover, you’ll need to know what makes a roller cover classify as high-quality.

High-quality roller covers feature moisture-resistant plastic, or they offer a phenolic core. Having a phenolic core is important because those types of centers don’t’ absorb water.

Why a phenolic core is important:

  • Rollers with a phenolic core hold their shape better and deliver a better painting performance overall.
  • Another feature a phenolic core offers is better attachment features. If you purchase a nap roller or a foam roller with a phenolic core, you’ll wind up with a roller that won’t come loose as you paint, even if you use it several times. That means the roller will last longer and also deliver more consistent and better results over time.

Also, purchasing a high-quality foam roller will save you a lot of time and trouble when it comes to painting. Cheap foam rollers can leave a cratered look once you are done because they often trap in air bubbles as you paint. If you pay a little more for your foam roller, you’ll wind up with a denser roller. It will work better and create fewer bubbles than a light, cheap foam roller.

The Differences Between Foam and Napped Rollers

Now we’ll compare the differences between foam and napped rollers. Then, we’ll cover when it’s most appropriate to use foam roller covers for your house painting projects.

Foam Roller Covers

If you’re thinking about using foam roller covers, you’ll want to consider the items we’ve listed below.

  • Foam rollers work well with latex paints. That’s because foam rollers are made to be used with thinner paint.
  • If you are painting with oil paints, then you shouldn’t use a foam roller. You’ll notice if you try to paint oil paints with a foam roller, the oil paint is too thick of a tint to work well with a foam roller.
  • Foam rollers work well with smoother surfaces. Foam is uniform and thick, and that means it won’t give you great coverage if you are painting a rough surface. However, if the surface of your wall is smooth, then you’ll be okay using a foam roller.
  • Foam rollers work well and absorb a lot of paint at once. So, that makes foam rollers quite useful when you are painting large, smooth walls.
  • If you opt for a foam roller, you’ll notice that the foam roller covers apply paint well in thin coats. Foam rollers don’t leave as many lap marks and cover walls well when you use gloss or semi-gloss latex paint on your walls.
  • You may or may not be able to reuse a foam roller. Some people think of foam rollers as a one-time use product and throw them away after using them once. However, cheap foam rollers are usually only suitable for a one-time project. If you purchase a more expensive foam roller, you should be able to re-use the roller.

Nap Roller Covers

You won’t always be able to use foam rollers on all of your household painting jobs. On occasion, you’ll need to alternate and use a nap roller cover as well. If you’re going to use a nap roller cover, you’ll want to consider a few of the things we’ve listed below.

  • Nap rollers are named for the length of the fibers that make up the center tube cover on the roller.
  • The material you find on the nap is an important thing to investigate before you make your purchase. Some nap rollers come with better materials than others.
  • Nap rollers come in two styles, synthetic fibers, and natural fibers. If you’re looking for something that works well with latex paints, then synthetic fibers are your best option with nap rollers. Synthetic fibers work great with latex paint and cover all kinds of surface textures successfully.

What Size Nap Roller Cover Do You Need?

You’ll need to think about the size of your nap roller before painting. The size of the nap roller does make a difference. The longer your nap roller is, the more paint your roller will absorb. If you aren’t sure how big of a nap you need, it depends on the surface you are painting. Use this chart to determine what size you should be using.

Surface Nap Roller Cover Size
Smooth surface Between 3/16 to ¼-inch
Semi-smooth surface 3/8 to ½-inch thick
Semi-rough surface like stucco ¾ to 1-inch
Very rough surface like brick 1 ¼ to 1 1/2-inch

Differences Between Foam Roller and Nap Rollers

There are a few significant differences between foam paint rollers and nap paint rollers.

  • Foam paint roller covers typically come in sizes that are a few inches wide to the traditional 9-inch width most of us are used to seeing.
  • Also, foam rollers cost much less than either synthetic or natural nap paint roller covers.
  • One issue when it comes to purchasing foam rollers is that unlike nap rollers, the thickness of foam rollers is often not specified.
  • Less expensive foam rollers are usually only used one time and aren’t made for the long-term. However, there are higher-quality foam rollers you can purchase that can be used more than once.
  • Nap rollers, on the other hand, come in a bevy of different widths and depths, and each different size is meant to match up to a specific job.
  • If you are painting walls, you’ll find nap rollers in lengths that vary from 7 to 12-inches, although some of them can be as long as 18-inches if you are painting a large surface.

Foam rollers, unfortunately, have been stereotyped as the lesser-quality standard when it comes to painting walls. There are painting advocates out there that ignore foam rollers, assuming they won’t get the job done. However, that’s not the case.

If you want to use a foam roller to save a bit of money, you can. Foam rollers do well on certain types of paint jobs. If you’re wondering what those are, we’ll cover that below.

When to Use Foam Rollers

Contrary to what some in the painting community generalize about foam rollers, foam rollers do work well in certain situations and can save you some time depending on your painting job. We will address when you can use foam rollers so that you’ll know when you can save a bit of money on your next painting job.

#1 Foam Rollers on Smooth Surfaces

Depending on what your different painting projects are around your house, there are certain times when you can get away with using foam rollers, and it really won’t affect the quality of the paint job. Of course, you’ll still need to make sure you purchase high-quality paint rollers so that the paint job winds up coming out well.

  • You can use foam rollers anytime you are painting smooth, interior walls. Many painters use foam rollers on smooth interior walls as a general rule when they are on a house painting job.
  • Foam rollers work well if you are painting the inside of your house. However, if you are decorating your exterior walls, then you’ll probably need to use a nap roller because the exterior walls on your home will be rough and not smooth.
  • Also, as long as you’ve got a high-quality foam roller, it should create an excellent, smooth flatness as you paint. Most good foam rollers will glide along a flat wall and place the paint evenly on the wall.
  • When you are painting smooth, interior walls, you probably want to avoid nap rollers at all costs. That’s because a nap roller won’t get the job done as well on smooth walls when compared to a foam roller. The different fiber lengths on the nap roller would make the paint look uneven when applied to the wall, and leave behind roller marks.

So, nap rollers fall short when it comes to painting smooth, interior walls, and you should avoid using them inside of your home. Nap rollers do better on rougher, irregular surfaces, like the exterior walls of your house and on your ceilings. Otherwise, keep using your foam roller when you are painting the smooth, interior walls of your home.

#2 Foam Rollers with Thinner Paints

Another time you should use foam rollers is when you are painting with thinner paints. Foam rollers work well with lighter colors for several reasons.

  • Foam rollers absorb the liquid paint quickly. As long as you purchase a foam roller with a smooth outer surface, you’ll get a foam roller that will paint evenly on your walls.
  • Since thin paint also absorbs well onto foam rollers, paints like latex and water-based paints work very well with foam rollers.
  • However, if you are using an oil-based paint, then you won’t want to use a foam roller. Oil-based paints are much thicker and look more like syrup than liquid. Foam rollers don’t work well with oil-based paints because foam rollers can’t absorb the thicker paint as evenly. That means you won’t wind up with as beautiful of a paint job.
  • So, if you are using water-based or latex paint, which are both thinner types of colors, you’ll be able to get the job done correctly with a foam roller.

#3 Foam Rollers with Large Surfaces

Another time you’ll want to use foam rollers is when painting large surfaces, as long as those large surfaces don’t involve oil-based paints or an exterior wall. If you are decorating a large, smooth interior wall with latex paint, then a foam roller will get the job done.

  • Foam rollers are highly absorbent so they can grab a larger volume of paint when compared to a nap roller.
  • If you have a lot of paint on your roller, that means you’ll be able to cover a larger surface more quickly.
  • Remember, foam rollers work best with large, smooth, interior wall surfaces.

#4 Foam Rollers for Trim

Small versions of foam paint rollers, typically labeled “trim rollers,” should help you paint all types of trim frames, molding, and other small areas of a more massive job you might need to consider.

  • Small foam rollers, known as “trim rollers,” come in 3-4-inch styles and can quickly help you paint the trim.
  • With a small foam trim roller, you can get the same beautiful look as what you’d see with a broader foam roller going over a more substantial wall surface area.
  • All you need to do is purchase the correct size of a trim roller, and you’ll be able to paint all interior areas of your room with ease.

#5 Foam Rollers for Short Term Use

Foam rollers also work well if you plan on doing short-term projects. If you don’t paint rooms very often, then a foam roller will give you what you need to touch up your interior walls and get the job done on a budget.

So, if you are the type of person who repaints a room once every few years, then foam rollers are the perfect option for you. They are affordable, get the job done, and can provide you with an easy clean-up routine as well.

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