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How to choose the best interior paint

But not all finishes shine: A $100 paint fell flat in our tests

Published: January 2014

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Picking a paint has become harder than just picking a color (as if that wasn’t confusing enough). Relying on past experiences isn’t a good way to pick a brand because paints are frequently reformulated, which changes their performance.

Consumer Reports tested 67 paints, including a pricey import from England known for its colors, to see how well they hide old paint, how well they hold up to stains and scrubbing, and the smoothness of the finish.

In fact, we’ve toughened our tests by applying water- and oil-based stains to painted panels. Most paints faltered in our new staining tests. Satin finishes from two major brands didn’t make our recommended list this time around. If one of the big home-improvement stores is your go-to place for paint, use those paints in low-traffic areas.

Though its colors were lovely, Farrow & Ball was the worst at hiding old paint. It took two coats of the $105 eggshell finish in white to do what the top-rated satin did in one. (The terms “eggshell” and “satin” are used interchangeably by companies to describe paints with some sheen.) More coats mean more money and time, and the Farrow & Ball paint isn’t self-­priming, unlike most we tested. The eggshell and gloss paints also left a rough, grainy finish and lost most of their sheen after cleaning, though both resisted stains well.

How to choose

White and other neutrals are in style again. And warm grays are hot, too, according to color experts. You can find in­spir­ation at the manufacturers’ Pinterest boards and websites, where you can compare color palettes or play with tools that let you upload a photo of your room and paint it virtually before picking up a brush. Here’s what else to consider:

Pick the finish. “More people are using the same color for walls and trim, without much contrast in sheen,” says Leslie Harrington, a color expert. “This creates a clean line and redirects your eye to other things in the room—the furniture, art.” Semigloss isn’t a must for trim. Many eggshell and satin paints have become much better at standing up to scrubbing, according to our latest interior paint tests. Flat paints are better than eggshell at hiding imperfections because they don’t reflect light. But flats are the least stain-resistant, so they aren’t a great choice for busy rooms.

Nail the perfect color. Light affects color significantly. So once you’ve zeroed in on a hue, consider buying three samples: the color you’re drawn to, and a shade lighter and one darker. Paint a sample next to a window and in an area that’s dark, viewing the colors in daylight and at night, with the lights on and off.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the March 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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