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The claims on paint can labels that matter most

Some paint terms are more meaningful than others

Published: August 10, 2015 10:00 AM
Photo: Sam Kaplan

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You’d think that choosing a color would be the biggest challenge of paint prep. But stare down a shelf of cans crammed with claims and you’ll see how confusing the labels can be. Consumer Reports' paint experts explain which terms you can take seriously and which ones are just slick marketing. Get more details and tips on selecting the right products by checking our paint buying guide and Ratings.

Enamel

The word once indicated that an interior paint was oil-based, providing a tough finish and high gloss. These days, you’ll see it on paint cans for all finishes, including flat. If you think that means the finish is tougher than nonenamel paint, be aware that our tests haven’t found that to be the case.

Washable

All the word means is that once the paint dries, you can scrub the surface and the paint won’t come off. As for stain resistance, our testing revealed that there are very few paints that actually repel stains. You might be similarly confused by the term “stain blocking,” which means only that the paint will prevent the sappy knots of bare wood from showing through.

One gallon

Sorry, but you can’t even take that claim at face value. We found few cans that contained 128 ounces; some were up to 8 ounces short. Why? Manufacturers leave room for retailers to add a tint.

Environmentally friendly

The claim, which isn’t well-defined, suggests that a paint has low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or none at all. (When paint dries, VOCs are released into the atmosphere. They have been linked to pollution, smog, and respiratory problems.) All of the paints we tested are friendlier to the enviroment because they meet stricter federal standards, although some are better at the job than others. (Our paint Ratings have the details.) But even paints with zero VOCs aren’t odor-free; other paint chemicals emit a smell.

Mildew-resistant

You won’t see those words on all cans, but we found that almost every paint we tested did resist mildew. That’s because manufacturers have added chemicals that kill spores and prevent mildew from growing.

Can you trust "plus"?

Add a superlative—“premium,” “premium plus,” “premium plus ultra”—to a paint’s name and the price goes up. Performance does, too, but not always. See our paint Ratings for specifics.

Behr Marquee

Top paints from our tests

Interior paints

Exterior paints

—Kimberly Janeway

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