Pick the Perfect Paint Finish for Every Room

Natural light and the room's typical foot traffic are just two things you should consider

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Whether you’re readying your home for the market or just looking to refresh a tired space, there’s a lot more to choosing an interior paint than picking the right color. A number of factors should be considered, such as the colors of the furniture and flooring, and the amount of natural and artificial light a room gets. Picking a paint that’s too shiny can reflect too much light, and one that’s too flat may appear dull.

It’s the paint sheen, or finish, that affects how the color appears. And that depends on whether it absorbs light or reflects it. In addition, for paint to hold up well over time, it has to be durable enough for the surface and the situation.

Below, you’ll find a breakdown of different paint sheens and where they work best in a house, plus the six best interior paints from CR’s tests that you can get in any sheen. You’ll notice a number of these paints have Greenguard Gold certification, meaning they emit lower levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs—particularly formaldehyde—than the industry standard. VOCs are chemicals that can easily become airborne and affect your health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Low levels of VOCs—some paints even claim "zero VOCs"—are ideal for interior paint projects.


At Consumer Reports, we test for how well nontinted base paints (before color is added) cover dark colors and resist stains. The results show whether the paint provides even and thorough coverage and can stand up to wear and tear.

For the coverage test, we apply one consistent coat to a piece of cardstock that has been painted black, and we wait for it to dry. Then we use an instrument called a colorimeter to measure how well the paint covers the black paint. We do this twice per paint sample and average the results.

For stain resistance, our testers apply paint to a plastic panel. After it dries, they apply two lines of soils—coffee and a sootlike substance—and allow them to dry. Then the testers wash the painted panels and use a colorimeter to measure the color of the paint on the rinsed areas. The closer the cleaned portions are to the original coat, the more stain-resistant the paint.

For further guidance on paint purchases, see our paint buying guide. And visit our full interior paint ratings for details on the nearly two dozen lines of paint we test, including those from Behr, Benjamin Moore, Kilz, PPG, Sherwin Williams, and Valspar.

Flat and Matte

Flat paint has a nonreflective finish; matte is low luster. A paint brand usually offers one or the other. Both help hide imperfections on the surface. "But these finishes are the least resistant to stains," says Rico de Paz, the engineer who oversees CR’s tests of paints and stains. "The other finishes generally performed better."

Best for: Ceilings, living rooms, bedrooms, and any place where you don’t have to worry much about wear and tear or messy splatters.

Eggshell and Satin

For one level of sheen up from flat or matte, eggshell and satin are good choices. "Satin is slightly shinier, and both are easier to clean than flat or matte paint," says de Paz. You’ll find that some paint lines offer both eggshell and satin. These sheens tend to accentuate surface imperfections, so take time to prep and get the walls as smooth as possible. Scrape away cracked or peeling paint with a metal putty knife. And use it to remove bumps, dried-on paint, and the raised edges around nail holes.

Best for: Family rooms, living rooms, bedrooms, and hallways. Satin, which is a little more hard-wearing than eggshell, works well in those rooms, too, but also in kitchens, dining areas, children’s bedrooms, and bathrooms. Many satin finishes are tough enough to use on trim as well.


With semi-gloss finishes, your walls will have a shiny look and really catch the light. Semi-gloss is also the toughest paint against wear and tear. "The most lustrous of this group, semi-gloss paints typically resist stains better than the other finishes, and are easy to clean," says de Paz. Just as with satin paints, you’ll want to make sure your walls are smooth and free of any debris before painting.

Best for: Trim, windows, and doors. If you like the shiny look, consider semi-gloss for a kid’s room, the kitchen, and bathrooms.

Best Interior Paints From CR's Tests

Here are six top paints from our tests, none of which require a primer. They appear here in alphabetical order.

Have you taken a shine to a sheen?

Tell us which one and why below.

How to Paint

Do you have some painting projects planned for your home? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports' expert Rico De Paz shows host Jack Rico how to give walls the perfect coat.