What makes an interior paint good or even excellent? Contractors and consumers may not always agree on what it takes, but when the pros at Consumer Reports buy and test paints, they do it with consumers in mind. “Reputable contractors want a quality paint that’s right for the situation,” says Steve Skodak, executive director of the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America. Durability, meaning how well the paint holds up over time, matters, he adds, for consumers and for the contractor's repeat business.

But to the contractor who wants to get in and out—time is money—how smooth the surface looks once the paint is applied matters, given that the crew is quickly applying a lot of paint on the walls. And how fast the paint dries before another coat can be applied is important too.

Consumers and contractors can agree that a good paint covers the old stuff well in one or two coats. You’ll live with the paint for years, so, depending on the room and the surface, you get to decide what else you want from an interior paint. Our overall scores are a good indicator of a product’s overall quality, and a closer look at specific test scores will help you find the right paint for your project and budget. Here’s how to make our ratings work for you.

Factor In the Finish

Interior paint comes in several finishes: flat or matte, satin or eggshell, and semi-gloss. Over the years our tests have found that a brand's various finishes perform similarly overall, so we’ve combined the scores into one score to make it easier for you to choose. Want more details? Then check the "Highs" and "Lows" boxes on each paint's summary page in the interior paint ratings to learn more about each finish. The paint buying guide points out the advantages of each sheen, as well as any drawbacks. 

What Our Tests Tell You

Hiding. We test how well the paint covers the old paint in one coat, then two. (See photo from our lab testing, above.) The best in this test cover the darkest colors in two coats, while a paint scoring Good or lower will need more coats.

Stain resistance. This test finds out how well the paint resists oily stains, the kind you find on kitchen walls from oil splatters and food spills, and water-based stains, like coffee. 

Gloss change resistance. Some paints become dull, others shinier, when cleaned frequently. Semi-gloss paints are the most likely to change. If a surface will get wiped down often, pick a paint that scored a Very Good or an Excellent in this test.

Scrub resistance. To find out how tough a paint is, we scrub the paint to see if it wears away. Toughness is an advantage, unless the paint isn't very stain resistant, because you won’t be able to wear away the top layer of paint to remove the stain.

Surface smoothness. None of the paints scored Excellent on this test, which indicates that a paint leaves a glassy-smooth surface. A Very Good score means the brush and roller marks aren't visible, while a Good score indicates a slightly grainy finish. Any paint scoring a Fair or a Poor for smoothness tells you that you'll see marks from the brush and roller. "Keep in mind, even a paint with a Very Good score in this test can't change the surface of the paint that's already on the wall," says Rico DePaz, who runs our tests of interior and exterior paints

Resisting mildew and more. Most paints did well in our tests for resisting mildew, sticking, and fading—you'll see a black dot in those columns if they did. If they didn't, take note if your room gets plenty of sun or you're painting a bathroom. Nearly all the paints in our tests are self-priming, and many are claimed to be free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), while others claim low levels. VOCs are solvents released into the air as the paint dries and have been linked to respiratory problems and air pollution. They can make paint smell like paint, but "low-VOC" doesn't mean the paints are odor-free.

Best From Our Tests

The 24 paints in our interior paint ratings represent a wide range of prices and brands. including Sherwin-Williams, Olympic One, True Value, and HGTV Home. Here are a few to consider (in alphabetical order):