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When faced with rows of stacked cans at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or a specialty paint retailer, it’s impossible to know which paints will look good right after application—and just as good after several years of wear and tear.
Making the wrong choice can prove to be costly. Top-performing paint can cost anywhere from $28 to $70 per can, and if you’re not happy after a few coats, you might not be able to get your money back: Home Depot will let you take a used paint can back within 30 days for exchange only, Benjamin Moore won’t let you return opened paint at all, and Lowe’s allows returns of unused paint up to 30 days.
Then there’s your time and effort. Pick a poor performer and you’re stuck starting all over again.
You can’t shop by brand, either. In Consumer Reports’ lab tests, we found that paints from the same brand don’t deliver the same amount of coverage. Benjamin Moore, for example, has paints that perform well enough to score in the recommended range but also has paints that land in mediocre territory. And HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams Showcase, at Lowe’s, outperformed other Sherwin-Williams paints.
We test nontinted base paints (the paint before the color is added). Each base paint goes through two tests, to determine how well it can cover dark colors and how well it resists stains.
To evaluate how well a paint hides darker colors, we apply one consistent coat of paint to cardstock that has been painted black. After that coat dries, we use a colorimeter to measure how well the paint has covered 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, we apply two lines of soils—coffee and a sootlike soil—and allow them to dry. We wash the painted panels, then 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.
These two tests are the most crucial when it comes to longevity and ease of application. If a paint hides well, there’s no need to prime.
“We don’t want you to get a paint with great hiding performance, which might be fantastic when you first apply the paint, but that then becomes a burden to live with—you constantly need to retouch it,” says Rico de Paz, who runs CR’s paint test lab.
As you shop, you’ll notice that some paint lines come with claims such as “low odor” or “low chemical emissions” (also known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, high emissions of which can affect your health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency). Some manufacturers claim their paints have “no chemical emissions.”
No matter what the can says, de Paz recommends painting only in a well-ventilated area because any odors can still be unpleasant and distracting.
Best Interior Paints From CR’s Tests
Here are the six top paints from our tests, listed in alphabetical order, not in order of rank. For more information, see our paint buying guide or our full interior paint ratings for nearly two dozen lines of paint, including those below, along with more from Behr, Benjamin Moore, Kilz, PPG, Prestige Paints, Valspar, and others.
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