A beautiful paint finish can really bring out the best in a room and repainting is one of the quickest, easiest and most affordable ways to give your home a fresh look. But regardless of your skill level, a paint job can only look as good as the quality of the paint used. Interior paints vary in their ease of application, viscosity, coverage, smoothness of finish, stain resistance, freedom from fumes, and other factors, making careful analysis of the qualities of an interior paint formulation a critical step in getting the best results.
The best interior paints are smooth from start to finish. The best interior paints should go on smoothly, without sticking or streaking as you roll or brush them on a surface. These typically provide a richer and smoother finish; you should not be able to see brush or roller marks when the paint has fully dried. Top-rated interior paints are also more durable, meaning they resist fading, especially in bright, sunny rooms, and they don't lose their color, texture or sheen when scrubbed or cleaned. They should also be easy to clean when dry and resist staining, and they shouldn't absorb residue from water- or grease-based spatters. Some top-rated interior paints are able to cover old paint thoroughly in fewer coats; some of the best interior paints are able to cover even dark surfaces in a single coat. Professionals and dedicated do-it-yourselfers usually recommend that you buy the best paint you can afford.
There are a few quality paints out there that won't break the bank. Interior paints span the price spectrum from $30 per gallon (and sometimes a few dollars less) to $70 per gallon or more for premium paints. Overall, however, we found that price isn't necessarily correlated with quality; some of the top-rated interior paints differ in price from the cheapest paints by only about $5 or so per gallon. The drawbacks to some less-expensive wall paints are that the finish tends to be less rich, and they may not be quite as durable as pricier paints. Cheaper paints that don't cover surfaces as well may require more coats, so you could end up spending nearly as much as you would have on a premium paint that would get the job done in fewer coats, and sometimes just one. That's why coverage should be given as much, weight (or more) as cost when choosing an interior paint.
Low-VOC and no-VOC paints are all the rage. One hot topic that's really sprung up in recent years is the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in interior paints. VOCs refer to the potentially harmful chemicals in paint fumes that create strong paint odors can cause headaches, dizziness or nausea in the user. They've also been linked to respiratory and liver damage, along with other health concerns, over prolonged exposure. VOC levels in wall paint are regulated by the federal government and are currently set at 250 grams per liter for flat paints and 380 grams per liter for other finishes. Some states, such as California, require even lower levels: 100 grams per liter for flat paint and 150 grams per liter for other finishes. The bottom line, experts say, is that you should always use the lowest-VOC paint possible and the fewer VOCs there are, the better it is for you, the homeowner, and the environment in general.
Be sure to choose the right sheen for your paint. This is important because you can spend a lot of money on paint, and a lot of time on painting, but if you choose the wrong sheen you could experience some serious buyer's remorse over the results. High-luster finishes, such as satin or semi-gloss, are best for high-traffic, high-moisture areas like kitchens or bathrooms because they're easier to clean. Also pay attention to the kind of reviews these paints get for mold and mildew resistance. Low-luster finishes, such as flat and matte, are ideal for low-traffic rooms and ceilings, and many recommend eggshell for medium-traffic rooms like a living room. Most paint stores have experts who can advise you on the right paint sheen for the room you want to paint at no extra charge. Many can even advise you on color, to further cut down on the chances that you'll regret your room makeover.
This report covers interior paints. Once you're done with the inside of your home, don't forget to spruce up the outside as well. Our report on exterior paint will help guide in you in making the best selection for that job as well.
Top-quality paints are worth their higher cost because they'll typically get the job done with fewer coats. Higher-quality paints also go on more smoothly, are less likely to show flaws such as brush marks and usually provide a better finished look. They're also more durable, holding up to bright sun and scrubbing and resisting dings and scratches.
Behr Premium Plus Ultra, sold primarily at Home Depot, earns a recommendation from editors at one leading consumer testing organization, earning praise for its smooth finish and ability to cover old paint. This self-priming paint also resists fading, sticking, and mildew, though it's not the best at resisting stains. Editors also find that Behr Premium Plus Ultra holds up well to aggressive scrubbing without losing its sheen.
The Paint Quality Institute also recommends Behr Premium Plus Ultra for consumers opting for self-priming paint, noting that interior self-priming paints that contain a 100 percent acrylic latex binder (like Behr Premium Plus Ultra) perform best. Behr Premium Plus Ultra is also favored by users, earning a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 following hundreds of positive reviews at HomeDepot.com. Most of those reviewing Behr Premium Plus Ultra say it's thick and covers well, leaving no trace of brush or roller marks behind for an ultra-smooth finish.
There are a few detractors who have had different experiences, including several users who say it took several coats of Ultra to get the job done for various interior projects or that it fails to cover old layers of paint in colors such as blue and orange. Overall, however, the majority of consumers praise Behr Premium Plus Ultra for its even coverage and smooth finish. Covered by a limited lifetime warranty, Behr Premium Plus Ultra is a low-VOC paint, and it also comes in a zero-VOC version, Behr Premium Plus Ultra Zero VOC (Est. $30 per gallon).
If you don't mind spending a bit more per gallon, Valspar Signature (Est. $50 per gallon), sold primarily at Lowe's, earns positive feedback in professional reviews. In the J.D. Power 2016 Paint Satisfaction Rating report, Valspar ties with Sherwin-Williams (behind Benjamin Moore) among interior paint brands most preferred by consumers. While Valspar Signature lands near the middle of the pack in one professional roundup testing more than 20 interior paints, it earns good scores for hiding, surface smoothness and stain resistance, and it also holds up quite well to aggressive scrubbing.
Good Housekeeping gives Valspar Signature a rating of 4 stars out of 5, noting its solid performance for stain removal, fade resistance, and surface coverage. Good Housekeeping's consumer testers say Valspar Signature looks good but doesn't offer the same even coverage as top-rated interior paints. On ContractorTalk.com, several contracting professionals say Valspar Signature outperforms Behr interior paints for their projects, and several say it's their interior paint of choice. There are a few who report bad experiences such as running paint or less-than-ideal coverage.
The Paint Quality Institute recommends Valspar Signature as a top self-priming paint, noting that it contains 100% acrylic latex binder which improves adhesion, toughness, and durability. At Lowes.com, Valspar Signature has a rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 and thousands of consumer reviews. Like professionals, users reviewing Valspar Signature at Lowes.com have varying opinions, though the overall opinion is positive. Some detractors report poor coverage and stickiness that lasts for months, while many say it provides great coverage in one or two coats and holds up well for years.
At the high end of the price range, Sherwin-Williams Emerald (Est. $65 per gallon) interior paint earns positive feedback from professionals and users. In one professional roundup, editors from a leading consumer testing organization give it an excellent rating for withstanding scrubbing and a very good score for hiding old paint in darker colors as well as a good score for stain resistance. However, editors give Sherwin-Williams Emerald a fair rating for its ability to maintain its glossy finish following aggressive cleaning and say it doesn't have the smoothest finish nor does it resist fading.
The Sherwin-Williams website states that their Emerald paint meets the most stringent VOC ratings. Pitting Sherwin-Williams Emerald against Behr Premium Plus (Est. $30 per gallon), a step down from the top-rated Behr Premium Plus Ultra, in a head-to-head competition, editors at JackPauhl.com say Emerald offers faster adhesion than many paints and excellent coverage, though they do note that in tests, Emerald showed faint brush marks. In a cleaning test, marks made with a black dry-erase marker cleaned more easily from the Behr Premium Plus samples than Sherwin-Williams Emerald.
Emerald earns a four star rating in more than 100 consumer-written reviews on the Sherwin-Williams website. Overall, reviewers are pleased with Emerald's performance, citing great coverage, smooth and easy application, and smooth finish with minimal drips and splattering. If you're painting a surface that won't require frequent aggressive cleaning but requires exceptional adhesion, Sherwin-Williams Emerald is one to consider. Otherwise, a more affordable paint can yield equal or better results for nearly half the cost.
Sherwin-Williams also offers a step down paint that's worth considering. Good Housekeeping has reviewed more than 40 interior paints over a period of several years, and Sherwin-Williams SuperPaint (Est. $50 per gallon) is one of few to have earned a 5-star rating. A paint and primer in one, like most top-rated interior paints, Sherwin-Williams SuperPaint won’t fade or wear easily and resists stains. Additionally, editors say that it covers both light and dark surfaces exceptionally well.
Editors at ThisOldHouse.com also recommend Sherwin-Williams SuperPaint, noting that it hides previous paint colors well and offers good resistance to stains and burnishing. Because Sherwin-Williams paints are sold primarily through local retailers, the Sherwin-Williams website is the best place to evaluate consumer feedback on SuperPaint. Among more than 75 reviews found there, SuperPaint earns a rating of 4 stars out of 5. Like most interior paints, SuperPaint receives a mix of comments. While the overall opinion is positive, there are several users who complain of poor coverage, streaks, and/or brush marks, while others rave that this paint covered their surfaces evenly and thoroughly in a single coat with a smooth finish.
Sherwin-Williams SuperPaint isn’t considered a low-VOC paint, so if environmental-friendliness is a top buying consideration for you, the top-rated Behr Premium Plus Ultra costs only a few dollars more and meets most low-VOC standards.
Although painting is considered one of the most budget-friendly ways to spruce up your home, if you have a lot of space to cover, the cost can quickly add up. While top-rated interior paints like Behr Premium Plus Ultra aren’t substantially more expensive than brands at the lower end of the price spectrum, there are some good options if your budget is very tight and you’re looking for a balance between quality and cost.
One option if you’re on a tight budget is Olympic ONE, sold exclusively at Lowe’s. Olympic ONE earns excellent ratings from editors at one consumer testing organization for maintaining its glossy finish and holding up well to aggressive cleaning and scrubbing. It also earns a very good score for covering older paint well and a good score for stain resistance, but a lower score of fair for surface smoothness. This self-priming formulation also resists mildew well, but isn't a particularly exceptional performer when it comes to fade resistance.
The Paint Quality Institute names Olympic ONE as a good option for home owners looking for a quality paint and primer in-one formulation, noting that it contains 100% acrylic latex binder for great adhesion and better durability. More than 200 users review Olympic ONE at Lowes.com, where it has a rating of 4.2 stars out of 5. They say it goes on thick and covers old paint well, including dark colors such as brown. Olympic ONE doesn’t make any claims about low-VOC levels, however, and this is likely why some users say the paint has a strong odor when applied. Some consumers say that Olympic ONE may look streaky during the drying process, but looks great once it’s completely dried.
Paint is made up of three components. The pigment represents the color; a binding agent ensures the pigment sticks to the wall; and a solvent keeps it all liquid until exposed to air. The solvent evaporates on application, leaving the pigment behind on the wall, and are the main source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in paint.
Homeowners who paint once every couple of years, or are painting an area that isn't used very often, may not be too concerned about VOCs. However, if you're affected by paint fumes, if sensitive people live in your home or if you just want to avoid off-gassing in general, the good news is that most popular paint brands are offering formulations with lower VOC levels, and many offer special low-VOC and zero-VOC formulations that meet the strictest VOC standards in states like California.
Valspar Reserve is a zero-VOC interior paint earning consistent praise from professionals and consumers. It earns excellent scores for hiding older paint and holding up to scrubbing and aggressive cleaning in one comparison test conducted by a leading consumer testing organization, as well as a very good score for stain resistance and a good score for surface smoothness. It also resists mildew and sticking, although editors say it's not totally fade-proof.
Valspar is tied with Sherwin-Williams for second place in the J.D. Power 2016 Consumer Paint Satisfaction survey. Consumers posting feedback to Lowes.com, the primary retailer for Valspar paints, say it provides excellent coverage – even over darker paints – and is a great value for its reasonable price. Overall, Valspar Reserve has a rating of 4.3 stars out of 5, and most users agree that it's easy to apply with a brush or roller. Like most interior paints, Valspar Reserve also receives some mixed feedback, with some consumers reporting poor coverage or the need for multiple coats.
If your budget is bigger, Benjamin Moore earns the top ranking in the J.D. Power 2016 Consumer Paint Satisfaction survey, but can be pricier. Benjamin Moore Aura (Est. $70 per gallon), which contains zero VOCs, lands near the top of the pack in one professional interior paint roundup conducted by a consumer testing organization. Editors award Aura excellent scores for hiding older paint colors and holding up well to scrubbing, although satin and semi-gloss finishes may lose some of their sheen with aggressive cleaning. Aura earns a very good score for surface smoothness and a good score for stain resistance, although the matte finish doesn't perform quite as well as the glossier finishes in resisting stains. Editors also say this self-priming paint resists fading, sticking, and mildew.
Benjamin Moore Aura also earns a 5 rating from Good Housekeeping. Editors say Aura offers even and smooth coverage, covering both dark and light surfaces in a single coat. Editors say they were able to remove stains from coffee and crayons easily in tests, leaving little evidence behind, and that Aura holds up well to cleaning and other wear-and-tear.
Value is the biggest concern with Aura. In a review at About.com, home renovation expert Lee Wallender names Benjamin Moore Aura as one of the top three interior paints, noting that Aura offers the best quality but also at a higher cost than many interior paints. While Aura applies easily, offers exceptional coverage, and has a gorgeous finish, it can get pricey for homeowners who are painting their whole house or a large area requiring several gallons or more. However, for a perfect finish that hides just about anything underneath in one or two coats, Benjamin Moore Aura is a great choice if your budget permits.
We found several professional reviews of interior paints. ConsumerReports.org offers the most comprehensive ratings, evaluating more than 20 interior paints for durability, surface smoothness, fading, resistance to stains and mildew, and ability to cover old layers of paint. The Paint Quality Institute doesn't offer a formal roundup of interior paints but does recommend a few paint and primer in-one formulations offering exceptional adhesion. We also consulted reviews from Good Housekeeping, JackPauhl.com, This Old House, About.com, and J.D. Power and Associates, which surveys consumers on their preferred paint brands but focuses only on brands, not individual formulations. User reviews from sites like HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, Sherwin-Williams.com, and Amazon.com and discussions on sites like PaintTalk.com and ContractorTalk.com offer insight on long-term durability in real-world conditions as well as valuable consumer feedback on coverage and ease of application.