When it comes to less expensive paints, there's an almost jarring disagreement between professional painters and other reviewers, including independent testing organizations. Several under-$30-per-gallon paints perform respectably (in some cases, better than pricier paints) in independent tests.
Ask painters and contractors, however, and you get a very different -- and usually very pointed -- response. Several say they will either refuse the job altogether, or charge a higher rate if a homeowner insists on a budget brand. The reason is ease of use. Contractors say that it takes more time and effort to get great results with cheap interior paints than with premium paints such as Benjamin Moore Aura (*Est. $55 per gallon) or midpriced paints like Benjamin Moore Regal (*Est. $40 per gallon).
The only budget brand on which contractors, do-it-yourselfers and expert testers all agree is Ace Royal (*Est. $20 per gallon). Sold at Ace Hardware stores, this interior paint comes in flat, eggshell, satin and semigloss sheens.
"Very impressed," one paint contractor on ContractorTalk.com says after painting some rooms with Ace Royal. "Does about as much as the $30 per [gallon] paints for $20 per, scrubbable to boot… would use it again."
"Have used lots and lots of Royal," another paint contractor on the same forum says. "Honestly, it's the only paint that has never given me issues… Overall very good paint at the right price."
Ace Royal does tend to fade more than other interior paints in tests, but otherwise, it's a strong performer -- especially when it comes to scrubbability and stain- and mildew-resistance. It's the top budget pick in Good Housekeeping's interior paint test, where it performs as well and proves as easy to apply as more expensive paints, "though its dry surface was just a bit less rich-looking."
Ace Royal flat finish lists 100 grams of VOCs (chemicals linked to respiratory and other problems) per liter, and 150 grams per liter in other sheens. If you are worried about possible health effects from VOCs, you can find paints at every price point -- including some of the other budget paints discussed below -- that have low or no VOCs.
Note that Ace also sells cheaper paints in its self-branded lineup. Ace paint in general gets low ratings in J.D. Power and Associates' latest consumer survey, but the ratings are for all Ace paints, not just Royal.
Besides Ace Royal, we found no other budget-priced paint that professional painting contractors consistently recommend. But we found several inexpensive paints that get at least some good results in expert testing, and plenty of reviews -- usually mixed -- from homeowners who have tried these budget paints, which are readily available at big-box stores.
The Home Depot sells Behr Premium Plus and Glidden Premium (*Est. $15 per gallon). In flat finish, both of these paints perform very well in independent tests. Both hide other colors well, resist mildew and dry to a smooth, nonsticky finish, although the Glidden flat does tend to fade more, and the Behr flat proves more stain-resistant and durable when scrubbed. Fading is a bigger problem in the satin and semigloss finishes.
Do-it-yourselfers' opinions of Behr paint are all over the map. "I always use Behr for interior walls, ceiling, and trim and have never had a problem. And I have four little kids," says one homeowner on DoItYourself.com. "We tend to change paint colors every few years and the added expense is unnecessary." Several posters on DoItYourself.com echo these sentiments, saying that Behr Premium Plus covers well in one or two coats and still looks good years later. However, others find Behr paint too thick and hard to apply, with poor coverage. "We painted one wall of our family room in Behr red -- it took 9 (yes, 9) coats. My husband was totally beside himself," one homeowner says.
Professional painters who post on Internet forums almost always steer do-it-yourselfers away from Behr. When a homeowner on DIYChatroom.com asks whether Glidden or Behr is better, pros overwhelmingly say Glidden -- although they caution that a better, more expensive paint would be a wiser choice than either one. "Behr is a very difficult paint to work with -- too thick to flow off of the brush or roller," one remodeling contractor says. "Glidden is better -- but not my choice." In J.D. Power and Associates' latest consumer survey, Behr paint gets average ratings across the board (for price, warranty, offerings, durability, application and overall satisfaction), and Glidden rates below average for everything but price (which is judged average). Glidden Premium is a low-VOC paint (50 grams per liter). Behr Premium Plus lists 100 grams of VOCs per liter in flat finish, or 150 grams per liter in other sheens.
Lowe's carries Valspar Ultra Premium (*Est. $20 per gallon) and Olympic Premium (*Est. $20 per gallon). Both perform comparably to their Behr and Glidden counterparts in independent tests, although Valspar and Olympic show less tendency to fade than Behr Premium Plus and Glidden Premium. VOC levels are 50 grams per liter for Valspar Ultra Premium and zero for Olympic Premium. Good Housekeeping testers find Olympic a "solid bargain." Although the Valspar brand gets average ratings from consumers at J.D. Power and Associates, Olympic falls below average in durability, application and overall satisfaction.
Several reviews by professionals and do-it-yourselfers note drawbacks with Valspar. One homeowner posting on DoItYourself.com switched from Benjamin Moore to Valspar to save money. "Within two square feet we knew that there was a BIG difference," he writes. "Cutting in took more effort, covering the undercoat took three times as many strokes with the Valspar as it did with the Ben Moore. Strangely the Valspar feels thicker, so you would think that it would cover better, but it definitely did not … I will say that I have used Behr and Valspar over the years and haven't noticed that once the paint dried there were noticeable imperfections or wear issues, but if you're talking about putting it on, Benjamin Moore is clearly superior." An Illinois remodeling contractor on DIYChatroom.com concurs. "First experience -- bought 10 [gallons] to paint ceilings -- gave it up as unusable -- sprayed the basement rafters with it -- that was a waste of time too. Second experience -- customer supplied paint for a bathroom -- opened can -- tried one brush full -- sent customer out to get Benjamin Moore."
At Walmart, you'll find Kilz Casual Colors (*Est. $15 per gallon) and Dutch Boy Home (*Est. $15 per gallon). Dutch Boy, which is owned by Sherwin-Williams, is also available at Kmart, Sears and hardware and lumber stores. Kilz Casual Colors lists 50 grams of VOCs per liter. Dutch Boy Home ranges from fewer than 50 grams of VOCs per liter to fewer than 100 grams per liter, depending on sheen.
Both Kilz Casual Colors and Dutch Boy Home perform as well as pricier Benjamin Moore Regal in independent tests -- in satin sheen, anyway. Both Kilz and Dutch Boy satin are judged very scrubbable and stain-resistant. The semigloss versions are also, but they tend to dry with a stickier finish and lose their gloss more easily. The flat versions display their own problems -- poor mildew resistance for Dutch Boy, and a tendency to stain and fade with Kilz.
Kilz paint gets mixed ratings at J.D. Power and Associates: Consumers rate it among the most durable interior paints, but below average for variety of colors and finishes offered, and average in other categories and overall. In the same survey, Dutch Boy paints are rated better than most in terms of price, but with below-average durability and application and average overall satisfaction.
Dutch Boy Home gets no strong recommendations from pros or DIYers; as soon as one poster praises it, another pans it. Kilz Casual Colors gets mixed reviews, too, especially for its one-coat claim. "I painted this weekend with Kilz Casual Colors," writes a poster at DoItYourself.com. "Out of the six different colors that we used throughout our home, only one of the colors we selected was truly one coat coverage." A professional remodeler concurs after his wife bought Kilz Casual Colors to paint their bathroom. "This product guarantees to cover in one coat. It does not!" He adds that it rolled on stickily. "It is without a doubt the worst paint I have ever used, bar none."
Sears Best Easy Living Ultra (*Est. $25 per gallon) also performs consistently average or better in independent tests, although the satin finish is not a standout, and the semigloss finish tends to lose gloss when scrubbed. Consumers surveyed by J.D. Power and Associates rate Sears Easy Living paints among the best for price and guarantee (it offers a limited lifetime warranty), but average otherwise. Very few contractors mention this paint on Internet forums, and the few DIY reviews we found were mixed. For example, some users on GardenWeb.com are happy with Sears Easy Living paint, and others complain of poor consistency and coverage. Few reviews specifically address the Easy Living Ultra formulation. It is a low-VOC paint, with less than 50 grams per liter.