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In this report

Experts test interior paints in the lab and on the wall

To find the best interior paints, we analyzed the results of paint tests that simulate aging, as well as illuminating -- and sometimes highly opinionated -- feedback from contractors and homeowners about the various paints they have tried.

Among the pros, ConsumerReports.org leads the pack. Its handy ratings chart ranks 51 interior paints from best to worst, based on their performance in tests. Editors judge the paints on their ability to hide the color underneath, dry without roller marks or stickiness, and resist fading, stains and mildew. and withstand scrubbing without wearing off or changing their sheen. ConsumerReports.org editors test flat, eggshell/satin and semigloss paints from most major brands, including several paints with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are chemicals in paint fumes that are linked to respiratory and other problems.

Interior paint tests at Good Housekeeping, The New York Times and Popular Mechanics are less extensive than ConsumerReports.org's and cover fewer paints, but they provide very helpful feedback on the paints they do cover. Good Housekeeping editors select the best paints in several major categories: all-purpose, eco-friendly, kitchen/bath and budget paint. The New York Times tests 10 low- or no-VOC paints for ease of application, durability and ability to hide contrasting colors. Popular Mechanics editors perform a similar test on three low- or no-VOC paints.

To find out how various interior paints behave for real-life users, we consulted J.D. Power and Associates, which surveyed more than 9,800 consumers for its 2010 rankings of interior paint. Twenty brands are rated on price, warranty/guarantee, variety of offerings, durability, ease of application and overall satisfaction, based on the opinions of people who have used the paints within the past year. We found more do-it-yourselfers reviewing interior paint on the Internet forums DoItYourself.com, DIYChatroom.com and GardenWeb.com.

Internet forums are also a great place to find out what professional house painters and other contractors say about various interior paints. Though comments can get pointed at times, the threads are both helpful and fun to read. Enough pros frequent sites like PaintTalk.com, ContractorTalk.com and PainterForum.com for the recommendations to bear considerable weight.

Most professionals say you should buy the highest quality interior paint you can afford. They add that although almost any paint can look good once it's up on the wall, the biggest factor separating budget brands and premium brands is the effort it takes to get it there in the first place. That's why most contractors and professional painters pointedly refuse to use less expensive paints like those sold at big-box retailers. In discussion forums, they say that in real-world situations -- which are impossible for any reviewer to duplicate -- budget paints just don't deliver the same covering ability as premium choices. The result is that extra preparation work and extra coats are often needed to achieve the same results -- which translates to higher labor costs.

Although homeowners might not have the same bottom-line concerns if a project takes a little longer to complete, it is important to weigh the extra time -- and extra paint -- an additional coat or two will require against the up-front savings. Still, we saw good professional recommendations for some budget offerings, and many homeowners report getting great results with budget paint.

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