The trickiest part of handling a paint job yourself is choosing the right product — there are tons of brands out there, but you want the one that will leave you with a professional-looking finish rather than messy streaks. To see which brands are worth the money and effort, the experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute traded their lab coats for old t-shirts and spent two weeks testing. First, scope out some of this year’s color trends then finds the paint you need to get the job done.
Top 5 Interior Paints
- KILZ TRIBUTE Satin is a low VOC, 100% acrylic advanced technology paint and primer in one formulated...
- Contemporary White is a soft white featuring subtle blue tones. This modern neutral is a great...
- Ultra premium paint and primer in one
- Ideal for living rooms, family rooms, media rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms and hallways
- Use on a variety of interior surfaces like wood, metal, ceramic, canvas and easily distress to...
- Low-odor, latex formula allows for easy clean up with soap and water
- Provides a uniform, decorative finish on interior walls and ceilings
- Use it on drywall, masonry and primed wood or metal
- Provides a tough semi-gloss finish for walls and trim
- Use it on drywall, masonry and primed wood or metal
Choose Your Sheen and Color
Choosing a color is where some folks start. Color-matching systems have improved to the point where you can get close to the color you crave in just about any brand. The sheen can vary by brand, however, and that can affect your perception of color. So decide which sheen is needed for the job (you’ll see the pros and cons spelled out below), the color you love, and then the best paint for your budget. (Despite all the colors available, whites and off-whites remain the top-selling interior colors. With dozens to choose from, zeroing in on just the right white can be tricky.)
Look at the biggest paint chips the store offers. A store’s lighting affects your take, so step outside to get another look in natural light. Once home, place the chips on the wall, next to the trim, and look at them at different times throughout the day as the natural light changes. Do this over the course of several days, omitting colors that aren’t working. Keep in mind that indoors, the color tends to intensify over large areas, so it’s generally better to go too light than too dark in a given shade.
Pick Your Paint
You can choose the most beautiful shade, but if the paint is mediocre, the end result is likely to disappoint. Our tests find that economy grades of interior paint don’t perform well overall, and you may need to apply three or four coats to cover dark colors. Paints scoring Very Good or Excellent in hiding cover most colors in one coat. Most of the tested paints are claimed to eliminate priming.
In response to stricter federal and regional standards, manufacturers have reduced the levels of volatile organic compounds—some of the noxious chemicals that can make paint smell like paint—in their products. Earlier low-VOC paints lacked the durability of higher-VOC finishes, but now all the paints in our tests are claimed to have low or no VOCs, and many perform very well.
The best budget interior paints
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. Interior paints span the price spectrum from $20 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.
One option if you’re on a tight budget is Olympic ONE (Est. $20 per gallon), sold exclusively at Lowe’s. It retails for around $22 per gallon, but always-available rebates can reduce that cost to as little as $17 — you just have to do the work to apply for the rebate.
Shopping tips for interior paint
The best interior paints should go on smoothly, without sticking or streaking as you roll or brush them on a surface, or having a visible brush or roller marks when fully dried. Top-rated interior paints resist fading and staining and don’t lose their color, texture or sheen when scrubbed or cleaned.
Choose low-VOC or no-VOC paint
VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are the potentially harmful chemicals in paint fumes that create strong paint odors and have been linked to a number of health concerns. 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, with stricter limits in California. All of our top-rated paints claim low- or zero-VOCs.
Determine the proper sheen
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, but you should also look for paints that offer good mold and mildew resistance for these areas. 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.
How to buy enough paint
Multiply the length of the walls all around the room by their height to get the square footage. Add the square footage of the ceiling (if you’re painting the ceiling). Subtract out the square footage of the ceiling (if you’re not painting the ceiling). Subtract out the square footage of the doors and windows, then add 25 percent to that figure. Manufacturers provide information about the coverage you can expect under normal circumstances on the paint can, but a gallon of top-quality paint should cover 350 to 450 square feet.