Best Interior Paints From Consumer Reports' Tests

·5 min read

We tested paints from notable brands and found that few excel across the board

By Tanya A. Christian

When you’re 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—not to mention just as good after several years of wear and tear.

And choosing the wrong paint can be costly. Top-performing paint can cost $35 to $60 per gallon. And ultimately, if you’re not happy, you might not be able to get your money back: Home Depot and Lowe’s will let you exchange an opened can of paint within 30 days, while Benjamin Moore won’t let you return opened paint at all.

Then there’s your time and effort. Pick a poor performer and you’re stuck starting all over again.

You can’t necessarily shop by brand, either. In Consumer Reports’ lab tests, we’ve found that paints from the same brand don’t always deliver the same performance. Valspar, for example, has paint that performs well enough to score in the recommended range but also has paint that lands in mediocre territory. And HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams Showcase, at Lowe’s, outperformed other Sherwin-Williams paints.

We test nontinted base paints (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 to cardstock that has been painted black. After that coat dries, we use a colorimeter to measure how well the paint has covered the darker shade.

For stain resistance, our testers apply paint to a plastic panel. After it dries, we apply coffee and a substance similar to soot in a strip 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 Richard Handel, 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.” In fact, some manufacturers claim their paints have “no chemical emissions.” Low- and zero-VOC paints first emerged in the 1990s and are now commonly sold at retailers throughout the country. High emissions and exposure to these chemicals—volatile organic compounds, or VOCs—can affect your health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

No matter what the can says, Handel 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. For more information, see our paint buying guide or our full interior paint ratings for almost two dozen lines of paint, including those below, along with more from Behr, Benjamin Moore, Kilz, PPG, Prestige Paints, Valspar, and others.

Behr Dynasty (Home Depot)

For many years, paint from Behr has held one of the top spots in our ratings. Available only at Home Depot, Behr Dynasty does a stellar job of providing even coverage and stain resistance, earning top marks for both. Behr does not claim that this formulation has zero VOCs.

Behr Marquee (Home Depot)

For a few dollars per gallon less than the Behr Dynasty, Behr Marquee earns an Excellent rating for hiding darker paints and stains in our tests. Behr claims that Marquee has low levels of VOCs.

Behr Premium Plus (Home Depot)

Behr Premium Plus is the most affordable of Behr’s Home Depot exclusive line that we tested. At $35 a gallon, it still scored Excellent in our hiding test as well as Very Good in protecting against staining. And like the other Behr paints here, it’s a paint and primer in one. This is the only Behr paint we recommend that advertises having zero VOCs.

Behr Ultra (Home Depot)

Rounding out Behr’s excellent showing in our testing is Behr Ultra, which goes for $44 a gallon and is only available at Home Depot. Like most of the other Behr paints in our testing, it offers Excellent coverage and stain blocking. This company doesn’t claim that this paint has zero VOCs.

HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams Showcase (Lowe's)

HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams Showcase, exclusive to Lowe’s, offers a compelling alternative to Behr if you’re not shopping at Home Depot. It also offers Excellent coverage and stain resistance in our testing. This particular paint does not come with zero-VOC claims.

Valspar Reserve

Valspar Reserve paint is fantastic at hiding previous dark wall colors—earning an Excellent rating in our hiding test—and is more than competent at resisting stains. The self-priming formula earns an Excellent score in our staining test. It also carries the Greenguard Gold certification, meaning it has low VOCs.

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