Consumer Reports' March issue features the biggest interior paint test ever of more than 50 paints. For the first time, Consumer Reports found nearly all top-scoring paints to be among the lowest in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are linked to pollution, smog, and respiratory problems. The full report appears in the current issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org and includes the best paints to make projects easier, faster and greener for less.
Nearly all the top-scoring paints in Consumer Reports' tests contain no more than 50 grams of volatile organic compound per liter, a fraction of the 380 grams once common in the most-used low-luster paints.
Greener paints are becoming more popular and can mean less work — paints that scored Very Good or Excellent in Consumer Reports' hiding tests provided thorough coverage with just one coat, something only two low-VOC paints managed in the last round of tests. But Consumer Reports notes that low-VOC paints aren't necessarily odorless, so consumers should plan on adequate ventilation.
"Paints have advanced in their ability to perform and be green," said Bob Markovich, senior home editor for Consumer Reports. "Our tests demonstrate that painting no longer needs to be expensive and time consuming as long as the consumer invests in the correct paint for their project."
Consumer Reports' scrubbing, staining, and mildew tests put Home Depot's Behr brand the top performer in all three categories: low-luster, flat and matte finishes, and semigloss. Behr Premium Plus Ultra ($33), showed impressive one-coat hiding, stain resistance and other strengths, making it Consumer Reports' top paint overall.
Low-luster and semigloss versions of Kilz Casual Colors ($22, Walmart) are formulated for indoor and outdoor use. Both versions did well at hiding during tests and evaluations will be done on their outdoor performance soon. Consumers who are willing to shell out up to $45 per gallon for maximum fade resistance for a sunny room can consider Benjamin Moore Regal. But tests show little reason to consider others in that price range.
But Consumer Reports recommends that consumers proceed with caution when purchasing green paints. Freshaire Choice ($39, Home Depot) and Mythic ($48) claim to have zero VOCs and to be as durable and cover as well as top-quality paint, but Mythic was mediocre at hiding and Freshaire Choice scored no better than Fair.
How to Choose
- Don't buy strictly by brand. Several Dutch Boy and Sherwin-Williams paints wound up near the bottom of Consumer Reports Ratings, despite being industry icons. And because manufacturers frequently tweak formulas to improve performance, cut costs, and comply with tougher regulations, the paint consumers loved last time might not perform as well this time around.
- Pick the right gloss level. Flat paint hides wall imperfections but tends to stain more easily; save it for low-traffic areas. High-sheen, semigloss paints are easy to clean but tend to dull in the process; use them on trim, windows and doors to provide an attractive contrast with walls and ceilings. Low-luster (aka satin and eggshell) paints combine the best of both categories and are the top choice for most areas.
- Look for specific strengths. Some paints are especially good at resisting fading in a sunny room, fending off mildew in a steamy bath, or shedding stains in a busy kitchen. Decide which attributes fit the room.
- Consider the store. Many top-scoring paints are sold at big-box stores. Home Depot and Lowe's tend to carry more paint than Walmart and Sears and often offer 5-gallon pails—a major money-saver on large projects.
The full Ratings of interior paints appear in the March issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale February 2, 2010.