We can’t help you decide whether Trendy Taupe or Autumn Haze is the right shade of gray. But while you’re puzzling over the extraordinary names given ordinary paint colors, it may help to know which brand covers better and is more durable. There we can help. Our tests of some 149 individual paints show that such practical differences matter. We tested flat and low-luster latex paints from major national and regional makers.
The lineup included white, a pastel base used to make light colors, and a medium base used for darker, midtone colors. (We didn’t test oil paint, which is an insignificant part of the market.) We looked at hardware-store and home-center brands as well as the Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren designer labels. All represent the manufacturers’ premium lines, which generally deliver superior performance.
USE AND ABUSE
Our tests are designed to tell you how well a paint will work in your house. Here’s how you can use the information in the Ratings.
This tells you how well the new paint should last. It’s especially important if you’re repainting a heavily used area like a family room, the kitchen, or a child’s bedroom. To us, toughness covers these attributes:
- Dirt and stains don’t dig in; they can be removed without much scrubbing.
- Ideally, scrubbing gets rid of the dirt without removing the paint in the process. The paint shouldn’t take on a shiny, burnished look or seem to change color if you need to rub it hard.
- Once the paint has dried completely, it shouldn’t allow objects to stick. Anyone who has had a vase virtually glue itself to a painted windows will understands the problem. (Paint professionals call this tendency to stick “blocking.”)
In general, the low-luster paints were tougher than the flat paints, particularly in their ability to resist staining. But that doesn’t mean low-lusters are inherently more durable. The higher-rated flat paints also exhibited outstanding toughness.
It’s always safe to count on applying two coats to cover the old color completely. But you may need three coats if you use a paint with poor hiding.
To judge hiding, we used a roller to apply each paint to a chart we devised years ago; it consists of a series of stripes ranging from light gray to black. The darker the stripe the paint covers, the better its hiding ability; and the easier it will be to cover a sharply contrasting color–light tan over chocolate brown, for example.
As you might expect, the white paints had the worst marks; those with the lowest scores probably won’t cover even a moderately dark color in two coats. Paints made with a pastel base were somewhat better. Best were the medium-base paints, which are the darkest to begin with.
This fungus can grow anywhere, not just in dark corners of the bathroom. Storm windows, extra weather stripping, moisture-resistant house wraps, and other energy-conservation measures can keep indoor air stale and humidity levels high–good conditions for breeding mildew, especially on a cold outside wall, where mildew-friendly moisture levels are likely to be high.
Some paints contain fungicides that keep the surface mildew-free; many don’t. Even some of the higher-rated products, such as Pratt & Lambert Accolade flat and MAB Rich Lux eggshell, were not particularly mildew-resistant.
The quality of the colorants in a paint determines whether or not it will fade in bright light. Bright greens and yellows tend to fade more easily than other colors, so think twice about using either one in a sunroom. We also found that many paints made by Sherwin-Williams and PPG faded more than most. Those brands include Dutch Boy, Martha Stewart, Sears, Sherwin-Williams, Pittsburgh, and Olympic.
The fumes given off by wet latex paints may bother some people. If you or a family member experience headaches, nausea, or dizziness associated with the chemicals in paint, you can use a product that’s labeled as having low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Propylene glycol should be on the ingredient list. Avoid paints containing ethylene glycol or aliphatic petroleum distillates. (If you must use such paints, ventilate the room while working, and don’t stay in the room any longer than you must.)
Low-odor isn’t the same as low-VOC. The fumes from relatively high levels of VOCs can readily be masked to make a low-odor paint. So if someone in your family is bothered by paint fumes, a low-odor paint may not help.
The low-VOC and low-odor paints we tested generally performed well in the critical areas of hiding and toughness. The biggest difference between regular paints and low-VOC paints is drying time: Low-VOC paints dry very fast. You have to work quickly to avoid marks from overlapping roller strokes and brush marks around trim. Brushes and rollers may be harder to clean after applying a low-VOC paint.
Most paint makers offer three levels of quality–essentially good, better, and best. Our decades of experience testing paints have shown clearly that it makes sense to look first at top-of-the-line paints.
The brand earning top honors this time is Valspar American Tradition, sold at Lowe’s Home Centers for $18 to $20 a gallon. We’ve judged it A CR Best Buy.
Other paints worth considering are Pratt & Lambert Accolade flat and Pittsburgh Manor Hall flat, though they tend to be expensive–$36 and $27 per gallon, respectively. Among low-luster paints, consider Sears Best Easy Living satin or True Value E-Z Kare, $20 to $22 per gallon.
Over the years, we’ve regularly noticed that manufacturers aren’t consistent or accurate in describing how glossy their paints are. True, flats are usually pretty flat. But glossier finishes–low-luster, satin, eggshell, semigloss, and the like–don’t always correspond with the description on the can.
If you’re after a particular level of glossiness, check the Ratings comments to be sure the paint you’re considering has the gloss level you want. Some low-luster paints, for example, were actually flat when we checked their gloss level with lab instruments. Others turned out to be semigloss and not a true low-luster.
Which colors will dominate the home-decorating market–in paints, of course, but also in sheets, towels, floor coverings, and upholstery fabrics–over the next few years? We asked Cynthia Cornell, a designer for Chicago-based Color Communications, to give us a look ahead to 2002.
Think earth-friendly colors, she says. The colors shown in the squares below typify the look. Newer shades of green will appear grayed-down. Some blues will gray down, too, so navy will appear dusty, denim a bit grayer than your favorite jeans.
For a stronger palette, consider cool teal or sunny coral. Red will return as an accent color or as a new neutral, like the paprika red shown below. If bolder colors like those seem hard to live with, look for sandy pink-browns or tan shades with the warm, burnished-leather look of butterscotch.
Tone (depth of color) and finish are part of the color picture, too. According to Cornell, the trend in color tone is medium: neither too light nor too dark.
Another look likely to become popular in the months ahead is a sheen beyond ordinary semigloss paint, using metallic or pearlized finishes. A color like frosted plum, Cornell says, can lend a new look to old walls.
Behr Premium Plus One-Coat white paint, about $18 a gallon, claims to cover an existing surface in just one coat. That’s not quite how it performed in our tests, though it performed very well overall.
Its one-coat coverage was better than the typical white paint provides. Two-coat coverage was excellent for the flat and satin versions, very good for the eggshell. The Behr earned top marks for toughness. The One-Coat satin was excellent at resisting mildew, but the flat and eggshell finishes had poor mildew resistance.
This paint isn’t pure white. It appears to have been tinted with a bit of black, which costs little and goes a long way toward hiding the old color on the wall. As you might expect, the tinting makes the paint gray.