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Interior paint
Plenty of high-quality, durable wall paints are available to brighten your rooms. And you won’t need to endure as many fumes as in years past.

A fresh coat of paint is an easy, inexpensive way to freshen a room. Today’s paints are significantly better than their predecessors of even a few years ago in several important respects: They spatter less, keep stains at bay, and have ample tolerance for scrubbing. They also resist the buildup of mildew (important if you’re painting a kitchen, a bath, or a basement room that tends to be damp). Some are labeled low-VOC (volatile organic compounds).

WHAT’S AVAILABLE

Major brands include Ace, Behr (sold at Home Depot), Benjamin Moore, Dutch Boy, Glidden, Kilz (sold at Wal-Mart), Olympic, Sears, Sherwin-Williams, and American Tradition by Valspar (sold at Lowe’s). You’ll also see designer names such as Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren, as well as many brands of paint sold regionally.

You’ll find several types of paints for interior use. Wall paints can be used in just about any room. Glossier trim enamels are used for windowsills, woodwork, and the like. Kitchen and bath paints are usually fairly glossy and formulated to hold up to water and scrubbing and to release stains. Price range: $15 to $45 per gallon.

IMPORTANT FEATURES

Paint typically comes in a variety of sheens—flat, low luster, and semigloss. The degree of glossiness can be different from one manufacturer to another. Flat paint, with the dullest finish, is the best at hiding surface imperfections, but it also tends to pick up stains. It’s well suited for formal living rooms, dining rooms, and other spaces that don’t see heavy use.

A low-luster finish (often called eggshell or satin) has a slight sheen and is good for family rooms, kids’ rooms, hallways, and the like. Semi-gloss, shinier still, usually works best on kitchen and bathroom walls and on trim because it’s generally easier to clean. Low-luster and semigloss paints look best on smooth, well-prepared surfaces, since the paint’s shine can accentuate imperfections on the wall.

Most brands come in several tint bases—the uncolored paint that forms the foundation for the specific color you choose. The tint base largely determines the paint’s toughness, resistance to dirt and stains, and ability to withstand scrubbing. The colorant determines how much the paint will fade. Whites and browns tend not to fade; reds and blues fade somewhat; bright greens and yellows tend to fade a lot.

HOW TO CHOOSE

Begin with the gloss. The gloss level will affect your perception of the color. Flat paints and textured walls absorb light, so colors seem darker. Glossy paints and smooth surfaces reflect, so colors look brighter.

Then choose a color. Take advantage of the various color-sampling products and computer programs to get the color you think you want. Most manufacturers now sell small samples of many paint colors, so you can test a paint without having to buy large quantities. Manufacturers also offer large color chips or coupons, which are easier to use than the conventional small swatches. Sunlight and room light can affect your perceptions, so check samples on different walls or at different times of day.

Fluorescent light enhances blues and greens but makes warm reds, oranges, and yellows appear dull. Incandescent light works with warm colors, but might not do much for cool ones. Even natural sunlight changes from day to day, room to room, and morning to night.

Many aspects of paint performance depend on the quality of the base and not on the particular color. We test each brand’s pastel and medium bases as well as white. So if you want a medium or dark color, it won’t matter whether it’s red or blue or something in between. Its performance should track with our findings.

Buy the top of the line. The paints we test represent the top of each manufacturer’s line. Over the years, we have found that lower grades—typically dubbed good, better, or contractor grade—do not perform as well. If a top-line paint will cover all but the darkest colors in two coats, lower-quality paints might need three or four coats. That makes them a poor value. But plan on two coats even with a top-rated paint for best coverage.

Match a paint’s strong points to the room’s use.

Here are the most important considerations:

  • Stains are more of a problem with flat paints.
  • Heavily used rooms need a paint that can stand up to scrubbing. Our tests show that paints in every gloss level can perform well in this regard. Some low-luster and semi-gloss paints may change sheen when scrubbed.
  • Mildew can grow in any warm, humid room, not just a bathroom or kitchen. A paint with high mildew resistance won’t kill existing mildew (you must clean it off with a bleach solution), but it will slow new growth.
  • Sticking can occur with glossier paints long after they’ve dried. Books seem glued to shelves, and windows become hard to open. Most of the glossy paints we tested did not have that problem.

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Copyright © 2003-2007 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

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