Consumer Reports’ Shop Smart: Looking into interior paints

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Picking paint has become harder than just picking a color, as if that weren’t confusing enough, says Consumer Reports. Relying on past experience isn't a good way to pick a brand because paints are frequently reformulated, which changes their performance.

Consumer Reports recently tested 67 paints, including a pricey import from England known for its colors, to see how well they hide old paint, how well they hold up to stains and scrubbing, and the smoothness of the finish.

In fact, Consumer Reports has toughened its tests by applying water- and oil-based stains to painted panels. Most paints faltered in its new staining tests. Lowe's Valspar and Olympic satin finishes didn't make its Recommended list this time around. If Lowe's is your go-to store for paint, use those paints only in low-traffic areas.

Though its colors were lovely, Farrow & Ball was the worst at hiding old paint. It took two coats of the $95 eggshell finish in white to do what the top-rated Behr satin did in one. (The terms "eggshell" and "satin" are used interchangeably by companies to describe paints with some sheen.)

More coats mean more money and time, and the Farrow & Ball paint isn't self-priming, unlike most of the paints Consumer Reports tested. The eggshell and gloss paints also left a rough, grainy finish and lost most of their sheen after cleaning, though both resisted stains well.

Light affects color significantly. So once you've zeroed in on a hue, consider buying three samples: the color you're drawn to, and a shade lighter and one darker. Paint a sample of each next to a window and in an area that's dark, viewing the colors in daylight and at night, with the lights on and off.

White and other neutrals are in style again, Consumer Reports notes. And warm grays are hot, too, according to color experts. You can find inspiration at the manufacturers' Pinterest boards and websites, where you can compare color palettes or play with tools that let you upload a photo of your room and virtually paint it before picking up a brush. Here's what else to consider:

"More people are using the same color for walls and trim, without much contrast in sheen," says Leslie Harrington, a color expert. "This creates a clean line and redirects your eye to other things in the room -- the furniture, art."

Semigloss isn't a must for trim. Many eggshell and satin paints have become much better at standing up to scrubbing, according to Consumer Reports' latest tests. Flat paints are better than eggshell at hiding imperfections because they don't reflect light, but flats are the least stain-resistant, so they aren't a great choice for busy rooms.

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