Best Interior House Paints

Updated September 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

34 Models Considered
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best interior house paints

Last Updated September 2020

One of the most effective ways to give the interior of your home a whole new look for a very reasonable price is with a fresh coat of paint. And while it can be a bit messy, painting the interior of a room — or several rooms — is a project that even a newbie to DIY can generally accomplish with excellent results. Watching your paintbrush or roller smooth paint across the wall can actually be very enjoyable, which is perhaps why interior painting is one of the most common decorating makeovers tackled by homeowners.

But before you raise your paint brush to the wall, you need to buy paint. And while narrowing down the thousands of color choices to one that you truly love tends to be the most difficult part of the task, there are a few other things to know about choosing interior paint.

In this guide, we tackle the topics of paint formula, sheen, and other important features you should know about interior house paint before investing in a new shade. Read on for our expert tips and recommendations.

A fresh coat of paint can breathe new life into a tired room.

Key considerations

Formula

There are two basic formulas for interior paints: water-based and oil-based.

Water-based paint
Water-based paint is often referred to as latex paint despite the fact that, nowadays, most contain acrylic instead of latex. This type of paint is overwhelmingly the preferred formula for home interiors. Latex paint emits far fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than oil-based paint, and it doesn’t require the use of environmentally hazardous solvents for thinning or cleanup. It dries quickly, won’t yellow over time, resists cracking and chipping, and cleans up easily with water.

On the downside, latex paint is not quite as durable as oil-based paint, and because it dries quickly, it can show brushstrokes. The very best water-based paints have 100% acrylic binders rather than vinyl acrylic or vinyl copolymer.

Oil-based paint
Oil-based paint typically has a synthetic oil base called alkyd. Alkyd paint is highly durable, applies smoothly, covers stains and imperfections well, and is fairly resistant to moisture. However, it does emit a great deal of harmful VOCs, and the use of oil-based paint is restricted in some municipalities due to its effect on the environment. It’s also difficult to clean up and takes a long time to dry.

Sheen

After color, choosing a paint sheen or finish is likely to be your biggest decision. There are five basic paint sheens, each with its own pros and cons.

Flat or matte: This is the least-reflective paint finish. As the name suggests, it has a matte, dull surface. It is the best finish for covering imperfections, but it is also the most difficult to clean.

Eggshell: An eggshell finish has a slight shine. It works well on surfaces that are rough or imperfect, and it’s easier to clean than a flat finish.

Satin: Though satin and eggshell are sometimes used interchangeably, a satin finish is slightly glossier than an eggshell finish. Satin is just matte enough to cover imperfections fairly well and just glossy enough to wipe clean easily. This is the most popular finish for interior paint.

Semi-gloss: There is a noticeable shine to a semi-gloss finish. The glossy finish highlights every imperfection of the painted surface, however, including brushstrokes and paint roller marks. Semi-gloss tolerates light scrubbing and is easy to clean.

Glossy: With a lacquered, high-gloss appearance, this is the shiniest finish. Using a glossy paint requires careful prep work, as the finish will magnify cracks, bumps, brushstrokes, and any other imperfections on the wall or cabinet. Because of the tedious prep work required, along with the need for several coats to achieve an even finish, glossy paint is best left to professional painters. It can be very expensive to use. However, it easily wipes clean.

Color

Choosing the right paint color can be an exercise in frustration due to the dizzying array of available hues. You may already have a basic color family in mind, but if not, it can be helpful to browse through photos of beautifully decorated rooms on the internet for inspiration.

Once you’ve narrowed your decision to a specific color family, such as blues, grays, or whites, you’ll need to go further by deciding whether you prefer a soft pastel tint, a moody and dark hue, or something in the middle within that color family. Finalize your decision by painting a few sample brushstrokes of your contenders on the walls of the room where they will be used, and then observe the way the color looks at different times of day and under different lighting conditions. Most paint companies sell sample-sized containers of their paint for this purpose.

DID YOU KNOW?

Almost all interior paint used today is water-based.

Features

Once you’ve decided on the formula, sheen, and color of your paint, there are a few other features that might be worth the extra cost, depending on your needs.

Low VOCs: Many interior paints are now formulated to emit very low VOCs, meaning the paint is less harmful to the environment and your health.

One-coat: If your walls are in fairly good condition, a one-coat paint is opaque enough to get the job done without need for a second coat.

Self-priming: Paint and primer in one, these paints let you eliminate the tedious chore of applying a separate primer before your color. However, there are some scenarios where it’s still best to apply a traditional primer before painting:

  • You’re painting over bare wood or new drywall
  • You’re painting a lighter color over a dark paint
  • The old paint has a glossier finish than the new paint
  • The existing surface is stained or damaged

The hardest part of a DIY paint job is choosing your favorite color.

Interior house paint prices

There’s no need to break your budget on paint, but it’s not a good idea to skimp, either. Quality interior house paint, combined with quality paint brushes and rollers, can make the difference between a smooth, professional-looking paint job and a streaky, amateur one.

Price also varies depending on paint sheen. As a general rule, flat and eggshell finishes cost the least. Semi-gloss and glossy finishes are the most expensive, and satin falls somewhere in the middle.

Inexpensive: For under $25, you can get a gallon of bargain-priced paint. In this price range, don’t expect the smoothest finish, the best coverage, or to get the job done without a separate application of primer.

Midrange: For most DIY painters, the sweet spot for interior paint is $30 to $60 per gallon. In this price range, you’ll find paints that cover in one coat, don’t require a separate primer, emit very little VOCs, and apply smoothly and evenly.

Expensive: For $60 and up, you’ll get a gallon of excellent interior paint that likely covers with just one coat, doesn’t require separate priming, and applies smoothly and evenly before drying to an opaque, even finish. You’ll also find designer brands in this category, along with the largest selection of trendy or unusual colors.

DID YOU KNOW?

As a general rule, a gallon of paint covers around 350 square feet.

Tips

While admittedly tedious, proper prepping before starting to paint makes a big difference in the outcome. Here are some tips for your process.

  • Remove all furniture and décor from the room, if possible. If you can’t remove furnishings from the room, push them to the center of the space. Cover anything that can’t be moved, including the floors, with drop cloths.
  • Remove wall items that could mar your paint job. This includes switch plates and outlet covers.
  • Create a smooth canvas. Fill any holes, dents, or cracks with spackle. Allow the spackle to dry for 24 hours before painting. Use a putty knife to scrape away loose or peeling paint. Smooth rough spots with 220-grit sandpaper.
  • Clean the walls. Use a mixture of water and mild dish soap, working from the top of the wall down to the bottom. Let the walls dry overnight.
  • Apply strips of painter’s tape. Use the tape to cover trim, windowsills, and any other surfaces that you cannot remove but don’t want to paint.


Now you’re ready to start painting!

Don’t skimp on paint quality. Good paint goes on smoothly, covers well, and gives the most professional-looking results.

FAQ

Q. How do I know how much paint to buy?
A.
Get out your calculator because there’s a bit of math involved in calculating how much paint you’ll need for your project. First, measure the length of each wall you’ll be painting. Then, add those numbers together. If painting an entire room, you’ll typically have four wall lengths. Next, measure the ceiling height in the room. Multiply the ceiling height by the total of the wall lengths. This will give you the square footage of the room.

Subtract 20 for each door in the room and 15 for each window. You now have the total square feet that will be covered by paint.

Finally, as one gallon of paint covers around 350 square feet, divide your total square feet by 350. Round up to the nearest whole number, and that’s how many gallons of paint you’ll need. Remember that it’s better to have a little more paint than needed than to run short midway through your painting session.

Here’s an example for a room that’s 10 x 12 feet with 10-foot ceilings, one door, and two windows.

  • 10+10+12+12=44
  • 44x10=440 square feet
  • 440-20-15-15=390 square feet
  • 390/350=1.1

So, you’d need two gallons of paint for the entire room. Note that if you plan to apply two coats, you’d need twice that.


Q. How do I choose the right paint sheen?
A.
While choosing a paint sheen is partly a matter of preference, certain sheens tend to work better in certain rooms. Here are some guidelines.

Ceilings: Traditionally, a matte finish is best for ceilings. It’s not an area that’s going to get smudged, and matte paint creates an even, perfect appearance on the surface.

Children’s rooms: Kids can be hard on their walls. Expect to need to wipe away smudges, fingerprints, and the occasional pencil or marking pen. Satin finish is a good choice here.

Adult’s rooms: Unless you have a lot of pet traffic in your room, the walls will probably stay clean. Eggshell and satin are both good choices for an adult bedroom.

Family, dining, and living rooms: The common areas of the home are usually high-traffic areas subject to wear and tear from children and pets. Satin holds up to the hubbub and is easy to wipe clean.

Bathrooms: The high humidity and constant traffic in the bathroom makes satin or even semi-gloss the best choice.

Kitchen: Grease, humidity, smoke, and cooking odors are hard on the walls. Choose semi-gloss or satin for your kitchen.

Cabinets, trim, and doors: These are traditionally painted with semi-gloss or glossy paint, making the surfaces easy to wipe clean.


Q. How should I dispose of leftover paint?
A.
Always check with local regulations before disposing of interior paint, as they can vary from place to place. As a general rule, oil-based paint must be disposed of at an approved hazardous waste collection center. Some municipalities require the same for latex paint, but in many areas, you can toss latex paint that’s completely dried out in the trash. 

The team that worked on this review
  • Amber
    Amber
    Writer
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor
  • Michelle
    Michelle
    Writer

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