House Paint Buying Guide

Whether you do it yourself or hire a pro, painting involves a serious commitment of time, money, and effort. You want to get it right the first time so you won’t be back on ladders in a couple of years. One of the most important decisions you’ll face is choosing the right paint. This is crucial to whether or not your new paint job will look good and last.

Choosing the right paint for your home is critical, both in terms of appearance and durability.Jill Battaglia /

Choosing the right paint for your home is critical, both in terms of appearance and durability.

Paint Basics

Paint is primarily a mixture of pigment, resin, and a carrier. Titanium dioxide is the main, white pigment; relatively small amounts of other pigments are added to tint the color. Resin makes paint adhere to a surface. A carrier is the evaporative liquid added to thin the mixture so you can brush or roll it on-water for latex paints or a solvent such as linseed or soybean oil for oil/alkyd paints. Paint also contains clay or other inert ingredients to adjust the paint’s sheen. And it may contain small amounts of secondary solvents that help with gloss, drying characteristics, and the like.

The amount and quality of each ingredient determine a paint’s performance and price. For example, paint with plenty of titanium dioxide has strong hiding characteristics and so, because this is the most expensive ingredient, costs more. Oil/alkyd paints that utilize odorless mineral spirits as a carrier are more expensive than those with regular solvents. With this in mind, price is a good indicator of quality.

When you buy paint, go with reputable brands. There are significant differences between cheap and quality paints, particularly in characteristics such as hiding and washability. You’re also more likely to find a more extensive color palette in the quality lines. And don’t forget to check the warranty on the label-this is a benchmark that normally gives you a fair idea of the differences in quality levels of various paints.

Paint Qualities Worth Considering

Paint may have any of several lusters. From dull to shiny, they are: flat, eggshell, pearl, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss (in Canada, satin falls between flat and eggshell). Each paint manufacturer has slight variations in the level of sheen in each category.


Paint Luster

A paint’s luster depends on its mixture of pigment, resin, and inert ingredients. Paint with less pigment and more resin is glossier than the reverse. Enamel is a term that usually denotes an extra-smooth, hard surface coating-the result of using plenty of resin in the formula. The glossier a finish, the more durable and washable it tends to be.

Flat paint is great at hiding irregularities and surface imperfections. Pearl and eggshell are a compromise; they partially hide imperfections and are more washable than flat. For painting interiors, the best choices are often flat for ceilings, eggshell for walls, and semi-gloss or gloss for doors and trim. Exteriors typically call for flat or satin and semi-gloss on trim. Satin tends to be not too shiny and easier to clean than flat.

Highly durable gloss enamels used to be available only as oil/alkyd-based products. Now you can get a very high-gloss, water-based finish that almost looks sprayed on. These finishes offer excellent hiding, don’t yellow or become brittle, and are guaranteed to cover in one coat.


One-Coat Hiding

Another distinguishing characteristic of good paint is coverage, sometimes called “hiding.” When a label reads “one-coat hiding,” read the fine print to make sure that one coat, when properly applied, without any exceptions, is guaranteed. A paint that can cover in one coat, even at a premium price, is well worth the additional cost because of the labor saved-which is typically 90% of the cost of a quality paint job. When you are talking about the exterior of a house, not just a room, this labor savings can be huge.

The determining factor for good hiding is the level of titanium dioxide in the mixture-the more it contains, the better the hiding. Some flat paints use cheap fillers to achieve good hiding; unfortunately, the rest of their characteristics, such as scrubbability, fall short.

Scrubbable Paint Ratings

Interior paints have a scrubbability rating, established through standardized testing. This is a good indication of a paint film’s toughness and ability to withstand physical abuse. Though this rating may not be posted on the can, a paint retailer should have information on the rating. By comparing these, you can get a good idea of a paint’s quality.

One problem with using a flat paint on interior walls is that though the wall will be able to be washed, it won’t take kindly to scrubbing. If you scrub it with a damp cloth, you’ll remove the dirt or smudge, but exposed pigment particles become burnished or polished, which ruins the finish. To avoid this, it’s better to choose a high-performance eggshell paint.

Some new, high-performance finishes are amazingly easy to clean-you just sponge them off as if you were wiping off a countertop. Ketchup, food, scuff marks, mud-all of these just wipe clean.

The Right Paint for the Room

Choosing the right paint also involves recognizing how the room will be used. If you don’t want to figure out the right formula, sheen, and other characteristics for a certain job, you may want to check out Dutch Boy Paints, which decided to take the guesswork out of choosing the right formula.

How much paint do you need?© Janpietruszka |

How much paint do you need?

Dutch Boy found out what the most-often-painted interior rooms and exterior projects were and formulated products for those uses. In functional rooms such as kitchens and baths, people wanted durability and easy maintenance first. In more decorative rooms, such as living rooms, master bedrooms, and dining rooms, appearance was often the key factor. In a child’s room, safety was critical. With the results from the company’s research, Dutch Boy came out with “Kid’s Room,” “Kitchen & Bath,” “Cabinet & Trim,” and other location-specific paints. Its Kid’s Room paint, for example, is a durable, washable, low-odor latex formula that coordinates with a line of matching children’s borders.

This brings up the issue of safety. Paint contains thinners, or solvents, that release volatile organic compounds as they evaporate. These contribute to smog and can pose health risks.

Modern oil-based paints, made with synthetic resins called alkyds, have less thinner and give off fewer odors and toxic fumes than their oil-based predecessors. Still, thinner is an essential component of alkyd paint.

Because the thinner content of latex paint has always been much less than that of alkyd paint, there has been a dramatic shift over the years toward latex.

In fact, some oil-based paints are now restricted or illegal in certain areas of the country. The already low solvent content of latex paints (a maximum of 8 percent) has been reduced to zero in some cases. These paints are marked “0 VOC” (short for “zero volatile organic compounds”). While this is good news for the environment, 0 VOC paint can be difficult to work with because it dries very quickly.

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  • An He

    So, where can we find a listing of brands of paints and their levels of titanium dioxide, etc?

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