From performance-enhancing attributes to packaging.
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open can of pink paint with brush
Credit: Getty / Isabel Pavia

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If you thought you could judge the quality of paint by its label, you'd be mistaken. "Most paint brands aren't very transparent when it comes to labeling, and the language used on labels typically includes a lot of technical jargon," explains interior designer and paint expert Nicole Gibbons of Clare. "The average person isn't equipped with the right education to decipher this kind of jargon in order to determine whether one paint is better than another."

Along with confusing technical jargon, Annie Sloan, paint and color expert and the creator of Chalk Paint, says the ingredient labels on most cans of paint don't reveal much about their contents, either. "You can't always trust the ingredient list on a can of paint, as they could reflect tiny amounts or huge proportions," she explains. "You have no idea what concentration of various ingredients might be inside." Interested in hearing more about what you should be looking for in a can of paint? We asked Gibbons and Sloan for their advice and this is what they had to share.

Check the label for performance-enhancing attributes.

As a rule of thumb, Gibbons says you want to look for label callouts of performance attributes, such as durability and coverage, when inspecting a can of paint. "While these are never really disclosed by paint manufacturers, there are signals on the label that indicate the formula likely contains performance enhancing additives," she explains. "One property that indicates a high level of durability is mildew resistance. If a paint label claims mildew resistance, that generally means an additive was included to prohibit the growth of mold or mildew in the can and to make the dried film also resistant to mildew."

Consider acrylic paint.

If you ask Gibbons, the best quality paints consist of 100 percent acrylic resin. "It's less likely to peel, crack, or blister, and results in a stronger and smoother dried finish," she says. "Paint that's not 100-percent acrylic often combines cheap ingredients that can't withstand wear and tear and don't hold up well over time."

Look for a higher percentage of volume solids.

Gibbons says that typical household paint is made up of solvents, binders (typically resin), pigments, additives, and water, and that volume solids are what you're left with once the paint has dried. "You may not find this information on every label, but you can usually find it on the manufacturers' websites," she says. "Volume solids in the mid 30-percent range indicate better quality paint, and volume solids in the 40-percent-plus range represent the highest quality."

No VOCs, please.

Since paint is a chemical product, Gibbons believes it's equally important to focus on what your paint is formulated without when inspecting the label. "Household paint is one of the largest contributors of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which are toxic gasses emitted as byproducts of toxic ingredients, which pollute the air and pose health risks," she explains. "Choose a paint containing zero-VOCs (or less than five grams per liter) to minimize indoor air pollution and support healthier indoor air quality in your home."

Packaging matters.

While single-use paint containers should always be avoided, Gibbons says newer ones made of recycled plastic can often last longer than metal cans made of cheap materials. "Cans made of metal don't always maintain their structure, and they can corrode or rust, which can negatively impact the integrity of your leftover paint," she explains. If you prefer metal cans for their shape and durability, go for one made of rust-resistant stainless steel, which is less likely to dent and effect your ability to reseal the lid.

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