Taking the Pain Out of Painting
By Laura Fisher Kaiser
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, July 8, 2004; Page H01
As home improvement projects go, painting seems like a piece of cake: Grab a brush and a can of paint and go, no?
That's before you spend a weekend scraping window sills, lugging gallon cans, dragging a roller across the ceiling and dabbing drips, only to find that what looked appealing on a tiny paint chip looks appalling on four walls.
But manufacturers, eager to encourage do-it-yourselfers, are trying to take the pain out of painting.
"It's a matter of competition," says John Stauffer, technical director of the Paint Quality Institute. "As companies are trying to keep up with the Joneses, paint performance has been increasing for several years. Now it seems every manufacturer and retailer has added new top-quality paints to their lines because people expect them and are willing to pay."
Along with improved paint has come an array of products -- from high-tech color selectors to easy-to-use roller pans. Consider some of the recent innovations.
Screen-test your color
One of the most daunting parts of painting is not doing the work but picking the colors. Interactive tools on manufacturers' Web sites let consumers experiment with color down to the trim, ceiling and backsplash. Benjamin Moore, Behr and Glidden have three of the best sites.
Benjamin Moore's Personal Color Viewer provides sample "rooms," where you can paint walls, trim or ceiling, picking colors by name or from a chart (www.benjaminmoore.com). The company also sells software that includes more than 3,000 color schemes using sample rooms or you can upload a digital photo of your own house. The program can be ordered at www.eisoftwareinc.com.
Behr's Color Smart system creates palettes of coordinated paints for you and then lets you try them out on various rooms. Its "Sheen Solutions" chart figures which finish is right for which surface (www.behr.com).
Glidden's Color@Home Paint Visualizer is the most user-friendly, offering the widest choice of rooms and paintable details -- down to the inside of kitchen cabinets. The site displays more colors at once, making it easier to zero in on the shade you want (www.glidden.com).
One word of caution: Online color samples are just an approximation. There is no substitute for trying a sample on the wall.
Bigger, better chips
Realizing how inadequate tiny color chips are, a consortium of independent paint retailers, the Coatings Alliance (www.c2color.com), has created a line of paints called C2 marketed with the Ultimate Paint Chip: a generous 18-by-24-inch sample that sells for $4.99 each. The chip is made using actual paint -- not a printed facsimile typical of conventional chips. They are available locally at Alexandria Paint Co. (703-379-5800) and at Monarch Paint and Wallcovering in Chevy Chase, D.C. (202-686-5550).
Devine Color, paint made by an Oregon firm, sells 8 1/2-by-11-inch cards, also with actual paint, for $1.99 apiece (www.devinecolor.com). The line includes colors formulated for specific geographical regions; it is sold through Color Wheel in McLean (703-356-8477) and the Great Indoors in Gaithersburg (240-599-1330).
The upscale British manufacturer Farrow & Ball sells cards showing the company's entire palette made with actual paint for $25; single-color sample chips are free. Both are available at www.farrow-ball.com. (Printed brochures of Farrow & Ball colors are available at Color Wheel, which carries the paint.)
Martha's Fine Paints, produced in collaboration with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, offers 4-by-8-inch paint chips in swatch books of complementary colors. For $60 you get all four coordinated color collections plus coupons for four-ounce sample pots Available locally at Monarch Paint in the District, or through www.finepaintsofeurope.com.
Another clever innovation, from Glidden, is a Color View brochure with color chips that have adhesive on the back so you can peel and stick them on walls wherever you want.
Smaller, simpler samples
Even when you think you've found the perfect color, audition the paint: Put it on the wall and live with it for a few days and nights. Buying test cans by the gallon or quart, however, can be expensive and wasteful.
Restoration Hardware -- one of the few places where you can buy both paint and couches -- sells four-ounce pots of the company's focused palette of 12 colors for $2.95 each (800-762-1005 or www.restorationhardware.com).
Fine Paints of Europe, a Dutch company that manufactures Martha's Fine Paints and other lines, sells half-liter pots for $6 each; free samples are available through www.finepaintsofeurope.com. The paint is sold at Monarch Paint, Arlington Paint and Decorating Center (703-534-4477) and the Paint Shop in Warrenton (540-347-4484).
Devine Color will mail you a two-ounce pouch of paint that covers about four square feet; $15.80 covers a four-pouch minimum and includes shipping. Farrow & Ball offers five-liter tins for $5 at Color Wheel or online plus shipping.
Benjamin Moore is introducing its own sample program: 260 of the manufacturer's 3,300 colors are available in two-ounce jars. The little clear plastic jars, reminiscent of cosmetic packaging, are designed to appeal to women, who make 70 percent of all interior paint selections, according to the company. The $3.49 jars should be in all Benjamin Moore dealers in September; they're already available at Monarch Paint.
Take it off
Pros will tell you that the key to a great paint job lies in the prep work. That can require removing layers of chipped and gatored paint that have accumulated for decades and may contain lead, using toxic chemicals or heat guns and propane torches that can spark fires and create lead dust from old paint.
The Swedish-made Speedheater is an electric tool that uses infrared heat to penetrate through the paint into the wood, so multiple layers can be scraped off with little damage to the wood. Unlike a heat gun or torch, which can scorch wood, the infrared rays heat paint to no more than 400 degrees -- well below the temperature at which wood ignites or lead fumes are released. The tool, used in Europe for more than a decade, is available to rent ($22 a day) or buy ($435) in the Washington area through Eco-Strip in Reston (www.eco-strip.com; 703-476-6222).
Meanwhile, chemical strippers have been getting less toxic and easier to work with. Several non-caustic paint removers -- alkaline and non-phenolic -- are now available to replace phenolic strippers, which release acid fumes and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to ozone buildup. Removall 210, a water-based stripper, is odorless, non-toxic and non-flammable, so the rinse water is safe for the public drainage system (available from Boston Restoration, 866-988-1177; www.restorationproducts.com). A soybean-based stripper, Soy-Gel, is an odorless, biodegradable product that, according to the manufacturer, removes paint, varnishes and urethane from wood, brick, metal and fiberglass (800-538-5069, www.franmar.com).
Some new paints combine the softness of a flat finish with the washability of glossier paints. The paint is formulated to minimize spattering and brush and roller marks while improving resistance to dirt and stains. Benjamin Moore calls its version Regal Matte, with a suggested retail price of $35.99 a gallon.
Ace Hardware stores have introduced Ace Sensations, the first paint to contain Scotchgard. This premium acrylic latex flat paint resists common household stains such as coffee, crayon, fingerprints, lipstick and grease, as well as mildew (www.acehardware.com for locations).
For exteriors, Sherwin-Williams, which recently bought Beltsville-based Duron, offers paint designed to stand up to UV rays and harsh weather. Exterior Accents is available in more than 1,000 shades. The formula can also be applied at temperatures as low as 35 degrees, which extends the home renovation season (www.sherwin-williams.com).
Glidden has developed a paint for the messiest, most tiring part of the job: the ceiling. The paint goes on pink then dries to a bright white in less than 30 minutes, so you can see where you missed. It sells for $15.99 to $17.99 at Home Depot stores. Ace offers a similar "invisible ink" product. You add a blue tint to its Simply Magic ceiling paint, and the color disappears after 24 hours.
Color-Prime, a gray-shade primer line by Sherwin-Williams, pairs primer and top coat so deep, vivid accent colors become bolder and brighter with fewer coats.
Some new paints contain few or no VOCs. Water-based products such as Benjamin Moore's Pristine Eco Spec, Duron's Genesis, Glidden's Lifemaster 2000 and Sherwin-Williams's Harmony Interior Latex Paint don't have the drawbacks of traditional oil-based counterparts -- high odor, flammability and solvent cleanup. The price is comparable to that of regular paint.
Cool tools to roll with
To reduce spatters, Stanley offers a microfiber Max Finish paint roller designed to hold about twice as much paint as the average roller without throwing off droplets. The roller is supposed to shed less than conventional models too ($5 for two at some Wal-Mart stores; www.stanleyworks.com.)
The squarish one-quart Handy Paint Pail from Bercom Inc. is designed to be easier to handle than heavy cans. It has an adjustable strap that slides over your hand, four liners made of recycled plastic, four shower cap-like pail covers to protect paint while you take a break and a magnet to keep your brush from plunging into the goop. About $9 at Home Depot.
Dutch Boy's Twist & Pour plastic paint containers feature a twist-off lid, side handle and pour spout. Available in gallon and quart sizes, the lightweight, square vessel eliminates the need for screw drivers or can openers to pry off lids, while providing a tight seal to preserve leftover paint.
In August Dutch Boy is to begin selling paint in a square plastic pail with a built-in roller tray. The Ready to Roll container holds 2 1/2 gallons -- the amount needed to paint an average room -- and has a snap-on lid for leftover storage.
The SealPro Reusable Paint Tray by Prazi USA stores roller and paint with an air tight seal so if you stop for a couple of hours or even a couple of days, paint and roller are ready to use when you return. The heavy-duty tray holds up to a gallon of paint and is available for $19.95 (800-262-0211, www.praziusa.com.)
Scott Rags Painter's Wipes are 14-by-7-inch, heavy-duty disposable towels pre-moistened with a cleaning agent that removes grease, oil, paint and ink. The textured side of the polypropylene fabric can be used for scrubbing tools, hands and splatters, while the smooth side is designed to moisten the skin. A pop-up dispenser of 30 wipes sells for $3.97 at Home Depot.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company