Dear Lowes: A Gallon Has 128 Fluid Ounces, Not 116

A reader wants to know why Lowes advertises and sells gallons of house paint that aren’t full gallons. Their website says the cans are “1-Gallon.” Their receipts describe them as 1 gallon cans of paint. Even the stickers they print out and place on the lids say “One Gallon.” But Brian notes that when he brought the paint home and really looked at the cans, “One of the labels read ‘116 Fluid Ounces; 3.43 liters’, the second label read ‘126 Fluid Ounces; 3.725 Liters.'”

Brian points out in his letter to the company:

One of two things is happening Mr. Niblock; either the people responsible for manufacturing your labels are making mistakes, or your company is falsely advertising the quantity of some of their buckets of paint.

Comments

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  1. Jon Mason says:

    The grocery shrink ray is now targeting home improvement stores! 2x4s will be next!

  2. AstroPig7 says:

    Clearly, this is a contractor’s gallon. It’s like a baker’s dozen, except the cook hates you.

  3. Nick1693 says:

    Grocery Shrink Ray hits paint?

  4. timmus says:

    Hello attorneys general? Don’t want to spoil ya’ll’s golf game, but…

  5. RBecho says:

    I noticed this at Home Depot as well. My guess is that it’s a gallon once you add in the pigment, but even then sometimes there isn’t much pigment in a color.

    Sadly, it’s just one of those things.

  6. wgrune says:

    Is it possible that the label correctly states the volume of the “base” paint, before tinting (coloring) are added? If you started with a true gallon of base there may not be any room to add the coloring to make your living room “hot mocha starbeam” or whatever crazy name the call brown these days. Afting all the coloring is added you may actually have 128 fl-oz of paint. Just a thought.

  7. muckpond says:

    @masonreloaded: 2x4s have already been hit. they’re actually 1.5×3.5s and have been for years. :/

  8. ryan89 says:

    It looks like the same product has two different cans, one contains 10oz less base. Unless the computer somehow knows this, I would imagine it is adding the same amount of pigment to each can. One of the “gallons” would be tinted slightly different. I hope HD doesn’t do this with Behr as that’s all I buy.

  9. TWinter says:

    The stuff they use to color paint is pretty concentrated, there is no way the average gallon needs 12 oz to color it.

  10. SCAdvanced says:

    I used to mix paint at a Walmart. There are different bases that use different amounts of color. If you look at the picture, there are two different bases there. Base 1 and Base 4. There are usually different bases for different types of colors. Base 1 would probably refer to a lighter color, and Base 4 would refer to a darker color which would require more pigment.

  11. bobpence says:

    @ryan89, TWinter: The cans shown are “Eggshell Base 1″ (126 fl. oz.) and “Eggshell Base 4″ (116 fl. oz.). This jives with a MousePrint.org posting from late 2006 indicating that darker bases may require more tint than lighter bases, thus 12 vs. 2 oz. short. As some have guessed, this is done when tint is to be added, so to base paints rather than pre-mixed colors. And yes Home Depot’s Behr does it to.

    While the linked article asserts there’s nothing illegal in this widespread (and sensible, I might add) industry practice, it certainly appears that more than “must add tint” is needed for the average weekend DIYer to know what’s going on, e.g. something like “one gallon (with tint), maybe.”

  12. MPHinPgh says:

    As others have stated, the cans are short-filled to allow room for pigment. I worked for 8 years for a national paint manufacture (in their color lab) and this is standard practice. The formula for any given color (the ‘recipe’) would include at least enough colorant to bring the can up to the correct volume (32 oz for a qt, 128 for a gallon, etc).

    BTW…some of the colorants are very (VERY) expensive. The reds and yellows tend to be the most expensive, and black and umber (a dirty brown) tend to be the cheapest. But if you wondered why strong and/or bright colors cost more than an off-white…there’s your answer.

  13. I’m agreeing with this is a base. The computer probably dispenses out pigment in the proper proportions for 12 ozs. I would ask the paint people. They will probably explain this to you. Unlike some of the other depts, the paint people are usually pretty knowledgeable.

  14. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @muckpond: 2x4s are really 2×4… before they’ve been trimmed and sanded. It’s 2×4 from the lumber mill’s point of view, not from the end user’s.

  15. tom2133 says:

    @SCAdvanced: Great explanation. Move along, nothing more to see here…

  16. QuantumRiff says:

    @speedwell: Yes, lumber companies were the early pioneers of the grocery shrink ray! (its kinda like how my truck has 200HP, before they connect the transmission and wheels to it…)

  17. lockdog says:

    A lot of two by fours are even smaller than the 1.5″x3.5″ they used to be. Sometimes as much as 1/8″ smaller than standard. At first I though I was just getting the occasional bad board, but it seems to be happening more and more frequently. Same thing with plywood and especially OSB. We used to talk about 3/8″, 1/2″ and 3/4″, Now you see numbers like 11/16″, 15/32″, etc. Lets just convert to metric and get over with it.

  18. post_break says:

    I worked a paint counter for years. Some colors need over 12oz of colorant. This could be a marketing error but chances are if you get a darker color (something in a midtone or deep base) you will get the full gallon. The lighter pastel bases may leave you with a few ounces less but not enough for you to even notice considering the pastel base tends to cover more than say a midtone.

    All in all I wouldn’t freak out too much. Chances are if you were to bring this up to an experienced paint mixer he or she would probably point at the colorants and tell you thats where the extra ounces go.

  19. Dansc29625 says:

    Ya learn something new on Consumerist some days. Completely off topic, but I work at an auto parts store, and it is astonishing how many people ask “How many quarts in this gallon.”

  20. eekfuh says:

    Gallons are a measurement of volume and ounces are a measurement of mass.

    There are 128 fluid oz to a gallon. Thats based on water.

    Obviously the paint weighs more than water and they are measuring the ounces in mass not volume, however the gallon is measured in volume.

  21. EBounding says:

    The CANS are one gallon, not the paint…right?

  22. ben1711 says:

    @eekfuh: Sorry…but wrong. The can says fl oz., which is fluid ounces, which measures volume.

  23. timmus says:

    As others have stated, the cans are short-filled to allow room for pigment.

    I’ll grudgingly buy this explanation.

  24. @eekfuh: No. Obviously they are adding ~12 ozs of pigment or dye which brings you up to a gallon.

  25. MrEvil says:

    I was fixing to say, it’s not that the tints just magically disappear in the 128oz of base. You have to account for the space the tints take up since they do have volume. The more empty bases are for darker/more brilliant colors as others have stated.

    However, it should say “1 gallon after tinting”

  26. skwigger says:

    As stated above, the missing ounces are to allow room for the adding of tinting.

    If you read the can, it says “Base 1″. There are usually Bases 1-5. This is not actually a gallon of white paint that anyone should be purchasing (without adding tint).

    Lowes used to have the “bases” within the cage in the paint department, but have since removed the cage to make it more customer friendly, which in this case has only caused more problems.

  27. incognit000 says:

    The Grocery Shrink Ray hits the English standard measurement system?

    Sounds like a job for The Department of Weights and Measures.

    But I’m willing to go along with the “numbers on the can indicate quantity of base” theory. Still, you’d think that they’d put on a label that says “116 oz base/12 oz pigment”

  28. jgodsey says:

    AHA! THIS is a case for the Government involvement.
    Department of Weights and Measures should punish them severely.

  29. joebar says:

    What happens if I want a can of straight white eggshell paint? Is there a separate can marked “white eggshell”, or do they add 2oz or 12oz of “white” dye (no).

  30. @jgodsey: As long as the can contains the stated amount of paint, then this is completely legal.

    @MrEvil: The label also states right underneath the circles on the right “MUST BE TINTED”. It also lists the amount of paint in the can. AFTER tinting, a new label is applied by the employee which states 1 gallon. If the machine adds 12oz of pigment, then this label would be the correct label.

  31. Marshfield says:

    Grocery shrink ray FAIL.

  32. kable2 says:

    actually a 2×4 doesnt measure 2″ x 4″.

    measure one sometime.

    /I want my .5″ x .5″ back ;)

    @AstroPig7:

  33. kable2 says:

    I had a guy at Canadian Tire add the tint to the wrong paint cans. He was adding it to the cans of white instead of the ones made for tint to be added, it was overflowing from the cans. And it tinted a kind of pink instead of the deep red I wanted. I wasnt questioning him untill at can 15 I noticed him using a cup to bail out some paint to make room for the tints :O

    /I got the 15 cans of $38 paint for $5 each
    //Using it as a base coat in the new house
    ///yea you have to add the tint to get the gallon

  34. scienceclub says:

    They typically add 4-8 ounces of marbles to the can to aid mixing the paint. Also, 2-6 ribbons of chocolate fudge, if the flavor is fudge-based.

  35. TVarmy says:

    At Lowes, a dozen is 10.

  36. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @kable2: As I mentioned before, a 2-by-4 starts out as a 2 by 4 cut. After dressing, drying, and straightening, it is supposed to be 1-1/2 by 3-1/2. If you go to the lumber mill and purchase freshly milled, green, wet, unseasoned, rough 2-by-4s (which I understand is possible), then you can have your full 2 by 4. I wouldn’t want lumber that way.

  37. savvy999 says:

    @EBounding: That’s what I was thinking before I read through all the responses. The CAN, filled up to the top, is 1 gallon.

    Now whether or not it actually HAS 1 gallon of paint in it, is a different story, and explained well by others.

    This is true with just about every bulk liquid container. A 55-gallon drum of gas/veggie oil/whatever doesn’t have exactly 55.00 gallons of whatever in it, there’s always a little headroom at the top.

    In this case, the paint can has a little bit more headroom to allow for the addition of pigment.

    So the question is, is this a deliberate scamming of consumers, or a time-accepted practice, and only now are people figuring it out? Methinks the latter.

  38. TWinter says:

    Wow, I’m really surprised to find out some colors take 12 oz. of tint, but it sounds like it does happen. And it does explain the story.

  39. NikonGal says:

    Seems the problem would be solved if the can simply stated “116 fl oz before dye is added”

  40. MPHinPgh says:

    @joebar: The white or pastel bases are usually filled to 128 oz. You can only put an ounce or two of pigment in that base…

  41. ionerox says:

    @savvy999: Obviously they’re just advertising the gallon container used to hold the paint.

    Too bad they can’t claim “contents may settle” like the cereal people do.

  42. kable2 says:

    @speedwell:

    yea I know that lol.

    /the trimmings are used to make mdf and other stuff

  43. Howie999 says:

    I reported to Meg a few weeks ago that Home Depot’s BEHR paint was 122 fl. oz., but I figured the shortage was because of the pigment. Now I have the question – why is HD’s paint 122 fl. oz., Lowe’s is 116 fl. oz. and/or 122 fl. oz.? Certainly, the pigment differs based on the color, but somebody somewhere is getting shorted a few ounces.

  44. shufflemoomin says:

    @masonreloaded: You mean 1.75×3.75’s don’t you?

  45. ModernDemagogue says:

    Regardless of the very plausible explanations provided regarding die and pigmentation, this strikes me as false or deceptive advertising.

    A gallon is a gallon, and 116oz not a gallon. Unless they have some specific disclaimer that says “Gallon refers to volume of container, actual volume of contents may vary” you can’t advertise a gallon and then sell less, even if its fairly reasonable as to why.

    If I were a lawyer I’d ready up for a nice class-action suit and take my cut of the tasty pre-trial settlement.

  46. bugdog says:

    I used to do support for Home Depot’s paint dispensers so I can vouch for the fact that they sometimes add several ounces of tint to a base. They even have some called “deep bases” for colors that require a shedload of tint.

    Howie999, the 116oz vs 122oz at Lowe’s is likely a case of deep base vs normal base.

  47. daveforamerica says:

    I used to manage a hardware store, and I’ve had people ask me this question before. Some of the commenters are right on, and that it is to leave room for tint.

    Since not all colors will require the same amount of tint, different manufacturers sell a variety of bases. Some call their bases “Base 1, 2, etc.” while some give them names that make a little more sense, like “Midtone, Deeptone, Neutral, or Pastel, etc.”

    In the example in the photo, for that green color, you can see the formula on the label.

    When it says 101-2, I’m assuming that means you add 2/48ths of an Oz of “101” (one of their colorants). In the paint world forumlas are given in a manner such as 2Y40 which would mean 2 Oz, and 40/48ths of an ounce. Some places may say “1 Oz, 28 shots” which would be 1 Oz, 28/48ths.

    So in this formula you have 11.625 ounces of tint added to Base 4, so you have a total of 127.625 ounces of paint in the 1 gallon container.

    Now some formulas might call for less colorant, and would go into a different base.

    As mentioned before, some colorants can be very expensive, so the deeper-tone colors are more expensive for the store to make. That being said, no retailar charges based on what color you buy. You pay for what size (gallon or quart) and what finish (flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, etc). So you could buy 2 gallons of flat paint, and you’d pay the same price for them, no matter what the color. Even if one color was $2-3 more expensive for the store to make.

    You aren’t being ripped off, and I don’t really know a better way to advertise the paint. Should the label say 127.625 Oz. rather than “One Gallon?” I don’t know, and personally I think that would be rather silly.

    And if you did buy a gallon of ready-mixed paint, for a standard color such as white… you will get 128 oz.

  48. springboks says:

    maybe when the can is open and it reacts with air it expands the paint and turns into a gallon.

  49. The Great Aussie Evil says:

    @daveforamerica: I don’t think consumers would be like “OMG THEY STIFFED ME .325 OZ I HATE THEM” if the can contains 127.625 oz rather than the full gallon.

  50. Snowblind says:

    @daveforamerica:

    And if I remember correctly, it has been a long time since I worked at a HW store, it also adjusts for viscosity.

    Tint changes the viscosity, thinning it out. So the bases had different viscosity to offset the tint.

    Brush and roller has some slack, but using a sprayer requires the right viscosity.

  51. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @kable2: Oh, OK. Sorry… I have often had to explain this to hair-trigger Texans who think I’m personally cheating them.

  52. dangermike says:

    @wgrune: +1.

    That, or if it’s a two-part system, or if there are any other additives/fillers/thinners/etc. the volume of the parts will add up to 1 gallon. (trust me, this is my trade)

  53. daveforamerica says:

    @Snowblind

    Tint can change the viscosity, but that gets a little tricky as different colorants have different viscosities. Different finishes, as well. That’s more into the realm of where it starts to make my head hurt a little bit :P

  54. Rahzel says:

    My girlfriend works in the paint department at Lowe’s. I showed her this article, and she offered this explanation:

    The posters who have commented that the missing ounces in the “gallon” of paint are in fact replaced by pigment are correct. The bottom row of numbers in the second picture at the head of the article shows that approximately 12 ounces of pigment have been added to Eggshell base 4 (which contains 116 ounces of base to start with): 2 shots of black, 3 ounces 20 shots of blue, 6 ounces 40 shots of white, and 1 ounce 16 shots of another color (there are 48 shots in an ounce). This adds up to just shy of 12 ounces, so in the end the customer is getting 128 ounces of paint.

    Also, the different bases are designed to be used for either darker or lighter colors. Base 4 is meant to be used for darker colors (requiring more pigment), so there is less base than, say, Base 1, which is meant to be used for lighter colors (requiring less pigment).

    So, in the end, the customer isn’t getting shafted. And if the customer happened to want just the base color, the paint technician would simply top off the can of paint to 128 ounces!

    Also, my girlfriend recommends staying away from this particular line of paint (Valspar Signature), and instead purchasing Valspar Ultra Premium. It’s easier to work with than Signature, but much nicer than the cheaper stuff that Lowe’s sells!

  55. The_IT_Crone says:

    I wish they would change it to “MAKES one gallon.” Otherwise, meh.

  56. MonkeyFart says:

    @daveforamerica:

    Having worked as a Paint Department Manager for Lowe’s, this explanation is dead on.
    Different bases have different amounts of paint and levels of white, to accommodate the tint depending on how light or dark a color is. The formula takes that into account and dispenses enough colorant to bring the level of paint up to a gallon.

    Standard operating procedure at any paint store.

  57. WhirlyBird says:

    Here’s the response I received from Valspar:

    We received your email and are happy to hear of your interest in
    Valspar products. If you are buying a can of paint that says
    “Ready-Mixed White” or other pre-mixed factory colors, you will find
    that these paint cans are filled to the correct volume (32 ounces for a
    quart, 128 ounces for a gallon, etc). To be able to mix the variety of
    colors available, certain paint cans leave the factory short-filled to
    allow room for the pigment which is added at the store. This is why any
    paint can labeled Base 1, Base 2, or Base 4 specifically states on the
    can “Must be tinted.” These different bases are used to make different
    colors. Base 1’s (also called pastel bases) are filled to 126 ounces
    allowing 2 ounces of colorant to be added for off-white colors. Base
    2’s (also called tint bases) are filled to 124 ounces allowing 4 ounces
    of colorant to be added for medium colors. Base 4’s (also called clear
    bases) are filled to 116 ounces allowing 12 ounces of colorant to be
    added for deep or dark colors. The formula for any given color (or the
    recipe) would include at least enough colorant to bring the can up to
    the correct volume (32 oz for a qt, 128 oz for a gallon, etc). If you
    have any further questions, feel free to contact us at 1-888-313-5569.

    Sincerely,

    Tom Fester
    Technical Specialist
    Valspar Corporation

  58. powermetal2000 says:

    I used to be a paint salesman. The different “sizes” of the gallons are the amount of paint in the can BEFORE pigment is added. Different colors require a different “base” paint. The darker the color, the more pigment, meaning that the can of paint before adding it will contain less paint. A gallon that says “116 ounces” means that that particular can is used for dark colors and will have 12 ounces of pigment added to it. If you buy pre-mixed standard white paint, the can WILL say 128 ounces on it. I can honestly say, in the 10 years I sold paint, I NEVER had a customer that was that ignorant.