Does your space feel a little… drab? Switching up your wall color in a trendy shade is the one of the quickest ways to rehab a tired space. And since it’s a project most homeowners can tackle themselves, it’s one of the most affordable, too.
But as easy as painting sounds, there are some tricks to the trade. Take prep work, for example. If you skip this important step, you could end up with a real problem on your hands — an undercoat that shows through or peeling paint. If you’re painting latex over oil, for example, you’ll likely get cracking, says Rachel Rothman, chief technologist and director of engineering at the Good Housekeeping Institute. These types of mistakes not only take time to remedy, but can also cost a significant amount of money if you have to hire a professional to fix your errors.
Don’t fret, though: As long as you’re using the right supplies and have a handle on the basics, you’ll be painting like a pro in no time at all. Here, we’ll break it all down for you, covering everything from supplies, to necessary prep, to rolling evenly, and even cleaning your brushes so you can move on to the next project on your list. Follow these tips for professional-looking results:
1. Make a plan.
Before you ever pick up a paint brush, you need a plan of attack. Think of it sort of like cooking: You want to read the recipe all the way through before you start blindly throwing ingredients into the pot, otherwise, you might get halfway through and realize you’re missing an important component.
Look up: Does the ceiling need a refresh, too? What about the trim? Consider your options on the walls as well. Will you be using one color — or do you want to try painting with two colors (an accent wall, perhaps)?
2. Select the perfect color.
When it comes to paint shades, the options are boundless. It’s a fortunate problem: While you’ll inevitably find just what your’e looking for, landing on the right hue can be quite the process. To guide your search, start by thinking about what you ultimately want. Do you envision a warm or a cool shade? Does your space warrant a bold color, or would a neutral be more appropriate? Once you have a general idea of the direction you want to go in, you can begin sifting through paint chips.
But don’t rely on the little square to make a final decision: Once on the wall, paint can look very different than it does on the sample card! Colors often look brighter once on the wall, and the light in your room can have a dramatic impact on the way the color reads. Pick a few finalists, then purchase sample cans.
3. Paint a sample swatch.
Once you have sample cans in hand, paint swatches on the wall. To give you a good idea of how the color will look in your space, paint two coats of color in a 12-inch-by-12-inch square. If your room has both sunny and shady spots, it’s smart to put swatches in both areas, as this can affect the final look.
Alternatively, you can paint two coats onto a foam board (available at any craft or office supply store) and tape it to the wall. This is a great option for those who don’t intend to get started right away, as you won’t have to live with random color streaks on your walls.
Pro tip: Use an inexpensive foam brush for this type of sample painting. This way, you won’t dirty a ton of brushes or waste money.
4. Calculate how much paint you need.
When determining how much paint to buy, many retailers have helpful calculators you can use. Always double check packaging, but in general, a gallon is roughly good for 250 to 400 square feet, says Rothman. And don’t forget: You’ll need a little extra for touch-ups and mistakes.
5. Gather the right materials.
Though the surface and size of what your painting will directly influence the exact list of supplies you need, it’s a good idea to stock your toolkit with some combination of the following items:
- Painter’s tape
- Drop cloths
- Paint brushes (both angled and straight)
- Paint roller
- Paint tray
- Stir stick
Other worthy investments: An extension pole, so you can stash away the ladder after the edging step; a paint-can opener; and a pour spout to lessen mess.
6. Prep the room for painting.
- First, dry-dust the walls floor to ceiling and scrub any extra-grimy parts with a wet sponge or cloth; paint won’t adhere as well to a dirty surface (think fingerprints, soot, dust, cobwebs). Let dry before you paint.
- Protect the floor and any furniture you can’t (or don’t want to) move, from paint splatters and spills. For the floor, choose fabric drop cloths instead of plastic ones, as plastic can be slick under your feet or, worse, the ladder.
- Remove outlet and light switch plates and tape around any areas you don’t want painted (such as moldings, baseboards, or window frames) with painter’s masking tape or Frog Tape. The Good Housekeeping Institute tried the latter on a smooth wall and found that it makes a crisp line and doesn’t let paint bleed through.
7. Prime the wall (or don’t with our handy trick).
A bit of a hinderance when you’re trying to paint a room in one day: Painting over a dark wall with a light color (or covering stains) requires a coat of primer and two coats of paint — and at least six hours of drying time. (If you’re in a super humid room or painting the exterior on a humid day it will take a much longer, notes Rothman.)
That’s why GHI recommends Benjamin Moore Aura, a self-priming paint (it’s a cost-effective option if you were planning on buying primer). Going from light to light? You can get away with two coats of good-quality regular paint.
8. Mix the paint.
Though the store generally shakes the paint for you, a decent stir will ensure your paint is properly mixed. This is particularly important if the can has been sitting on a shelf for any length of time. Though an optional step, you can also strain the paint, says Rothman. “It’s easier to get rid of impurities from the paint can, rather than having them on your wall and having to fix it later.”
9. Get rolling!
Now you’re ready for the main event. If you’re painting a room with two colors — stripes, for example — start with the lighter color first, says Rothman. Once it’s dry, run painter’s tape over the divider, then paint the darker color.
If you’re painting a room one color, here’s how with a roller and a brush, according to the pros:
- Use an angled brush or a sponge tool to “cut in,” or paint a two-inch swath around the edges of woodwork and the ceiling. (Don’t forget: These areas should be taped off, as explained in step five.)
- Grab your paint tray and a roller. Use 1/4-inch nap for smooth surfaces, 3/8-inch nap for semi-smooth, or 5/8-inch nap for rough — the wrong tool will apply too much or too little paint. If using a latex paint, pre-wet the roller first, says Rothman.
- Fill the well of the paint tray about ¼ of the way. Then, when loading the paint, roll the roller back and forth in the well until it is uniformly covered. Finally, move the roller back and forth in the upper portion to remove any excess.
- Fill in the central unpainted space using the roller. Paint the wall in overlapping W- or M-shaped strokes for the most even paint distribution.
- Let the first coat dry at least a couple of hours, then coat again. Between coats, cover the tray and brush with plastic wrap touching the paint surface, and refrigerate.
Pro tip: Have a moist rag handy to wipe fresh splatters. Scrape off dried drips with a credit card or plastic spatula.
10. Finish and clean up.
- Rinse your paintbrush and roller (if you don’t toss it) under a faucet until the water runs clear.
- Decant the tray’s leftover paint back into the can; seal the can tightly by placing a paper towel over the lid and tapping the lid edges with a hammer. Rinse the tray.
- Once the brush’s bristles are totally dry, slip the brush back into its original paper wrapper to keep the bristles from fanning out, or try this DIY fix: Fold a thick piece of paper around the bristles; tape to secure.
- Remove masking tape before you call it a night, pulling it off at a 45-degree angle to avoid tearing the finish.
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