10 Tools You Need to Paint Your Home's Exterior

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 
Got enough tools for your paint job yet? See some home construction pictures.

Key Takeaways

  • Essential tools for painting a home's exterior include a multipurpose 5-in-1 tool for prep work, various types of ladders to reach different heights, and drop cloths to protect landscaping.
  • Other key tools are surface-prep tools for cleaning and smoothing walls, a caulk gun for sealing gaps, and both buckets and paint cans for easier paint handling.
  • For applying paint, essential items include high-quality paintbrushes, rollers and a paint sprayer for efficient coverage and a professional finish.

A few years ago, my brothers and our families gathered at my parents to paint their early 1900s farmhouse -- and we did it in a day. The younger set painted the trim with brushes while my brothers and nephews manned the paint sprayer. Unfortunately, my toddler wandered away with a paintbrush and went Rembrandt on the porch's concrete steps. Luckily, my parents thought it was adorable.

Painting a house requires more tools than you might think. But making the effort to gather the right ones to prep and finish exterior walls can save time and, in the end, offer a more professional result.


Exterior paint is one of the fastest and most inexpensive ways to redo your home and up its value. Done right, it's a new look that can last 15 or more years -- just as if you'd hired professionals. Here are 10 tools that will set your project up for success.

10: A Multipurpose Tool

The 5-in-1 tool can be used for everything from cleaning rollers to pulling nails.
Hyde Tools

It's nice when you find a tool that can do the job of two. But what about five? A multipurpose painter's tool, sometimes known as a 5-in-1 tool, is essential for the rounds of prep work that must take place before painting a home's exterior. And it fits easily into a pocket. Among its many features [source: Hazelton]:

  • The hole in the center of the tool's blade is great for pulling nails.
  • The straight edge is sharp enough to scrape loose paint and can double as a putty knife when making repairs.
  • The pointed corner cleans out cracks before filling them.
  • One side of the tool can open a paint can.
  • The other (curved) side of the tool is designed to squeeze extra paint out of rollers.
  • The handle hammers the paint can lid shut.

Usually a 5-in-1 tool is enough for the job, but you can buy versions with more features, such as a 7-in-1 or even a 17-in-1 tool.


9: Ladder

If you're painting the roof eaves, the ladder should extend 1 to 3 feet above the roof.
Brian McEntire/iStock/Thinkstock

If you'd like your new paint job to reach higher than the 6-foot (1.8-meter) mark, you're going to need a ladder.

There are several different types, but stepladders, extension ladders and straight ladders are the most useful for exterior painting. Stepladders range up to 20 feet (6 meters) in height and are nonadjustable. They have a hinged design that opens two self-supporting sides, one of which has flat steps for climbing. Most stepladders come with a horizontal platform near the top, which can accommodate a paint can or tools.


Straight ladders can reach up to 30 feet (9 meters) and should be propped at a 75-degree angle against a stable structure. If you're trying to paint the roof eaves, you'll want the ladder to extend 1 to 3 feet (30 to 90 centimeters) above the roof. Extension ladders are similar to straight ladders except they consist of two sections that can be extended, reaching up to 60 feet (18 meters) in height. (A three-section ladder can go up to 72 feet, or 21 meters.) A paint shelf can be purchased or made as an accessory [source: American Ladder Institute].

8: Drop Cloths

Drop cloths are a must outdoors to protect your garden.
Tony Anderson/The Image Bank/Getty Images

It's quite possible that as your home gets prepared for a shiny new coat of paint, your landscaping ends up in a dull, lifeless state, thanks to the chemicals coming off the walls. You can avoid this by protecting your greenery.

Before scraping excess paint or using a pressure washer, cover trees, plants, grass and shrubs with plastic sheeting or drop cloths. Either will work, but some professional painters recommend drop cloths because they let water run through while still catching paint chips. They're also less likely to rip. It's a good idea to use only water during a high-pressure wash because chemicals can kill plants and grass. Avoid hitting trees, plants or shrubs with the high-pressure stream because the water blast can damage them.


Use landscaping staples or 2x4 boards to hold the plastic sheeting or drop cloths in place. Keep them there until the painting job is complete because they can catch paint drips, something that's especially prone to happen when using a paint roller [source: Johnson].

7: Surface-Prep Tools

Use a putty knife to remove loose or peeling paint from your surface.
Paul Hart/iStock/Thinkstock

That old saying about preparing the canvas? It applies to your home's exterior, too. So if you want to create a work of art, gather tools to properly prep the surface.

First, clean the surface of exterior walls. You can do this using a power sprayer to aim a jet of water that will blow debris off siding. Keep in mind, a pressure washer isn't the best option for wood, as it can mar the surface. (In those cases, a garden hose is better.) For other materials, like painted siding or masonry, the washer can work just fine -- even helping to remove old peeling paint.


Once the surface is dry, use a stiff wire brush or a putty knife to remove loose paint. For wood surfaces, a handheld sander can help strip paint quickly [source: House Painting Guide].

About 75 percent of the homes built before 1978 were painted with lead-based paint. Even if your older home has been repainted several times since then, one of those early layers is still likely to be lead-based. If this is the case, you may want to call in the professionals. If you forge ahead, do so with care. Wear a commercial-grade respirator mask and eye protection, and seal all windows and window air conditioning units, as well as dryer exhaust vents, to block lead particles from entering your home [source: Minnesota Department of Health].

6: Caulk Gun

If you're using a manual caulk gun, look for one that has a smooth rod, which offers more control than its ratcheted counterpart.

Caulking up holes in your exterior walls is an important step in the pre-painting process. And so is choosing the right caulk gun. There are three main types: manual, battery-powered and pneumatic.

Manual caulking guns require you to push a plunger and pull a trigger. They may be cheap, but they can be messy, releasing caulk in an oozing, uneven stream that doesn't end as quickly as you'd like it to. Your best bet is to find a manual gun that has a smooth rod, which offers more control than its ratcheted counterpart, and comes with a built-in cutter to smoothly open the tip of the caulking tube.


Battery-powered caulking guns range from $35 to hundreds of dollars. For your purposes, a low-end battery-powered model should suffice. A gun that holds 10 ounces (283 grams) of caulk, for example, will be relatively inexpensive and less tiring to use than the manual version.

Pneumatic caulking guns are the most expensive. As the name suggests, this tool connects to an air compressor and is easier to control and activate that the other models. However, unless you're a professional contractor you probably don't need one [source: House Painting Info].

Whichever type of caulk gun you choose, it takes a little practice to squeeze a consistent amount of caulk. Ideally, you'll want a thin bead of caulk around windows, doors and chimneys before surfaces are covered with primer or paint.

5: Buckets and Cans

Rather than risking disaster with a full, open can of paint, pour a little into another can and lug that around on your job.
Bob Elsdale/Stone/Getty Images

You've probably seen some version of the comedy routine in which a full can of paint falls from a ladder onto a hapless homeowner. This is not a scenario you want to repeat in real life!

So, instead of lugging around a full paint can (and courting disaster), try a more moderate approach. Pour a small amount of paint into a clean, empty can or bucket and carry it to your painting spot. This will be easier to handle when you need to climb a ladder, will keep you from wasting paint and, if something does go terribly wrong, the spill won't be as ruinous.


When you're done using the can for the day, cover it with plastic wrap and replace the lid. This will keep it fresh overnight [source: The Family Handyman].

4: Roller Screen and Tray

A roller screen is a handy way to get rid of excess paint.

A roller screen is essentially a metal grate that fits vertically into your paint bucket and is a handy way to get rid of excess paint on your roller. After you dip the roller into paint, run it across the surface of the screen until the paint evenly covers the roller [source: The Family Handyman].

Another useful device is a roller tray, especially if you're working on a stepladder. This sloped and ribbed tray is used to load paint onto a roller. It has a shallow well at one end for holding paint – you should have about a half-inch (1.3 centimeters) of paint there. The tray can be placed on the stepladder to prevent your climbing down every time you need more paint [source: McMillan].


3: Paintbrushes

For best results, dip your paintbrush bristles about 2 inches into the can and shake off the excess against the sides of the container.

After so much work to gather supplies and prep walls, actually applying paint to your home's exterior will be an exciting metamorphosis. But first you need the right paintbrush.

There are two main types: natural bristle and synthetic bristle. Natural bristle brushes often are made of animal hair, including black or white hog hair, and have a soft texture for fine finishes. Natural bristles can hold a lot of oil-based paint without absorbing it.


While a natural bristle brush is good for applying a coat of primer or an oil-based paint, it isn't the best choice if your paint is latex (water-based) because it will absorb up to 40 percent of its own weight in water, making the brush too soft to paint properly [source: Wooster Brush].

For latex paint, you'll want to use a synthetic brush, made of nylon and polyester. These bristles don't wear out easily or absorb water from the paint. Look for a 4-inch (10-centimeter) straight-bristled brush and a 1.5-inch (4 centimeter) angled brush. The former will be used to cover large areas, while the latter will work well in small spaces, such as corners and near the trim [source: The Family Handyman].

2: Paint Rollers

Rollers can cover large areas of wall much faster than brushes.
Blaz Kure/Hemera/Thinkstock

In addition to the right paint brush, you need the right paint roller. Rollers allow you to work faster than with brushes alone. For large areas of shingles, stucco or brick, opt for a 9-inch (23-centimeter) roller with a half-inch nap. For narrow spaces, or for applying to large areas of siding, a 7-inch (18-centimeter) roller will be a better fit [source: The Family Handyman].

Dampen the roller before dipping it into the paint. This will cause it to absorb less, limiting wastage. If you're working with latex paint, wet the roller with water. For oil-based paint, skim the roller through paint thinner and use a 5-in-1 tool to remove the excess [source: McMillan].


To keep rollers from drying out between coats, cover them in plastic wrap or place them in a plastic bag. If you're storing them overnight, put them in the refrigerator. Not only will you save time by not cleaning them, but when it's time to use them, they'll be ready to go. The same technique works well for paintbrushes, too [source: Fontana].

1: Paint Sprayer

Practice using the sprayer on a piece of wood before trying it out on your house.
BanksPhotos/E+/Getty Images

Most high-volume paint pros use sprayers to apply exterior paint. The method is up to 10 times faster than brushing and four times faster than rolling. Plus, paint sprayers can offer a consistent finish, even in tight areas.

Before you zip out and rent a paint sprayer, there are few things to consider. First, make sure you're renting one for exterior use. Sprayers that will be using thick exterior paint will need a large sprayer tip. The sprayers should also be rated for exterior use, which means they'll have more pounds per square inch of pressure and more horsepower.

Second, spraying paint takes practice. Before you aim the sprayer at your home, fill it with water and pretend to paint a spare board, spraying side to side and overlapping each pass. When you're actually applying paint, you'll probably need two coats to finish the job. Paint sprayers tend to use a lot more paint than brushes and rollers, so plan accordingly.

Most sprayers rent for $70 to $100 a day (it can cost upward of $400 to buy one). Some can be quite loud, so have ear protection handy. You'll also want to use a respirator mask and eye protection [source: Flietner].

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time of year to paint a home's exterior?
The best time is typically late spring to early fall, when you can expect minimal rain and typically moderate temperatures to allow the paint to cure properly.
How do I ensure even coverage when using a paint sprayer?
Practice spraying on a spare board to adjust your technique and ensure even application before painting your home's exterior.

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Tools You Need to Paint Your Home's Exterior

If teenagers on ladders holding cans of paint doesn't seem like a great idea, then I don't know what does. I'll be trying it this summer as we turn a simple repainting of our home's exterior into a DIY experiment that's sure to come up again when I'm old and no longer able to properly defend myself. ("What were you thinking, mom?" I can hear it now.)

Related Articles

  • American Ladder Institute. "How to Choose the Right Type of Ladder." Ladder Safety. (June 21, 2014) http://www.laddersafety.org/choosetherightladder.aspx
  • Donegan, Fran. "Picking House Paint." (June 21, 2014) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,219538,00.html
  • DIY Advice. "Ladders and Scaffolding." (June 21, 2014) http://www.diyadvice.com/diy/painting/exterior/ladders-scaffolding/
  • DIY Network. "10 things You Must Know When Painting a House Exterior." (June 21, 2014) http://www.diynetwork.com/painting/10-things-you-must-know-when-painting-a-house-exterior/pictures/index.html
  • Flietner, Maureen Blaney. "Choosing a Paint Sprayer." (June 21, 2014) http://www.bobvila.com/articles/365-choosing-a-paint-sprayer/
  • Fontana, Frank. "Seven Tricks to Painting Like a Pro." (June 21, 2014) http://www.oprah.com/home/7-Tricks-to-Painting-Like-a-Pro
  • Hazelton, Ron. "How to Use a 5-in-1 Painting Tool." Ron Hazelton. (June 21, 2014) http://www.ronhazelton.com/tips/how_to_use_a_5-in-1_painting_tool
  • House Painting Guide. "How to Prepare Outside Surfaces for Painting: Getting It Right the First Time." (June 21, 2014) http://www.housepaintingguide.org/how-to-prepare-outside-surfaces-for-painting-getting-it-right-the-first-time/
  • House Painting Info. "Choosing a Caulking Gun." (June 25, 2014) http://www.house-painting-info.com/caulking-gun.html
  • Hurst-Wajszczuk, Joe. "How to Paint Your House's Exterior." This Old House. (June 21, 2014) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/0,,20180479_20399640,00.html
  • Johnson, Grady. "Protecting the Plants When Pressure Washing Your House." Garden Guides. July 9, 2008. (June 21, 2014) http://www.gardenguides.com/video-57945-protecting-plants-pressure-washing-house.html
  • McMillan, Katharine Kaye. "How to Use a Paint Roller on a Wall." (June 21, 2014) http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-use-a-paint-roller.html
  • Minnesota Department of Health. "Exterior Lead Paint Removal." (June 21, 2014) http://www.health.state.mn.us./divs/eh/lead/homes/exterior.html
  • The Family Handyman. "Exterior Painting Tips and Techniques." (June 21, 2014) http://www.familyhandyman.com/painting/techniques/exterior-painting-tips-and-techniques/view-all
  • Wooster Brush. "Synthetic vs. Bristle." (June 26, 2014) http://www.woosterbrush.com/lowes/verses.html