How to Paint a Room

How to Prep for Painting a Room

© 2006
Publications International, Ltd.

Painting can be a task that takes a couple of hours, a half day, or more. It all depends on what and how much you decide to paint. You can freshen up a room by giving a door or cabinet a new coat of paint in just a few hours. Or you can break it into smaller jobs and spread them out over a week or more. Whatever the size of the job you decide to tackle, the painting techniques remain the same.

If you're painting over a new primed wall, you can safely skip these prepping step. But if you're painting over a previously painted surface, look for rough, peeling, or chipped areas. The best way to find flaws is to remove all the furniture from the room. If this isn't possible, cluster the furniture in one area, and cover it and the floors with drop cloths. Take down the draperies and the drapery hardware. Loosen the light fixtures; let them hang and wrap them with plastic bags. Remove the wall plates from electrical outlets and switches (if you intend to paint them the same color as the wall, do so while they're off the wall). If you find flaws, now is the time to fix them. You don't need to take a weekend or a week to tackle interior fixes. Instead, you can break it down into smaller jobs -- quick fixes that take just an hour or two each.


After fixing any flaws, wash down the surfaces to be painted with warm water and a good household detergent or wall-cleaning soap to remove soot, grease, cigarette smoke, and airborne dirt. Using a sponge just slightly less than dripping wet, go over a vertical strip of wall about 2 feet wide. Squeeze the dirty water out of the sponge into a separate pail or down the drain. Go over the wall with the squeezed-out sponge to pick up as much of the remaining dirt as possible. Squeeze out the sponge again, and rinse it in clean water. Then, sponge the same area once more to remove the last of the dirt and detergent residue. This routine sounds tedious, but it actually goes fast, and you'll end up with a wall that is clean and provides a good surface for a new coat of paint.

Don't attempt to paint over a surface that already has a glossy finish, even if it is clean. Glossy surfaces don't provide enough adhesion. And even if the paint goes on, it may not stay on. To cut the gloss on an entire wall, wash it down with a strong solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP), available at hardware or paint stores. Mix the TSP powder into hot water until no more will dissolve. Swab it on the wall, and sponge it dry. Rinse with clear water, then sponge dry again. If TSP is not available (in many communities it has been banned because of its tendency to pollute water sources), you can use a commercial deglosser, a solution that you swab on glossy surfaces before painting.

You can use deglossing solutions on woodwork, too, or you can give woodwork a light sanding with medium-or fine-grade sandpaper. Wipe off or vacuum the resulting powder before you paint. On baseboards, remove accumulations of floor wax or acrylic floor finish with a wax remover or finish remover.


The older your house, the greater the chance there's an area that needs scraping. A previous paint job may have begun to peel or crack in some places. Windowsills and sash frames may have chipped, or the old paint may have "alliga-tored" into a maze of cracks. If you find these conditions, scrape them gently to remove the loose particles, then sand them smooth to blend with the area around them. If you get down to bare wood on woodwork, prime the spots before you apply the final coat of paint. If it's impossible to blend the scraped areas with the nonscraped areas on walls, go over them with a light coat of drywall joint compound. When walls are dry, sand them smooth, prime, and paint.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. To keep paint from seeping under painter's tape, use the bowl of a spoon to press the tape tightly to the surface.  


Where two new paint colors come together on a single surface, it's practically impossible to keep a straight line between them while painting freehand with either a brush or a roller. To get a straight line, use a carpenters' level and a pencil to draw a faint line on the wall. Then, align masking tape with the line across the wall. Peel the tape off the roll a little at a time, and press it to the wall with your thumb. Don't pull the tape too tightly as you go, or it may stretch and retract once it's in place. To keep the paint from seeping under the masking tape, use the bowl of a spoon to press the tape tightly to the surface.

Don't leave the tape on until the paint is dry. If you do, it may pull the paint away from the surface. With latex paint, you only need to wait a half hour or so before peeling off the tape. With alkyds, two or three hours is enough. The paint can's label will tell you how long it takes for the paint to set completely.

Masking tape is useful for protecting trim around doors, windows, built-ins, baseboards, or bookshelves. When you're brushing or rolling new paint on the wall, you won't have to slow down or worry about sideswiping the trim.

You now are ready to paint. We'll address that task in the next section by telling you how to coat walls, ceilings, and woodwork.