Interior Painting Preparation


By or simply protect edges from your brush.
By or simply protect edges from your brush.

When it comes to painting a room, preparation is half the battle. Therefore, it pays to know everything you can about interior painting preparation before starting a job.

The links at the bottom of this page will direct you to articles that will explain the ins and outs of interior painting preparation. They'll tell you how to repair the most common surface flaws and describe the methods to clean surfaces for painting.

For example, 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).

Here's a preview of other topics we cover regarding interior painting preparation:

Repairing Popped Nails

Over time, nails can come loose or rust. Put them back in their place by following these instructions.

Repairing Small Drywall Holes

You want a clean, smooth surface before you begin painting drywall. Use these steps to fill in old holes.

Repairing Large Drywall Holes

Some holes are large enough that you'll need to replace a section of drywall. That's an easy project with these tips.

Repairing Cracked Plaster

Paint won't cover up a crack in the plaster for very long. Fix this problem for good, and guarantee yourself a smooth, solid surface for painting.

Scrubbing and Sanding Surfaces

Wash away old stains, odors, and dirt before you begin. Learn the best way to clean up your surface before your painting project begins.

Scraping Surfaces

Layers of old paint may create flaws in the surface. See the right techniques for scraping down to the original material.

Masking Surfaces

The use of masking tape will ensure that paint goes where it's supposed to, and not where it isn't. Read about making masking tape work for you.

For more information on painting and on home improvement in general, see:

  • Interior Paints: See this list of interior paints and find out which type is right for your project.
  • Painting Interiors: Learn the basics of putting fresh coats of paint on the inside of your house.
  • Room Painting Techniques: These tricks will help you paint like a pro.
  • House Painting: For all things related to improving your home with paint, visit this page.
  • Home Improvement: After you're done painting, learn how you can make other fixes in all parts of your home.

Repairing Popped Nails

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Use a nail set to drive a popped nail as far into the stud as possible.

Before painting, surface flaws need to be found and fixed. If you've got a nail coming of the surface, the time to fix it is now, before you even dip your brush.

Step 1: Redrive popped nails. If nails are sticking out far enough to get claw of hammer around them, pull them out first. To redrive them, hold nail set over nail head and hammer nail as far as you can into stud. Nail head will punch through drywall's outside layer of paper and into drywall itself. You can generally do the same thing with drywall screws. If the head has separated from the shaft (evident if the head spins without resistance when you put a screwdriver to it), you can also dig the head out carefully and remove it entirely.

Step 2: To make sure nail stays in place (and to take pressure off it), or to replace the holding power of the screw head, drive another drywall nail or screw through wallboard and into stud about 2 inches above or below old nail. Pound nail flush with wall and then give it one more light hammer whack to "dimple" drywall surface around nail head. Drywall screws will countersink themselves.

Step 3: Using putty knife, cover new nail/screw head and fill hole over old one with spackling compound.

Step 4: Let dry, then lightly sand area. Since spackling compound shrinks as it dries, you may need to repeat process once or twice more. Touch up patches with paint or primer.

Not what you're looking for? Try these helpful articles:

  • House Painting: Ready to tackle a house painting project? Gather helpful tips on both interior and exterior painting in this home improvement article.
  • House Painting Tools: Before taking on any painting project, make sure you have the tools you'll need to do the job well. This article will help.
  • Repairing Small Drywall Holes: Find out how to fill those unsightly holes in drywall in this helpful article.
  • Repairing Large Drywall Holes: Some holes are large enough that you'll need to replace a section of drywall. That's an easy project with these tips.

Repairing Small Drywall Holes

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Repairing a drywall hole involves the inventive use of the lid from a tin can.

Tough as it is, drywall can withstand only limited abuse. A door flung open with too much force can produce a doorknob-size hole in the wall. This kind of damage looks bad, and painting over the problem won't hide it for very long.

Fortunately, even large holes are easy to fix. The easiest way is to purchase a drywall repair kit. Measure the hole, and visit your local hardware store or home improvement center for a kit. There are various sizes and types for different applications. For example, a drywall patch for a ceiling is thicker than one for a wall. Before you use the kit, remove any loose paper or plaster around the edges of the hole. Then apply drywall patch, following the manufacturer's instructions.

In this article, we'll tell you how to fix both a small and a large drywall hole. We'll start with a small hole.

Fixing a Small Drywall Hole

Step 4: Use putty knife to apply premixed drywall patching compound over patch following manufacturer's instructions. (Don't use spackling compound because it shrinks as it dries.) You can also mix plaster of paris with water to make thick paste. Pack compound or plaster into hole against backing and behind stick. Keep compound inside hole, cover backing, and fill slits, but don't spread it on wall surface. Leave patch slightly low, and don't try to level it. Let patch dry until it turns bright white, typically at least 24 hours. When dry, cut string or wire and remove stick.

Step 5: To finish patch, fill it completely with more plaster of paris or drywall patching compound to make patch level with wall surface. Let dry, lightly sand area, prime, and paint.

In the next section, we'll get more ambitious and find out how to fix a large drywall hole.

Not what you're looking for? Try these helpful articles:

  • House Painting: Ready to tackle a house painting project? Gather helpful tips on both interior and exterior painting in this home improvement article.
  • House Painting Tools: Before taking on any painting project, make sure you have the tools you'll need to do the job well. This article will help.
  • Repairing Large Drywall Holes: Some holes are large enough that you'll need to replace a section of drywall. That's an easy project with these tips.
  • Repairing Popped Nails: Learn how to fix another common problem with drywall -- popped nails -- in this helpful article.

Repairing Large Drywall Holes

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Secure a backing board on the inside of the wall to brace the patch.

Sometimes a wall can get a large hole or a section can be damaged by water or other causes. Here's how to fix it without a drywall repair kit:

Step 3: Use spackling compound or wallboard joint compound as glue to hold patch in place. Spread compound on back of drywall patch and around edges. Set patch into hole and adjust it so it's exactly even with surrounding wall. Hold it in place until compound starts to set. Let compound dry at least overnight.

Step 4: Once compound is dry, fill patch outline and cover exposed screw heads with spackling or joint compound. Let dry, lightly sand area, prime, and paint.

Not what you're looking for? Try these helpful house painting articles:

  • House Painting: Ready to tackle a house painting project? Gather helpful tips on both interior and exterior painting in this home improvement article.
  • House Painting Tools: Before taking on any painting project, make sure you have the tools you'll need to do the job well. This article will help.
  • Repairing Small Drywall Holes: You want a clean, smooth surface before you begin painting drywall. Use these steps to fill in old holes.
  • Scrubbing and Sanding Surfaces: Find out about these necessary painting preparation steps only at HowStuffWorks.

Repairing Cracked Plaster

Repairing cracked plaster may sometimes require you to make the crack bigger before you fix it.
Repairing cracked plaster may sometimes require you to make the crack bigger before you fix it.

Older homes often have lath-and-plaster walls. Plaster is both a durable and good-looking surface, but there is one drawback: Plaster inevitably develops cracks.

Latex paint will hide hairline cracks in plaster, at least temporarily. The coverup, though, may last only a few hours or a few months. Small plaster cracks have an annoying way of showing up again and again. It may be smarter to enlarge them and fix them properly once and for all.

Making a small flaw bigger may sound like reverse logic, but it's easier to fix big cracks in plaster than small ones. Use plaster of paris, which doesn't shrink as it dries, or purchase premixed plaster repair compound. Repairing large plaster cracks involves these steps:

Step 1: Cut away loose plaster with utility knife. Turn knife to make opening wider and more clean-lined. Remove debris while preserving structural integrity of surface around it. Clean away loose plaster and dust with vacuum cleaner.

Step 2: Mix thick paste of plaster of paris and water, and wet crack thoroughly with paintbrush dipped in water. Pack plaster of paris (or repair compound) into wet crack to its full depth, and smooth surface with scraper or trowel. Let filled crack dry at least 24 hours.

Step 3: Lightly sand patch when plaster is dry with medium-or fine-grade sandpaper wrapped around wood block. If crack was wide, replaster it at least once more to make surface smooth, rewetting plastered area each time. Let area dry for at least 24 hours after final plastering.

Step 4: Lightly sand patch again, and prime it with thinned coat of paint or primer. When primer is dry, paint entire wall.

Not what you're looking for? Try these helpful articles:

  • House Painting: Ready to tackle a house painting project? Gather helpful tips on both interior and exterior painting in this home improvement article.
  • House Painting Tools: Before taking on any painting project, make sure you have the tools you'll need to do the job well. This article will help.
  • Repairing Small Drywall Holes: Find out how to fill those unsightly holes in drywall in this helpful article.
  • Repairing Large Drywall Holes: Some holes are large enough that you'll need to replace a section of drywall. That's an easy project with these tips.

Scrubbing and Sanding Surfaces

© 2007 Publications International, Ltd. Scrub the walls with a sponge mop. Squeeze the dirty water out of the mop and into a separate pail or down the drain.

If you're painting over a new primed wall, you can safely skip the preparation step of scrubbing and sanding the surface you want to paint. 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.

Not what you're looking for? Try these helpful articles:

  • House Painting: Ready to tackle a house painting project? Gather helpful tips on both interior and exterior painting in this home improvement article.
  • House Painting Tools: Before taking on any painting project, make sure you have the tools you'll need to do the job well. This article will help.
  • Painting Interiors: Learn the essentials of painting walls, doors, and everything inside the house on this page.
  • Scraping Surfaces: If you live in an older home, you may want to scrape a surface before you paint it to get rid of chipped or peeling paint. Learn more here.

Scraping Surfaces

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 "alligatored" 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.

Not what you're looking for? Try these helpful articles:

  • House Painting: Ready to tackle a house painting project? Gather helpful tips on both interior and exterior painting in this home improvement article.
  • House Painting Tools: Before taking on any painting project, make sure you have the tools you'll need to do the job well. This article will help.
  • Painting Interiors: Learn the essentials of painting walls, doors, and everything inside the house on this page.
  • Scrubbing and Sanding Surfaces: Find out about these necessary painting preparation steps only at HowStuffWorks.

Masking Surfaces

© 2007 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.

Not what you're looking for? Try these helpful articles:

  • House Painting: Ready to tackle a house painting project? Gather helpful tips on both interior and exterior painting in this home improvement article.
  • House Painting Tools: Before taking on any painting project, make sure you have the tools you'll need to do the job well. This article will help.
  • Painting Interiors: Learn the essentials of painting walls, doors, and everything inside the house on this page.
  • Painting Trim, Baseboards, and Wainscoting: Brush up on techniques for painting all the potential "extras" in a room, only at HowStuffWorks.