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A young couple doing up their hallway . The man is painting the demo rail on the stairs covered in a dust sheet whilst his wife is sanding down a period door on a workbench .

You’ve been putting it off and now, because of persistent domestic encouragement or the nagging voice in your own head, you’ve accepted the grim reality: It’s time to paint. There’s a time-honored axiom often repeated by everyone from professional painters to your father-in-law: The most important part of any painting project is the prep work. So, once you’ve admitted to yourself that the job needs to get done, follow these steps and you’ll have done the hard part. The rest should come easy.

Step 1: Select Your Materials

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Think of this as your game plan. Are your walls ready to paint as-is or do they require primer first? If they’ve already been painted with a latex paint, you should be good. Oil-based paint or bare walls will require a primer.

You can buy quality paint with a primer mixed in if you’re unsure, but it’ll cost a little more per gallon. Speaking of which – another time-honored axiom of getting what you pay for holds true with materials. Better quality paint, brushes and rollers might be worth the few extra bucks once you see the final product.

Step 2: Prep the Room

Take down everything but the wall. Hopefully you know to take down the artwork and family photos but what about the rest of it? Make sure to remove electrical plates, screws and nails. Those might seem obvious, too, but what about the dirt, dust and cobwebs?  Take the time to actually wash your walls.

This might seem like an unnecessary step but it actually serves two purposes. First, you’ll be putting your paint down on a clean surface which will end in a better product, free from dirt, nicks or other blemishes, but it also familiarizes you with the walls so you can be on the lookout for…

Step 3: Nicks, Dings and Everyday Living

Moving from axioms to analogies, we have the “fresh coat of paint.” Akin to a new start, the literal fresh coat of paint can bring life into a dreary room. Don’t let the good feelings be derailed by an errant nail hole, crack or door mark becoming a focal point.

In most cases, an inexpensive drywall patch will solve all your problems. Fill the offending blemish, use a low grit sandpaper to smooth it out, and your project will be back on track.

If the crack or hole is bigger than a nail hole, then it might need some primer before painting, but again, the cost will be more than paid off in peace of mind once the vibrant colors in your room take center stage.

Fair warning, the next two steps fall into the “That won’t happen to me” category and thus are the easiest corners to cut. Just thinking those five words will almost certainly result in certain doom. Don’t be that person and tempt fate. You’ll almost certainly regret it!

Step 4: Tape It Up

Tape your baseboards and door moldings. It’s that simple. No lie, it’s tedious. It’s also completely worth it. If you have high-end moldings and baseboards, this goes without saying. At the risk of repeating, tape them. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m going to paint my baseboards anyway or I’ll just keep a wet paper towel in case I drip.” Good thinking on the last one. Tape them anyway.

Aside from the extra level of security provided by that signature blue painter’s tape, it helps create a tight line between different colors and, most importantly, there’s a bizarre satisfaction in sight and sound when pulling the tape off in one impossibly long continuous piece!

Step 5: Providing Cover


My father-in-law skipped this step once. We had yet to move into our new house and he was nice enough to help us paint. One wobbly ladder later and my son’s bedroom carpet was bathed in a swath of vibrant blue that was initially meant for the adjacent wall.

Two things happened next. First, my son heard his grandfather use words he usually hears while his dad watches sports, and two, my father-in-law never again said “It won’t happen to me.” He is now a devoted advocate of the tarp. Covering your floors and furniture is about as easy as it gets.

You can even make this the last step if you don’t want to lose the functionality of the room until the last second. Shove everything in the middle of the room, throw some tarps on the floor and over your stuff and peace of mind is all yours.

Also, if you’re painting with a roller, consider some coverings for yourself. Professional painters wear hats for a reason. No idea what I’m talking about? Go without a hat, and you’re sure to figure it out!

In between discovering electricity and prattling on about ounces of preventions and pounds of cures, Ben Franklin noted that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” As hokey as it is, he makes a solid point. Very few of us like painting. Even fewer love it. There’s a reason the essence of boredom is akin to watching paint dry. However, a job done right is incredibly satisfying. Take a little time and ensure you get to reap the rewards of a job well done.

What painting tips do you have for fellow homeowners? Let us know in the comments below!

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Great piece, well done! I agree that the number one step is to remove everything from the areas you will be painting. I had to deal with a few tricky spots on my last painting endeavour. A friend insisted that I should keep his oscillating multi-tool at hand and I must say it was very useful for getting rid of stubborn nails and sanding odd spots. With regards to painting methodology, do you paint the main portion of the wall then finish up the borders with a small brush or vice versa?

  2. Good tips up to the taping part. While I agree completely with taping all woodwork (and for that, get one of those 3M plastic taping devices that make the job much faster and cleaner), but be careful when taping ceilings or walls. Even if you use the “delicate” masking tape, you might end up peeling off the paint, or even worse, part of the drywall mud or tape. Trust me on this one, I destroyed a bedroom ceiling by taping it.

  3. Great tips! Very amusing that you used toothpaste in college! I am also a Magic Eraser fan! They are brilliant! Kudos to the inventor!

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