Instructions for Painting a Room

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Home renovation

Steps to Prepare for Painting a Room

© 2006
Publications International, Ltd.

Painting a room can be a task that takes several hours, half a day, or more depending on what and how much you decide to paint. The painting techniques remain the same regardless of the size of the job you decide to tackle. You can easily freshen up a room by painting a door or cabinet in just a few hours. Alternatively, you can break the job into smaller tasks and spread them out over a week or more.

If you are painting over a newly primed wall, you can safely skip these prepping steps. However, if you are painting over a previously painted surface, look for rough, peeling, or chipped areas. To find flaws, remove all the furniture from the room. If this is not possible, cluster the furniture in one area, and cover it and the floors with drop cloths. Remove the draperies and the drapery hardware, loosen the light fixtures and let them hang, wrapping them with plastic bags. Remove the wall plates from electrical outlets and switches. Fix any flaws you find. You can break down interior fixes into smaller jobs 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. Take a sponge just slightly less than dripping wet and 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, rinse it in clean water, and then sponge the same area once more to remove the last of the dirt and detergent residue. This process may sound tedious, but it goes quickly, and you will end up with a clean wall that provides a good surface for a new coat of paint.

Do not attempt to paint over a surface that already has a glossy finish, even if it is clean. Glossy surfaces do not provide enough adhesion, and the paint 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, you can use a commercial deglosser, a solution that you swab on glossy surfaces before painting.

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

Painting Preparation Techniques

If your house is old, there might be areas that require scraping. The paint may have started to peel or crack in some places, or the windowsills and sash frames could have chipped. In such cases, scrape gently to remove the loose particles and sand them smooth to blend with the surrounding area. If you reach bare wood on woodwork, prime the spots before applying the final coat of paint. If it’s impossible to blend the scraped area with the rest of the wall, go over them with a light coat of drywall joint compound, sand them smooth, prime, and paint.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. To prevent paint from seeping through painter’s tape, use the back of a spoon to press the tape tightly against the surface.


It’s almost impossible to keep a straight line between two new paint colors on a single surface while painting freehand with either a brush or a roller. To get a straight line, use a carpenter’s 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 when it’s in place. To prevent paint from seeping through the masking tape, use the back of a spoon to press the tape tightly against the surface.

Don’t leave the tape on until the paint dries. If you do, it could pull the paint away from the surface. With latex paint, you only need to wait about half an hour before removing the tape. With alkyds, two or three hours are enough. The paint can label will inform you how long it takes for the paint to set completely.

Masking tape is handy for protecting trim around doors, windows, built-ins, baseboards, or bookshelves. You won’t have to slow down or worry about sideswiping the trim while brushing or rolling new paint on the wall.

Now you’re ready to paint. We’ll cover that task in the following section by explaining how to coat walls, ceilings, and woodwork.


1. What materials do I need to paint a room?

To paint a room, you will need brushes, rollers, paint trays, painter’s tape, sandpaper, drop cloths, and of course, paint. The type of paint you choose will depend on the surface you are painting. For example, you may need a primer if you are painting over a dark color or a glossy surface. It’s also important to have good ventilation in the room you are painting in.

2. Should I paint the walls or ceiling first?

It’s best to paint the ceiling first before moving on to the walls. This will prevent any drips or splatters from getting on your freshly painted walls. Be sure to use a roller with an extension handle to reach the ceiling without straining your arms or back.

3. How do I prepare the room before painting?

Before you begin painting, you should remove all furniture from the room or cover it with drop cloths. Clean the walls and ceiling to remove any dirt or debris. Fill in any holes or cracks with spackle and sand them down until they are smooth. Apply painter’s tape to any areas you don’t want to get paint on, such as trim or windows.

4. How many coats of paint should I apply?

This will depend on the color and type of paint you are using. In general, it’s best to apply two coats of paint to ensure even coverage. Allow the first coat to dry completely before applying the second coat. If you are painting over a dark color or a glossy surface, you may need to apply a third coat.

5. How do I avoid brush strokes and roller marks?

To avoid brush strokes and roller marks, use high-quality brushes and rollers and apply the paint in thin, even layers. Use a paint extender to slow down the drying process, which will give you more time to work with the paint. Be sure to use long, smooth strokes and avoid overloading the brush or roller with paint.

6. How do I clean up after painting?

After you are finished painting, clean your brushes and rollers with soap and water. Remove the painter’s tape while the paint is still wet to avoid peeling. Allow the paint to dry completely before moving furniture back into the room. Dispose of any paint cans and other materials according to your local regulations.

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