How to Prepare a Wall for Painting

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You've decided to paint a wall. It seems like such an easy process. But actually there are many steps involved just in prepping a surface to paint, if you don't want to have a sloppy end result. Think of the job in three parts: the prep, the painting and the clean-up / touch-up. That's a more realistic way to approach it, and it will save a lot of frustration when you get into it and realize it is going to take much longer than you imagined. But the best results will come with the best prep.

Things You'll Need

  • Thin blue painter's tape
  • Wider masking tape
  • A 5-in-1 painter's tool
  • A hammer
  • A screwdriver
  • Start by clearing the area you are going to paint. Move everything in the area far away from where you are going to work. This is a critical step that most people overlook. The more you have to work around things, the sloppier you will be. There should be nothing between you and the wall at any point.

  • Remove any fixtures you can from the wall. That starts with socket/switch covers. Remove the cover around the socket/switch, then place a wide piece of tape over the socket, fully covering it, to keep it from getting painted upon. Remove molding from the floor level. Remove pictures from the wall. You shouldn't be painting around anything, except other walls, if you can help it.

  • Clean your wall surface. A lightly damp rag works well to get off the dust and crud. Make sure to wait for the wall to fully dry to avoid capturing any moisture between layers of paint.

  • Use your 5-in-1 tool to pick off any imperfections, sheetrock bumps and nail hole lumps. Then fill all of your holes on the wall with sheetrock mud. Large holes might need a spray of texture around them to make them blend back into the wall. Let that dry. Sand and texture again, if needed. Once you paint, those spots will look exactly like you see them. So it's better to take care of them before the paint goes on.

  • Start by taping your edges with the large tape, maybe a half inch from the edges of your other walls. The blue tape comes next to get a close cover on the seam. Only try to put about a foot of tape on at a time, smaller amounts in tighter places. The better the tape is on, the less touch-up will be needed. If your wall isn't straight, by the way, make your tape line adjust for that, and you generally can fix the problem, at least visually, with the paint. And tape everything. There is no spot, no paint brush so fine, that you can hand paint a straight line of any distance.

  • Put down plastic on the floor underneath where you are painting. Even the most careful person will drip a little. Keep the paint off of your hands and feet. That's where most of the errant splotches really come from. Mask anything in the vicinity.

  • Work carefully and slowly, particularly around your tape lines. If the tape starts to come up in spots, don't just work around it. Retape. The time you might save by not doing that will just be spent in the touch-up phase.

Tips & Warnings

  • Don't paint perpendicular into the tape. Always paint parallel, which will keep the paint from seeping as much under the tape.
  • Anything that might get paint on it, will, so move or mask anything you value in the area.
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