Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.
Why Paint the Interior of a Garage?
If friends and family enter your home through your unpainted garage, the bare walls probably aren't very welcoming. Painting the walls can turn an ugly garage into a pleasant space that looks a lot better when the door is opened for everyone to see.
Painting the walls is easy, but there are a few things you should know before tackling this project. When a home is built, garage drywall is often taped and mudded to a Level 2 finish, meaning only two thin coats of joint compound have been applied over the tape. In this case, finishing the drywall first is important, because half-finished drywall looks horrible when painted.
If temps in your area dip below freezing in the winter months, you should only paint the garage when it's warm out unless of course it's heated.
Clean the Walls
Unless you clean them on a regular basis, walls in a garage are always dirty and need to be cleaned first. Dust and grease stains can bleed through paint and cause problems with adhesion if left on the surface.
Cleaning the walls with a shop vac, using an upholstery brush attachment, works well. Wipe down the walls with Dawn dish soap and a rag. Abrasive cleaning chemicals are unnecessary. Do not pressure wash the walls. The pressure is too strong and will damage the soft surface.
Do Garage Walls Need to Be Primed?
Using primer depends on the surface condition. If the drywall is new and unpainted, you should absolutely apply one coat of PVA (polyvinyl acetate) drywall primer first. PVA primer seals the surface of new drywall for durability and an even paint finish.
When paint is applied directly over new drywall, the paint soaks into the surface too fast, resulting in a poor finish. When paint is applied over primer instead, the paint dries evenly and looks better.
If your garage walls are already painted with a latex paint, priming the whole interior is usually unnecessary, unless there are problematic stains bleeding through your paint. A spray can of an oil-based primer sealer works great for getting rid of tricky stains. Products like Kilz, Preprite Problock, or Cover Stain, are all good choices for priming tough stains, but only the oil-based version, not latex. If there are stains all over, rolling primer throughout is best.
Painting Over Oil-Based Paint
If the walls are currently painted with oil-based paint, the surface will need to be sanded and primed with a bonding primer, specifically a modified acrylic primer. Latex paint doesn't bond well to the hard, glossy finish of oil paint. Painting latex directly over it, without prepping the surface first, can lead to paint failure. Sanding dulls the surface, so primer and paint stick well. Another option is to simply paint the surface with oil-based paint to bypass the prep work.
Bonding primer to use over oil-based paint on garage walls:
- Sherwin Williams Extreme Bond Primer
- KILZ Adhesion Bonding Primer
- X-I-M UMA Bonder
Painting a Light Color Over Dark Colors
If the existing garage wall paint is dark, painting white over it could take several coats without primer. Sherwin Williams Premium Wall and Wood Primer works well. The primer is thick, allowing the paint to cover well in one or two coats. Sherwin Williams Preprite primer (latex) works well too.
Best Paint for Garage Walls
The best paint for interior garage walls is an interior latex paint. I don't recommend using exterior paint. While the inside of your garage might be freezing in the winter, it isn't exposed to rain, snow, or sunlight, so there is no need to use exterior paint. As long as the wet paint isn't exposed to freezing temps, interior paint will do fine without problems.
Using exterior paint in an interior space can also be toxic. These paints often contain anti-mildew additives that off-gas harmful fumes, which can cause respiratory problems. These products are meant to be used outside in open air, not in an enclosed space.
Good paint for garage walls:
- Sherwin Williams Duration Home Matte
- Sherwin Williams Pro Classic Acrylic Satin or Semi-gloss
- Sherwin Williams Promar 200 Zero VOC Eggshell (latex)
Flat paint is a poor choice for garage walls. The paint finish is too dull and doesn't clean well at all. Rubbing dirt marks will only make matters worse. The best finishes to use are matte, satin, eggshell, or semi-gloss. Satin will provide a very smooth surface that's easy to clean without being extremely shiny like semi-gloss.
Applying the Paint
The fastest way to paint your garage is using an airless sprayer, especially if the walls and ceiling will be painted at the same time, using the same color. In that case, you won't need to cut-in the walls to the ceiling. You will need to clear space in front of the walls and cover everything with plastic before painting.
If you don't own a sprayer, you can rent one from a paint store. Before spraying, cover the floor, windows, and outlets with tape and plastic. After spraying the paint onto the walls, the paints need to be rolled. Use a 9-inch roller with a 1/2-inch nap. Purdy White Dove roller sleeves are excellent. Two coats of paint should be applied for durability and a uniform finish.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: They have 2 in 1 paints (primer mixed in). Would it work the same as buying a separate primer product?
Answer: Nope. Check out my article entitled "what you should know about paint and primer in one."
Question: Can I paint when the outside temperature is 90 degrees?
Answer: You can, but I wouldn't. Check the temperature specifications on the paint can.
Question: Do I have to sand the new garage drywall that is a level 2 finish?
Answer: You don't have to, but sanding the edges of the drywall mud will smooth it out so it looks better when painted. Prime the drywall too before painting. You might also consider mudding the drywall to a level 4 finish before painting. Level 4 will make the garage walls look as good as your interior walls. But if the appearance of the garage walls isn't that important, painting over a level 2 finish will look better than seeing bare drywall, but it looks unfinished. You'll see the drywall tape through the paint.
Question: I am using interior ceiling paint. The paint keeps peeling off in large areas. What would cause this?
Answer: There could be several reasons why that would happen. If you're painting over oil paint with latex, without using a bonding primer first, can cause paint to peel off. Moisture behind the paint and drywall can also cause peeling paint. Surface contaminants can also prevent paint from bonding, which would cause peeling. First, evaluate the product you're using, and if it's compatible with the type of paint, you're painting over. Try cleaning the surface if it's dirty, or prime it with oil primer first.
Question: Can I paint the walls if they are plywood?
Answer: Yes, you can paint plywood. The plywood should be primed first.
Question: Would you recommend the same types of paint for the ceiling as you would the walls? I want a white ceiling and different tone for the walls.
Answer: Yes, a flat paint is fine, or a glossy paint, if you want to be able to clean the ceiling.
Question: Is there a paint that will give a soft stipple as my surface has some imperfections?
Answer: Yes, when rolled, the paint called Cashmere from Sherwin Williams lays out a little for a softer and smoother finish if that's what you're referring to.
Question: If a garage is not heated do you need to use exterior paint?
Answer: Use paint designed and labeled for both interior and exterior application. These paints don't have harmful mildewcides in them like straight exterior paint does. Using regular exterior paint on the interior walls of your enclosed garage will expose you to toxic chemicals, even after the paint dries. The interior/exterior hybrid paint will hold up better to winter temps than regular interior paint and it's more durable for cleaning purposes. Exterior paint in a satin or semi-gloss finish will give you maximum durability, but again, it's not meant for indoor use, and you'd be exposed to toxic fumes.
Question: The house I am buying has garage ceiling paint that has detached from the drywall. Some of it fell off in patches and some ie separated. What is the best way to tackle getting peeling paint off a ceiling and is there any special prep for the drywall and what is the best paint for a hot Florida garage?
Answer: You might consider renting a wallpaper steamer to aid in the paint removal. If the paint's coming off easily, a steamer would probably help. The only other way is to scrape, strip the paint off with chemical stripper, or use an electric disc sander, but that's going to produce a lot of dust whereas the steamer would not. Once the paint's removed, I would prime the ceiling with a latex bonding primer and use latex paint. Use interior paint that's good for humidity. A high-quality bathroom paint will do well with the humidity in the garage. I would also paint the ceiling only in the winter or early spring. If you paint during extreme heat and humidity, moisture can get trapped underneath the paint and cause peeling, which could have caused the peeling in the first place.
Question: I am painting the inside of a free standing tool shed that is not climate controlled. Is it still best to use an interior paint?
Answer: I would probably use an exterior paint.
Question: I live in MN. Freezing winters. The garage is heated. Drywall has just been finished. What kind of paint would you use? What brand? What kind of primer and brand as well?
Answer: First, prime your new drywall with PVA (polyvinyl acetate) primer-sealer. The PVA primer soaks into bare drywall and forms a uniform film. This is important because it ensures your top coat of paint will also dry to a smooth and uniform finish. Without the PVA primer, the paint finish will dry rough with poor hide. You can buy this primer at Sherwin Williams, or really any paint store. For paint, I like Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore. Use a premium paint, or enamel, from whatever paint brand you choose. From Sherwin Williams, Duration Home, or SuperPaint, are good for latex paint, or Pro Classic acrylic enamel. If you want the walls to be more durable and washable, consider painting them with acrylic enamel. Satin, or semi-gloss, is best for smoothness and washability. From Benjamin Moore, Aura is one of their top-rated paints.
Question: So if the drywall is placed on the wall but its not full mudded, meaning the nails do dip in slightly do I have to mud it or can I just prime and paint it? How bad would it look?
Answer: I would mud over the drywall screws so they're level with the surface when primed and painted. It will look better that way otherwise you're going to see divots where the screws are.
Question: Do you have a favorite type of drywall mud that you use to patch unpainted drywall?
Answer: I've always used Sheetrock drywall mud in the bag, not the premixed in the bucket.
Question: How do I thin drywall mud?
Answer: With water, but if you're referring to thinning pre-mixed drywall mud that comes in a bucket, the consistency is already thin enough for mudding joints and repairs.
Question: What paint type to use? Inside garage used Zinsser cover stain primer. Ready to paint. Any issues with interior paints. Latex.
Answer: Use quality paint. I use Sherwin Williams. I like Duration.
Question: Can an indoor paint be painted on top of masonry paint?
Answer: Yes, if the surface you're painting is indoors. Using an indoor paint outside will lead to paint failure. You also need to check the specs on the product you're using to make sure it can be applied over the particular type of masonry paint.
Question: If you use a spray gun to paint the walls, you would still have to roll it afterward?
Answer: Yes, you should back-roll each coat of paint you spray onto the walls. The sprayer is just to make it faster to get the paint onto the wall instead of constantly dipping the roller. If you don't back-roll the wall when spraying, sometimes the blowback from the sprayed paint will leave a rough texture on the drywall. Rolling eliminates that.
© 2017 Matt G.
Matt G. (author) from United States on August 15, 2020:
I would prime the bare drywall spots with Sherwin Williams Drywall Primer to seal the exposed parts. Duration Home isn't a substitute for drywall primer. It's a good product but it won't seal the drywall. Duration Home over the drywall primer is a good combination.
Lahoda on August 15, 2020:
I live in Michigan and my garage is unheated. There are areas of both the ceiling and walls where the original (cheap) latex paint is peeling off, exposing bare dry wall surface. Would you recommend using a primer in this situation even if I were to use a primer-paint combo product such as Sherwin Williams Duration Home Matte or will it alone be sufficient?
Jennese Cotton on August 02, 2020:
if the walls are drywall what do i need to do to paint them