Tips for Applying Garage Wall Paint

Updated on November 21, 2017
Matt G. profile image

Matt is a professional painter sharing house-painting tips, related product reviews, and his experience in the trade.

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?

New Drywall

Using primer depends on the surface condition. If the drywall is new and unpainted, you should absolutely apply one coat of PVA (poly vinyl 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.

Water Stains

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 sticks 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 needs 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.

Questions & Answers

  • Can I paint the walls if they are plywood?

    Yes, you can paint plywood. The plywood should be primed first.

  • Can I paint when the outside temperature is 90 degrees?

    You can, but I wouldn't. Check the temperature specifications on the paint can.


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