How to Fix Bubbled and Cracked Paint Before Painting Walls

Updated on April 5, 2016
Time To Fix Things Up
Time To Fix Things Up
Under this window moisture damage ruined the paint and some of the plaster.
Under this window moisture damage ruined the paint and some of the plaster.

Years Of Paint In Layers Can Become Damaged Over Time

Many older homes have been painted so many times that the paint becomes a series of thick layers. Humidity, moisture and time have a way of causing these layers to separate and bubble. Eventually it will start cracking and chipping. When this happens, removing the loose paint is a must. The paint removal will leave the walls uneven. To restore the surface to a smooth even surface the damaged areas must be reworked. This work is not hard and the cost to do the job is minimal. When you do the repairs it will add a professional quality to your finished walls and you will feel good about the work invested.

You will have three phases to this repair.

The first will be to clean out all the old damaged paint and plaster that has come loose.

The second step is to re surface the damaged area. I call this floating the wall or ceiling. This sometimes requires several applications of sheetrock compound which I will also refer to as MUD.

The last step will be to sand to a finish and apply a couple coats of primer/ sealer.

The final outcome will depend on the amount of care put in to a relatively easy job. The problem comes with having the patience to take your time and do a good job of it.

 

 

What You Will Need

TOOLS AND MATERIALS

  • six in one tool
  • mud knife or straight edged trowel
  • mixing bowl
  • spatula
  • Sheetrock joint compound: this can be bought already mixed in small to large buckets or bags or you can purchase dry joint compound and mix it yourself.
  • sanding block
  • sandpaper
  • shop vacuum

What About That Joint Compound?

I like to buy it in the dry form for two reasons. The first being that you mix only what you need and the remainder will last a long time as long as you do not get it wet. The second reason I would rather mix my own mud is that I can vary the consistency of the wet mud to utilize the product for different forms of application.

The dry compound also comes in different drying times. You can purchase a quick set that will begin to stiffen in as little as 20 minutes. or you can get a slow set that takes and hour to stiffen. I generally use the quickest set because I am usually in a hurry, doing repairs. The slower setting compound is best to use when you are working larger areas.

6 in One Tool
6 in One Tool
Cleaned and scraped ready for repair
Cleaned and scraped ready for repair
years of layered paint
years of layered paint

First Step To Repair

The first thing you have to do is get rid of all the loose paint and debris that is peeling from the wall or ceiling. I like the handy "6 in one tool" for this job. It has a couple of different edges on it, you can use to gouge, score and scrape with. That is the perfect tool for opening up the bubbles and cracks.

You can use the flat edge to scrape away the loose paint and sometimes part of the plaster or sheet rock. Then you can use the pointed edge to pick in tight spots and gouge out small loose areas. This tool is also great when you come to old caulk because you can dig in and under with it and it takes care of almost everything you need to get removed. I usually take a grinder and use it to keep my "6 in one" very sharp. It makes the work go faster if the edges are honed down to a sharp blade.

When I have everything cleaned out with the 6 in one I take a sanding block and speed over everything to ensure that all loose areas are gone. This does not require serious sanding just a speed through. You should then use a damp cloth to wipe away dust . Now the area is ready for repair.

I like the faster setting time but it can also be purchased in a slower set time formula
I like the faster setting time but it can also be purchased in a slower set time formula
dry sheetrock powder
dry sheetrock powder
add water, follow the directions on the bag
add water, follow the directions on the bag
stir in water slowly
stir in water slowly
mud should be thick enough to hold to the spatula but thin enough to work when spreading
mud should be thick enough to hold to the spatula but thin enough to work when spreading

The Next Step To Restore Finish

Now that the bubbles and cracks in your paint are opened up and scraped clean it is time to re-float the wall. What that actually means is putting an even coat of mud on the holes so that the wall is smooth and back to an original flat surface. This is a little bit tedious but i believe anyone can do it if they take their time and are careful.

I wrote a little about the sheet rock joint compound above. I am using this because I like the way it performs. There are other products that you can purchase for the same purpose but personally I do not like them as much as the sheet rock joint compound. You can use plaster of Paris, plaster, and there are other name brand products on the market. I know I have used everything they manufacture and I always go back to the joint compound. I always use the powdered form that you have to mix yourself. I told you why but let me expound.

Powdered joint compound will keep for a long time, like several years if you keep it dry. It is not like the premixed bucket product for a couple of reasons. They must put some kind of stabilizer in the premixed mud. It does not feel the same when you are working with it. Also, after the container is opened the product starts to dry. It first dries around the edges of the container that it comes in. No matter how hard you try to keep it covered it will begin to dry the second it makes air contact. Most repairs of any size will require more than one application.

Each time you open the container you are exposing the premixed mud to the air. Along about the third or fourth time you open the container you start to get crusty, semi dried pieces of the joint compound falling down off the edges of your container and right in to the good mud. Now when you are trying to carefully spread an even layer of the mud on to the wall and a hunk of the crusty stuff gets in to the good mud it drags a hole in your wet work area. This will make you crazy as you will have to stop and pick out the little dry hunk and then try to re-float your work. It is just too annoying for me.

The other thing about the premixed joint compound is that it is in a container that costs more to package and you will pay two or three or even four times as much for the premix. Know what are you paying for besides convenience? The answer is water. That irks me too. So the fact is all the way around you are better off to purchase the powdered compound and mix up what you need.

Load the mud knife with a glob and start to fill in the area to repair
Load the mud knife with a glob and start to fill in the area to repair
The first layer will have to dry, be sanded and then another layer applied
The first layer will have to dry, be sanded and then another layer applied
Make sure each application is thin and apply as many coats as it takes to level the damaged area after sanding
Make sure each application is thin and apply as many coats as it takes to level the damaged area after sanding
When it is dry it can be sanded and the next layer added and repeat process
When it is dry it can be sanded and the next layer added and repeat process
fill everything that is damaged or dented
fill everything that is damaged or dented
Feel for the smooth surface to be the same as the existing wall
Feel for the smooth surface to be the same as the existing wall

Add The Sheetrock Mud To The Damaged Areas

Now that you have your compound mixed you can start to float the new finish. The first application of mud will not do the job. It usually takes two, three and sometimes four applications to get it right. That is why I like the fast set formula. You can start in one area and apply the first coat and move on to other repair areas. By the time you have the entire first application in all the damaged spots it might be dry enough to start sanding. I always make sure to put the first coat on thin not more than 1/8 of an inch thick. This is a good way to keep the sanding to a minimum.

I also like to use a fan or portable heater to finish the drying toward the end. This will help ensure that you do not hit soft compound. Pay close attention to the color of the sheet rock compound you applied. It will be gray when it goes on but then it turns white as it dries. Soft spots that are not completely dry will not be ready to sand and they will still be gray in the deepest areas. Make sure it has all turned white before you sand. You can see in the adjoining photo how the edges are starting to turn white. Make sure to watch for soft gray spots.

Sand with a fine sand paper on a sanding block. Then mix more sheet rock compound and add another thin layer of the mud to fill deep areas and do the same as you did in the first step. Apply a thin coat on everything and wait for it to dry. The sanding should only be done to the point where the new mud is level with the existing walls. Do not sand to deep. Run your hands over the areas you have worked to feel for imperfections and also visually inspect your work.

This repair required 5 applications of sheet rock compound to get it back to the same as the original wall. It becomes a smaller and smaller amount to fill as the layers of dried mud build to form your new wall surface. It is not really hard work it just takes time. Make sure to have adequate ventilation when you are doing this kind of work. You should always wear a mask over your face to prevent as much inhalation of the sanded dust as possible. The better the quality of mask the better for your health.

I always vacuum in between sanding to help keep the dust to a minimum. The less dust the better. I go through shop vacuums pretty regular. The fine dust is hard on the motor of the vacuum so you can imagine how hard it can be on your lungs. It is smart to use the best filters for your vacuums too. The better ones cost a little more but the benefits for you and your machine outweigh the expense.

Kilz is my favorite sealer/primer
Kilz is my favorite sealer/primer

Seal And Prime The Fresh Repair

The wall should feel nice and smooth and you should not be able to feel a difference in the level of the wall. If you feel a hump you need to sand down. If you feel a dip you need to fill with another application of sheet rock compound. When you are satisfied with the way it feels and looks you are ready to finish with a sealer/primer. I always use Kilz brand primer because it has always done me a good job and I have been using it for over twenty years. There are other primer/sealers on the market but Kilz is my go to product.

I always apply two coats to the entire wall. The first coat will seal the new repair and the second coat will give you a nice even wall that is uniform in color and ready to paint. It is a good idea to wipe down the walls before you apply the primer. I do this with a dry clean cloth and I also run a vacuum over the walls and everything around the work area. The less dust the better the paint job. It is better for your health too.

So there you have it. This work can be accomplished by anyone willing to take the time and effort and it will save you a bundle compared to hiring a proffessional. Good Luck on your repairs.

the finished product
the finished product

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • profile image

        Kat 

        2 months ago

        Pakistani repair/maintenance guys here in Dubai should learn this. Their work are below tolerable!

      • profile image

        Kelly B. 

        3 months ago

        I just wanted to tell you how incredibly helpful this article was! These old houses can be bears to work with but knowing other people do it, makes me hopeful! Thank you!!!

      • profile image

        NYC D 

        4 months ago

        Hi, does everything in the article above apply also to concrete / "plaster" walls? That's what we have--concrete aka plaster aka masonry walls. (At least I *think* all those phrases mean concrete. In any event, our walls are definitely not drywall/sheetrock.) So do any of the steps you list NOT apply to our walls? In any event, thanks for the great write-up!

      • profile image

        Traycee 

        7 months ago

        This is exactly my problem. I noticed a small bubble on wall. I scraped it thinking it would be a small quarter size repair. It turned into a large area of paint that was loose. I am going to attempt to repair that section of the wall. Is the mud applied over the entire section where the paint came off OR just around the edges? Thank you

      • profile image

        Lorenzp 

        8 months ago

        we call that tool a 5-in-1,not 6-in-1

      • profile image

        midori 

        10 months ago

        Thank you for taking the time to craft such a detailed explanation. Very helpful and much appreciated.

      • Sharondale profile image

        Sharon Whittington 

        12 months ago from Labarque Creek, MO 63069

        Wow! Cool:)

      • profile image

        PATRICIA 

        15 months ago

        VERY USEFUL AND PERFECTLY EXPLAINED! THANX!!!

      • profile image

        Bishop55 

        5 years ago

        Great hub! Voted up!

      • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR

        C.S.Alexis 

        7 years ago from NW Indiana

        I have no suggestion other than to do some research so that you do not create unsafe work conditions. Better to take time to find out than make a mistake.

      • profile image

        Chris 

        7 years ago

        So what are you suggestions for fixing a wall that potentially has lead based paint?

      • philipandrews188 profile image

        philipandrews188 

        7 years ago

        Very very useful hub.

      • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR

        C.S.Alexis 

        8 years ago from NW Indiana

        mommyofalot,

        We had the same situation. The damp wall on this project was being caused by water running off the roof. The gutters had to be repaired outside. It is best to find the source of the dampness before doing the repair or it will come back on you.

        The wall can be dried out after the source has been repaired using a dehumidifier and a fan. This may take a few days, but it is worth it to make sure there is no dampness before repairing your wall.

      • profile image

        mommyofalot 

        8 years ago

        The wall in my bathroom looks alot like your wall originally did. And you did a WONDERFUL job fixing it< which motivated me (since you added step by step instructions). The weird thing though is the paint originally bubbled so I used a mud knife to scrape and removed the paint and damaged parts off of the wall. Now that I'm ready to fix it the wall it damp to the touch so I dont know what would cause that. When we moved in 3 years ago the house was inspected but im wondering would wet walls be something that is checked for. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do to dry the wall and keep it dry before I repair it.

      • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR

        C.S.Alexis 

        8 years ago from NW Indiana

        agvulpes,

        No damper at all. In fact i should have mention taking precations for a lead based paint. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

      • agvulpes profile image

        Peter 

        8 years ago from Australia

        Hi C.S. you sure know your stuff and I do not envy anyone the job of repairing plaster walls. From the pictures in this Hub you have done a great job.

        One word of warning which should be spelled out in loud words is the fact that a lot of the old paint contained a very dangerous metal called 'lead' and if this is in the paint that is being sanding the results could be quite disastrous for the painter and and children that breathe in this dust! Modern paints these days do not have 'lead' in them!

        Sorry to put a damper on such a wonderful Hub !

      • Morris Streak profile image

        Morris Streak 

        9 years ago from UK

        I agree. Maintaining one's house can be a pain, especially when one doesn't have the patience to fix it. Good hub. You certainly know what you're talking about. Plus, the photos document well the point you were getting across. In a a way, I'm into house repairs myself.

      • SuperiorInteriors profile image

        SuperiorInteriors 

        9 years ago from San Diego, California

        My Landlord has had the bathroom repaired improperly in the past and it was subject to an almost complete deterioration. After removing the old garbage, I relaized the whole basically went clear through to the houses exterior. Well patched that one up and my next plan is to find a new landlord.

        Good advice and very useful hub.

      • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR

        C.S.Alexis 

        9 years ago from NW Indiana

        Samanta,

        The thing to do is if you can use the paint do not put it on the same wall as anything you have already painted with this color. If you can start a fresh wall with it and the remaining paint is not full of lumps I say use it. The difference in color will not be noticeable enough to matter because a different wall will be picking up a different angle from the light. I would not use it for touch up on anything that you painted 2 months ago. More than likely it will not match.

      • profile image

        Samanta 

        9 years ago

        Unfortunately a container with full of icidulux 3 in 1 wall paint remained open for 2 months. As a result a thick hard layer has formed. Can anybody suggest me whether I can use the rest paint below the thick layer? Is there any reaction with air under such condition? Whether the color will remain same or not?

      • SweetiePie profile image

        SweetiePie 

        9 years ago from Southern California, USA

        Today I had to put in a new doorknob and spackle the cracks around the where the old knob had been. It is not exactly painting, but this hub was helpful because spackling needs to be done in layers just like painting.

      • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR

        C.S.Alexis 

        9 years ago from NW Indiana

        Hoopskirtman,

        I am blessed to have a few skills so I try to make the most of them. Thanks for reading my hub.

      • HoopSkirtMan profile image

        HoopSkirtMan 

        9 years ago

        I envy you ingenuity with being able to use your skills that way to make extra money. Good for you!

      • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR

        C.S.Alexis 

        9 years ago from NW Indiana

        SweetiePie,

        I have about thirty years of experience, my life has revolved around a paintbrush and yes it does pay very good for physical labor. Guess that could be the next "How to start a business" hub. My oldest son is a union painter. He said he did not want to learn to paint and I told him he had to learn when he was 19 years old because, then he would have a skill he could always fall back on for work. I know because I do it all the time.

        Last month I did two small jobs and the Art Studio Rent is paid up through June, It is a good skill to know. I have made an extra $2100. this year, 2009, painting part time.

      • SweetiePie profile image

        SweetiePie 

        9 years ago from Southern California, USA

        Just a thought, but have you ever considered offering your services as painting peoples' houses? Some how I think people would pay some what good money to do this because many do not want to take the effort to paint.

      • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR

        C.S.Alexis 

        9 years ago from NW Indiana

        Thanks Zsuzsy! Yes the sanding is messy but when that is done the worst is over, right?

      • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

        Zsuzsy Bee 

        9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

        C.S. Great demonstration. I hate the sanding part with a passion

        Super duper hub again

        regards Zsuzsy

      • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR

        C.S.Alexis 

        9 years ago from NW Indiana

        SweetiePie,

        Thanks for reading my latest. my photos were stuck in my camera for over a week. This is where I am going to put my art studio. So far so good. Just thought I would write the hub as I worked on the place. I actually wrote the hub before I started working because I knew what I had to do. My nails look like the cracked paint and no time for polish,LOL. I keep hoping to get moved in and then something else comes up. The weather has been a big, slow me down, factor and, they are calling for 5 to 8" by tomorrow night. Guess God and Mother Nature have their feet on my tail huh?

      • SweetiePie profile image

        SweetiePie 

        9 years ago from Southern California, USA

        Wonderful hub! I love to paint and the description of the cracked paint reminds me of my nail polish. It looks good for the first two days, then I add a layer because it begins to crack. Two more days it lasts, but by the fourth or fifth day it is time to start over again. Nice demonstration with photos by the way.

      • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR

        C.S.Alexis 

        9 years ago from NW Indiana

        Wow BK,

        1851 is really an old one. I would try to fix it up if the foundation is good. There is a lot of labor that can go in to renovations but it is worth it especially if you love the old stuff. I sure do. Thanks for sharing and reading my hub. C.S.

      • BkCreative profile image

        BkCreative 

        9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        This is timely! My building was built in 1851 and frankly I had decided to give up. But now with a little guidance I may tackle some of what remains standing.

        Thanks!

      • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR

        C.S.Alexis 

        9 years ago from NW Indiana

        hot dorkage,

        Yes it can if you let it. I just think of it as another work of art and it usually comes out pretty good. Thanks for commenting!

      • hot dorkage profile image

        hot dorkage 

        9 years ago from Oregon, USA

        very useful. Mudding up a wall drives me nuts!

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