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What's the Best Way to Paint a Room?: Pro Painter Tips

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Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.

Prepping and painting a kitchen.

Prepping and painting a kitchen.

The Easiest Way to Paint a Room: Tips From a Painter

For those who love DIY projects, updating walls with a fresh coat of paint is an exciting and inexpensive home improvement project, but painting an entire room can turn into a long process without doing things in the right order.

Using the right supplies is also important for getting the work done faster with professional results. When I paint a typical room with eight-foot walls, I can usually paint the whole room in a couple days. I use the same process for almost all of my interior painting projects.

Step-by-Step Process for Painting a Room

I'll show you exactly how to paint a room so your painting project goes smoother and faster.

  1. Get the Right Painting Supplies
  2. Cover Everything Not Being Painted
  3. Patch and Repair Drywall
  4. Paint the Ceiling Before the Walls
  5. Prep and Paint the Trim
  6. Paint the Walls Last

1. Get the Right Painting Supplies

Collect all of the necessary painting tools and supplies before you start. Most painting supplies are inexpensive, but there are a lot of them. I recommend buying professional painting tools, including a high-quality paint brush, so you can master cutting-in the right way instead of using those bogus edging tools and pads.

All of the tools I mention here are things I use for my interior painting projects.

Must-Have Painting Supplies

A hallway I prepped and painted.

A hallway I prepped and painted.

2. Cover Everything Not Being Painted

Rolling paint is messy. Cover flooring with canvas drop cloths. I highly recommend using heavyweight drop cloths (10 to 12 ounces) instead of lightweight. These are thicker and prevent paint from seeping through. You will end up with paint on the floor using drop cloths that are too thin. Another option is heavy duty floor protection, such as Trimaco's X-board, FloorShell, or a similar product. The material is similar to cardboard, leak proof, and protects wood flooring a lot more than drop cloths. I use X-board on wood floors when I spray paint trim and cabinets. It's great for use underneath ladders.

Cover Furniture and Windows

Window sills get sprinkled with paint without protection. Cover them with masking paper and the windows with plastic. If furniture can't be moved out of the room, move everything into the middle and throw a sheet of painter's plastic over the top. Tape off baseboard trim with painter's tape.

Don't forget to remove:

  • Outlet covers
  • Switch plates
  • Air vents

Use a Hand Masker

If I could pick a favorite tool for paint prep, the hand masker is it. The 3M hand masker is a must-own painting tool for masking windows, lights and walls. Check out my full review on the 3M hand masker. The tool holds one roll each of plastic film and painter's tape and dispenses both of them at the same time for easier masking. I use mine mostly for spray painting prep. The rolls of 3M plastic for the masker are sold at most home improvement stores, or you can buy them on the Internet. I have owned and used the same masker for nearly twenty years.

The white marks in the "before" photo are spots where I patched the drywall.

The white marks in the "before" photo are spots where I patched the drywall.

3. Patch and Repair Drywall

Repair drywall damage on walls and ceilings before painting. Patch small nail holes with a putty knife and spackle, or drywall joint compound. My favorite spackle is Crawford's in the green can. For shallow nail holes and minor drywall damage, Crawford's works great. The spackle dries fast and blends in nicely with paint without flashing.

Tip: Inspect the drywall for water damage stains and prime them. Sometimes water stains are hard to see without looking closely, but they show up through fresh white paint without primer underneath. The best primer for drywall stains is oil-based primer.

The order in which you paint the various surfaces matters. Start with the ceiling!

The order in which you paint the various surfaces matters. Start with the ceiling!

4. Paint the Ceiling Before the Walls

Always paint the ceiling first before the walls, not after. If you paint the walls first and the ceiling second, the walls would have to be covered with plastic to protect them from paint sprinkles and drips.

Tip: The fastest way to paint a ceiling is with an 18-inch paint roller. The longer length cuts rolling time in half. Paint the ceiling corners first with an extendable paint brush. The one I use and recommend is the Goose Neck extendable paint brush. The brush handle is bendable and attaches to any painting extension pole. I use the brush extender for painting high walls over stairs too.

Choose Ceiling Paint Wisely

Use paint with good rolling coverage so you can minimize the number of coats needed. Unless you're painting a bathroom ceiling, I recommend using flat paint instead of a glossy finish. Flat paint covers better and hides drywall imperfections on ceilings more than glossy paint.

Not all flat paints are truly flat. My favorite true flat paint for painting ceilings is Sherwin Williams CHB, which is actually sold as a wall paint, but works great on ceilings. The paint is inexpensive and covers really well in one to two coats. In the past, I have also used Sherwin Williams Eminence ceiling paint with success.

Always protect the floor when you paint the trim.

Always protect the floor when you paint the trim.

5. Prep and Paint the Trim

After painting the ceiling, prep and paint the trim before painting the walls. Once the trim is painted and dry, you can tape it off to cut-in the walls and roll them. Crawford's spackle, or painter's putty, are both great for patching nail holes in trim. Putty is dust-free. Fill the holes with a putty knife.

Use paintable caulk to fill gaps and cracks in the trim. Make sure the caulk is totally dry before painting otherwise the caulk will fail and form cracks. Cut-in the trim with an angled paint brush that is 2 to 2 1/2 inches wide.

When painting quarter round trim, protect the floor below with painter's tape and masking paper, using the 3M hand masker. I highly recommend using green Frog tape instead of blue painter's tape when painting a room. The tape does a better job at preventing paint from leaking underneath. You pay a couple extra dollars per roll, but bypass having to clean paint off of surfaces.

Use Quality Trim Enamel

Don't use low quality paint. Use quality trim enamel in a semi-gloss finish. I'm a fan of acrylic alkyd enamel for the increased hardness and durability, but even regular acrylic trim enamel is fine for molding. I've used Pro Classic acrylic enamel for many years. The enamel levels nice and dries in a couple hours with good coverage. Pro Industrial water-based alkyd urethane enamel is good too for trim and doors. Both products are from Sherwin Williams.

Save the walls for last when you're painting.

Save the walls for last when you're painting.

6. Paint the Walls Last

When painting a whole room, paint the walls after the ceiling and trim. Like the ceiling, consider using an 18-inch paint roller to roll the walls in less time. Choose a lint-free roller with 3/4-inch nap. The thicker 3/4-inch nap holds more paint for better coverage. You won't have to dip the roller as many times.

Tape off the baseboard and the edges of door and window frames before rolling the walls. Spread drop cloths over the floor and cut-in the wall paint around the trim and corners.

  • Tape off the baseboard
  • Cut-in the walls two coats
  • Roll the walls two coats

Tip: Always use a painting extension pole when rolling walls and ceilings. Using only the paint roller itself to paint a whole room is really hard and time consuming. An extension pole that extends to a maximum of six to eight feet is perfect for walls eight feet in height.

Roll Walls the Right Way

Never start rolling in the middle of a wall. The best way to paint walls in a room is by rolling in one direction all the way around the room back to where you started. When rolling, it's important to lay the paint on evenly at a steady pace while keeping a wet edge. Latex wall paint dries quickly and rolling too slowly leaves roller marks in the paint. Roll two coats of paint to enhance the color and sheen of the finish.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Matt G.

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