How to Paint Interior Walls

1-2 hours

Master a few simple painting techniques to transform your home with color

Painting interior walls is an inexpensive way to dramatically change the look and feel of your home with color. This guide will walk you through the process so that your end result will be beautiful.  
• Wear plastic safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from flying particles and paint droplets.
• Check that the space you are painting is adequately ventilated. If the paint fumes are strong, wear a respirator.


Prep your walls

• Carefully inspect walls for cracks, holes, dents or other surface imperfections before priming or painting.
• Use a lightweight spackling compound and putty knife to fill and repair any holes or imperfections, then remove any excess spackling with the putty knife and allow the area to dry completely.
• Once dry, use a small piece of very fine 220-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge to smooth the repaired areas flush with the surface.
• Wipe the walls clean with a damp towel or sponge and allow them to dry before priming or painting.
• Use a floor duster to wipe the walls clean of dust to ensure paint applies evenly.
• Remove everything possible from the walls, including all HVAC registers or electrical faceplates.

Mask the room with painter’s tape

Tip: There are different adhesion levels for painter’s tape. While some are perfect for textured surfaces, others are intended for more delicate areas like a freshly painted wall, finished hardwood or wallpaper. Check which adhesion level is right for your project. Also remember to always press the tape down flat and even to prevent bleed-through.

• If your ceiling is non-textured, mask off the ceiling where it meets the edge of the wall. Apply your tape in short, overlapping strips, pressing down firmly along the edge.
• If you’re painting a room with a textured ceiling, simply run a screwdriver along the edge of the ceiling to create a small, unnoticeable texture-free surface. This will make creating a straight paint edge much easier.

Spread drop cloths and move furniture

Tip: Drop cloths are made from a variety of materials. Canvas drop cloths are extremely durable and absorbent so they can be used over and over again. Plastic is durable and less expensive but isn’t absorbent, so spills won’t dry as quickly and can be tracked through the room if stepped on. Paper is the most economical but can tear easily on floors, so they’re ideal for covering other things like cabinets and furniture.

• Apply a drop cloth to cover the ground and tape the edges down to secure.
• If you’re working in an average- or small-sized room, remove all the furniture.

Cut in the room with primer

Tip: Cutting in is basically outlining the room. You will use a paintbrush to create 2- to 3-inch bands around the edges of the walls where they meet ceilings, baseboards, other walls, door and window frames, and hinges.

• When cutting in, many people choose to do the entire room at one time. This is a good option if you want to finish in a hurry. However, your border areas will probably dry before you overlap them when painting the wall. You may see a slight difference in sheen because the two coats won’t blend.
• Ideally, you should cut in and paint one wall at a time before moving on to others. You’ll achieve a smoother, more seamless look because you’ll be able to blend the wet paint you’ve brushed on with wet paint you’re rolling on.

Prime your walls

Primers are specially designed to help seal the wall, prevent mold and even out paint tone over drywall repairs. Most brands offer paint and primer in one.

Tip: Primers can be tinted at your local Home Depot store to closely match the color of your paint. Since primer is less expensive than paint, using a tinted primer can help you cut down on the number of paint coats needed and save you money.

• Start by painting the primer in 3’ x 3’ sections. Roll in one section at a time, moving from top to bottom and from one side of the wall to the other.
• With a fully loaded roller, work top to bottom, rolling back and forth across the wall in a series of V- or W-shaped strokes until the section is covered.
• Reload your roller and paint the next section, covering only as much as you can finish while the primer is still wet. Always overlap areas of wet primer. This is a painting technique called “working to a wet edge.” The technique helps prevent streaking and the need for extra coats.

Sand and clean to prepare for painting

• After the primer is completely dry, lightly sand away bumps, ridges and other surface imperfections using very fine-grit sandpaper folded into quarters.
• When the grit of one section becomes covered with paint dust, switch to an unused section and continue.
• Wipe the wall clean with a damp towel or sponge and allow it to dry.

Paint the walls

Tips: Before starting any paint job, re-mix your paint using a mixing stick or a paint mixing tool. You should do this any time you leave your paint sitting for an extended period of time.

To avoid noticeable color variations from separate gallons of paint, once you’ve used half a gallon of paint, refill that can with paint from a different can and mix together. If you’re doing a large job, you can mix several gallons into one 5-gallon bucket. That way, you’ll be guaranteed color uniformity.

• Cut in the room again, this time with your paint over the primer. If you left your painter’s tape on after priming, you can just paint over it again.
• Brush onto the wall first and not the tape. Brush back and forth until most of the paint has been applied. When there’s just a bit of paint left on the brush, paint the area next to the tape and overlap your strokes onto the tape. That way, there will only be enough paint left on the brush to cover the remaining unpainted wall surface and there won’t be enough to seep under the tape.
• To apply your topcoat of paint, follow the exact same process and techniques used when priming your walls. Roll in small, manageable 3’ x 3’ areas from the ceiling to floor, and from one side of the wall to the other. Blend your sections as you go.
• With a fully loaded roller, work top to bottom, rolling back and forth across the wall in a series of V- or W-shape strokes until the section is covered. Before reloading your roller and moving to the next section, roll over the area you’ve just painted in a smooth, continuous stroke from top to bottom without picking up the roller. These smoothing strokes even the coat and help to cover up lines and paint roller tracks. As you overlap areas already painted, lightly lift the roller off the wall to avoid leaving end marks and to help blend different areas into one seamless surface.
• For optimum results in color quality and finish, a second coat may be needed. Allow the first coat to dry completely, which usually takes between two to four hours.

Remove painter’s tape

Tip: If left on too long, small pieces of the tape can tear and get left behind when being removed. If you run into this, use a utility knife to slice through the dried paint while pulling up the tape at a 45-degree angle.

• Remove your painter’s tape either just before the paint dries completely, or wait until the paint is completely dry and remove as quickly as possible after.
• Tightly seal remaining paint in cans, thoroughly clean paintbrushes and rollers, and dispose of used painter’s tape.