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How to Paint Walls in Your Home – Supplies, Tips & Techniques

A home is only as beautiful as the quality of its paint job – but, of course, that’s bad news if you have dingy paint throughout your house.

Fortunately, it’s relatively simple and inexpensive to update the interior of your home with fresh paint within just a few days, or even hours. If you’ve never taken on a home painting project, be sure to stock up on supplies and acquaint yourself with the proper technique before beginning. You may also want to enlist a friend for extra help and pleasant company as you roll a beautiful, fresh coat of paint onto your walls.

Painting Supplies List

Before beginning, round up the following supplies so you don’t have to trek back and forth to the hardware store in the middle of your project:

  • Tape Measure. Be certain to measure the areas you plan on painting so you can tell the paint specialist the dimensions you need to cover. This will help him or her determine the amount of paint you need to buy for full coverage of the room. Estimated cost: $10.
  • Wall Repair. In the event that your walls look like Swiss cheese from all the photos you’ve hung over the years, keep a little bit of spackle or hole filler on hand to quickly and easily repair the walls prior to painting. Estimated cost: $5.
  • Stirrer Stick. A free wooden stick will be given to you when you purchase paint. Keep it so you can stir the paint if it starts to separate in the can.
  • Paint Can Opener. The opener is also freely provided when you make the paint purchase. It can help you pry open the can when it’s time to start the project. You can use a flat-head screwdriver if you misplace the opener.
  • Primer (Optional). A coat of primer is a step that many homeowners omit when they’re painting their walls. However, you need to prime your walls if you have new drywall, if your drywall is patched, if you’re painting over glossy paint, or if you’re switching your wall color from dark to light. The primer prevents you from having to use multiple coats of paint for coverage in these situations. You can buy a gallon of primer to cover a standard sized room, or you can ask for the primer to be added to your paint for an extra fee. Estimated cost: $17 for the stand-alone primer, or $30 for paint plus primer combined.
  • Paint. The options for paint colors are endless, and you can have a lot of fun with your selections. However, if you’re planning to put your home up for sale, you’ll need to opt into colors that are neutral and universally liked. One gallon of paint typically covers 400 square feet, so use your room’s dimensions to calculate how much you need. If you’ve primed the walls or added primer to the paint, you only need to calculate based on one coat of paint. Estimated cost: $25 per gallon.
  • Drop Cloths. Use plastic drop cloths to protect your floors and furniture from paint drips. You may even want to consider taping the drop cloths to your base molding to prevent paint from seeping past the cloth and into the carpet. Estimated cost: $10 for a pack of six.
  • Painter’s Tape. A well-applied line of painter’s tape can help protect molding and perpendicular walls from getting unwanted paint on them. You can use a line of painter’s tape along the wall’s edge, the ceiling, and the baseboards for protection. If you’re really serious about preventing paint leakage, paint a thin coat of primer over the tape to further seal out the paint. Estimated cost: $6 for a 60-yard roll.
  • Paper Towels and Sponges. Keep a moist sponge and paper towels on hand for those unfortunate moments when the paint sloshes or gets on molding. You have a couple of minutes to wipe the paint of tile flooring, hardwood, or glossy molding when you have a moist towelette on hand. Estimated cost: $2.
  • Tray and Liner. You’ll need a paint tray and a tray liner if you plan on rolling primer or paint onto your walls. Pour the paint or primer into the tray so you can easily roll the liquid onto your roller. The tray helps with easy cleanup at the end of the project. Estimated cost: Less than $5 for both.
  • Paint Roller and Cover. You definitely need a paint roller and covers if you’re planning on painting more than just a small wall. It will help the project move swiftly from start to finish. Look for a roller and covers in a 3/8-inch size for good coverage on interior walls. Estimated cost: $15 for the roller and a pack of covers.
  • Roller Extension (Optional). If you have very high ceilings, purchase an extender for your roller so you don’t grow fatigued reaching to paint the wall. Estimated cost: $10.
  • Assorted Brushes. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to roll paint or primer onto every inch of the wall. Purchase a few brushes of various sizes to edge and reach small spaces. You’ll definitely need an edging brush and a four-inch flat brush. Estimated cost: Both brushes can cost less than $15.
  • Screwdriver. The screwdriver allows you to remove the wall plates that cover sockets and light switches, so you won’t have to waste time taping them or removing paint from them. Estimated cost: Less than $5 for a decent one.
  • Pouring Spout (Optional). Pouring paint into the tray can get messy when drips of paint roll down the side of the can. Prevent a flooring tragedy by using a pour spout to get a clean pour into the tray. Estimated cost: $2.
  • Paint Bucket (Optional). If you’re using more than a gallon or two of paint for your rooms, purchase a paint bucket. Unfortunately, there is sometimes variation between gallons of paint that are the same color, but you can prevent color problems by combining all the gallons in one bucket prior to beginning the project. Estimated cost: $30 for a five-gallon bucket.
  • Paint Bucket Screen (Optional). Should you use a paint bucket, purchase a screen to go over the bucket. This way, you won’t have to purchase a paint tray and liner. The screen allows you to remove excess paint from your roller prior to applying it to the wall. Estimated cost: Less than $5.

The final cost of your project mostly depends on the size of the room or rooms you want to paint, since the paint itself is the most expensive part of the update. However, if you’re painting just one room, you could finish the project for less than $115. And the next time you start a painting project, you’ll already have most of the supplies you need on-hand, so the final cost per room will be much less the second time around.

Painting Supplies List

Paint Selection

A gallon of paint from a particular brand costs the same regardless of the color or finish you choose (unless, of course, you add primer to the paint). That said, there are several things to keep in mind when you’re purchasing paint that influence the final appearance of your project:

  • Paint Color. Nothing matters more than the paint color you select. If you’re preparing to list your home for sale, opt for neutral shades such as beige, taupe, or off-white for universal appeal. These colors look bright for the illusion of cleanliness and space. However, this isn’t to say that bold colors don’t have their place. If you plan to stay in your home for a while and would love to experiment with an orange, green, or purple color, feel free to try out an interesting shade. However, before you purchase a color, take a few paint chips home from the store to see how the colors look in the room. Variations in lighting and design can make a beautiful color look truly awful if you’re not careful. If the paint chips don’t give you a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into, most hardware stores allow you to purchase a small sample to apply to the walls prior to a large purchase.
  • Paint Finish. Once you select a color, you’ll be asked to choose a finish for the paint. Paint can come in matte, eggshell, satin, semigloss, or gloss. Generally speaking, a flatter finish is easier to touch up but harder to clean than a glossier finish. Consider using glossier finishes for high-traffic areas or areas that require frequent cleaning, such as the kitchen, bathroom, and children’s rooms. You should also consider using glossier finishes in dark rooms, because the sheen in the paint can reflect light to brighten a room. Stick to matte or eggshell paints in areas that don’t need to be cleaned as often.
  • Paint and Primer Combined. If you choose to add primer to your paint, the gallon will cost about $10 more than just a gallon of paint. But the additional $10 is still less than the estimated $17 for a gallon of primer or an additional gallon of paint for $25. Just remember that adding the primer to your paint can help you finish the job in just one coat, which can save both money and time.

For the task at hand, you’ll be pretty safe from harsh paint fumes. Experts recommend that you use water-based paint rather than oil-based paint for interior walls, as the water-based paint is much less likely to produce irritating fumes than its oil-based counterpart. Just be sure to open windows in the room and turn on the fan so the air can circulate.

If you’re particularly concerned about fumes, be sure to purchase a zero-VOC or low-VOC paint. VOC stands for “volatile organic compounds,” which are what cause fumes. If you feel lightheaded at any point during the project, take a break and get some fresh air. Don’t return to the room until you open more windows and turn on additional fans.

Process Applying Paint

How to Apply Paint

The steps below outline the process you’ll follow if you choose to use a gallon of paint and primer combination. However, if you prime separately, then you’ll need to apply the primer before painting.

1. Protect the Room
Drape drop cloths over the flooring and furniture in the room, focusing on the sections that are perpendicular to the walls. You may want to remove furniture from the room so you can move about more freely. If you’re concerned about paint dripping onto your baseboards, consider taping the drop cloth along the baseboard so paint cannot leak through.

2. Tape as Necessary
Some people who are adept with an edging brush don’t tape the walls at all, but amateur painters benefit from taping at least the basics. Use your painter’s tape to create straight lines against the ceiling, molding, baseboards, and perpendicular walls of different colors. The tape prevents paint smudges.

This step can be time-consuming but is important for creating crisp, clean paint lines. Make sure the tape is applied in a straight line and that there are no gaps between the tape and the wall once it’s applied.

3. Remove Wall Plates
Unscrew the plates that cover sockets and light switches, and set aside.

4. Repair the Walls
If necessary, use your hole filler or spackler to smooth out your walls. Apply according to the instructions on your package, and allow to dry before painting. You may need to sand the filler if it’s noticeable upon drying.

5. Open the Paint and Stir
Use your paint can opener to pry open the gallon of paint. Set the lid aside in an area you won’t accidentally step on. Use the stirrer stick to smoothly mix together the paint, being careful not to slosh any paint out of the can. Once it’s sufficiently stirred, you’ll see one uniform color in the can.

If you’re painting shortly after purchasing the paint from the hardware store, you’ll hardly have to mix the paint because the store vigorously shakes paint as part of the mixing process. But if you wait a few weeks or months, you’ll have to stir quite a bit to create the proper mix. If you’re unable to mix the paint sufficiently after the paint is stored for a few weeks or months, take it back to the hardware store to remix it with a machine.

6. Pour the Paint Into the Paint Tray
Place your tray liner in the paint tray. If you have one, affix the pour spout to the can of paint to prevent spillage. Pour the paint into the paint tray until the liner is about halfway full. You don’t want the bumpy parts of the liner to be flooded with paint.

7. Moisten Your Brushes
Run your brushes underneath a trickle of water in the sink, and use a paper towel to blot them dry. The moisture prepares them to accept paint.

8. Load the Brush With Paint
Dip your paint brush – whichever one you use first – into the paint until the bristles are coated with paint about a third of the way up the brush. Swirl the brush in the paint so that the paint has an opportunity to fill the bristles. Allow excess drips of paint to fall back into the paint tray before you move the brush to meet the wall.

Use your edging brush around the corners of the walls and trim, and use larger brushes as necessary to fill in gaps between the roller-applied paint and the edger-applied paint.

9. “Cut In” Around the Edges of the Wall
Using your edging brush, paint with small strokes horizontally out from the edge of the wall, and then use a long, smooth, vertical stroke to make the paint appear smooth. When you “cut in” against the ceiling, use small vertical strokes before masking them with a long, smooth, horizontal stroke. This technique allows paint to reach into the corners of the walls. Once you’ve “cut in” against a three- to four-foot section of the wall, put aside your brushes to start rolling on the paint.

10. Moisten Your Roller
Just like you moistened your brushes, run a small trickle of water over your roller and blot it dry.

11. Roll Paint Onto the Walls in Small Sections
Once you’ve blotted the roller, place it in the paint tray and roll it through the paint and onto the bumpy surface until it’s coated. If it drips when you pick it up, remove excess paint by rolling it several times against the bumpy portion of the paint tray.

Place the roller on the wall and move it downwards at an angle, and then upwards, as though you’re writing the letter “V.” Keep repeating this pattern in a back and forth manner until a three- to four-foot section (corresponding with the section you’ve already “cut in” on) is fully covered with paint. Place the roller aside in the paint tray until you’re ready to use it again.

12. Smooth the Finish
Now that you have an entire three- to four-foot section of wall painted, complete with edging and rolling, smooth any gaps between the two types of application with one of your brushes.

13. Repeat the Process
Continue edging around the walls, ceiling, and baseboards, and pause with your edging so you can roll on paint for a smooth finish without any gaps. Keep doing this until the entire wall is covered in paint, and move onto the subsequent walls as necessary.

14. Clean Up Paint Drips
As you go, use your moist sponge or paper towels to remove paint drips from molding or trim. If you see any paint dripping down the wall from your roller or brush, take care to smooth out the drip before it has the opportunity to dry.

15. Allow to Dry
Paint is usually dry to the touch within just a few hours, and completely cured within a day. You can move the furniture back into place by the time it’s dry to the touch.

16. Touch Up, If Necessary
Once the coat of paint dries, it will be obvious if you need a second coat or just a few touch-ups. Look for any portions of the wall that lack proper paint coverage, and use your brushes to fill in the gaps. Apply a second coat, if necessary.

17. Replace Wall Plates
Finally, screw the wall plates back into the wall to complete your project.

paint and brush

Final Word

There’s a reason why realtors suggest painting the walls of your home prior to putting it on the market: A fresh coat of paint in a neutral color gives potential home buyers the feeling that the home is finished, well-kept, and clean prior to making an offer. Any time a home appears move-in ready, it’s likely to gain more attention on the market and better offers from prospective buyers.

However, whether you’re listing your home or not, a nice paint job is likely to add to the perceived value of your home, even though painting projects won’t cost you more than a couple hundred dollars. And if you’ve never completed a DIY project in your home, painting is a great project to try as a beginner – it’s simple, inexpensive, and entirely reversible if you don’t like the end result. There is little to lose and much to gain from trying your hand with a paint brush and roller.

Do you have any additional tips to repaint the walls of a home?

Mary McCoy
Mary McCoy, LMSW is a licensed social worker who works closely with individuals, families, and organizations in crisis. She knows first-hand how financial choices can prevent and mitigate crises, and she's therefore passionate about equipping people with the information they need to make solid financial decisions for themselves and their loved ones. When Mary isn't on her soap box, you can find her hiking, jogging, yoga-ing, or frolicking with her family.

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