Achieving a professional look takes some prep work and know-how.

By Ariel Scotti
Updated March 13, 2020
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Credit: Janelle Jones

Unlike retiling your kitchen floor, painting a room is a doable task that even renovation novices can tackle in one weekend. But before you grab your paintbrush, it's important to get informed and learn the basics. Here, Chris Richter, senior paint merchant at the Home Depot, shares his expert advice for creating a perfect paint job on the first go.

Credit: Janelle Jones

Prep the Walls

Before you open a paint can, inspect your walls for cracks, holes or stains. "First, look at the wall and see if there are repairs that need to be made," Richter says. "Fill holes from things like pictures and peel away areas of chipping paint." Next, lightly sand any patched areas to ensure there are no ridges left from applied spackling and use a tack cloth to clean up any dust from sanding.

"You can spot prime those patched or repaired areas but a primer on its own is generally unnecessary," says Richter. "I would recommend priming an entire wall if the surface is in bad shape or stained." However, a "clean, or recently painted wall" doesn't need to be primed, the pro says, especially if you're using a high-quality paint-and-primer-in-one, which saves you time and money.

If your wall has some marks, Richter says to use a rag and a household cleaner to wipe the area. For tough grease stains, he suggests using a TSP (trisodium phosphate) cleaner; a non-toxic cleaner like Simple Green ($12.20, is a good choice if you need to lightly wipe down the wall and remove any dirt or oils.

Credit: Janelle Jones

Protect your Goods

Once your wall is in good shape use painter's tape to protect baseboards and other areas like moldings, door and window casings, light fixtures, and switch plates. "I'm a big fan of the ScotchBlue Painter's Tape ($5.64,, it's great for every person to own," says Richter.

Next, make sure that all your valuables are out of the way or protected. Move furniture out of the room, or place in a centralized location in the room, and cover with plastic or a canvas tarp. Protect the floors with a drop cloth. Once you've covered your bases, open up your paint can and pour it into a tray. "The ramp of the tray helps distribute paint evenly on the roller," says Richter. "And trays can also be a good way to work faster if you have more than one person painting." For bigger jobs he recommends using a roller screen combined with the five-gallon bucket for an even more efficient system.

Pick Your Tools

As far as paint tools, Richter is a fan of Wooster Pro ($16.89, brushes. He suggests looking for the label "shedless" when it comes to rollers. All and all, a painter's tool kit should include: sandpaper, painter's tape, drop cloths, paintbrushes like the Wooster Pro brush, paint roller, paint roller extension pole, paint tray, and the paint color of your liking. For the wall above we used Behr Blue Hydrangea and painted the trim in Behr Ambience White.

Start at the Top

If you're painting an entire room including the ceiling, Richter recommends tackling the ceiling before the walls. "It's really a personal preference but I like to work from top to bottom," he says. "I start with the ceiling and work my way down."

Master the Technique

There are two professional phrases to keep in mind while painting: "cutting in" and "wet edge." "Cutting in is when you use a brush first to paint the top and bottom areas of your wall along the trim from left to right (or in reverse, if you'd like). Then go back in with a roller to fill the wall space between, from top to bottom" Richter explains. He also says to work in small, four-foot sections of the wall.

During this process, you want to keep a "wet edge," meaning the "cut in" sections of paint stay wet and don't dry before you go back in vertically with your roller (hence working in manageable four-foot sections). "If the cut in paint dries before the rest of the wall is done, you'll see those sections through the rest of the paint," he warns. The same technique applies to the ceiling as well. As far as the trim, Richter says to tackle that before the ceiling or the wall, and paint by using a brush and sweep with side-to-side strokes.

Let Dry and Store Supplies Like a Pro

When you're finished painting, Richter recommends not touching the walls for at least two hours. Instead, focus your energy on preserving your brushes and any remaining paint. "Rinse your brushes and rollers with warm water and maybe a little bit of mild soap," he says. "Most paints are water-based so they clean off easily. Keep rinsing until all the paint is gone and then it's ready to dry and store." For the cans of paint, just hammer the lid back on and store in a cool, dry place. "I've had paint last for years and years," says Richter.


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