Your Step-By-Step Guide to Painting the Perfect Wall

Start by painting the trim with a brush, then move onto the ceiling and walls with a roller.

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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 brush and dive right in, it's important to learn a few basics—like how to prep the walls and the tools you'll need—so you avoid any painting mishaps.

Necessary Materials

Like any home project, there are a few things you'll need in your arsenal in order to get the job done.

  • Spackle (if you need to fill in holes)
  • Spackle knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Primer
  • Painter's Tape
  • Drop cloths
  • Paintbrushes
  • Shedless Rollers
  • Paint tray
  • Paint
prepping wall for painting hole
Janelle Jones

Prepare Walls for Painting

If your walls are in need of a fresh coat of paint, it's likely they haven't been touched up in a while. Fill in holes and clean up stains or marks before adding more paint to these imperfections.

Check for Imperfections

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," says Chris Richter, senior paint merchant at The Home Depot. "Fill holes from things like pictures and peel away areas of chipping paint."

Sand Patched Areas

If you found any flaws that needed to be repaired prior to painting, you'll need to sand those areas down. If you don't, it's possible ridges from spackling will be left behind and your paint job may look uneven. After sanding, 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. He adds that priming an entire wall is only necessary if it's in bad shape or stained.

Clean Wall Marks

If your wall has a few marks, Richter says to use a rag and a household cleaner to wipe the area. For tough grease stains, he suggests using a trisodium phosphate cleaner—a non-toxic cleaner like Simple Green ($5.28, is a good choice if you need to lightly wipe down the wall and remove any dirt or oils.

painters tape
Janelle Jones

How to Paint a Wall

1. Cover Areas You Don't Want Painted

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 ScotchBlue Painter's Tape ($4.49,, it's great for every person to own," says Richter. Also cover nearby valuables. 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.

2. Pour Your Paint

Now it's time to 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 5-gallon bucket for an even more efficient system.

4. Paint Along the Trim

Known by professionals as "cutting in" Richter recommends using a paint brush—he likes Wooster Pro ($18.06,—to paint the top and bottom areas of your wall along the trim. When painting, move the brush in a smooth, side-to-side motion. According to Richter, you should paint the trim before moving to the ceiling or middle sections of your walls. However, he notes that you should only work in small, 4-foot sections of the trim at a time.

3. Paint the Ceiling

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."

5. Paint the Walls

When you're done with the ceiling, move onto the walls. Dip you roller in paint and move your roller in a vertical motion, going from the top of your walls to the bottom.

6. Leave a Wet Edge

When painting the ceiling and walls, you want to keep a "wet edge." This means that the "cut in" sections of paint need to stay wet and not dry before you go back in vertically with your roller. This is why it's best to work in small 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 says.

Drying Time

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.

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