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How to Paint a Wall: Top Tips

Freshly painted interior walls have an immediate and positive impact on how a room looks and feels. Follow our purchasing, preparation, and painting tips to revitalize most any space in just a day or two.

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Get Ready to Paint

1. Pick the proper paint. Choose latex paints in satin or eggshell finishes for most interior walls. Durable semigloss paints are shinier and can be used on kitchen and bathroom walls. Opt for flat finishes for walls with imperfections; flat finishes hide defects, glossier sheens will highlight flaws.

2. Stock your toolbox. While at the paint store, buy surfacing compound, putty knives, low-tack painter's tape, 2- to 3-inch synthetic-bristle angled brushes, a paint roller, roller covers, an extension pole, a roller tray, drop cloths, and hand-held containers for toting smaller amounts of paint. Look for specialty edging tools that might ease your labors. Buy primer (see Step 6) if needed.

More painting tool tips.

3. Prepare the room. Move small furnishings out. Push larger pieces to the room's center and cover with plastic. Remove all wall-mount fixtures and hardware; take down curtains and artworks. Cover switch plate and outlet receptacle openings with plastic and painter's tape.

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Prep the Room

4. Smooth the way. Use a putty knife and surfacing compound to fill nail holes; thinly spread surfacing compound across each hole using an X-motion. Scrape off excess. Let dry. Sand with fine-grit sandpaper until spackled area is smooth and flush with wall. For any hole larger than a screw or nail hole, use a drywall patch or drywall repair kit.

5. Start with a clean canvas. Use a broom or dust mop to sweep dust and cobwebs from the room's ceilings, walls, and woodwork. Working from the baseboards up, wash walls and woodwork with TSP and water. Take special care to remove greasy residue; grease may interfere with paint adhesion and create a bumpy finish. Rinse walls with water and let dry.

6. Prime for perfection. Apply primer (following painting instructions below) if you will be painting over dark-color walls, stained surfaces, high-gloss finishes, or new drywall. For dark walls, such as red or chocolate, have the primer tinted to match the existing color. Using a tinted primer means fewer coats of new paint.

7. Mask off. Protect woodwork, ceilings, and adjacent surfaces that will not be painted with low-tack painter's tape. For extra protection, apply 3-inch-wide painter's tape on the ceiling's perimeter edges to protect the ceiling from too-broad roller strokes. Use 1 1/2-inch-wide painter's tape to mask off wide baseboards and window and door trim; use 1-inch tape to mask the top of narrow baseboards. Adhere the tape firmly to surfaces in a straight line, making sure tape edges don't intrude on areas to be painted.

Watch: Your Guide to Paint Prep

Paint Away

8. Create a framework. Fill a small hand-held container with paint. Working on one wall at a time, use an angled sash brush to apply lines of paint (cutting in) along the top of the wall, around window and door trim, down the corners, and above the baseboard. While this paint is still wet, begin rolling.

9. Fill a roller tray with paint. If your reach is short, attach the roller to an extension pole. Place the roller in paint and roll it back and forth across the tray's ridges. Start in a corner and work toward the wall's other corner. Apply paint in 4x4-foot W patterns (2x2-foot W patterns for semigloss paint). Keep the roller on the wall as you roll paint crosswise across W patterns to create a smooth finish; use the roller to blend new paint with cut-in paint lines. Work quickly so adjacent areas blend before paint dries. Repeat Steps 8 and 9 for remaining walls.

10. Do a final check. Check the finish for flaws, missed spots, or drips; try to repair defects before paint dries. If the finish satisfies and won't require additional coats, gently peel off painter's tape when the paint is dry to the touch (about one hour after paint has been applied). If additional coats are required, leave tape in place and let paint dry for at least 3 hours before adding the next coat of paint.

Choosing Paint Colors

Now that you know how to paint a room like a pro, learn how to choose colors like one too.

Use My Color Finder to try wall colors before you even pick up a brush. Upload a photo of your room and see what the room would look like in a variety of hues.

My Color Finder

Paint color swatches are a go-to resource for choosing colors. Learn how to use swatches like a designer to select no-fail paint colors.

How to Use Color Swatches

Your Guide to Paint Clean-Up

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