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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Painting doesn't have to be a job for a professional. With the right tools, prep, and steps, you can master the art of painting an interior wall yourself. 

The procedure for painting walls follows the same general principles as painting a ceiling—cutting in the edges with a brush, then filling in the balance with a roller. With that in mind, painting a wall is a task made to order for two people, one with a brush, cutting in the corners in sections, and the other following with a roller and filling in. That way, tandem painters will eliminate any lap marks caused by applying rolled paint to an edge that's already dried.

With our help, you can go into your next painting project with confidence. We'll help you decide what to buy and how to prepare the walls. Plus, we'll show you our master painting technique that promises to get the job done right. 

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Before You Begin: Head to the Paint Store

Before you begin your project, 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.

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 if needed.

More Painting Tool Tips

Before You Begin: Prep the Room

Prepare the room by moving 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.

Then 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.

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.

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.

Watch: Your Guide to Paint Prep

What You Need

  • Painters tape
  • Brushes
  • Rollers
  • Extension handle
  • Ladder
  • Paint buckets
  • Paint

Step 1: Mask Off Ceiling and Trim

If you're painting the wall the same color as the ceiling, you don't need to mask off the ceiling. Different colors on the two surfaces, however, require you to mask the edge of the ceiling with 2-inch painter's tape. Make sure the ceiling paint is completely cured before masking it. Otherwise you risk pulling the ceiling paint off if it's too fresh. Also 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. Then, starting in a corner (usually, but not always along the bottom of the wall) and using a 3-inch brush, cut in a band of paint about 2 inches wide, extending it 3 to 4 feet horizontally and vertically. 

Step 2: Cut In

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.

Step 3: Roll Walls

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. 

Editor's Tip: The closer you can get the end of the roller to the corner of an adjacent surface, the less you'll notice any difference between cut-in paint and rolled paint. You can get really close by pulling the roller cover slightly off the end of the roller cage and painting carefully.

Step 4: Smooth the Paint

Once you've filled in the area, finish it with light vertical strokes to smooth the paint and remove roller marks. Alternate between cutting in and rolling until you've completed a wall. Don't take breaks or start a new can in the middle of a wall—you'll create a noticeable lap mark.

Step 5: 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

What If Humidity is Too Low?

When you're painting inside your house, you don't have to worry about rain pouring down your newly painted surface. You should, however, be mindful of the inside temperature and humidity. Interior paint goes on more easily and dries more uniformly in moderate temperatures and average humidities. Ask your supplier for the interior temperature and humidity ranges most suitable for your paint. You may need to adjust the thermostat, open windows, or add an exhaust fan to control the temperature. If the air is heavy with moisture (often the case when it's raining outside), you may be able to reduce the humidity by turning on the air-conditioning to a low level or bringing a dehumidifier into the room. To raise the humidity in a dry room, run a humidifier.

How Long Should I Let Paint Dry?

How much time you need to allow for latex paint to dry and properly cure depends on what you intend to do with it after it's applied. While paint may be truly dry to touch in minutes, you'll have to wait different lengths of time before recoating, cleaning, or masking.

Recoat time: Generally you'll need to wait at least 2 hours before applying the next coat of paint. You may need to wait even longer if:

  • Conditions, such as high humidity or low temperatures, slow down the drying process.
  • You've applied the paint in a thick coat.
  • You've applied a heavily tinted paint (one with more than 8 ounces of colorant per gallon).

Any of the following conditions will tell you the paint needs to dry longer before recoating:

  • Blistering, wrinkling, or lifting
  • Uneven sheen

Time before cleaning: Normally you should wait 2 weeks or longer before cleaning the surface. Some manufacturers recommend 30 days, and the wait time is influenced by a number of factors:

  • Gloss paints have more co-solvent to evaporate and rely on getting maximum hardness from the binder, so they require longer drying than flat paints.
  • Cleaning with a wet sponge is less demanding than with a brush and detergent.

If your paint abrades, blisters, or changes its sheen or color when you try to clean it, you'll need to wait longer.

Masking: Allow 30 days before applying masking tape to new paint to prevent the tape from pulling up the paint. This extended dry time allows residual co-solvents time to evaporate so they won't bond to the tape adhesive.

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