How to Paint Anything

nightstand in bedroom high contrast black walls abstract artwork
This is your go-to guide for painting absolutely anything. Start looking around for ways to amp up your home with color! Using a variety of applications, you can add new color to almost any surface—and give yourself new furnishings for just the cost of the paint and elbow grease. We'll walk you through how to paint anything in your house, from ceiling to floor.

Metal

Clean the surface with a stiff wire brush to remove flaking paint or rust. Wipe with a damp cloth and let it dry. Prime with metal primer and let dry, or use a paint specially formulated with rust inhibitors. Apply several thin coats of paint. If using spray paint, hold the can about 10-12 inches from the surface as you spray. Shake the can during the application to keep the color mixed. Spray lightly to avoid paint runs.

Ceilings

It's best to paint a room's ceilings before you paint its walls. Use a roller with a telescoping handle and paint two coats: the first coat in the same direction as the major light source (such as a window) and a second coat perpendicular to the light. To make painting a white ceiling easier, several manufacturers offer paints that are pink or blue when applied but dry to a white finish. If you have a textured ceiling, expect to use 10-15 percent more paint. A foam roller will conform to the textured surface and provide even coverage with less energy and effort on your part.

Glass

Start with a clean, dry surface. If you use a pattern, tape it to the inside of clear glass. With an artist's brush, apply a thin layer of glass paint for a stained-glass look. For an opaque finish, apply an additional coat after the first is dry. Paint slowly and gently to avoid bubbles. Using an artist's brush, seal the design with glass-paint varnish. If you want the look of frosted glass, use a varnish with a matte finish.

Doors

Although common practice is to remove a door before painting, you might as well paint it in place—that way, you can paint all sides at once and won't have to rehang it. Before painting a door, remove the knobs and hardware, and mask hinges. Use an oil-base sealer and primer to lock in the original finish, then use at least two coats of semigloss or gloss paint.

Cabinetry

When painting cabinetry, prep work is everything. First, remove the doors and drawers (as well as any hardware) and clean the surfaces. The type of primer you should use depends on whether the cabinets are wood or laminate.

If your cabinets have been painted before, you'll want to determine what type of paint was used. This is important because an oil-base finish requires an oil-base sealer and primer. To test a painted surface, soak a cotton ball in ammonia and stick it to the surface with an adhesive bandage or tape. Take it off after about an hour; if the paint has wrinkles, it's water-base. If it doesn't, it's oil-base.

After you apply the correct primer, apply two or three coats of paint to ensure the cabinets will stand up to daily use. One layer of paint is not enough. For best results, apply the paint with a foam roller, then use a brush to spread the paint and create an even finish.

Ceramic

Sand the surface lightly to ensure paint adhesion. Clean the surface with trisodium phosphate (TSP) cleaner to remove grease and dirt. When dry, apply a bonding or ceramic primer. Let the primer dry. Brush on latex paint in a gloss or semigloss finish. You also can use a paint formulated for ceramic or porcelain surfaces. Allow the paint to dry for several days and take care not to scratch the paint while it's curing.

Wood Furniture

If the surface is already painted or varnished, remove dirt or wax buildup with a household cleaner and rinse. Sand rough areas and wipe away dust with a tack cloth. Apply two coats of stain-blocking primer and allow it to dry between coats. Try using a clear primer if you want the wood's grain to be seen through the paint. Roll or brush on two coats of latex paint in the direction of the wood grain. Use a brush to finish the surface with smooth strokes. For furniture or cabinetry that will receive heavy use (like kitchen cabinets that are opened on a daily basis), it's a good idea to seal the finish with two coats of polyurethane. If you want a quick fix, especially for a textured item such as a wicker chair, spray paint it.

Brick Fireplace Surround

First, you'll need to clean the brick thoroughly. Use a wire brush and nonsudsy trisodium phosphate (TSP) to loosen grime. After the brick is clean, apply a primer. Use a stain-blocking primer to hide any soot stains. When choosing paint, consider that the higher the gloss, the more it will resist soot. High-temperature paints can be used on metal that's part of the surround, but don't paint the inside of a fireplace.

Molding

Before painting trimwork, patch holes with surfacing compound and apply caulk to fill any gaps between the wall and the molding. Paint the trim before you paint the wall, or use painter's tape to mask off the wall. Use a primer-sealer combination to lock in the original finish and prevent bleed-through. A 3-inch angled sash brush is a good choice for painting around windows or cutting in edges. Use a 4-inch foam roller to apply paint to trim, then go over it with a brush to cover the edges and grooves. Paint horizontal sections of trim with horizontal strokes and vertical sections with vertical strokes. Work on each piece of molding from the bottom up.

Paneling

To determine whether paneling is wood or a photographic imitation, pry off the baseboard and try to bend the paneling. If it bends, it's plastic or photographic paneling and you'll need to paint rather than refinish it.

Before you paint, make sure the paneling is secured to the wall studs. Also decide whether you want a smooth surface or don't mind seeing grooves between the panels. Either way, you'll need to clean and sand the surface and then apply an oil-base sealer. Filling in the grooves involves multiple steps, which include applying several coats of exterior-grade surfacing compound and sealer, and sanding between coats.

Fabric

Tape preshrunk fabric to plastic-treated cardboard. (Place the cardboard inside a pillow cover in case paint soaks through.) Use fabric paint or an acrylic paint with textile medium added. Apply the paint in several thin coats to work it into the fibers. Heat set if required. Your piece can be laundered with mild detergent after 10-14 days.

Wood Floors

To paint a wood floor, clean and sand the surface (filling any cracks with wood filler), then apply an oil-base sealer. You can use either oil-base or latex paint. Alkyd or modified epoxy latex porch and floor paint is a good choice for high-traffic areas. A polyurethane coating will help protect painted floors. You might want to use a water-base varnish because oil-base varnishes yellow over time.

Use a roller with a long handle to cover large floor areas, although a brush is fine for small areas. Remember to plan your escape route: Start in a corner and work toward your exit to avoid stepping on wet paint.

Concrete Floors

To paint a concrete floor, you’ll need to thoroughly clean it first, then patch any holes or cracks with concrete compound. Since concrete is extremely porous, you’ll need to apply a special concrete sealing primer before painting to seal the surface and keep moisture away from the paint. You can then apply a special masonry paint designed for floors with a roller.

Rugs

Base-coat your rug material if desired. After the base coat dries, use a straightedge to guide your stencil placement. Apply your design in a contrasting color with a stencil brush and stencil, cleaning the stencil before moving it to a new section. Another option is to use painters tape to mask out a linear design. When the paint is dry, seal and protect the design with clear polyurethane.

Walls

Before painting walls, wash them with trisodium phosphate (TSP) and repair any cracks or holes. If possible, remove any old wallpaper before painting. If you don't take the wallpaper down, use an oil-base primer. Water-base latex primers will moisten the paper, creating air pockets and bubbles in the paint. Mask off trim and remove hardware, such as electrical covers. Use plastic wrap to cover doorknobs and light fixtures to protect them from paint splatter. If your house was just built and your walls have not been painted before, it's a good idea to apply a wallboard sealer before painting. For old drywall and plaster, a stain-blocking primer can help hide water stains or other marks. Aim for two or three coats of paint for best coverage. 

What Not to Paint

Don't waste your valuable time on these painting projects, our experts say:

Bathtubs and sinks: Some of the required chemicals for these labor-intensive jobs are toxic. Leave these to the professionals.

Kitchen countertops: Don't paint laminate countertops in your kitchen. Standard paint doesn't have a food-safe finish, and the paint won't hold up to heat, abrasions, or moisture.

Ceramic tile in wet areas: Water will break down the paint. Even if you use a sealer, the grout and mortar will wick moisture and ruin your paint job.

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