How to Paint (Just About) Anything

This handy guide will help you paint key elements throughout your home.

The good news: "It is possible to paint any surface," says Danielle Hirsch, host of's Decorative Paint Techniques streaming videos and cohost and painter/contractor on HGTV's Design Remix. The bad news: "You have to take the time to prep the surface properly."

Here, she and Brian Santos, the Wall Wizard and author of Painting Secrets and Faux Finish Secrets, share their expert advice and timesaving tips.


It's best to paint ceilings before you paint walls. Santos likes to 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 and then dry to a white finish.

If you have a textured ceiling, expect to use 10-15 percent more paint, Santos says. He also recommends using a foam roller that will conform to the textured surface and provide even coverage. "You'll apply a lot of paint with less energy and effort," he says.


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


When painting cabinetry, "prep work is everything," Hirsch says. 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 (see our tips on page 3). This is important because an oil-base finish requires an oil-base sealer/primer.

After you apply the correct primer, apply two or three coats of paint to ensure the cabinets will stand up to daily use. "The more layers, the more durable it will be," Hirsch says. "One layer of paint dries only to the thickness of tissue paper." For best results, Santos recommends applying the paint with a foam roller and then using a brush to spread the paint and create an even finish.

A red base coat, a gray top coat treated with crackle medium, and steel blue frames transform these cabinets.

Brick Fireplace Surround

First, you'll need to clean the brick thoroughly. Use a wire brush and nonsudsy trisodium phosphate (TSP) to loosen grime. Santos recommends taking another look at the surround after the brick is clean -- you may decide a good scrubbing is all you need.

After the brick is clean, apply a primer. Hirsch recommends using a stain-blocking primer to hide any soot stains. When choosing paint, consider that the higher the gloss, the more it will resist soot. Santos likes to use satin or semigloss paint. High-temperature paints can be used on metal that's part of the surround, but don't paint the inside of a fireplace.


Use an oil-base sealer on finished wood furniture. For the top coat, oil-base paint creates a harder finish. "If it's a surface you're going to throw your keys onto, such as a catchall at your entry, I recommend painting it in an oil-base paint," Hirsch says. Try using a clear primer if you want the wood's grain to be seen through the paint.

If you want a quick fix, especially for a textured item such as a wicker chair, spray-paint it. For plastic furniture, use a spray paint specifically designed for plastic. For metal furniture, look for a spray paint that has corrosion inhibitors to help prevent rust.


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 to lock in the original finish and prevent bleed-through.

A 3-inch angled sash brush is a good choice for painting windows or cutting in edges. Hirsch recommends using a 4-inch foam roller to apply paint to trim, then going 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.


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 (a type of varnish) will help protect painted floors. Hirsch recommends 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.

To paint a concrete floor, you'll need to use a hydrodynamic sealer. This special latex polymer reacts with the water in the concrete and the lime in the portland cement to seal the surface and keep moisture away from the paint. You can then apply a special masonry paint designed for floors. Santos says you can paint a vinyl floor, but he doesn't recommend it, except as a quick, temporary fix. And carpet? Just say no.


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.


Before painting walls, wash them with TSP and repair any cracks or holes. 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 crayon marks. Although it's tempting to apply only one coat of paint, resist the urge. "Two or three coats are better than trying to get a ton of paint on the wall the first time," Hirsch says.

It's best to remove wallpaper before painting. If you don't have time to 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, Hirsch says.

Print our One-Page Guide to Painting (Almost) Anything!

Oil or Water?

To test a painted surface, Brian Santos says to soak a cotton ball in ammonia and stick it to the surface with a Band-Aid. Take the Band-Aid off after about an hour; if the paint has wrinkles, it's water-base. If it doesn't, it's oil-base.

Quick Cleaning

To clean your brushes, swish them in a mixture of water and fabric softener. Santos uses 1/2 cup fabric softener per gallon of water.

Sealer Savvy

For latex paint, a latex- or oil-base sealer is fine. For oil-base paint, you must use an oil-base sealer.

Brush with Greatness

For latex paint, use a brush with synthetic bristles; for oil-base paint, choose a brush with natural bristles.

Paint-Free Panes

Instead of applying painter's tape to windows, Santos rubs lip balm around the inside of each pane, After the paint dries, the wax and paint residue scrape off with a knife. If any wax is left on the glass, heat the area with a hair dryer and wipe clean.

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 isn't 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.

Undercover Agent

Use plastic wrap to cover doorknobs and light fixtures to protect them from paint splatter, Santos suggests.


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