How to Prep a Room for Paint

Quick! Follow these paint preparation tips before you pick up a roller or a brush. We guarantee you'll be happy you did!

colorful living room

Painting interior walls is a time-intensive chore. But you'll find that paint goes on better and operations run more smoothly when you put in time upfront to prep the room. The three key steps are to start with a clean slate, allow plenty of elbow room, and create perfectly patched surfaces. These painting tips will help you efficiently ready any room so that you can successfully complete every interior painting job you tackle. You'll be thrilled with the results of your painting labors.

BHG / Julie Bang

Clear the Way for Painting

Room Prep

Before you paint your room, empty the space of as many furnishings as you can. Push the remaining furniture pieces to the center of the room; cover the furniture with drop cloths to protect them from paint splatters. If you're tempted to paint around switchplates and lights, don't—small drips and spills are inevitable, no matter how steady your hand. Leaving them in will just make the job more difficult and time-consuming. First, turn off the power to any outlets or electric fixtures. Remove pictures (and hanging hardware), light fixtures, ceiling fan blades, switchplates, outlet covers, towel bars, window treatments, and area rugs. This includes drapes and drapery hardware. (It's the perfect time to get them cleaned while they're off the wall!) Take photos or make diagrams of your window treatments, if needed, so you can reinstall them correctly when you're finished painting.

Loosen the trim pieces of ceiling-mounted fixtures and slide them down the fixture away from the ceiling. Wrap them in plastic. Never allow a fixture to hang from its wiring—the wires are not designed to hold weight and could malfunction later.

If you're painting doors, remove knobs and locksets. Tape the appropriate screws to the backs of switchplates and outlet covers and store in a covered plastic container or resealable bag. Avoid leaving switchplates in front of their outlets; this may seem like a smart organizational method but you're more likely to step on them during painting. Label any other hardware pieces that go with other items removed from the space so they don't get lost during painting preparations. Separate the hardware for each window, door, and curtain into its own bag. If you're painting multiple rooms, label the bags by room. If you must leave ceiling fixtures or wall sconces in place, protect them with a plastic bag secured in place with tape.

Even Painting Surfaces


Most tips for painting a room come before you even dip the brush in paint. To start, scrape off peeling or loose paint with a plastic putty knife; use 220-grit sandpaper to sand scraped areas so they are level with surrounding surfaces. Use a toothbrush or small wire brush to remove debris from nail holes, cracks, and larger fissures. Patch smaller cracks and holes with lightweight spackling compound. Press the spackling compound across surface imperfections with a putty knife, making sure spackle fills the holes or cracks. Let dry and sand smooth. For larger holes, use drywall patching kits. Painting woodwork? Caulk gaps between trim and walls and fill nail holes with wood putty. Let dry and sand as needed. If you're applying low-gloss paint to high-sheen surfaces, sand walls and ceilings to scuff up the old paint so the new paint adheres. Wipe all sanded areas with a clean cloth.

Do a Clean Sweep


Whether you're painting a bedroom or a bathroom, give the room a thorough dusting and cleaning so that nary a dust ball, dog hair, or cobweb gets stuck in freshly applied paint. Attach a towel to a broom head with a rubber band or use a dust mop to remove dust, webs, and sanding debris from walls, ceiling, baseboards, and window trim. Use a mix of mild detergent or trisodium phosphate and water to spot-clean oily stains on walls. Prepare hardworking rooms, such as kitchens and bathrooms, for paint by washing the ceilings and walls to get rid of grease, oily residue, and mildew. Rinse all cleaned surfaces with water. Let dry before painting. Vacuum carpeting and floors.

Set up a Work Station

paint supplies and bright paint on drop cloth

The best interior painting tips help you stay stress-free by keeping a clean environment. Contain painting mess in one area as much as possible to ensure wet paint doesn't travel into adjacent rooms. Find a place within the room you'll be painting (or in a nearby space) to set up a sturdy table to hold paint, roller trays, rollers, and brushes (remember to stock plenty of dry and damp rags so you can quickly wipe up paint spills). You can make a quick work table by laying a piece of plywood or a flush wooden door over two sawhorses. Position a step stool or step ladder; you'll need it for taping and painting. Keep the project area as clean as possible. Place a large trash can in the room to discard debris as you work. A messy workspace gets in the way and could pose safety hazards.

Tape and Protect

how to paint stripes

Paint preparation includes masking off areas and things you don't want to paint. Buy different widths of painter's tape so you'll be ready to take on every taping task. Place wide strips of painter's tape over coverless electrical receptacles, switches, and outlets. Cover recessed light fixtures with pieces of painter's tape. If you're painting the ceiling a different color than the wall or just leaving it as is, apply masking tape around the edges of the ceiling. Mask off window trim, baseboards, fireplace mantels, and built-in bookcases. Press tape firmly to surfaces using your fingers or a plastic putty knife; seal tape edges to prevent paint from seeping under the tape.

Put Final Safeguards in Place

Paint Cans
Kim Cornelison Photography Inc

Any wall-painting tips will tell you to buy enough drop cloths to cover the entire floor and any furniture left in the space. Ideally, you don't want to have to move drop cloths as you paint your way around a room. Any time you move a cloth, you risk transferring wet paint splatters from the cloth to carpeting, flooring, or nearby surfaces. When choosing drop cloths meant to protect carpeting or flooring, opt for heavy duty canvas or cloths that are lined or backed with a plastic coating. Lined drop cloths won't allow paint to leak through to surfaces below. Although slippery underfoot, plastic drop cloths are a good and cheap option for protecting windows and built-ins from paint that might splash downward when you're rolling paint onto a ceiling.

Once you've cleaned, patched, protected, and put proper preparations in place, you're ready to tackle the easiest part of the job: the painting. Well, almost ready. It's also important to prep your paint for the walls. There are a few things you can add to your paint to help it perform best in different areas of your home. The additives can help with insulation, mildew resistance, and fireproofing.

Get inspired with more painting ideas on our podcast, The Better Buy. Carmeon Hamilton shares her tips for upgrading a basic wall with paint and more DIY decor ideas.

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