Painting 101: Tips and Tricks for Updating Any Space

The quickest and cheapest way to make a big impact in your home? Paint! Here, we offer tips and tools to update any space with a fresh coat. 
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1. Tape like your paint job depends on it. Mask off trim, doors, and floorboards with 1½-inch-wide painter’s tape. Apply tape in 1- to 1½-foot-long strips. Also, tape cling wrap over doorknobs or other surfaces you want to avoid. To remove, pull the tape at a 45-degree angle before your final coat of paint dries (so while it’s still wet), suggests construction manager Tom Bury, of Division 9 Design + Construction, in Clinton, New Jersey. 

2. Skip the primer. Walls that have latex paint don’t need primer, says Rick Watson, director of product information at Sherwin-Williams. You only need it over glossy finishes, for hiding stains, or for a drastic color change (in which case go for a gray-tinted one).

3. Get your stroke right. Use a roller for large surface areas. For faster coverage, attach it to an extension pole (5-foot Steel Single Pole, $8). Tim Bosveld, of the paint company Dunn-Edwards, recommends rolling an “N” or a “W” shape for a uniform texture. Roll up first, not down— if you roll down, the excess paint can drip. For paint with a lower sheen, pick a roller that’s 9 inches wide with a ½- to ¾-inch nap. Use a shorter nap, like ¼ inch, for eggshells and high sheens.

4. Cut in correctly. Brush paint along wall edges, trim, and any details your roller can’t reach or cover as well, says Lauretta. (This is called “cutting in.”) With a brush, you have better control and cleaner lines against trim. Wet your brush’s bristles with water; shake the brush dry before you dip it in the paint, and apply at a 45-degree angle, says Lowe’s Merchandising Director, Chris Stigliano.

Safety First

5. Check for lead. If your home was built before 1978 and you spot flaking paint chips (that kids might eat), you can use a kit to test the wall yourself (3M LeadCheck Instant Lead Test Swabs, $10) but it’s best to let a pro handle both the test and removal.

6. Choose low- or no-voc paints. Almost all paint lines now offer this option. Look for mention of Greenguard Gold Certification on the can.

7. Allow for proper ventilation. Paint with windows open, especially if your family has asthma sufferers.

Tricky Projects 

8. Wood Kitchen Cabinets

  1. Remove drawers, cabinet fronts, and hardware, and label the back of each piece with painter’s tape so you can put everything back in place, suggests Bosveld. 
  2. Clean the surfaces with a heavy-duty cleaner such as trisodium phosphate (available in hardware stores). Do this before sanding so you don’t sand dirt into the surface, advises Watson. Let dry, then sand with 180- to 220-grit sandpaper, followed up by a finer grit (300 and up). 
  3. Apply a bonding primer, such as Stix ($43 per gallon); let dry and follow up with a satin (or shinier) coat of paint using a roller with a ⅜-inch or finer nap for large surfaces and a brush for edges and any detailing. Let this first color coat dry overnight before adding the second. FYI: Wood furniture requires the same treatment.

9. Ceiling

  1. If your ceilings are in great shape, congrats—but if you want to deal with the “fifth wall,” tackle it before the rest of the room. Use a Swiffer to give the ceiling a quick clean, and protect hanging fixtures or recessed lights with plastic bags.
  2. A flat white is the default for ceilings because it makes the room look bigger, says Sue Wadden, color director at Sherwin-Williams. Use products labeled “ceiling paint.” They’re thicker so they spatter less. 

10. Bathroom

  1. Clean the walls with trisodium phosphate before priming to remove mildew and soap scum. Let dry
  2. Choose a paint with antimicrobial additives that resist mold, like Zinsser’s mildew-proof interior paint ($29.77 per gallon), or one labeled “bathroom.” Opt for an eggshell finish, suggests Lauretta, or moisture may penetrate and lead to peeling. Avoid bright colors, like yellows, reds, and greens, on the walls; they could reflect on your face in the mirror, says Quinn Larson-Pierce, a Behr color expert. 

Goofs That Newbie Painters Make

11. They don’t swatch. Never paint a room without buying a sample and testing it out—the lighting in a store is very different from the lighting in your home. If you’re not ready to mark up your walls, buy a piece of foam core and paint it, suggests Andrea Magno, a color and design expert at Benjamin Moore.

12. They don’t make test areas big enough. Larson-Pierce suggests a 3- x 3-foot patch; light reflects back on it and you can spot nuances and undertones. With grays, there are often purple, blue, or green undertones that you can’t see in a small chip or swatch. 

13. They put paint swatches too close to each other. Your eyes will get confused, says Sara McLean, DunnEdwards’ color expert. 

14. They don’t test on multiple walls. Light will hit parts of your room differently, and you need to see how it will look throughout the day, says McLean. If you love a color but are afraid it’s too bold, ask the associate to reduce the color by 50 percent when mixing, suggests Brooke Wagner, principal designer at Brooke Wagner Design, in Corona del Mar, California. “This uses only half of the coloring, giving you a shade that won’t overwhelm you.” 

15. They use plastic drop cloths. These can get slippery, and you could easily fall, says Stigliano. Use canvas instead, which you can fold up and reuse.

16. They don’t let each coat dry thoroughly. Going back over wet paint too soon can leave marks and streaks on the surface, says Jeff Spillane, Benjamin Moore’s senior product manager. Dry times vary by brand, but ideally, wait a minimum of four hours between each coat. Keep tools fresh between coats: Wrap your brush and roller (handle and all) in plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you’re ready.

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