It’s all in the prep work.
The secret to a great paint job is to invest time in getting the room prepped properly. That means scraping and sanding any loose paint, patching nail holes or cracks with compound, letting it dry and sanding smooth. If you’re painting over a very glossy existing paint, go over it lightly with sand paper. Once it’s all ready, wipe down the walls with a wet rag and you’re ready!
Put the furniture in the middle of the room.
Trust me, you don’t want to try all sorts of gymnastics to paint around furniture. So move everything to the center of the room and cover it with a tarp or an old blanket.
Buy a roll or two of thick blue tape and mask off the edges you don’t want painted. It costs a lot more than normal masking tape, but that’s no good and will pull once you peel it off. I prefer the 3 or 3 ½” rolls. Run this carefully along the lip of baseboards. Put a baggie and rubber band around doorknobs and then tape around the outside. If you’re a beginner, you might want to tape the edge of window and door frames if you don’t plan on painting them – but keep in mind you’ll still probably have to touch them up because the tape isn’t perfect.
I’ve used them all, and I recommend Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore paint. Ask if they have a contractor series, which is usually less expensive because they skip all the fancy advertising. If you have to use Home Depot paint, Behr is probably their best brand. Do not try to skimp a few bucks and buy cheap paint – the poor quality will show and it will be harder to work with. Stay away from Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren paints and such – you’re just paying a premium for the name.
How much will you need?
It’s recommended you buy one gallon for every 400 square feet. Keep in mind that’s just for one coat, and it usually makes sense to put two coats on. It’s always better to have too much, not too little. Mark the lids with a sharpie so you can store it and use it later for touch ups or to match colors.
Standard ceiling paint and white trim paint is usually universal throughout the house, so always buy a gallon, not a quart.
The biggest mistake people make is rushing into a color choice. Remember that colors usually look much brighter and bolder when on a whole wall, as opposed to a small swatch in the store. So if you’re looking at any bold color, I recommend going two shades lighter or more neutral so it’s not shocking once you paint the whole room! Also, the store usually sells 1 quart sample sizes of colors, so take a few home and try them out first.
What kind of paint do you want?
You’ll look for an interior latex paint. Latex means it’s water-soluble so you can clean up with soap and water and it’s not toxic and doesn’t stink up the whole house like oil-based paints (which aren’t even available in a lot of states.) Rule of thumb – you can put latex paint over surfaces previously painted with oil or latex paints, but you can’t paint oil over latex.
Choosing between flat, eggshell, satin, semi gloss and gloss paints.
The sheen of the paint corresponds to how shiny it is. Gloss and semi-gloss paints have a nice shine to them and also are the most water-resistant. You usually want a semi-gloss paint (gloss probably isn’t recommended) in the kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms. Ceiling paint is standard flat, and believe it or not isn’t just plain white – ceiling pants usually have a tiny bit of blue tint in them. Baseboard and trim is commonly satin or semi-gloss for a little shine. Most living rooms, bedroom, hallways walls, etc. are flat or eggshell.
Shake and stir paint really well before opening (with a can opener, paint opener, or flathead screwdriver.) If you have more than one gallon of the same paint, pour all of them into a big f-gallon bucket. Mix them really well and then pour back into the individual cans when done. Even though the paint store follows computerized color formulas, each can of paint has tiny differences. You don’t want one wall to be slightly off, so mix, or “box” them all up so you know all the paint is uniform.
Again, you don’t want to skimp on brushes. Buy one good wooden-handled brush and take good care of it. The cheap ones will loose bristles as you paint, making a mess. Watch out because there are brushes for oil based painting and brushes for latex paints, which you'll probably use. You’ll want an angled brush – probably 2 ½” so you can paint the edges of the walls and also use it for trim. Wash it thoroughly and comb out the paint when you’re cleaning, and never let paint fully dry on there. Make sure not to push hard or bend the bristles back and you’ll preserve it. Put it back in the case and wrap it with a rubber band to preserve the shape of the brush.
Remove wall outlets.
Take the time to unscrew all outlet covers and light switch covers. Tape the screws to the covers so you won’t lose them and put them all in a central place. Then, cover the switches and sockets with a piece of tape so they won’t get splattered.
Brown paper or newspaper cabinets, etc.
Cover lights, chandeliers, cabinets, fireplaces, or anything you don’t want to get painted with newspaper or even better, the rolls of thick brown paper they sell in the paint department of your hardware store. Tape it down with blue painters tape so it doesn’t pull when you peel it back. Also, plastic bags work great.
Cover your shoes.
As you walk in and out, you may step on small paint spray, drops or spills, which you may unwittingly track on carpets and through the house. So I use small plastic shopping bags as shoe covers.
To prime or not to prime?
Many people get hung up on using expensive or specialty primers before they paint. Unless your wall is hot red or bright pink or you have new sheetrock, you probably don’t have to prime. Instead, just put two coats of paint over the walls. The primer is usually white, so you’ll probably need two coats AND primer if you go that route, though you can get your primer tinted.
You may want to spend money on one thick canvas tarp. You’ll use this to run along the wall you’re painting. Instead of getting a giant square tarp, get one that is narrow (4’) but runs long (10’) which is ideal for painting walls. You can cover furniture and other things with old bed sheets and blankets and newspaper.
Your #1 goal – don’t make a mess.
Your first and foremost goal when painting is not to spill. Put paint cans and trays in the center of the room on a piece of cardboard so you don’t kick them over or step on them. Don’t over fill your paint cans or roller trays so it slops around. One little mishap can cost you a carpet or sofa, so exercise caution.
Use an extension pole.
When rolling the walls, they tend to come out smoother and more uniform when you attach the roller to an extension pole. But instead of spending money on a fiberglass telescoping pole, but one of the wooden ones that screw into the roller handle, or even use a broomstick handle in a pinch. If you're painting the ceiling, you'll definitely want to use an extension pole (and lots of tarps!)
Textured ceilings are a nightmare, especially “popcorn” ceilings. When you’re painting a flat wall that butts up against a textured ceiling, it’s impossible to run a straight even line as you paint, no matter how god you are. So here’s the best trick ever – take a roll of white, paintable caulk and run it in the corner of the wall and the ceiling. Run a good bead all the way down the horizontal wall/ceiling line all the way around the room. Then, smooth it out and wipe away the excess with a wet rage. When it dries, it will form the perfect smooth, paintable line to run your wall paint up to the textured ceiling. By the way, those roller pads that supposedly help you paint a straight line against the ceiling are junk – the wheels eventually get wet, which spreads paint everywhere.
Keep you brush and rollers wet.
Don’t let your roller dry out. When you’re using your brush, keep the roller wet by sitting it in the paint tray. If you have to leave it for a while, roll it in plastic wrap or the plastic cover it came with – it will keep it from drying. Keep your brush edge dipped in paint as well in the tray or a coffee can with a little paint in the bottom, or wrap it in plastic so it doesn’t dry out.
Cut then roll into the wet edge.
Take on one wall at a time. Use the brush to “cut” – paint an area about 6 inches wide along the ceiling, baseboards, trim, etc.
Feather your strokes.
Whenever you’re blending one painted surface into another – brush strokes into roller strokes and vice versa, feather it out by taking off the pressure, painting increasingly lightly so it all blends in.
Don’t push hard.
When you use the roller, don’t push hard or it will create lines and uneven surfaces. Make sure the roller is really wet but not dripping and dip frequently. Don’t push on a brush or it will spread out and ruin the bristles.
Trim, roll, trim (then reverse.)
I usually trim along the ceiling, baseboards, etc. and then roll in, making sure to feather my roller strokes to blend it in. Then, I move to the next wall, always leaving a wet edge. Once I go around the room and come back, I’ll roll it and then trim again if it needs a second coat.
If you’re painting the trim, too, remove all the tape the next day. Run a new line of tape along the floor and also against the now-dry wall. Use the brush to carefully paint with horizontal strokes, feathering in to each wet edge. Don’t leave too much excess or it will drip. Paint over any wall paint that happened to splatter or drip on the trim.
Let it dry.
Don’t be impatient and start pulling up tape and messing with the walls and ruin your work. Leave it over night to give it ample time to dry. In the morning, you can pull up the blue tape (which won’t pull paint off the walls,) put outlet covers back on, and put the furniture back in place.
Once you are done, take all wet brushes, rollers, pans, and paint cans out to the front lawn or the garage on newspaper. Pour all the excess in the can, seal it tightly with a hammer, and label it. Wash the brushes thoroughly in warm soapy water and spin them out by the handle to dry, then put them in their cases again. Hang brushes upside down so the bristles stay in form. Roller pads are usually cheap enough to just put in a plastic bag and throw out. Let any container dry in the sun before you put it away or throw it out. Never dispose of oil based paints or paint thinners in the drain, on your lawn, or in the sewer.