How to Paint a Room the Right Way

Paint ChipsPainting has been a big part of my life lately; as my kids are growing up, they are more motivated to have a nice-looking room than they are to draw on their walls. Yay! So I’ve been painting…and it’s not always easy. Here are some great tips to make sure you get a great paint job on your walls.

1. Gather your Paint Supplies

Get all of your supplies together before you start. You will likely need:

  • paint
  • a roller and pan
  • paint can opener
  • drop cloths
  • masking tape
  • a screwdriver
  • rags or paper towels

Depending on the condition of your walls, you may also require:

  • primer
  • spackle
  • sand paper
  • spray-on texture

Make sure you have everything available before you start.

2. Clear the Room

To avoid a costly mess, remove as much from the room as possible. Strip the bed of all linens, and take as much furniture as you can out of the room. For things that are too hard or inconvenient to remove, at least move them to the center of the room, away from the walls, so they will be less likely to have paint splattered on them. Cover all remaining items with drop-clothes for protection. No matter how careful you are, small drops of paint will land on places where you don’t want them…so cover them up!

3. Prep the Walls

Paint Brushes

Remove all curtain rods, hanging pictures or posters, and mounted shelving from the walls. Also remove all switch plates (you’ll have gaps if you try to paint around them). Spackle any holes if they will show after you put the room back together, and when it dries, sand it so the surface is flush with the wall. If your walls are heavily textured, you may also need to spray on a texture so that the finish matches.

Next, use masking tape (preferably the low-adhesive painters’ tape; it’s often blue) along the edges of the ceiling, around door and window moldings. and along the baseboards. Use long pieces of tape to cover the ceiling or molding, and be careful to put the edges right next to the wall you’ll be painting – but don’t overlap it onto the wall itself. The straighter your tape is, the better your final result!

If there are marks on the wall, or if you are painting over a dark color or paint in a pattern, you will probably need to prime the walls before you paint. You may even have to prime the walls multiple times. If, like me, you’re lucky enough to have a budding artist with a talent for finding missing Sharpies – you’ll need to cover the drawings with several coats of primer – so do those spots first. (Suprisingly – in my experience, it’s much harder to cover permanent marker than it is to cover up lipstick or nail polish!)

4. Paint the Edges of the Walls

The hardest parts to get right, when painting a room, are the edges of the walls where they meet the ceiling, window, or trim. You can’t use a roller in this area because it’s not small enough. I like to start this process with a paint edger. It’s a pad that works like a roller, except you slide it along the wall. I still use masking tape to make the edge even and not wobbly. The edger works great along most edges, but in the corners where two walls meet the ceiling, and in other small or hard-to-reach areas, you’ll want to use a brush.

I like to use a 3-inch angled paintbrush, which lets me work into the area precisely. Don’t use too much paint at one time, on either the brush or the edger – it will “glop up” and seep under the edges of the painters’ tape. Remember that you can always add more paint, but it’s much harder to take it away.

If you are changing the color of the wall drastically, you may want to do two coats. You can either do the second one as soon as the first dries, or you can wait until you’re done with the walls – in case you didn’t come far enough away from the edges.

5. Paint the Main Part of the Walls

The majority of the wall is away from edges and can be easily and quickly painted with a roller. Put a small amount of paint in the pan, and roll the roller pad through it to pick up the paint. As with edging – start out with a small amount of paint; you can always add more. Apply the paint to the walls in a “W” shape, not up and down. Also, don’t apply too much pressure with the roller, or the pad may start to disintegrate and leave fibers or fuzz in your paint. Be careful as you get close to the ceiling or floor, making sure you don’t touch either. If you can’t get all the way to the edging paint you did earlier, you can go back later with a brush or edger to fill in the gaps.

If you need to apply a second coat, let the first one dry completely – overnight if possible – before applying the second coat.

You Can Do It!

Painting a room takes practice, time, and care to get right – but it’s something almost anyone can do. Painting rooms yourself can save a good bit of money over hiring a professional painter. And it’s the cheapest way to freshen or update a room!


  1. As a professional painter, I can say with some authority that this isn’t entirely correct. The choice to tape off the edges is neither here nor there, if you’re not confident in your ability to paint a straight line, tape can help. More often than not, though, I see all over a piece of trim where the paint “seeps” through the edge and it’s a very unattractive effect. One tip i can give is that the rag rollers (that’s what we call them here, they basically look hairy lol) are a lot better and hold more paint than the fuzzy pink/beige ones. If they’re washed out thoroughly, they last a really, really long time.

    A room will almost ALWAYS require two coats, unless the color is extremely (almost indistinguishably) similar the original, or unless you’re using a paint specifically meant to cover in one coat… Even with that, you usually still want to cut in the edges twice since the paint spreads pretty thin with a brush. We usually use 2 1/2in straight edge brushes for interiors, since the 3 in+ brushes tend to hold on to a lot more paint and exacerbate the ‘gooping’ problem.

    Also, ALL professional painters roll the paint on straight up and down, usually with an extender pole: it makes the job go by much, much quicker.

    Another tip: Keep a damp rag handy just in case your roller does happen to bump the ceiling/molding. The quicker you can get to it with the rag, the better chance it will come off completely.

    • Thanks for the input Ariel! I am NOT a professional painter, just someone who changes her mind a lot, and also watches a lot of DIY and Trading Spaces and such 😉 I’ve gotten better at cutting in without tape, but I still use it a lot – seems to work best if you paint over the seam with the base coat (the coat matching what you’re butting up against) first, let it dry, and then paint again with the intended color.

      Thanks for sharing your expertise with me and with our readers!

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