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How To Prep a Room for Interior Painting

First off, don't prep a room the way I used to do it. I was usually so anxious to get started on a paint project that I stopped at the paint store on my way home from work. When I got home, I popped open the paint and tried it on the wall, still dressed for work.

Let me back up a bit, its not that I am so enthusiastic about painting - just the opposite. But once I have made the commitment to paint, I just want to hurry up and get it done. Of course, than means I didn't do any of the basic prep that I should have done. What this also meant is that the project ended up taking longer because I end up having to do most of the prep as I go along. The painting preparation that I skipped usually resulted in redo work later or a botched job that I notice every time I walk into the room.

It took many repeats of my flawed process to learn my lesson and now I take the time to do prep right. And you know what? It actually goes faster and I get better results. So let me share with you the way to prep a room for painting. It isn't that bad, really.

First of all, clear a space. If you are painting a room, you'll need access to the walls. Move all the furniture to the center of the room or move it out completely. Remove wall hangings and set them on a blanket on top of the furniture (to avoid scratches). Use a large drop cloth to cover the furniture and tape it down to the floor. Make sure everything is covered. Paint has an amazing ability to drip or splatter on the one spot that was left uncovered.

Next, remove cover plates from switches and outlets. Use painters tape to cover the switches and outlets themselves. Removal of hardware will speed the painting process. Wherever possible remove window latches and pulls, door knobs and stops. If removal is problematic, then cover all exposed surfaces with painter's tape. Keep the tape off the paint surface or you will have noticeable spots around the hardware where the paint doesn't match, especially when using a different color.

Incidentally, blue painter's tape is designed to be easily removed within 14 days of applying to a surface and is suitable for most surfaces. Leave tape too long and it can be difficult to remove or damage the surface under the tape. Refer to the manufacturer's instructions for recommended use.

Decide whether to remove light fixtures that are in the area being painted or if you will paint around them. Painting around them means bagging and taping them. If you can pull the base away from the wall or ceiling without disconnecting the fixture, great. Painting around a fixture takes more time and can result in a different texture in the paint, such as brush strokes) which are then highlighted whenever the light is turned on. Removing the fixture results in a better paint job, but extra work to remove and then reinstall the fixture. If you leave the fixture, put a plastic bag over the fixture and then secure it with painter's tape to the base. DO NOT turn on the lights while they are bagged or you could start a fire. Better yet, turn off power to the room to make sure no one inadvertently turns on the lights.

Mask off or tape drop clothes over anything that is not to be painted. If you are painting the walls, but not the ceiling, use painter's tape on the ceiling where it meets the wall. Cover the floor with drop clothes and tape them to the floor, against the baseboard, or on top of the baseboard if you will not be painting it.

If you will be spray painting, tape two sheets of plastic drop clothes over all doorways and then make a six foot slit down the middle of the plastic for any doorway that requires access. Also, tape sheets of plastic drop cloth over the windows. Either tape it to the inside of the windows frame or to the outside of the window trim, if the trim isn't being painted.

Wearing gloves and eye protection (wear a helmet too if you are particularly clumsy), mix up a bucket of water with some household cleaner, such as TSP. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the proper mixture and usage. Use a sponge to gently wash down the walls. This removes dirt, oil, smoke and other contaminants that affect adhesion of the paint.

Inspect the wall for damage. Patch nail holes with drywall compound or a similar product. For patching drywall cracks and larger damage, see our drywall section for patching instructions.

Once the walls have dried and all patching has been sanded and wiped down, you are ready to paint. Put on your suit and get started.

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