clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Read This Before You Paint

Before you pick up a paintbrush, check out This Old House's expert guide to the best products, tools, and techniques for putting color on your walls

Which Paint Where

Photo by Mark Lohman

Kitchen and bath: Choose a moisture- and peel-resistant satin or semigloss with mildewcides.

Ceiling: Paints labeled for ceilings are thicker and less splatter-prone than wall paint. They are also extra flat to cut glare from lights.

Entry, stairway, and family room: Durable, easy-to-clean 100 percent acrylic latex in an eggshell sheen will stand up to high traffic and fingerprints.

What it Costs

Photo by Don Penny/Time Inc. Digital Studio

Expect to pay about $197 to paint the average 12-by-12-foot room.

Pick The Right Tool for the Job

Photo by Ted Morrison

Roller Covers

1. Smooth roller, ¼-inch nap: Best for semigloss or gloss on smooth drywall or plaster walls.

2. Semi-smooth roller, ⅜-inch nap: Best for semigloss, flat, or eggshell on lightly textured plaster or wood-paneled walls.

3. Rough roller, ¾-inch nap: Best for flat or eggshell on highly textured stucco or masonry walls.


1. 1-inch angled brush: Best for details, such as moldings and window muntins.

2. 2½-inch angled brush: Best for window and door casing, cabinetry, and cutting in.

3. 3-inch straight brush: Best for large expanses, such as wainscoting and doors.

How to Handle Holes and Cracks

Photo by Brian Wilder

Fill holes with drywall compound. For hairline cracks, widen with a utility knife before covering with fiber-mesh tape. Coat the tape with joint compound, let dry, and sand—recoat and sand two more times.

Room Prep Checklist

Photo by Kolin Smith

Remove window treatments, wall-hung art, area rugs, outlet and switch-plate covers.

Cover furniture with drop cloths.

Wrap chandeliers and sconces in plastic sheeting.

Protect window and door hardware by removing or covering with tape.

Sand walls and trim.

Dust with a tack cloth. (Treat plaster with a solution of 1 pint vinegar and 1 gallon of water.)

Tape exposed outlets and switches, window panes, HVAC vents, and any other areas you want to keep paint-free.

Invest in the Best

Photo by Don Penny/Time Inc. Studio

Paint: Quality dependson the type and amount of pigment. High percentages of titanium dioxide pigment, rather than cheaper calcium carbonate, provide better coverage with fewer coats.

Primer: A 100 percent acrylic formula helps paint grip surfaces, hides stains, and allows you to go from a dark color to a light one with fewer coats.

Rollers: Blended-fiber covers combine the extra pickup of wool with the durability of polyester.

Brushes: Tapered bristles with split ends that are solid—not hollow—pick up and spread paint best.

Shown: Duration Home; about $45 per gallon;

Ladder Safety 101

Illustration by Eric Larsen

DO stand on a low rung, with your body centered between the ladder rails and both feet firmly planted. Keep one hand free, using the ladder tray to hold your pail.

DON'T stand on one of the top two rungs or overreach; both can throw you off balance. Never paint with one hand while holding your pail in the other, preventing you from easily grabbing the ladder.

Special Effects

Textured: Sand-like granules cover flaws in walls and impart a rustic look. Premium Plus Texture Paint (shown at left), $26 for a 2-gallon can;

Metallic: Light-reflecting pigments give walls shimmer. Faux Impressions Metallic, $75 per gallon;

Pearl: An iridescent glaze with a milky glow. Studio Finish Glaze Pearlescent White 101, $34 per gallon;

Suede: Microscopic beads create a soft, fabric-like finish that adds depth and texture to walls. Suede, $54 per gallon;

How to Handle the Oops

Photo by Ted Morrison

Drips on the floor: Remove latex with a water-dampened rag; use mineral spirits for oil paints. Scrape dried blobs with a utility knife.

Bubbles on drywall: Pop and scrape off with a putty knife. Then sand the area with 330-grit paper, tack it with a damp cloth, and use a foam pad for touch-ups.

Lap lines on plaster or drywall: Repaint the area, applying light pressure on a roller that has soaked up only a quarter of a full load of paint.

No Bleed Lines

Photo by Ted Morrison

These tapes protect surfaces while providing crisp edges to paint along.

Top: For striped designs, choose tape with a polymer-based adhesive that forms a gel barrier at the edges. Shown: FrogTape Multi-Surface, $10;

Middle: For general masking, use UV-resistant tape with a 14-day adhesion time. Shown: Scotch-Blue Painter's Tape, $5;

Bottom: For multi-week projects, use a 60-day tape that won't leave residue behind when you remove it. Shown: ShurRelease, $10;

The Shine Factor

Illustration by Eric Larsen

Flat/Matte: A low-luster sheen that provides even coverage and helps conceal flaws but is hard to clean.

Eggshell: This soft sheen is easy to touch up and can be wiped clean without burnishing.

Semigloss: A slightly shiny finish that's glass smooth, durable, and washable.

Gloss: This light-reflecting sheen can take a beating but does highlight surface imperfections.

What's New: Full Spectrum Paints

Photo by Susan Seubert

Full spectrum paints have at least four colorants (but no black) for better coverage and more vibrant hues.

C2-201 Interior Latex, $55 per gallon;

What's New: Ceramic Paints

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Ceramic paints have the low sheen of a matte but can be scrubbed like a gloss thanks to surface-hardening microscopic ceramic beads.

Ultra Ceramic in matte, $45 per gallon;

What's New: Odor-Eating Paints

Photo by Nathan Kirkman

Odor-eating paints contain baking soda to help neutralize household smells.

Refresh Paint, $26 per gallon;

How Much Paint to Buy

Illustration by Eric Larsen

Divide the square footage of your wall surfaces by the coverage per gallon listed on the can. Example: A 20-by-23-foot room with an 8-foot ceiling is 688 square feet; 688 ÷ 350 square feet of coverage per can = 2 gallons (make it 4 gallons for two coats).

Get a Comfy Grip

Photo by Ted Morrison

Putting paint on the wall is easy, but the repetition can leave you feeling achy. Prevent the pain by changing your grip or the way you move.

Roller: Roll up at a slight angle before coming straight down.

Brush: Pinch the base of the brush with your index finger and thumb along the bottom of the ferrule.

Extension pole: Space your hands about 18 inches apart. For ceilings, roll the area in front of you, rather than directly above or behind, to avoid back strain. For walls, bow down and stretch up from the waist.

How Long Does it Take?

Illustration by Eric Larsen

Painting is one project you can't rush. Not allowing a coat to fully dry, for instance, can ruin all your efforts. An average 12-by-12-foot room clocks in at about two days.

Perfect your Technique

Photo by Kolin Smith

Start by cutting in with a brush. Next, use a roller to fill the wall expanse. Make W shapes to release the most amount of paint from the roller, then go over the area with vertical strokes to evenly distribute it. Work in 3-by-3-foot sections to keep a wet edge and avoid lap marks.

Save Your Leftovers

Photo by Ted Morrison

Keep paint in an airtight glass jar. To get a better seal, cover the opening with plastic wrap before screwing on the cap. Store the jar off the floor in a cool, dry place for up to five years.

Touch-Up Tip

Photo by Ted Morrison

Paint an outlet cover and affix painter's tape with the color name and number on its back. If you ever have to buy more paint, simply remove the cover and bring this handy "chip" to the store to get an exact match to the aged version on your walls.

Greener Options

Photo by Ted Morrison

In response to concerns about indoor air quality, nearly every major manufacturer now offers low-VOC (generally 50 grams or less per liter) or no-VOC (5 grams or less) paint. Some, like Anna Sova, even go a step further, making paints from food-grade ingredients.

Paint by Numbers

Photo by Nathan Kirkman

Work in this sequence to minimize the chance of marring already painted surfaces.

1. Ceiling

2. Walls

3. Doors

4. Trim

Caring for Brushes

Photo by Chris Buck

Soak synthetic brushes in warm water (use turpentine for natural bristle brushes) and gently wring out. Run a metal brush comb through bristles to straighten them and remove any last bits of paint. Shake out excess water, reshape bristles with your fingers, and lay flat to dry. Store in original packaging or folded newspaper, and either lay flat or hang brushes from their handles.


Illustration by Eric Larsen

You can donate extra paint (minimum: one-third can) to a local charity or recycling center. Just enter your ZIP code at to find out how. If the paint is dried or degraded, call your municipality's waste authority for proper disposal directions.