How to Paint a Room

in 5 Steps

Painting a room seems easy but it’s not. Unless your or your client's standards are low, properly painting a room takes skill and experience. In this post, I’m going to walk you through how to paint a room in 5 steps. After this article you will know enough to start a painting business.🤞

 

  1. Paint

  2. Supplies

  3. Preparation

  4. Cut & Roll

  5. Clean Up

 

1. PAINT

Colors

Hopefully your client is selecting the color but sometimes you will have to pick a color yourself. Sometimes choosing colors is the most time-consuming part of painting a room. It’s hard to imagine what the color will actually look like once on the walls. There are a few tricks to selecting a proper color for your room like, not using dark colors in small rooms, matching furniture, or using a color wheel for accent walls. Typically the ceilings and trim always get painted white and walls get a custom color. We won’t get into Color Theory like primary, secondary, tertiary, analogous, monochromatic, and complementary colors yet, but if you really want to inform yourself about color, check out our article on, “How to Use Color Theory for Your Painting Business”.

 

  • Warm Colors- Warm colors like red, orange and yellow give off an energy and intensity unmatched by their cooler cousins. Use these hues where your painting a room for activity and stimulation, like a kitchen, child’s playroom or exercise space.

 

  • Cool Colors- Cool colors like blue and green do just that — cool and soothe your mind, body and spirit. It's no wonder we flock to the ocean and mountains to rejuvenate our senses. These hues are best when painting a room where you want serenity to prevail.


 

Finishes 

Also referred to as the sheen, this is how shiny the paint is when dry. As the paint sheen's go from flat to gloss, so does the look, price, clean-ability, and protection. Depending on where you are applying the paint determines what type of finish to use. Bedrooms usually get flats and bathrooms usually get satin or semi-gloss. Paints with more sheen tend to cost more per gallon as well.

 

  • Flat- Flat paint looks great and helps hide any imperfections on surfaces. It does stain easily and is tough to clean but touching up with even a paintbrush will blend just fine. Flat paint is usually used in low traffic areas and almost always on ceilings.

 

  • Matte- Smooth finish, has little or no sheen. Helps hide surface imperfections but may suffer damage more easily than other finishes. Best for low-traffic areas. Matte is really popular in living rooms and bedrooms.

 

  • Eg-Shell- Velvety sheen and easy to clean. A lot of people confuse eh-shell for color, but it's actually the finish. Eg-Shell is a common choice for walls as its sheen is not too bright but it’s also not too flat that it doesn't pop. Eg-Shell is almost impossible to touch up and preferably should be cut and rolled wet.

 

  • Satin- Satin is similar to eg-shell as it’s highly cleanable and stain resistant. This finish is typically chosen for moist areas like bathrooms and kitchens. Imperfections are more likely to appear in certain angles but the overall sheen is very luxurious. Used mostly on interior walls but almost all exterior trim is painted with a satin finish.

 

  • Semi-Gloss- Semi-gloss is sleek, radiant and high resistance to moisture. Good for cabinets, doors and windows. the most common paint for interior trim, baseboards, molding, and doors. Typically in white but there's a lot of applications where semi-gloss works great.

 

  • High Gloss- Durable and easy to clean creating a glass-like finish. Unless a client specifically asks for a high gloss, you typically won't need to use a high gloss finish. This finish is so reflective it looks wet even when dry. Some people do prefer high gloss for there interior trims and doors, personally, I think it’s too much.


 

Primer

There are different types of primer. They can also be tinted to help with coverage of the top coat.

 

  • Latex Primer- This is a water-based primer that easy to clean up and rather inexpensive. Mostly used to coat new drywall, spot priming drywall repairs, or cover existing dark or vibrant colors

 

  • Oil Primer- No one likes working with oil-based primer, it’s harsh and hard to apply. Be sure to wear a proper respirator mask and have mineral spirits nearby. This is the ultimate primer. It adheres to almost anything. Mostly used to seal bare wood and cover grease, nicotine, tar, and water stains. It’s also good for uncommon surfaces like rubber, plastic, concrete and more.

 

Paint Amount

Usually 1 gallon of paint can cover up to 400 sq.ft. but that's for 1 coat. Typically always you will need 2 coats for proper coverage. The best way to figure out how much paint you will need to measure the surface area. Multiply the length by the width or height to determine the sq.ft. of a surface. Then divide this by 400 to get how many gallons of paint you will need. For trim, use the same formula length by width, which with trim may be less than a foot so do .5 for 6 inches and .25 for 3 inches. It doesn't have to be perfect, true professionals don’t need to measure for this as 1 gallon is plenty for a room. The last thing you want is to have to run to the paint store 75% of the way through the project so get 1 extra gallon. If you need help you can always use a paint calculator. Here are a few good sites to use to calculate paint amounts.

 

2. SUPPLIES

 

You will need basic tools and materials to professionally paint a room. Besides the paint, here's what you will need.

 

Tools

  • Ladder- For regular size rooms you will only need a 4ft. Stepladder to reach the ceiling and top of walls. For more advanced painting, many ladders, scaffolding or even a lift will need to be used.

  • Drop Cloths- Don’t try to get away painting without covering up the furniture or floors, especially the ceiling. Canvas drop cloths are the most popular and use plastic sheeting to protect fragile or delicate items. There is a runner (long hallway drops) and there are large drops which fit most rooms. I like having a few 20’ by 20’ drops as well as a runner or 2 for my workstation and pathways.

  • Dust Brush or Broom- Most rooms will have collected dust and cobwebs over the years. Behind the furniture may need a good cleaning, dusting or sweeping before painting.

  • Rags- Next to the 5in 1, rags are painters best friend. Keep this in your back pocket at all time in case you need to wipe something, even pros make mistakes.

  • Caulk Gun- Having a well-working caulking gun makes caulking so much easier. There are top loaders and side loaders. Get a drip-less one. To this day I still don’t know why they make ones that keep flowing without pushing the trigger.

  • Spackle knives- You will need to spackle over surface imperfections, having a quality spackling knife makes a work of a difference. Spackling is an art.

  • Pole Sander or Sanding Blocks- After your repairs are dry you will need a sanding block to sand the repair smooth before spot priming.

  • 5 in 1 Tool- A professional painters best friend. Finding it’s home in your rear pocket, this tool is used quite often to scrape, pry, peel, screw, hammer or just about anything besides paint.

  • Paint Brush- Without the paint brush it would be very hard to hand paint a room. DO NOT go cheap on this tool. Having a quality brush makes a world of a difference. Purdy and Wooster are the 2 main brushes professionals prefer. There's a lot of different types of brushes. The most common are 2.5-inch sash brush and 3 inch flat brushes.

  • Cut Bucket- Personally, I prefer to cut out of an empty gallon can but a lot of painters use handy pal cut buckets which have liners, a handle, and a magnet to hold your brush up from the paint.

  • Roller Frame and Covers- There are a lot of different sizes of rollers. 2”, 4” 9” 12” 14” and 18”. I almost always use a 4” and 18” but 9” is pretty darn common. Roller frames are different depending on the size of the roller cover you want to use. Roller cover comes in different thicknesses call naps. Nap sizes are ¼”,  ⅜”, ½”, ¾“, 1”, 1 ¼”, and 1 ½”. Rollers also come in a variety of materials and even textures.

  • Roller Pan or Bucket and Grid- Again, depending on the size of your roller will determine the size of your roller pan. Larger pans, more like huge troughs, are used for 18” rollers or a 9” roller can be used with a 5-gallon bucket and grid or just out of a 9” tray. Also, it’s always good to have an extra 5-gallon bucket or 2 around.

  • Paint Screen- Even the newest paint might still have boogers or dried paint solids so its a good idea to have a screen to filter the paint. Peace of mind knowing the paint is clean makes for a less stressful work day.

  • Extension Pole- Needed to reach high areas like the ceiling making it easier on your back.

  • Screw Drivers- Mostly to remove switch plate and outlet covers during prep.

  • Vacuum- Either a traditional vacuum or a shop vac for cleaning up.


 

Materials

Now that you have the tools you’ll need the materials. Here is a list of common materials used to paint a room.

 

  • Paint- We covered this already but it is a material needed so.

  • Caulk- Caulk is mostly used for filling the gaps between woodwork and drywall. Use a wet rag to keep your hands clean and allow for a smoother application.

  • Painters Tape- This is one tool you do not want to go cheap on. Get frog tape or any quality painters tape. No cheap white masking tape here. You will need this to protect certain surfaces and create a beautiful straight line where you can’t by hand.

  • Drywall Compound- also referred to as spackle, fills in damaged drywall and can be sanded smooth when dry.

  • Drywall Tape- There is fiberglass mesh tape and paper tape both used for their own reasons. Use this material to seal split and peeling drywall seams.

  • Cleaners- It’s a good idea to have liquid soap, paint thinner or mineral spirits handy when painting.

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3. PREPARATION

My father taught me how to paint a room when I was young. He always told be the prep was key to a good paint job. It’s true, prep is the bulk of the job. Anything that will be in the way or could get paint splattered on needs to be moved or protected in order to paint a room like a professional. I like to take pictures of the room so I can rearrange the room back together again after the paint is dry. Any drywall damage or imperfections need to be addressed properly.

 

Prep the Room

preparing a room for painting is easy if done methodically. Remembering where you place things and what to step on and what not to is crucial in painting a room professionally.

 

  • Furniture- First try to get as much furniture out of the room as possible. Maybe there is space in the closet if you're not painting it. The hallway or an adjacent room may work for temporary storage space. Arrange the leftover furniture so that they are in 1-2 clusters, having more than 2 piles of obstacles makes painting really difficult.  The key is to create enough space to fit a ladder around the perimeter of the room to reach the higher part of the walls. While leaving a space to cut in or roll anything on the ceiling like a light fixture or vent.

  • Covering- Once the furniture is arranged appropriately, you can begin to protect them and the flooring, covering them with plastic or drop cloths. I like to start with using plastic to cover furniture and then canvas drop cloths to cover the floor and also holding the plastic in place. Sometimes though, it is best to wrap and tape the plastic to prevent it from blowing around from wind and drafts. Plastic can be pretty annoying if not dealt with properly. I'm sure all of us pro painters have learned our lesson the hard way when plastic blows into a freshly painted wall lol. Cover any protruding items like door handles or thermostats with tape. If there is any open doorways leading to other rooms you need to create a temporary barrier with plastic or cover most of the items in the adjacent room to prevent dust flow.

  • Cleaning- Now that everything is properly protected make sure the room is free of dust, cobwebs and other debris by using a broom to sweep down all the surfaces especially on top of door and window trims, baseboards, and in corners. Either vacuum the carpet near the baseboard now or before painting baseboard depending on how you like.

  • Ceiling- Scrape any peeling paint or nail pops from drywall. Hammer or screw in nail pops and apply drywall compound. Repair or replace any peeling drywall seams. I like to use 20-minute mud on repaint repairs. Tape off any light fixtures or protect with plastic if vulnerable to paint splatter. Give the whole ceiling a good once-over with a pole sander or sanding block. Be sure to spot prime over any spackle repairs.

  • Walls- Besides removing switch plate and outlet covers prepping the wall is similar to the ceiling. Please do either 2 things with the wall plate screws. 1. Either has a dedicated container to place all the screws in and put someplace safe. 2. Put the screws right back in the screw hole it came from. I prefer option 2. Since I adopted this technique I haven't come short on a single screw. If you are planning to remove the cover and tape over the outlet to allow to roll right over them this won't work. Give the walls a good sanding and be sure to spot prime repairs. Especially if you're painting the walls with any type of sheen. If flat, you can get away with spot priming with the same paint your using.

  • Trims- If there are any gaps or cracks in the woodwork they will need to be filled with caulk. Use a wet rag, find a starting spot and follow the trim and baseboards in one methodical line filling any gaps and smoothing with a wet finger. Some nails holes may need wood putty or filler as caulk doesn't cover the nail hole perfectly flush. Caulk the baseboards last so you can dust off the sanding dust first. Don’t fill any gaps larger than a ½” as it will split and fall out in time. If the trim has a really high gloss it may need to be sanded well or sanded and primed.

 

Prep Your Supplies

Preparing your supplies before beginning always makes things much easier. Boxing the paint and delinting your roller covers will yield you top quality results.

 

  • Paint- If you purchased a five-gallon bucket of paint you won't need to worry about this one but boxing single gallons together really helps with consistency. Boxing the paint is a technique that combines all the paint into one. While at it, it’s a good practice to screen the paint for any chunks. Professional painters screen their paint even if just purchased.

  • Roller Covers- No matter the quality of roller there will always be a loose nap that will come off in the paint and on your wall. Use painters tape or masking tape because it's more sticky, and either wrap the roller and peel it off or run the roller up and down the sticky side of the tape. I like to hold one end of a 3-4 foot piece or masking tape between my foot and ground and pull it taut with my left hand while rolling the roller on the tape with my right. You can push on the tape surprisingly hard and can go side to side to ensure using all the stickiness.

  • Rolling Pans- Covering your 9” and 18” rolling pans with plastic and taping it off works great. It allows for quick clean up being able to squeeze any remaining paint back into the original container.

 

Prep Yourself

Make your life easier after work by not having to scrub your arms down or having to throw out your favorite shirt because you didn't wear proper clothing. Your here to learn how to paint a room, not paint yourself lol.

 

  • Cloths- All professional painters wear painter whites. Play the part and keep your civilian clothes clean and paint free. Wear a long sleeve shirt when painting ceilings to prevent your leading arm from being splattered with paint.

  • Eye- Usually the only time you need to worry about your eyes is when painting ceilings. You don’t want to stand directly under where you are rolling but sometimes you have to. Wearing goggles or glasses always tends to make things harder for me but know they are an option and should be available.

  • Hair and Head- Some guys don’t mind getting a little latex paint in their hair but if you have long hair you may want to cover it up with a hat.

  • Face- If you're spraying a room you will want to cover your face with a sock. A sock is a face mask designed for painters, it covers everything but your eyes.

 

4. CUT AND ROLL

Dust everything off and get your painting tools ready, its time for the main show. Always start with the ceiling, then the trim, then the walls.

 

Ceiling

One of the toughest parts of painting a room is the ceiling. Get your ceiling paint in a cut bucket and in a rolling pan, grab your step ladder, pick a corner and your ready to start painting the ceiling.

 

  • Cut- Use a paintbrush preferably a 3” flat brush to apply paint around the entire perimeter of the ceiling. Load the paintbrush with paint in your chosen container and slap the bristles on the sides to release the perfect amount of paint. Don’t drag the bristles on the side of the cut bucket, it will remove too much paint. Apply the paint to the edge of the ceiling about the width of the paintbrush away from the wall. To ensure the ceiling paint is all the way to the edge don’t worry about getting some paint on the walls as we are going to paint over this later. Just try not to get too much and leave it too thick. Go all the way around the room for your first coat. If the paint is dry, continue on the second cut in coat.

  • Roll- Roll out the ceiling with either a 9”, 14” or 18” roller. Roll as close to the wall as you can and work your way toward the center. Try to create an even pressure on the roller to prevent roller marks. With a 9” roller make sure to lead your painting with the connected side of the roller frame. The non-connected side is not as stiff and will smooth our your roller marks as you roll.

 

Trim and Doors

Most people think they know how to paint a room but I’ve worked with hundreds of painters over my years and found that there really are several ways to paint your trim, baseboards, and doors. Some painters wait till the end to paint all the woodwork and doors, some paint the trim after ceiling but before walls, and some do half and half. I’m half and half guy. Depending on the size of the job. Ideally, I’d like to hit the top of the baseboards and the returns of the trim work so it dries in time to tape off the base and cut in the walls against the trim. But if in a one-room job this isn't worth it as the caulk needs time to dry.

 

  • Trim- I like to start by apply trim paint on the return side of the trim so it dries first. Use a brush to make even long strokes lengthwise on all trim boards around windows and doors. Paint any crown molding and chair rails. If the room has wainscoting you may need to paint that with a small nap roller or use a sprayer. In a small quick room a usually just paint the baseboards very last.

  • Doors- I usually wait to paint the doors after the walls but both ways work. For me usually, baseboards and doors last. If you are painting the doors you can achieve this with a brush, sprayer or 4” roller. Each has their own looks and speed but that's for another article. Either way, always start with the edges of the door. If it's a panel door, start from the furthest deepest part of the door and work your way toward yourself painting around the handle last. Watch out for drips especially in the corners.

 

Walls

Probably the least laborious surface to paint in a room, as it’s not overhead work and not small detailed work like trim and doors. The hardest part about painting walls is making your top cut line.

 

  • Cut- Start at the top near the ceiling. Load your brush and get a 6-12” line of paint on the wall about a half inch or so from the ceiling. Once the paint bristles are running slightly dry slowly bring the bristles up to the corner. Don’t push too hard and don't go too slow. Going faster will allow for a straighter line. Too slow and there's too much time for error. You may need to go over the same spot a few times to ensure coverage. Don’t load your brush and go right in for the cut, your brush will be too wet and paint will bleed up onto the ceiling. Make a brush widths worth all the way around the room then down your inside corners and then above the baseboards. Unless you painted the base first and taped it off it’s okay to get some paint on the baseboards as it will be covered with trim paint after. Make sure to cut around outlets and switches to prevent your roller from picking up debris from the holes.

  • Roll- Load the roller and make a zigzag shape across a few feet of the wall then spread the paint from one side to another. Remember if using a 9” roller, move the metal end of the roller towards the progress of work. This is when “laying off the paint” is important. All it means is once you have a wall completely covers in paint go back over the painted area without loading your roller and evenly roll the wall from the ceiling to the floor apply very little pressure in one continuous motion to achieve the most even look. Do this across the entire room.

 

After your first coat is dry move on to cutting and rolling the second coat. Once the second coat is dry look for touch ups or any missed caulk. If you find anything, fix it right away so you can clean up and get paid.

5. CLEAN UP

 

Clean up means you are close to done. Painting a room is tough but you followed the 5 steps and now you're on the home stretch.

 

Clean the Room

After the paint is dry you can remove the plastic and drop cloths. Remove all the trash if any. Rearrange the room back in order referring to pictures if you took some. Place all the furniture back to where it came from. The room should be just as organized and clean as before you began. Sweep and vacuum where needed. Clean door handles or flooring where needed. Clean your tools and self. Depending on what paint you used depends on the cleanup but for most, it will be latex paint which is cleanable with soap and warm water. If you were using oil-based paints you will need mineral spirits to clean up.

 

Clean your Supplies

Brushes are expensive and can be used several times if cared for properly. Use warm water to clean your paint brushes. Sometimes its ok to clean your supplies at your job site but in most cases, I suggest wrapping them up and cleaning them at home or at the shop. Do not use a wire brush to clean your brushes and Don’t smash them into the sink to get the paint out. If you need to try that hard you probably should clean your brush halfway through the day. Use your fingers to gently remove the paint. Once you have all the paint removed and the bristles are squeezed dry be sure to reshape the bristles so it dries in the correct shape for the next use.

 

Rollers can be cleaned by hand or with a 5 in 1 tool which has a crescent-shaped edge that you can run passed the roller to squeeze the paint out. Most of the time it’s not worth cleaning the rollers. Maybe if you only used it for a small wall or 2.

 

Shake your drop cloths out either at the job or on your own property depending on where your painting and how much debris in the drop. Fold them nice and load them in your vehicle.

 

Storing

If you need to stop painting and continue the next day or 2 you can wrap your paint brushes, rollers and paint pans with plastic to keep them fresh until your back. It is best practice to clean your paintbrush if it's pretty messy though. The roller will stay good the longest in plastic but the paint in your rolling pan may not. Sometimes you need to dump the paint back in the original can and lid it. That's what's great about using plastic to line the paint pans. After your done simply un-tape the plastic and gather the paint in the plastic. Place the plastic wrapped paint in the original can, reach under the plastic and paint with a 5 in 1 tool, knife or just your fingers and puncture the plastic to release the paint. Squeeze all the paint out and toss the plastic. Wearing plastic gloves makes this process a lot easier and cleaner. Either way, when you are complete you will need to put the paint back in the original container to give to the homeowner store as touch-up paint. 

Remember take your time and enjoy the results. The better you can get at this process the more money you can charge to paint rooms. Practice being organized, as this is a huge part of painting a room successfully.

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