Project tutorial

Step by Step: Paint a Room

Project cost
10 hours
Estimated time

At first thought, painting a room may seem like a simple task. But if you’re just starting out, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration before beginning a paint job. It is important to be mindful of these tricks of the trade if you want the finished result to look like you hired a professional. A coat or two of color will drastically change any room, and with the right hue, you get to decide how relaxed or dramatic you want your space to be.

The estimated time of the project applies to a ten by ten foot room, and ideally is to be split up into two five-hour days. A gallon of paint covers about 400 square feet. To figure how much you need, add up the lengths of all your walls, then multiply that sum by the room's height. Subtract 20 square feet for each door and 15 for each window. Divide the result by 400 to get the number of gallons you'll need for one coat. Most walls will need two coats. For the trim in most rooms, one or two quarts should suffice. If your room has a lot of molding, you may need more. If you think you'll need more than two quarts, it is almost always more cost-effective to buy a gallon.

Once the paint is applied, you can explore other creative paint options to dress up the space, such as stamping on painted accents.

(This article originally appeared in This Old House magazine. Author // Harry Sawyers. Photos // Kolin Smith.)

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Step 1

Cover Floors and Hardware

After removing any wall art and moving furniture away from the walls, lay canvas tarps (more absorbent and less slippery than plastic) over the furniture and on the floor. Using painter’s tape, fasten down the edges. Unscrew all switch plates and electrical outlet covers, and tape over the remaining switches and holes with painter’s tape. Tape around any other hardware that can’t be removed.

Tip: After removing electrical covers, put the screws back on the fixtures so they don’t get lost.

Step 2

Sand All Surfaces

Always sand and paint the ceiling completely (following these same steps) before addressing the walls.

Using a pole sander fitted with 120-grit paper, sand the walls (make sure to wear a dust mask). Sweep the sander side to side as you work your way from the top down. Apply medium pressure, and take care that the head doesn’t flop and gouge the wall. Change the paper whenever the grit gets clogged with dust.

Remove bumps or drips on painted molding with a scraper. Then, using a dampened coarse-grit sanding sponge, rough up the surface. Keep a bucket of warm water nearby, and continually rinse the sponge. Finish with a dampened fine-grit sponge.

Using a wet/dry vacuum, clear all the dust from the walls and trim. Wash the walls with a sponge, using warm water and dish soap. Scrub greasy or waxy spots. Wipe everything down one last time with clean water

Step 3

Fill Gaps and Holes

Run a thin bead of caulk over any gaps where molding meets wall. Wet your finger and smooth the caulk with even pressure to push it into the crack and leave a crisp edge.

Using a putty knife, fill any small divots or holes in the walls. Use patching compound for plaster and joint compound for drywall. Sand the filler smooth with 120-grit sandpaper.

Prime the patched spots (or the whole wall if necessary). Sand primed areas with 120-grit sandpaper, and wipe clean of dust with a damp sponge.

Tip: For the best control when using caulk, cut a ⅛-inch angled opening in the tube’s tip.

Step 4

Cut In Around Edges

Dip a 2½-inch angled brush into a bucket of paint, loading the paint only a third of the way up the bristles. Tap off—don’t wipe—the excess on the side of the bucket. Use the brush to cut in a 2 to 3-inch band of paint at all corners, against the ceiling, and next to molding; this will give the roller some breathing room so it doesn’t bump against adjacent areas.

Step 5

Run a Line of Paint Along the Wall

To cut in, run a line of paint along the wall about an inch away from the edge. Then turn the brush onto the bristle tips, and press down slightly so the longest bristles gather into a point. Use this point to draw a careful line of paint right up to the edge where wall meets trim. Once you have a clean line in place, level out any heavy areas or drips, then move on. In order to keep a wet edge, don’t work in too large an area at one time.

Tip: Never load the brush directly from the can. Use a clean bucket instead, or you risk contaminating your primary paint supply with dust or dried flecks.

Step 6

Roll the Walls

Once you’ve cut in around an entire wall area, use a roller to fill in the field. Dampen the roller before using it (with water for latex paint or paint thinner for oils). Dip the roller in a tray filled with just enough paint to reach the grate. Roll it back against the grate to distribute the paint and squeeze out the excess. Make sure the roller is covered completely before painting with it.

Step 7

Cover Floors and Hardware

Roll a W or M shape on the wall to distribute the bulk of the paint. Then use overlapping vertical strokes to spread paint evenly between the lines. Continue painting the wall in this manner until it is covered. Overlap a bit of the cut-in edges to blend away any visible brush marks.

If a second coat is necessary, wait until the paint is dry to the touch, then repeat Steps 4 and 5.

Tip: When the roller makes a peeling sound on the wall, it’s too dry and should be reloaded.

Step 8

Paint the Trim

With broad moldings, such as baseboards and wainscoting, use a wide, straight-edged brush to paint the bulk of the trim.

Then, using a small, angled sash brush (1- to 2-inch), finish by carefully painting a straight line along the edge. Hold the brush on edge as you did in Step 5, and let a hairline of paint carry over onto the wall to make up for any imperfections on the molding itself.

Tip: When painting with glossier finishes, sand lightly with a fine sanding sponge between coats to help the final coat take hold.

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