Paint Like A Pro: Preparing To Paint

What to do before starting your painting project
Feb 29, 2020
What to do before starting your painting project

Part 1 of our series shared what tools can help make painting easier, Part 2 of the series covered how to pick the best paint for your project, and now in Part 3 we will be discussing how to prepare walls for painting.

When most people think of painting a room, they probably skip over most, if not all, of the preparation process. Properly preparing a surface to be painted is just as important as the painting itself. When a surface is prepped the paint goes on better and lasts much longer.

For this article we’ll be prepping an interior wall for painting, but the same ideas can apply to other surfaces. Here are some steps to consider when preparing a wall for paint:

Remove Furniture & Wall Decorations

Having multiple pieces of furniture in a room can make painting a pain. If it’s an option, remove any furniture from the room to give you plenty of space to work in. If you’ve got pictures or other things hanging from the wall, now is the time to remove them. If you’d like to rehang items after painting, don’t fill in those holes with putty (more on that later).

Clean The Walls

Depending on how long it’s been since the last paint job, your walls could be covered with a fair amount of dirt and debris. This is particularly true in the kitchen, where food debris can often be found on the walls. Take this time to scrape off dirt, gunk, and other build up before moving on to the next step. Use a multi-tool or putty knife to clear debris build-up off the walls. You can clean your dirty walls with a solution of 1 tablespoon laundry detergent to every 1 gallon of water. Lightly scrub the walls with a sponge or soft bristle brush.

Caulking Seals & Joints

If you’re not going to paint your window trim, baseboard, or crown moulding, you can skip to the next section. If you are going to paint those pieces, consider caulking any cracks or openings around the trim. Depending on what you’re sealing, you’ll want to use a latex or silicone based caulking. For most interior walls white latex caulking is fairly standard. If you’re caulking a bathtub, sink, or other surface that may be exposed to water, you might consider a silicone based sealant.

Grab your caulking gun and insert the caulking tube. Using a sharp knife, cut at a 45 degree angle about ¼” from the tip of your tube. Having a diagonal tip will allow you to easily get caulking into tighter, smaller spaces. Keep a wet rag handy because this can get messy. Find spots that need to be sealed and apply a thin bead of caulking. Gently run your finger over the caulking line to smooth the surface and fill in gaps. Wipe off any excess and clean your hand with the rag before continuing. Silicon is a little different could require some solvent to remove from your hands. Let the caulking set up and dry for a least a few hours before attempting to paint. While your sealant is drying, move on to the next steps.

Remove Outlet Covers

This step making painting with a roller much easier. Grab a Phillips or Flathead screwdriver and remove any outlet covers from the walls you’ll be painting. If the outlet covers are plastic and dirty put them in a small bucket of water with some soap. Let them soak while you prep the wall.

Fill Holes with Putty or Spackling

If your wall isn’t textured or paneled, a fresh coat of paint can really make small imperfections on the wall stand out. Small holes from pictures, dings, and dents over the years can be filled with painter’s putty or spackling. I prefer to use painter’s putty because it is decently easy to work with and can be painted over. Spackling will typically be easier to mold to the hole or crack in the wall, but can be difficult to cover with paint.

Take about a golf ball size piece of painter’s putty and begin to work it in your hand; making it more pliable. Applying slight pressure, run the putty ball over small holes in the wall. Try to over fill the hole just a little bit. As the putty sets up and dries, it will shrink down. You can remove any excess putty with a multi-tool or putty knife. Allow the putty to set up and dry for at least a few hours before painting.

Sanding The Wall

Sanding your wall can remove minor imperfections left behind from putty or wall debris. I prefer to use this sanding sponge because it provides decent grip and doesn’t tear away at the wall like rougher pads. Find areas that need to be sanded, apply light pressure to the sponge and work in a small, circular motion. Take a dry rag and wipe away any dust left behind from sanding.

Vacuuming & Dusting

Now that things are sealed and sanded, there shouldn’t be much more debris created before painting. Take a soft bristle broom or rag and dust off your walls. This dust can making covering the wall with fresh paint difficult. Knock off excess dust and grab a shop-vac. If you don’t have a shop-vac you can use a trusty broom and dust pan. The goal is create a relatively clean, dirt free environment before painting.  


There’s no other way to spin it: taping takes time but is a worthwhile investment. With proper care given to taping, cutting in and painting become much easier. Painter’s tape helps protect other walls or surfaces from stray paint, and make clean-up a breeze. When I’m taping off trim or ceilings I like to use this painter’s tape. It offers enough adhesion to stick to most surfaces, but won’t damage underlying paint when removed.

If you’re taping a ceiling pull about 18” of tape off the roll. Press the end of your tape into a ceiling corner with a little overlap. Line the edge of your tape along the ceiling and wall joint then press the tape firmly against the ceiling to create a seal. Slide your fingers down the line of tape. Leaving your fingers pressed against the tape, pull more tape off the roll and continue down the ceiling. You can tape about 3-5 feet before you need to move your ladder. Take an X-Acto knife or other utility blade and trim the excess off the start of your tape in the first corner.

Tarps & Drop Cloth

This should be the last step before you begin painting. You’ve cleaned, repaired, and prepared your walls for paint, now it’s time to protect floors and remaining furniture. If you’re painting over tile or wood, stray paint particles will typically clean off with relative ease. If you’re painting over carpet, more care needs to be taken. You can buy plastic tarps to cover furniture left in the room, or simply use old bed sheets. For protecting the floor I suggest getting a drop cloth that will cover the length of most rooms. This will allow you to paint the majority of a wall without having to move your drop cloth multiple times. Remember that when you paint a wall tiny droplets of paint will be flying off your brush and roller. Using tarps will protect the floors underneath and make clean-up easier.

If you’ve done all these steps you should be ready to paint like a pro! In the final installment of our series we’ll be discussing how to cut in with a brush and use a roller. If you want something painted, but painting isn’t something you want to try, I would love the opportunity to help. Fill out my job estimate form to get started.