Fundamentals of Preparing a Room

Paint itself is only one component of a well-executed project. The important work begins before a brush or roller ever touches the surfaces of your home. Getting a room ready to be painted is the key to making it look good once the paint is dry. It may surprise you to know that prep work can take longer — up to three-quarters of the total project time — than the painting stage itself.

Six Essential Ways to Prep a Room

1) Take every movable piece of furniture out of the room

The space where you’ll be painting should have virtually nothing in it. The less it contains, the easier tidying up afterwards will be. Furthermore, any object in a room being painted could become an obstacle, obstructing your work or even causing you to stumble and fall (particularly if you’re looking at the upper walls or ceiling rather than the floor).

After all, the last thing you want is to kick over a paint can by accident. Not only is spilled paint a nuisance to clean up, a notorious carpet spoiler, and money down the drain, it can also cause you to slip and hurt yourself badly.

If pieces of furniture are too big to move, put them in the middle of the room. This lets you work freely on the walls and creates a cluster of objects you’re unlikely to overlook and fall over.

Visit our article on clearing furniture from a room for further tips.

2) Drop cloths

During a project, paint can seem to have a mind of its own — a devious mind. Somehow, it ends up on any spot you haven’t protected. Drop cloths are a way of covering large areas in order to keep them from being painted inadvertently.

Plastic works best on furniture, since it can take on each object’s form and is impenetrable to paint. Butyl-backed cloths work well on floors. Unlike plastic, they’re weighty enough to stay in place while being walked across repeatedly. A plastic cloth shifts more easily, and if there’s paint on it, moving it back to its original position may deposit the paint on uncovered surfaces.

Paint can penetrate canvas and ruin your floor or carpet. Thus, canvas cloths aren’t sufficient for indoor projects.

3) Take down framed photos, clocks, and other wall decorations

If you don’t complete this step, you and others will notice afterwards. It’s simple enough to do, and it can make a do-it-yourself project look like professional-quality work. If everything that’s hanging on a nail is going back on that nail after the painting is done, leave the nails in place. If not, take them out of the wall and spackle the holes.

4) Wash the walls

Vertical surfaces are dust magnets. In kitchens, they also tend to accumulate oily residue. If walls aren’t clean before they’re painted, the finish may not stick. Surfaces that aren’t too dirty can be washed with soap and a wet rag. On dirtier spots, trisodium phosphate should do the trick. A more eco-friendly alternative is Simple Green.

Whatever cleaning agent you choose, give the walls a good rinsing after you’ve applied it and scrubbed. During this process, you’ll eventually start wringing filthy-looking water out of your rag. That means it’s time for new water, since the goal is to leave the walls as clean as possible (and thus allow new paint to “stick”).

After you rinse, ventilate the room if you can and let the surfaces dry. Damp walls dilute new paint, which keeps you from getting your money’s worth.

5) Take outlet covers and switch plates off the walls

If you don’t remove these elements, they’re almost certain to get paint on them. This gives the final result an amateurish look. Considering how easy this outcome is to prevent, it’s well worth doing. When you take these features off, affix their screws to them so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. (Another option: Simply screw them back in once the covers and plates are gone.)

6) Masking

You can’t take trim, doors, windows, and some light fixtures off the walls. What you can do is mask them. Beginners often think masking tape will serve this purpose. When it comes to masking, however, it’s inferior to painter’s tape (green or blue). The latter is a better-made product, and it’s less likely to lose its adhesive power when exposed to water.

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  • Kevin McMillan

    Very informative article. As an interior designer, now I know how to prep a room before painting.
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