Masking Indoor Walls

Once you’ve gotten the tables, chairs, outlet covers, light fixtures, and other items out of the room you’ll be painting, take a look around. What objects can’t be taken out? And what can you do about them?

1) Collect What You Need

Drop Cloths

These are used to keep floors and furniture from being damaged. Selecting the right kind, based on the nature of your project, is important.


The kind of tape you use for indoor masking matters. Consider the material(s) it needs to adhere to and later be removed from, and how much later it will be removed. The tan-colored product most people call “masking tape” is good at affixing paper or plastic to a wall. Its width varies from three-quarters of an inch to 2 inches. Masking tape has considerable sticking power; after just an hour or two, it may already be hard to take off a surface. If it’s located in a hot, sunny room, it’ll stick to the wall even more firmly.

A fine alternative in these instances is blue painter’s tape. It’s designed to be safely removable, which is especially handy when you’re working with relatively fragile wall or ceiling materials (e.g., fiberboard). The box or platic it comes in should indicate how long you should leave it on the wall, though in general tape should be taken down as soon as it’s no longer needed.

Some kind of finish, like enamels, break down tape’s “glue.” Fortunately, you can buy tape whose sticky stuff can stand up to virtually every kind of paint. Whatever your tape of choice, make sure it won’t lose its adhesive power when it comes into contact with paint.

The Masking Process: What to Use as Sheeting

First of all, even though it’s cheap, resist the urge to mask with your morning paper. As your lawn sprinklers may have informed you, newspaper falls apart when exposed to water. It can also stain things, as your fingers know. Unless you’ve using a paint that is particularly prone to dissolving things (lacquer and enamel are examples), brown kraft paper should do the trick. If your paint does contain a powerful solvent, invest in green masking paper, whose adhesive won’t dissolve.

When it comes to plastic sheeting, thin is not in. A handheld device that’s currently on the market applies thin plastic (or paper) and tape simultaneously, which saves time. If you’re not using this kind of machine, however, go with thicker plastic, in the form of masking film. Because it has some heft, it’s more manageable than the thin stuff, and it comes in widths from 24 to 99 inches. Another plus: You can get masking film in units based on common door and windows proportions.

2) What Should You Mask?

It’s best to mask everything you don’t want paint to get on. Wood floor or carpet, trim, windows, and doors are typically protected during a painting project. After taking the covers from light switches and electrical outlets, be sure to apply blue painter’s tape to them.

3) What Products to Use for Masking

Trim – Masking tape or blue painter’s tape ought to work. Either way, the width should be 1.5 inches, so the tape can stick to the edge of your sheeting or drop cloth and still have some sticky area exposed. That area should be affixed to the trim; running a knife over the tape can help ensure as strong an attachment as possible. Finally, bind the tape to the edge of the door or window adjacent to the trim. In this way, you can make sure that the wall and trim paint are completely flush.

Carpet - Painter’s tape again, but this time the 2-inch variety. As you might expect, it’s the carpet at the base of each wall that needs the most protection. Start with the tape between a half-inch and three-quarters of an inch above the baseboard, then push it under the baseboard. Voilà! You can apply paint to the baseboard using a brush, and your carpet is safe.

Windows and Doors – If your project includes only the walls, your most important task is to cover the top edges of your doors and windows with long, narrow pieces of paper. If you’re also applying finish to the ceiling, you’ll want to do a bit more, particularly if your ceiling is acoustic.

Of course, if you’re spraying paint, you’ll want to protect doors and windows as much as possible, ideally with plastic. This is where a handheld device that dispenses 1 1/2-inch tape and plastic at the same time can be quite useful. Attach plastic to the tops of windows and doors, then use it to cover their vertical surfaces. Use tape to attach the plastic to the wall and trim on the left and right sides to ensure complete coverage.

Cabinets – Again, using a sprayer to apply paint necessitates considerably more masking than other methods. Plastic film works well with cabinets, and a handheld machine can be a good choice. If you’re working with a roller, masking paper should suffice.

Walls – Protecting walls (for example, if you’re repainting the ceiling) requires an all-out plastic shield, from top to bottom. In this situation, as in so many others, a handheld masking machine (loaded with 1 1/2-inch tape and plastic) can be a godsend. Focus on the places where vertical surfaces and the ceiling come together.

No fancy masking gadget? No worries. Use 2-inch masking tape; one inch should be on the plastic sheeting, the other free and sticky. Start by affixing the sheeting to the top of the wall, then attach it at the sides and bottom. A virtually airtight seal is your goal.

Ceilings – A ceiling that isn’t acoustic can be masked with paper if you’re spray-painting the walls around it. The ceiling’s outer edges should be covered with wide masking tape; using a masking machine, you can then affix 12-inch paper to it. The edge of each sheet should go slightly over or under the next, to prevent gaps. You can use plastic the same way, and it’s likely to offer even more protection. Remember: Careful masking before you paint can prevent a lot of aggravation and wasted time later on.

Spray Painting – As mentioned above, you must be extremely confident in your masking before beginning to spray. Check to see that the tape is adhering properly, and that your sheeting overlaps so that none of the surface below is peeking through.