Proper Pre-Painting Prep: Pro Results on an Amateur Budget
The Proverbial Rule of Home Projects
Avoid creating more work for yourself by being hasty or cheap. – Ancient Proverb
That was actually my quote, but we all know any useful advice was once first an ancient proverb.
Poor work = time spent
Time spent = less money
Less money = more work
Therefore, when simplified: poor work = more work (this is the new math, ladies and gentlemen). This is true in any home project, right? When something is done right the first time, rarely does this create more work later. My mind is churning through situations to disprove this statement, but I can’t come up with anything. Promise you’ll follow this one rule. And it’s golden, ’cause it’s a costly lesson.
Prepping for almost any home project stinks. Let’s just get that out of the way first. It’s not supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be wretched. Proper pre-painting prep is no exception. Did you stumble on that phrase “proper pre-painting prep” when you spoke it in your head the first time? Maybe that was fun for you? Well, good…that’s probably the only fun you’ll have if you’re getting ready to paint your walls.
We have an understanding that most of these tasks will be unpleasant. Believe me, if any were avoidable, I’d be the first one dodging. Trust me when I say they’re necessary. I’ll do you the courtesy of explaining why whenever I can so you won’t spend valuable brain energy rationalizing a hastier, cheaper method.
Exhaustive Supply List – In Order of Importance
Bottle of favorite adult or any other refreshing beverage
One glass for chosen beverage
Dogsitter (for young blue staffy pup)
One clear schedule
Gloves to protect manicure if you have one
Baseball hat or hair protection
Dropcloth or tarp or ugly sheets
Flat sponge mop
Microfiber cloths and cotton rags
Fairy wand (multi tool) or favorite putty knife
Caulk and Caulking gun
Fine grit sandpaper
Drill or screwdriver (if removing wall screws)
Nail set or drywall screws for popped nails
1 inch or 1.5 inch masking and painter’s tapes
Detestable Tasks Yield Great Results
It’s all in the preparation. Well maybe 98%, because some great results are actually due to the skillful application of paint. But still…largely the prep work is more critical, because even the most skilled painter can’t conceal crappy prep. And I’ve known some skilled painters in my day. My husband is not one of them.
Enough stalling. I feel as if I’m actually prepping my walls rather than writing. Feeling your pain and misery now…
Onward and Upward and Downward: Prep From Top to Bottom
The best way to do anything is in order, so I think I’ll tick off these tasks in “should do” chronological order.
Detestable Task: Take decor off the walls, move stuff out-of-the-way and protect anything in the room from dust, cleaning spritz and paint roller spatter.
Why should I do it? Safety first, really… Picture a hard stumble over an end table, and what a full bucket of cleaning solution will do to your couch, let alone the snap to your left ankle. Move anything you don’t want speckled in paint spatter, like the black lacquer piano, drapes, Ming vases, framed kindergarten noodle art, cat, etc. Especially the cat.
Isn’t there an easier way? Sure. Moving and covering your stuff is clearly optional if you have antigravitational superpowers. If not, then you’re stuck like the rest of us having to move it to the center of the room and throw tarps over it. But don’t tarp the cat. Just put a box in the middle of another room. She’ll get in it and stay there.
Detestable Task: Pull out nails, drywall anchors, toggle bolts and mollies
Why should I do it? Painting over these looks cheesy, really. Remove for a professional looking job.
Nails can be removed with needle-nose pliers or screws, with a screwdriver. Anchors are tougher, because they grab the back of the drywall with either a spring mechanism (toggle), or a triangular structure or expanding legs that must collapse in order to be pulled from the wall. Ultimately, your goal is to cause minimal damage to the wall and discard the anchor, because anchors are generally not designed to be used again.
Isn’t there an easier way? Nails: Please don’t try to pull nails out with the claw part of the hammer because you’ll make a huge leverage dent with the hammer in the drywall. Anchors: If they are not screw-like (“self drilling”) anchors that can be removed by counterclockwise rotation, then they will not come out easily. Your best bet here is to tap them gently to countersink the lip into the drywall, then spackle and paint.
Detestable Task: Scrub down ceiling and walls
Why should I do it? Paint doesn’t adhere to smoke, grease, dust, cobwebs and dirt. But it does adhere to hair. I mean, paint technology has come a long way, but not that far. And few things are worse than preserving a hairball in two layers of paint. Here’s another reason – there’s no better way to become intimate with the imperfections of your surfaces than scrubbing them inch by inch. It’ll get you a leg up on fixing imperfections…which is another detestable task. More on this later.
Isn’t there an easier way? Yes, there are tricks, but cleaning is a MUST.
Glove up to protect what may be left of your manicure. Test cleaner in an extremely large, conspicuous area first, because if the cleaner scrubs the paint off, it’ll motivate you to finish the job and not give in to the adult beverage waiting for you on the kitchen table. Also, while you’re cleaning, don’t forget to curse yourself for using a non-scrubbable flat finish last time, and be thankful you’re painting over it with satin.
You’ll want to start with the ceiling. While up there, dust the fixtures and “drape and tape” them to protect from cleaning solution and paint. I use garbage bags or newsprint and white masking tape. If your ceiling is popcorn or textured, try this tip: spray with a foaming cleaning solution (really, follow label instructions and spot-test a small area first), let sit a couple minutes then use a thick, clean, damp paint roller to absorb the soil and cleaner from the surface without damaging the texture. Okay, you’re not looking to get it so clean you can eat from the surface…just clean enough for the paint to adhere.
For the walls, use one part dish detergent to four parts warm water and a damp microfiber cloth, not too wet and sloppy. You could also try a flat mop with a longer handle to keep from having to scale the ladder.
Tip: While I’m working, I put a roll of blue painter’s tape on my wrist and will mark areas with a little piece that may need attention later, like nail holes or gouges.
Detestable Task: Clean baseboards and trim
Why should I do it? Baseboards and trim withstand quite a beating normally, and will likely need a fresh coat of paint, too. It is amazing how well-prepped and painted baseboards will make your room POP.
Is there an easier way? Vacuum or dust them first, unless they’re not that dirty (I’ll use a clean, dry paintbrush to get into crevices). If I’m going to paint them, I use a miracle product called Krud Kutter and microfiber rags. There are several products in the line, one in particular made for pre-paint prep and deglossing; I have only ever used the general cleaner, though. Read the label before using Krud Kutter…it may take off finishes, so be careful and protect hardwood floors or furniture. (It is also a miracle product for dirty grout… diluted in a bucket and a brush, and you’ll be amazed with the results! And it doesn’t have a caustic odor. Microfiber is an absolute miracle, too; I use it everywhere for cleaning and dusting. FYI, It removes soap scum beautifully. But that’s another story.)
Wipe down and allow to dry.
Tip: Use painter’s tape here, too… to mark chipped or nicked areas, where caulk is cracking or failing, unless the entire baseboard perimeter needs attention and you’re doing the whole thing anyway.
Detestable Task: Fill nail holes in walls
Why should I do it? Paint only fills so much…anything bigger than, say, a skinny picture nail should be filled. Now, I say this with a caveat…just a tiny bit of spackle – just enough to fill the hole – is warranted here. Don’t go everywhere with a putty knife and smear it on, because the spackle pattern will show on textured and non-textured walls like a spotted dalmatian.
If you worked ahead and have already done this, just take a moist sponge and work away the excess spackle – try to avoid sanding. There you go. That’s what you get for working ahead. Remember: Avoid creating more work for yourself by being hasty or cheap. – Ancient Proverb
Don’t forget to look up…sometimes nails work out of drywall in the ceiling and need to be popped back in. Countersink or remove, and refasten the section with a drywall screw if necessary.
Is there an easier way? Some folks use bar soap, some toothpaste or baking soda mixed with Elmer’s glue to fill holes. You can certainly try these with mixed results. Personally, I prefer working with products designed for the task, with predictable results. I’d be worried about filling a hole with something that may crack, shrink or may not be paintable. Once again…ancient proverb.
Detestable Task: Filling the BIG holes
Why should I do it? I’m not sure why you’re asking that…a potted plant or strategically placed picture won’t hide everything. Go ahead and patch it.
Is there an easier way? Define “easy”. There are some great tips and videos on repairing drywall. It’s more of an art than a science. There are different methods for patching plaster and lath walls. Essentially, you’ll need to patch, rather than just spackle, a hole greater than about 1/2″ in diameter. They sell kits if you don’t already have the supplies handy. And if your hole is big enough, you’ll need to cut the hole to fit your matching drywall patch piece, screw a backer strap in behind the hole, fit the piece in place, tape it, and mud it up. Here’s a great article illustrating this method.
Retexture wall areas (if necessary) and allow to dry. There are products for this, too…and every time I have to do this, I tell myself…buy a hopper! Blow the texture with your own tool! But I never do. I just buy this Homax product every time. Maybe someday I’ll listen.
Detestable Task: Fill in gouges, cracks and nicks in baseboards and trim
Why should I do it? Everything looks smoother and more solid when cracks are filled. Caulk is great for nail holes in trim, and gaps where trim meets itself or the wall (again, don’t use too much, just a nice even bead to fill the hole or gap).
Is there an easier way? Examine the gaps where your baseboards are spliced together…long wall areas or inside/outside corners. Scrape carefully with a 5-way multi tool (it’s my fairy wand) to remove old caulk. Caulk when old and dry will gap and curl at the edges. It’ll be really obvious if you try to paint over it, so make sure you remove old caulk before recaulking.
Make sure caulk is paintable with a shade close to final coat. And the caulk? I always use the standard cylinder cartridges. I can never get an even bead with those squeeze tubes. They’re okay for tiny jobs, but if you’re running a bead longer than three inches, get a gun. ‘Nuf said.
Tip: Cut caulk tip not too large and not too small, Goldilocks. Just right. You can always cut again to make it bigger. If you cut the caulk tip too big, you’ll smear the bead up the wall and 95% of the tube will end up on your fingers and subsequently on rags in the trash. And definitely in your hair.
Detestable Task: Prime unpainted, peeling, stained or glossy surfaces
Why should I do it? Stains will bleed through paint, so apply a primer blocker. New drywall soaks up paint like a sponge, and the area will dry darker. To avoid this unevenness, prime the patch. Paint slides and bubbles on a slick, glossy surfaces so they need to be deglossed then primed.
Is there an easier way? You want your paint to stick, and you want the job to look smooth and uniform. Take the time to address these trouble spots; there are primers and prep products available well worth their weight in gold.
Detestable Task: Remove outlet and vent covers.
Why should I do it? In the time it takes you to tape these off, you can have them removed. You + regular screwdriver = done. Old paint color framing the plate or new color brushed onto the plate makes the job look amateurish. Also, if the plates are removed, you don’t have to painstakingly cut around them…you can use the roller so the new color extends uniformly underneath the plate. It’s also a good idea to replace cracked or broken faceplates – they’re the only thing separating you and your family from live wires.
Is there an easier way? No, there isn’t. Removing the plates is the easiest way.
Detestable Task: Tape off edges and fixtures.
Why should I do it? I’ve never been a big fan of taping, just because I get distracted and forget to pull it off before it completely dries (you must pull it off before it dries because once it forms a seal, it’ll “bridge” and take your paint job with it). And it takes SO LONG for me to apply, when I can just cut it in and be done. Like next to a popcorn or textured ceiling – you’re just going to have to cut that in. There’s a place for painters tape, though. Doorknobs, canned lighting fixtures, thermostats, fire alarms, doorbells, and protecting wood trim, floors or glass panes.
Is there an easier way? Yes, for me, it’s easier to not tape edges, but I don’t mind cutting in with my handy-dandy 2″ angle brush. It’s slower and more methodical, but not easier. I always tape doorknobs, hinges, deadbolts and strike plates and fixtures because I’m not THAT good!
Detestable Task: Estimate and purchase paint and supplies
Why should I do it? Because you’ve done everything else and it’s finally TIME TO PAINT!
Is there an easier way? This is the easiest part of the job, really. You’ve accomplished so much and prepped your surfaces well! Each one of those tasks was, well, detestable, right? It’s the painting – the best task of all – that will be the most transformative. And since you completed proper pre-painting prep, unless you’re a really awful painter (you know who you are), professional results are nearly guaranteed. Did you notice I said “nearly”? Prep is really important and critical to professional results, but I must ask…
Um…just how awful a painter are you, anyway?
Really, you don’t have to answer that. There’s an adult or other refreshing beverage waiting for you on the kitchen table… now go take a break!
Tell us your least favorite detestable task…share your comments below!
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