How to paint a room

At one time I ran my own painting business.  It was a small gig, just me, the paint, the tools and the customers home.  At the time it helped supplement my income as I was working for a low paying (but awesome) non-profit organization.  I did this for about two years and learned a lot about painting.  Things that I want to share with you today (at least the basics).

First off, painting isn’t hard.  Compared to other projects one can do around their home, it is also relatively inexpensive.  First off, lets review the necessary (and unnecessary tools).

Tools you need

Paint Brushes – These are obviously crucial for anyone hoping to do some painting.  As the foundation of a good paint job, it is important to invest in a decent set of them.  For me, I have about seven brushes that I have accumulated over time.  For most jobs, you should only need somewhere between two and five.  The basic ones to have are:

  • 2 inch angled sash brush
  • 1 inch angled sash brush
  • 3 inch flat brush

I recommend the angled sash brushes because I find them to be easier to manipulate in small spaces to avoid getting paint everywhere you don’t want it.  The important thing to remember with brushes is to get a quality brush.  Purchasing the very cheapest brush you can find will result in having to replace it much sooner.  However, you also don’t need to go for the $40 brush either.  Price wise, middle of the road should get you a solid brush that can be cleaned easily and last for years.

Roller & Roller cover – Get a standard, inexpensive 9 inch roller.  I tend to purchase the base level roller covers as they lay down a good layer of paint, however, there are various levels of quality – the higher the rating the finer the texture of the roller.  This really is dependent upon what room you will be painting.

Paint Tray and fillers– get more fillers than you believe you need, they are cheap and you can return extras.

Drop cloth – This doesn’t have to be the high end, 20ft. “cloth” from Home Depot.  You can use an old bedding sheet backed by a plastic trash bag to do the job.  However, be certain you have something impermeable behind the sheet because paint will soak right through cloth.  My drop cloth saved me on a job when I tipped over about half a gallon of paint in the carpeted study.  Thankfully all but the smallest amounts spilled safely on the drop cloth where I could quickly clean it up.

Painters Tape – this is the blue tape you can purchase at any hardware store.  Don’t use masking tape as it will pull up cried paint off the wall.  The blue tape will too if you leave it there for a few days, so finish the job and get it off.  If you are experienced and have a steady hand you can go without it like I do, but for the ammeter it will probably create more work than it will save.

Old clothes to paint it – Don’t go buy some fresh white painters bib.  Just grab some old jeans and a t-shirt and get to work.

Rubber mallet – Use it to reseal the lid and avoid wasting paint through it drying in the can.

Tools you DON’T need

The hardware store will have a cornucopia of trinket like items for painting.  These things always seem like they will be so handy and useful, but in reality are generally used once and then take up space in your tool bag once you realize they are completely unnecessary.  Here are just a few of them

  • 4 inch roller – If the space is small enough for this, just use your 3 inch brush
  • Paint Pail – just carry the paint can or use a plastic cup
  • Lip guard for pouring paint – Commit to the pour and end it decisively.  This will minimize the amount of paint that runs down the side of the can.  Also, as soon as you finish pouring use a brush or rag to wipe the excess paint from the lip.

Preparing the Area

Clear the room of as much as you can so you have space to work.  Painting is arduous enough without having to maneuver over a headboard or around a chair.  Take down pictures, remove wall socket and switch covers because this is such a simple measure and looks incredibly cleaner than a switch cover that has paint all over its edges.  That’s just sloppy and unnecessary.  If you are working somewhere that you can’t clear the room of stuff, then get it piled in the center and off of the walls.

Next, tape off any edge you don’t want painted but touches what you are painting.  This includes trim, ceiling edges, and anything else that joins the painted area.  Be certain the tape is cleanly taped or else paint can seep under it.

Finally put down the drop cloth under the place were you will begin painting.  Make sure to keep all painting materials over the drop cloth at all times during the job.

(Choosing a color)

I put this in parenthesis because I can’t tell you how your personal tastes combined with the specific space you are painting should combine to pick a suitable color.  Get advice from someone you trust who has good taste.  Grab tons of different color swatches from the display racks at paint stores and compare them in the room you are painting.  See how they combine with the colors that are already there.  Go through a process of elimination until you have one you like.


There is a pattern to this.  Begin with the roller and roll the largest part of the walls.  Try to get as close to edges as you can with the roller to minimize the amount of brush painting you have to do.  Move in an up and down motion that progresses in a consistent pattern rather than erratic strokes in various directions.  This will help give your wall a consistent stroke look that should be nearly invisible.  Once the large area of the wall has the first coat, complete it using the brushes to cover the unpainted edges.  Then go back and apply the second coat with the roller followed by the second edging coat with the brush.

When using the brush, try to keep the paint toward the tip of the brush.  It is far easier and quicker to clean a brush that does not have paint in the base of the bristles (under the metal sheathing).

If you have to stop painting for some reason, or if you have a long period of painting with one tool (where the other is at risk of drying) wrap the unused tool in cling wrap to keep it from drying.  If you have to leave it overnight and can’t clean the brush or roller cover of paint, wrap it and store in the refrigerator.

Clean Up

This will vary based on whether you used acrylic or oil based paint.  For acrylic, just rise the brush with water until you squeeze it and no paint comes out, then let dry.  For oil, put mineral oil (paint thinner) in a container and aggressively rub the brush around in the container until the paint color is removed from the bristles, then allow to dry.  Mineral oil goes a long way so don’t feel like each brush needs its own jar.

Allow the paint to dry before replacing the furniture.  Years ago this would take quite a while, but now most acrylic pints are dry within the hour.  I find that typically when I’m going around a standard bedroom with a roller the first wall is dry by the time I work my way back around to it.

Final thoughts

Painting is an exercise in patience.  It takes time and effort to do a great job, but is well worth it when you are finished.  Make sure to go back and touch up any stray flecks that got on unintended places as these detract immensely from the look of a job.  Also, be sure to vent the area you are working in (ESPECIALLY IF YOU WORK WITH OIL PAINT).  Masks are typically unnecessary unless you are scraping off old paint in which case you should assume you are scraping lead based paint and take the proper precautions.


Lastly, below are some images of a recent paint job I did on my one home.  Check out the difference some color can make!









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