Painting your home is a simple and cost-effective way to dramatically transform the look and feel of your space, but in order to achieve a flawless finish, you’ll need proper planning and technique.
Not sure where to start? No worries! From how to choose the right paint finish for your interior walls to how to paint exterior siding, we’ve compiled everything you need to know to paint your home like a pro.
What Type of Paint Should I Choose?
Whether you’re redecorating a room, revamping a piece of furniture or even freshening up your exterior siding, a fresh coat of paint can bring new life to just about anything, but choosing the right type of paint for your home can be the difference between an amateur and professional-looking finish.
Sorting through paint colors is overwhelming enough, so we thought we’d help take some of the guesswork out of picking the right paint for your project. Before you get started, ask yourself these questions:
Are you painting the interior or exterior of your home?
What materials is the surface made of?
What will the room be used for?
Is this in a high-trafficked space?
Do you have children or pets?
Do your walls have blemishes?
Does the space get a lot of natural light?
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, use this guide to choose the paint type and sheen that will work best for your next painting project.
Different Types of Paints
When choosing your paint, it’s important to note that there are two primary types of paints: water-based latex paints and solvent-based/oil-based paints.
Latex paints retain color and resist chalking and cracking better than oil-based paints. They can be used on interior walls and trim, exterior surfaces, wood, vinyl siding, new stucco and masonry, and weathered aluminum. With faster-drying latex paints, you can apply a second coat much sooner than with oil-based paints. They also offer easy clean-up with soap and water. Latex paint should be applied using brushes, rollers, pads or sprayers. If you are using a sprayer, the paint should be diluted with 10 percent water.
Oil-based paints should be used on interior walls with four or more previous layers of oil-based paints and on exterior surfaces with heavy “chalking.” Keep in mind that there are strict regulations in place on the disposal of solvent-based paints. More eco-friendly alkyd paints, made from plant oils and other renewable materials, use less preservatives and create less pollution in the manufacturing process. Oil-based paints should be applied with brushes, rollers or pads. Use thinner or white spirit to clean brushes, rollers and pads.
For additional protection and longevity, unpainted surfaces need a paint primer. Paint primers come in water-based and oil-based versions. If you are using oil-based paint, consider using an oil-based primer. Use a “mist coat” (a diluted solution of 10 percent water and latex paint) for masonry and plaster, unless it is extremely powdery or flaky. In that case, use a stabilizing solution or primer. Melamine, tile and some other surfaces require special primers—if you are unsure of the best type of paint primer to apply to your project surface, ask one of our home improvement specialists for more information and assistance in choosing the appropriate paint primer for your project.
First Coat Paint
Applying one or two layers of a first coat over the base coat provides an opaque cover-up under the final paint to ensure even color over the surface. First coat paints come in a pale shade and a dark shade to be used under either pale or dark finish paints. They also come in water-based and oil-based versions. Oil-based first coats can be used on exterior or interior surfaces; however, for better weathering in the elements, there are specifically formulated exterior first coat paints available. For even coverage, water-based first coat paints need several layers.
Painting A Base Coat
Starting with a base coat not only improves the look of your final coat of paint but also helps the paint to last longer. Using a combination of a primer and a first coat on interior surfaces is recommended. If your project surface is already painted, then just wash it well, apply a first coat paint and then apply the finish paint. Do not use a sprayer to apply base coats.
How to Choose the Best Paint Sheen or Finish
Paints come in a variety of finishes that yield different results in terms of look, durability and maintenance. If you’re painting an area that receives high-traffic such as a play room or dining room, you might want to consider a high gloss paint because it’s easier to clean and less likely to absorb stains from spills. For kitchens and bathrooms, a semi-gloss paint can provide the same qualities you’re looking for in washability without the extra shine or cost. Flat or matte finishes, however, are better suited for walls with visible imperfections because they add just the right amount of texture to mask unsightly blemishes.
There are three main paint sheens to choose from: flat, eggshell, and gloss or satin. Typically, glossier paints are more durable, easier to clean and more resistant to mildew.
Used on walls, ceilings and siding, flat paint is a versatile, non-reflective, latex-based paint that comes in flat, matte, a water-based eggshell and silk. Flat paint can cover up blemishes and is easier to retouch. Vinyl may be added to the paint to make it longer-lasting. Exterior flat paints provide moisture-protection and come in rough or smooth textures.
Eggshell is used on interior wood surfaces and on walls where a more durable and longer-lasting paint is desired. It is easy to clean and can be used in place of semi-gloss paint. The amount of sheen depends on the manufacturer, so read the label. You should only need two coats of eggshell to get even color.
Gloss or Satin Paint
Gloss and satin paints are used to highlight interior woodwork, cabinetry and other wood or metal surfaces. Both gloss and satin are long-lasting paints with satin being a little less shiny. Gloss and satin paints usually cover with one coat and can also be used for exterior projects. However, there are gloss and satin paints specifically intended for exterior use. Both gloss and satin paint come in latex-based and solvent-based versions. Brushes should be used to apply gloss or satin paint.
Specialty Paints and Painting Non-wood Surfaces
Some areas of your home have specific issues or factors that can affect the durability of paint. Specialty paints are formulated to handle these issues.
Interior Specialty Paints
Kitchen or Bathroom Paints — Kitchen and bathroom paints are formulated to account for the extra moisture present in these areas and to resist mold and mildew.
Floor Paint — For wood floors, solvent-based floor paints are durable and available in gloss or sheen. Brushes should be used to apply paint on wood floors.
Ceramic Tile and Porcelain — Paint is not going to last on high-traffic floor tiles or on tiles where there is a lot of moisture such as in a shower. However, if you want to paint tiles in other areas, you should sand them first so the paint adheres better. Then, clean the tile surface with a non-residue household detergent. Use an acrylic primer and then a semi-gloss acrylic interior paint. If you are skilled, you can use a contrasting color for the grout. Allow the paint to dry completely—in some instances, this may take up to two weeks.
Exterior Specialty Paints
Metal Paint — Some high-gloss interior and exterior metal paints for smooth, textured or hammered metallic surfaces can be used right over rusted surfaces without any pretreatment. Use a brush to apply metal paint and clean brushes with thinner.
Brick — Using a wire brush, clean the surface carefully so that you do not remove any mortar. Wash with soapy water, rinse and let it dry completely. Then, apply a latex primer followed by two coats of specialty latex paint for masonry. Use a long-napped roller, followed by a brush for grout lines and crevices. Keep an eye out for drips and runs, a common issue on brick surfaces. Just remember that once a brick surface is painted, removing the paint will be impossible.
Concrete Slabs — Painting a concrete surface that collects moisture will not produce satisfactory results. If moisture is not an issue, then sand off any old paint, wash the surface, use a degreaser to clean any oily spots and use a concrete compound to patch any holes or cracks. Let it dry for several days. Once dry, apply a primer and a paint specifically formulated for concrete floors, following the manufacturer’s directions.
Stucco — When painting old stucco, you’ll need to clean the exterior using a large brush or pressure washer. Then fill in cracks with caulk or dry stucco and water mixture, allowing the stucco to cure as directed on the package. Completely new stucco takes about 4 weeks to cure properly. Once cured, use a latex primer meant for masonry, then follow with one or two coats of exterior latex.
Vinyl Siding — Replace old or discolored vinyl siding. Large dents, holes and cracks are nearly impossible to repair. If you’re in a pinch, pressure wash it and paint with latex.
Picking the Perfect Paint Color
Choosing the right paint color for a room has a lot to do with purpose and intention. If you are trying to sell your home, rich, bold colors aren’t the best options. Instead, opt for whites or off-whites that allow buyers to imagine their preferences and stylistic touches without yours interfering with their vision. If you’re not in the market to sell anytime soon, then let intention be your guide! For example, if you want to make a small room appear larger, go for lighter, cooler colors to open the space up and make it more airy.
Looking to make more of a statement? Bright, vibrant colors can instantly perk a dull room up without coming off as being too busy. Just make sure to sprinkle that color into your décor with other complimentary shades to tie the whole room together.
Painting Your Home
Although the basics of painting are the same no matter where you do it, there are some pretty significant differences between interior and exterior painting projects. Depending on where you’re working, you will need different tools, preparatory work and materials. For example, painting large, exterior surfaces may be best handled with an air-powered paint sprayer, but that usually isn’t done indoors. Exterior paint jobs will also typically require taller ladders and more preparation than interior painting projects.
Painting The Exterior of Your Home
Preparing For an Exterior Painting Project
If you’re going to be painting the exterior of your home, you may find that preparing the surface will take far more effort than applying the paint itself. To prepare an exterior surface to be painted, you should:
Pressure wash surfaces (where it is safe to do so) to remove all dirt buildup. If you’ve never handled a pressure washer, see our guide for some basic training.
Repair all cracks, holes and abrasions on the surface to be painted.
Use a scraper or sandpaper to remove any loose, existing paint.
Repair any damaged caulking around windows or where surfaces meet.
Use a stain-blocking primer on any visible stains or visual defects on the surface.
Protect non-painted surfaces with plastic sheeting (lights, windows, doors).
Once you’ve completed all of these preparatory steps, you can finally move on to the task of actually painting the exterior of your home.
Tips For Painting Exterior Surfaces
The exterior of your home is designed to stand up to the harsh elements throughout the years. To make sure that the paint you’re applying to your home’s exterior will stand up to the elements, too, there are some best practices you should follow. They include:
Always begin painting at the highest point on the surface you’re trying to cover.
Avoid painting on humid days or on a surface in direct sunlight.
Always overlap brush strokes or spray patterns to avoid lap marks.
Take your time when doing detail work, as mistakes will be visible and hard to fix.
When working on an exterior painting project, make sure to be careful on ladders as you work to reach higher surfaces. Try not to rush as you move across the surface or the quality of the finish is likely to suffer.
Painting The Interior of Your Home
Preparing For an Interior Painting Project
In most cases, preparing for an interior painting project should be a bit easier than working outside. For one thing, you will have less to worry about from the weather, and interior walls typically suffer less wear-and-tear than their exterior counterparts. Still, there’s plenty of preparation you’ll need to do to end up with the results you want. Steps include:
Clean all walls thoroughly, even if there is no visible dirt. Indoor walls can have a residue from activities like cooking that is difficult to spot with the naked eye.
Make sure to cover all vulnerable surfaces such as furniture and carpeting to avoid accidents.
Remove all light switch and outlet covers in the room that you’re painting.
Measure the surface you’re painting carefully to make sure you’re purchasing enough paint to finish the whole job. Remember that paints mixed at different times can have slight color variations, and it doesn’t take much for that difference to show up in a brightly-lit room.
Use a fine to medium-grit sandpaper to smooth any rough patches on the wall you’re painting, and thoroughly sweep and vacuum any dust you create.
Tips For Painting Interior Surfaces
In general, the same painting techniques you’d use for an exterior painting project apply indoors as well. In addition to those, here are some tips that will make your indoor painting project a success:
Be sure to use quality paint rollers, brushes and painter’s tape to ensure a great finished product when purchasing the proper materials for the job.
Let your paint roller do the work, and avoid putting too much pressure on it. Doing so will ensure an even coat of paint throughout the room.
Paint trim and woodwork first before painting the walls. That will give you the best chance for sharp, clean cutlines.
Use a putty knife to score the edge of the painter’s tape before you remove it. This ensures that you won’t peel off fresh paint along with the tape, leaving a crisp, straight line behind.
As with exterior painting, it’s important to take your time when painting interior walls and trim. Rushing might get the job done sooner, but you won’t be happy with the results.
Painting Your Home Like A Professional
Once you’ve prepared your surface and selected your paint, it’s go-time!
Take the time to plan your painting project carefully and make sure you have high-quality paint and supplies—you’ll be halfway to professional-looking results already. Most of the mistakes that homeowners make when painting happen long before the paint gets anywhere near the home. In painting, preparation is more than half of the battle.