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How to Prepare Interior Walls for An Outstanding Paint Job

When you’re faced with the need to paint several rooms in your home, do you perspire and consider it too much work, or do you get down and make a list of what you’ll need to prep the walls before painting? I recently spent several hours over several days helping out a good buddy in his newly acquired home.

A good friend of mine recently bought an old building and he asked me to help out with the painting job. It is a two-family with each unit containing three bedrooms. He bought it at a good price using the 203K loan program, and one of the qualifying requirement is that the home to be mortgaged must need some type of renovation.

While the mechanics of the building is sound, the interior space needed more work than we bargained for. Each unit in this building had three bedrooms, two full baths, and half a bathroom, large kitchen with a separate dining room, humongous living room, high ceilings, high custom windows, and over 12 closet spaces.

If he had consulted me before buying some of the painting materials I would have suggested he hire a painting contractor, but he already spent a couple of hundred bucks on supplies with more to come in the mail.

The biggest headache for painting the interior was preparing the walls the right way so that the paint will look outstanding. The good thing was that the entire house was vacant, which made our task somewhat easier.

Steps on How to Prepare Walls for Painting

How to Prep a Wall for Painting

The following are the steps we took to get the entire interior walls inside the building ready for painting, but it took two full days. It took so long despite working over eight hours each day because we wanted to get it right the first time.

Step One:

The entire interior of the building had beautiful hardwood flooring with superb intricate details and we both swore not to mess it up. We covered the entire first unit with canvas drop cloths. Why canvas drop cloth instead of plastic you might ask?

Unlike plastic materials, a canvas drop cloth will absorb paint drops quickly without any seepage. Just to ensure the wood floor was adequately protected we first laid down plastic on the floor before the canvas drop cloth.

Step Two:

Since there were hundreds of wall holes in the entire building we decided to use Plaster of Paris. My friend suggested it was stronger than a regular pre-mixed compound with the only downside being that it must be freshly mixed in water and used within a short period of time because it tends to dry quickly.

We took turns mixing the Plaster of Paris and patching of each hole. It is far better to mix the Plaster of Paris in small batches for the best bonding results. Some of you might know other stuff to patch wall holes but this one worked perfectly for us. I soon realized why my friend choose the Plaster of Paris because it dries pretty fast.

We took turns patching up the holes because some of them were up high close to the 12-feet ceiling and in other areas of the same unit it goes up to 14-feet. We accomplish a lot using the division of labor tactics rather than going for who can patch up the most holes.

Step Three:

The next step is sanding. Apart from the holes in the walls, they all looked well maintained since it was an old building. Sanding down the walls is a prerequisite for the paint primer to take hold the right way. If the sanding is not done thoroughly the first time, you might have to repeat after applying the primer.

Sanding is probably just as hard as patching up the holes in the wall. To have a clean working area you want to have a dustless vacuum with a long hose close by to vacuum up all the increasing dust.

Also, make sure you’re wearing a dust mask with exhalation valve, not those cheap ones that will soon have you breathing in dust. It cost a few dollars more but your health is more precious, so you better protect it.

We both had on hooded dark hooded overalls, which helped prevent must from covering our entire body. Another essential accessory to be wearing during this stage is a safety glass.

The little fine dust created from the dusting is a nasty element that should not be inhaled, swallowed, or let it get into the eyes. Amazingly, some of the dust will remain on the walls and my buddy came up with the idea of using a leaf blower to get rid of them, and it worked like a charm.

Before doing any sanding make sure you cover up any furniture or other home equipment you intend to keep. You need your work area properly ventilated, which means open up all the windows and pray it does not rain on that day.

preparing walls for painting

Step Four:

Another arduous step for preparing walls for painting is taping. Some of you might think is easy, but it is not, especially if you have a wider area to cover. Painter’s masking tape will come in different shapes and sizes and I suggest you have several of them at hand based on the number of rooms you have to paint.

Now, towards the end of this article, I will list some of the tricks of the trade of how to put on the masking tape properly especially at crucial wood floor edges and ceiling edges. Believe it or not, the taping took longer than the patching of the holes in the interior walls.

After applying the masking tape we cleaned up a little bit as there was nothing else to do until the additional online order arrived in a day or two. By now we were both tired and it was a well-deserved rest!

Due to the number of large walls that needed to be painted, I convinced my buddy to invest in paint sprayer and he bought the Graco Magnum 262800 X5 Stand Airless Paint Sprayer. You can learn more about selecting the best paint sprayer from our Paint Sprayer Reviews.

When I came back the next few days all the needed supplies were delivered including the automatic paint sprayer. The homeowner had taken the time to go over the sanding thoroughly and boy, did it look good.

Now, we debated the merits of either using a paint that included a primer or doing the primer and paints separate. We knew about how to prepare walls for painting interior but lacked the knowledge about what type of paint to use, so we headed to a nearby Home Depot with the agreement that we would also visit Lowes for comparison shopping.

The guy at Lowes hardware store did not have the right knowledge either was he attentive to what he was doing, so we took the prices he gave us and headed to Home Depot. The help at the paint Department was just what we were looking for.

He explained the advantages and disadvantages of using a paint that includes a primer or as compared to getting them separate. We explained to him we were using a paint sprayer and that made him give us more painting tips. My buddy selected a light tinted gray primer and then his color choices for the different rooms.

Unbeknown to me, he had taken the time to measure each of the space that requires painting including the ceiling heights. Like I estimated, the ceiling height in the living room upstairs unit was slightly over 15-feet.

We bought more painting supplies and the knowledgeable staff gave us a contractors discount since my buddy had a registered business that was not yet operational. Still, the total bill came to several hundred dollars and he paid with a credit card that gave him more travel miles.

Step Five:

We applied a nice coat of primer paint to the prepared walls. Using a paint sprayer is a lot more efficient than using a paint brush and roller kit. The entire unit took us less than four hours to add the coat of primer paint. An airless paint sprayer is certainly a workhorse of the painting industry.

The most annoying aspect of using a sprayer to paint is cleaning the different parts so you can use other paint colors. Truth be told, we were more thorough with the tool clean up than most contractors would care to do.

After adding the primer coat to the walls we looked for imperfections that might need sanding and found almost known. I can tell you that you get a personal satisfaction from doing a paint job of this magnitude more than words can describe.

Step Six:

Using an airless paint sprayer on the prepared interior walls

The five-gallon pails we bought was used to great effect. We added several gallons of paint to the empty pail and let the airless sprayer suck it up from there. Yes, paint sprayers are efficient, but there are dangers signs to using the tool if used the wrong way.

First of all, read the entire operating instructions manual to get acquainted with what each button does. This is not a tool to start using without knowing how to operate it the right way, for it might cause you bodily injury.

Now that we were proficient in the use of this amazing painting tool called the Graco Magnum X5 it took us about three hours to paint the entire unit. The paint job looked amazing. The walls had even paint coating, unlike what a painting brush and roller kit would allow you to do.

Once you complete the painting task and the entire painted area is dry proceed to remove the masking tape. Unless you’ve done an amazing painting job you’re bound to have a few mixed spots in your painted area.

We had three spots that needed a slight touch up right on the top of the high window’s molding. Mind you that area would not even be noticed by anyone looking at the paint job, but my good friend was now a perfectionist like myself.

The painted walls including the kitchen and living room areas looked amazing. In fact, I was stunned by the transformation of the entire unit by the work we did. If you ever want to sell your house, do a complete professional paint job, and chances are, you would get a much higher price that would overcompensate for the cost.

Work on the other unit would commence within a few days, but below are some of the tools and materials we used to transform that entire living space into a palace fit for a king.

Materials Used for Preparing Walls for Painting

1 – Plaster of Paris

Dap 10310 Plaster of Paris Tub Molding Material

Get yourself the Plaster of Paris despite the fact that it requires mixing, but it closes holes in the wall permanently, and you would not have to deal with the problem of the compound sucking up the moisture out of the paint. It bonds fast to the existing wall, which makes it easier to sand and prime the wall.

2 – Canvas Drop Cloths

Paint Essentials 12-Feet x 15-Feet Canvas Drop Cloth HW1215

The drop cloths found in the marketplace are made from different types of materials. They absorb spills faster than any plastic can do and you do not have to worry about stepping on a spill and tracking it all over the floor.

Do not waste your time using paper since they tend not to hold up well to paint spills or tiny drops especially when using an airless paint sprayer. The canvas drop cloth can be reused over and over again.

3 – Dust Mask with Exhalation Valve

3M 8511PB1-A-PS Particulate N95 Respirator with Valve, 10-Pack

Forget those cheaply made nose masks that make it difficult to breathe fresh air properly. When sanding and painting you’re dealing with tiny particles that might do your body harm, so it is prudent on your part to protect yourself.

4 – Safety Glasses

Dewalt DPG82-11 Concealer Clear Anti-Fog Dual Mold Safety Goggle

It would be foolish of you to even consider doing a wall prep without using safety glasses, so do not ask why just get one for yourself and other helpers.

5 – Painters Masking Tape

XFasten Blue Painters Tape, Multi-Use, 2 Inches x 60 Yards Masking Tape

You can find them in different sizes and lengths, so you better get a few of them based on the number of walls that need to be prepped for a paint job.

6 – Sanding paper with Handle

Allway Tools Soft Grip Handle Hand Sander

There are different grains of sanding papers based on what type of smoothness you’re trying to achieve. Get one that will not create deep grooves, but just even out the surface to be painted. It would help your wall preparation go much faster if you get a hand sander that comes with a handle.

7 – Paint Brush and Roller Kit

Stanley PTST03939 Whole Room Paint Kit, 9-Piece

If you have a paint sprayer you only need about one, but get several if you’re going to be doing the painting job using elbow grease. Do not forget the need for a pole so you can reach high up with the roller.

8 – Sponge

QEP XL All-purpose sponge – 2 Pack

Get a few sponges for they will come in handy as you prep the walls.

9 – Towel/Rags

Best Microfiber Cleaning Cloth, Pack of 50

They now come in different materials, but it is essential to have many of them around during your wall preparation and painting. It comes in handy during the painting process.

10 – Empty Five-Gallon Buckets

5 Gallon White Bucket & Lid – Set of 3

It is better to pour several gallons of paint into the large bucket and work from there rather than opening each can, which might lead to uneven color match or coating.

11 – A Step Ladder

Louisville Ladder FXS1508 Fiberglass Step/Shelf Ladder with 300-Pound Duty Rating, 8-Feet

Rarely can you adequately paint a wall without the use of a step ladder or stepping stool? You can read more about the most durable brands from our best step ladders for home use review article.

You want one that is sturdy enough to not only accommodate your weight but also hold a few of the tools you’ll be using during your wall prep and painting.

12 – Putty Knife

3 Piece Drywall Taping Knife and Scrapper Set

You need one or two putty knives based on how many helpers you have on the wall preparation job. Please get one that is made out of carbon steel or metal for they tend to be more effective and last longer.

13 – Get a Paint Sprayer

Graco Magnum 262805 X7 Airless Paint Sprayer

There are different types of paint sprayers you can buy but I would suggest you invest in an airless paint sprayer, especially if you’re preparing several walls that also need painting. This tool can also be used to paint other surfaces or materials, and you’re not limited to any paint type.

Conclusion: How to Prep a Wall for Painting

As we get ready to tackle the other unit we came up with several suggestions after brainstorming what we did right and what we could have done better. We decided it would be better to remove electrical outlet covers rather than covering them with masking tape.

The downstairs unit also had pretty bad walls after closer inspection and we came up with the idea of using an electric sander plus one that comes with a vacuum attachment hose would be preferable.

After you’ve done this on your own you would understand why good painting contractors charge so much money, it can be a back-breaking, tedious work. I can also assure you that the joy of wall preparation before painting cannot be described with words. There is also the personal good feeling you get having prepared and painted a room the right way!