How To Paint A Wall From Start To Finish

Paint A WallIt’s spring. Your home needs freshening up. And you have decided to do the job yourself. But you don’t know how to paint a wall, far less the entire room. What do you do? In this article, I will outline how to paint a wall, using water base latex paint on a plaster wall. Repairing drywall will be covered in another article.

Painting seems daunting at first, but it really isn’t that hard. You can do a meticulous professional looking paint job and you can do it as well as any pro if you know the basics and are methodical in your approach.

Have you already chosen your paint colors? I hope you painted a nice big patch of that color on your wall. Did you live with it a few days to see how it looks in every light: daylight, night light, and dreary rainy light? Color changes in every light, and you want to love your color in every light. Did you purchase what you need? You’ll need rollers, paint pans, drop cloths, mixing sticks, sandpaper (different grits), primer, plaster compound, gloves, putty knives, tape, brushes, and of course water base latex paint.

Where to start? “Prepping” is the essential first step to having a perfectly painted room.

Have you observed all those ugly cracks in your ceiling and walls? Ugh! You can’t leave them. Stand in the middle of your room and identify damaged areas that will require repair before you can paint.

Note: Prime both before and after patching to ensure that the repair is stable and does not absorb paint, which can result in an uneven finish. Have sandpaper ready for smoothing the repaired areas. Use a 60 to 80 grit silicon carbide for a plaster wall.

It’s not healthy to breathe in all that plaster dust, so wear a mask or a respirator to protect your lungs.

Now, let’s go after those unsightly cracks.

Patching Plaster Cracks:

1. Undercut the crack so that it is wider at its base than at its surface. This helps to keep the patching material in place. Use a widening tool, or just an ordinary church key bottle opener (beer can opener) will do the trick. Now vacuum the area to absorb all the dust. 2. Dampen the plaster in and around the crack. Press the patching compound firmly into the opening. Because the compound may shrink when it dries, you will need two layers. Leave the first layer rough. Feather the final layer into the surrounding plaster. Let dry, sand, and prime.

Note: Benjamin Moore sells a product called “Goodbye Cracks” . It is for plaster, drywall, wood, sprays on like paint, but dries like rubber. Prevents cracks from reappearing. Elastic film stretches with any new stress. Can be painted over.

Patching Plaster Holes:

1. A small hole will require just a daub of patching compound. You can smooth it with a putty knife. Larger holes are more work. With a larger hole, scrape away any loose plaster, then undercut the edges. If a lath strip is missing, wad up some newspaper and pack it tightly in the hole. Remove any dust from the area. Dampen the area with water, or spray it with prime sealer. 2. Use a wide putty knife to press plaster compound into the hole, filling the hole to about ¼ inch from the surface. While the compound is still tacky, score it with the edge of your putty knife. Let dry. Then moisten, and repeat the process by filling the hole to within 1/8 inch of the wall. Let dry. Sand around the hole. Apply a top coat, level with the surface. Sand. Prime.

Note: It is not advisable to paint over wallpaper. If you have the strippable kind of wallpaper, all you have to do is get hold of a corner and pull. If you have old, damaged wallpaper, it would be ideal to have it completely removed. If not, chisel away rough areas with your putty knife, then feather with some patching compound. Use a good oil based primer and cover the entire area before painting, in order to seal in the color of the old paper.

Prepping the Ceiling:

Cracks in the ceiling are usually caused by moisture or heat. Remember heat rises, so your ceiling is often the first wall affected. If the area is flaking, take away as much plaster as you can with your fingers and a putty knife. Prime the exposed area, then fill with patching plaster, sand, and prime again. Or, you can use a flexible compounding material in combination with a fabric mesh. If you have a textured ceiling, this is an excellent solution, but remember, it cannot be sanded.

1. To use a flexible compound, clean the area with a strong detergent. When dry, brush away all dust and loose material. Use the applicator that is provided to scoop up the flexible compound and apply liberally along the edge of the crack. Be sure to use the smooth grained variety for interior use. 2. Cut the fabric the same length as the crack and push it into the compound material. Smooth it out. Cover the mesh with compound and allow to dry. Now apply a final coat of compound over the patch, just thick enough to cover. Feather and stipple the surface. DO NOT SAND.


If you have mildew, wash your walls with a solution of 1 part chlorine bleach to 3 parts water. Wear rubber gloves and scrub the wall. Rinse with fresh water and allow to dry.

Note: Make sure your primer contains a fungicide.

Prepping the woodwork and trim:

If your woodwork is over-painted, you might need to use a water soluble gel paint remover. Apply it according to instruction. It’ll soften the paint so you can remove it with a scraper. Then you can sand. Sand with a fine textured sandpaper. Use a tack cloth to remove all dust before priming or painting

Note: Don’t use fast setting compounds. They are very difficult to sand.

Vacuum the room thoroughly. Dust, dirt, and grease will destroy a paint job.

Bring furniture to the center of the room and cover well with drop cloths.

Use a light tack masking tape to protect window glass.

Finally, you’re ready to paint.

We suggest using a roller, at least 9 inches wide to paint walls and ceilings. And the roller should have a ½ to ¾ inch nap. Attach an extension to your roller to paint the ceiling. Remember to cover your head too, so that your hair does not get covered in paint.

For the ceiling, paint approximately a 3 foot square at a time. Be sure to cut in the ceiling before you paint. “Cutting in” simply means painting a wide strip along the edges of the surface you are painting. Use a brush or small roller around light fixtures, and tape electrical outlets after you remove the switch plates.

For walls, make a zigzag pattern with the roller. Without removing the roller, continue to paint the unpainted areas with even, parallel strokes. Feather the paint into previously painted areas. Do not leave a wall half painted. Complete it to avoid streaking.

Use a brush to paint trim. Remember to protect your freshly painted wall with a light tack tape along the edge, where the wall meets the trim.

Take your time painting your room. Remember prepping is extremely important, so spend extra time sealing cracks.

Now that you know how to paint a wall, you can paint all the rooms in your home.

Congratulations on your masterfully painted room!