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How to Prep a Wall for Painting

By Edited Jan 12, 2015 1 0
Preparing a Wall for Painting
Credit: mjpyro

Painting the walls of your home is one of the easiest weekend projects you can take on. You get almost immediate results without spending thousands of dollars in the process. But before you begin, there are several things you need to decide before dipping any brushes.

Initially, you may only be thinking of the color you want to paint your rooms, however, there are more important decisions such as the type of paint to choose, the right brush, the type of primer and the sheen of the paint. 

The purpose of this article is to discuss how to prep and treat walls with imperfections and stains before you paint. However before you treat mildew or water stains, you should address the larger problem that is causing those stains. Locate the source of the moisture that is causing the staining and fix it before you do any work on the walls or you will simply be redoing your work in the future.

Treating Water and Mildew Stains

Certain water or mildew stains should be dealt with before prepping the wall for priming. While primers will typically cover oil based and resin stains on wood, that is not always the case with stains from water damage or mildew on drywall.

In fact, when the paint is still wet, it may appear to cover everything, but after it dries, the stains will seep through the primer and top coat of paint and all of your hard work will be wasted.

Therefore, before you prime or paint, you should address any water leakage issues in your walls or ceiling and clean any stains with regular bleach that is diluted in water to destroy any spores that caused the mildew stains.

This process will add additional time to your project, but it will be worth it  because it will save you time and money in the long run.

Materials: Water, household bleach, rubber gloves, 1 gallon bucket, large round-cornered sponge, safety goggles, 6 foot ladder


First, mix three parts water to one part household bleach. Apply the solution to the stains on the walls and let dry. Then washthe area again with the same solution and let it dry once again. Rinse the bleach solution off the wall spots with a clean sponge and water.

Preparing the Wall Surface

Prepping a Wall
Credit: mjpyro

It should be noted that this article is primarily referring to typical drywall found in homes in North America. However, if you have a wall made of another material, such as concrete, the same procedures can be used to wipe down, clean and sand imperfections out of those as well. Wall prep work is the key to creating a professional look.

Cleaning the Wall

  • Move furniture away from the walls and use masking tape and a poly or canvas drop to protect the floors.
  • Wash the wall with a cleaning solution (soap and water is fine) then wipe it clean with a wet sponge
  • If there are water or mildew stains, follow the process outlined in the previous section to clean those before going further

After the wall dries, look for the following imperfections and repair each in the methods described below.

Stubborn Nail or Screw Pops

Reparing Nail Pops

Nails tend to pop out of the drywall after the studs they are attached to dry over the years. Try removing them with the normal methods first, but if they will not come out, do the following.

  • If there are nails or screws in the wall that are difficult to remove, drive either of those back in place
  • Finish the nail or screw off by carefully hitting it with a hammer making a slight dent in the wall but not tearing or punching a hole in it
  • Fill the dent impressions with join compound, let dry, then sand the area

Cracked Drywall Repair

Occasionally you will experience a tear or small crack in the drywall over the years. In order to repair it before your paint project, you must make it worse to make it better.

  • If the crack or gap is narrow, insert a screw driver and slightly widen the crack in the wall
  • Fill the gap with a lightweight joint compound with your wet finger
  • Apply surface compound and smooth it with a drywall knife
  • Let the patch dry, then sand it lightly using a sand block or a sanding pole if the area is up high

Fill the Gaps Around Molding or Trim

You should close all gaps between the walls and the crown molding and base boards and the trim  around the doors.  The best way to do this is with a paintable silicone caulk.

  • Use caulk in the gaps by applying a thin string with a caulk gun
  • Wet your index finger and run it along the caulk to smooth it out

Final Cleaning Before Priming

Before you start to prime, run your hands across the walls and feel for any marks you may have missed in your initial inspection. Some people like to lightly sand the entire wall all over again.  This only takes a few minutes and might be a good option, depending on the age of your walls and how many areas you used surface compound to patch the walls.

In any event, because you have probably sanded a lot of imperfections during the prep process, you need to wipe the wall down once more with a wet cloth or sponge to remove any dust. After the wall dries, you are ready to prime it.

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Repair Cracks in Drywall

Priming the Wall

Primers contain a bonding agent that will adhere to any bare wall or other paint that was

Prepping and Priming Walls
already on the wall. It is not simply clear paint. It serves an important purpose and you should use it for all of your home painting projects.

If you had water or mildew stains on the wall, it is important to use a stain blocking primer on the entire wall.

  • Use a roller with an extension pole if necessary for areas up high
  • Roll it with up and down strokes
  • ‘Cut in’ along the edges with a brush
  • Let the primer dry according to manufacturer’s specifications
  • Lightly sand walls again and wipe the dust off with a cloth
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What to Buy for Your Painting Project

Here is a list of items that you can use as a check list for your painting project.

  • Rags 
  • 5 gallon bucket
  • 1 quart bucket
  • Roller grid tray  
  • Painter’s tape 
  • Safety goggles
  • Round corner sponge
  • Latex and Sanding mask
  • Roller cages with a long handle
  • Sanding block with sand paper (120 grit)
  • Various quality brushes with different angles
  • Large Poly sheeting to protect areas from paint

How to Prepare a Room for Painting

Final Thoughts

Prepping and treating walls before you begin any project is imperative for a professional looking finish you will be proud to show off to your neighbors.

Take the time to do the little things before you start rolling a drop of primer or paint. If you skip these important steps, it will cause you more headaches down the road because you will be repainting sooner rather than later.

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