How to Repair Walls and Paint a Room

Now that you have selected a paint type and color (see my article “How to Select the Right Paint and color for Your Home” for information on this), you are ready to begin your wall preparation for painting. Always, always start with clean and debris-free walls. Take a broom and gently swipe the walls and ceiling to rid it of cobwebs, dust and loose dirt. Then, with a damp (not wet) cloth or sponge, wipe the walls to get rid of any dirt and dust stuck to them. While you are doing this, inspect the paint surface for damage. Before we talk about the actual painting part, let’s first take a look at how to fix damaged walls and ceilings. You can skip to the appropriate section you need.

Nail holes and other small holes: These are relatively easy to fill. Simply take some spackle and a putty knife and spread a very thin coat of spackle over the hole. You can also alternatively use plaster of paris to fix the hole (which will be discussed in more detail in a later section). I like to sometimes put a bit of spackle right on my finger and tuck some right into the hole and then spread just a tiny bit on the outside surface. Be sure your spackle layer is very thin and should only be spread an inch or so outside of the hole. Remember, everywhere you get the spackle, you will need to sand. Allow it to dry the appropriate amount of time (check the product label you are using for details on drying time). Apply a second coat of spackle if the hole is still not completely full or if it is not yet even with the surface and allow to dry. When you are ready to sand, use a light grained sand paper (about 100 grit) since there should only be a light coat of spackle from a nail hole. You can also use a damp (not soaking wet!) sponge and lightly go over the edges outside the hole. This is a nice, no fuss, and no sand dust method you can use to smooth small quantities of spackle when it is still slightly wet.

Cracks in walls or ceiling: Again if these are not major cracks, use the same method as you would to fill a nail hole. This time however, use the putty knife (not your finger) to spread a very thin coat of spackle along the grain of the crack. You will probably need two to three coats for longer and deeper cracks. Take the time to apply as many coats as you need and don’t rush by filling the whole with a huge gob of spackle. It will look like garbage once the paint has been applied and in the long run, will end up becoming loose and falling off, resulting in you having to do double the work. Thin coats will also make sanding or smoothing with a damp sponge easier. For deeper cracks, I will often spackle in the opposite direction for the second coat in order to ensure all the surface area has been filled. Follow the same directions for sanding as in “Nail Holes”.

Uneven surfaces: If you have a bulge in your wall, take some sand paper and using a sanding block, or a sander if you have one (they are pretty cheap and a wonderful tool if you do a lot of home repairs) go over the bulge in the wall until it is level with the rest of the wall. Spackle any spots on the wall that are now exposed or cracked from the sanding (some bulges end up resulting in some minor holes or divets in the wall once sanded down). A little more work, but, the end result is a smoother wall. You can also simply fill in any dips in the wall with some spackle, but especially if you have plaster walls, I recommend plaster of paris. It is a little bit more time consuming to work with, but has the best cohesiveness I have seen.

Treating stains and mildew: Fix any water stains from the source before you start painting. You may cover the stain with the paint, but if it is a perpetual problem, the water will again eventually seep through. Mix three parts water to one part bleach (you can do this in cups) in a bucket. Be sure to use gloves and eye protection as the solution may splash. Apply with a sponge over the stain (do this step two times or more if necessary!) and then rinse off with clean water. Then apply a stain blocking primer to the area. Bulls Eye puts out a great one and comes in small cans.

Removing wallpaper: Don’t leave the wallpaper up and paint over it. Take the time to remove it in order to ensure even painting. You do not want to see peeling wallpaper in a year or so underneath the paint you spent your hard work and time on doing! Use a perforation tool (purchased at a store such as Home Depot or Lowes) and lightly press into the wallpaper, being careful not to damage the wall underneath with too much pressure. Run the perforated tool over the surface of the wallpaper in a circular motion, overlapping areas. If you take the time to do this, removing the wallpaper will be much easier, trust me. I have tried a number of different ways and when finally tried this method, realized how much easier wallpaper removal was! Then, use very hot water (as hot as you can stand) and vinegar mixed in a spray bottle and spray it over the surface of the wall, especially over the areas you perforated. You can also use a wallpaper remover solution but vinegar in my opinion works better and is cheaper! Wait 10 to 20 minutes to allow the solution to work its magic and then begin to peel the paper off. Some spots may be more stubborn. Spray the solution once more on it and wait before trying to peel it again. You can do this step a couple of times if necessary. If this does not work, then use a small plastic scraper (a couple bucks at a DIY store). Wash the wall with clean water and a sponge several times to remove any glue residue and the remover solution you used. Let it dry thoroughly before priming and painting.

Major holes for drywall: Contrary to what you are trying to accomplish, you have to make the hole worse before you can make it better. Measure (with a ruler or carpenter’s square) a square or rectangle about 6 inches outside the diameter of the hole and using a utility knife, cut into the line in order to remove the drywall. If you need supports behind the drywall, cut 1×3 or ¾ inch plywood scraps 2 to 4 inches larger than the hole is high (this will go behind the hole). Screw these supports vertically behind the opening in the hole with drywall screws. Then, cut a patch of drywall to the size of your hole with a utility knife and screw it into place with 1 ¼ inch drywall screws. Now you are ready to fill in the area with compound. Place strips of self-adhesive fiberglass drywall tape around the installed patch (you should be sure the tape is an inch above and below the seam). Using a putty knife, spread drywall compound across the patch and tape in a smooth motion, ensuring the compound is smooth. Allow to dry the appropriate amount of time (see product label of what you are using) and then sand lightly (100 grit should do it) before applying a second coat of compound. Apply compound to the entire surface of the patch once the edges are set and sand to a smooth finish. Depending on the surface and how you applied the compound, you may need to start with a coarse sandpaper such as 60 grit before moving to 100 grit.

Major holes in plaster: If you have an old house like mine, your walls are more than likely plaster. Again, you have to make the situation worse before it gets better. Remove plaster from the damaged area using a small putty knife. You should remove the plaster down to the lathe so it is exposed. If your plaster is just bubbling and cracked you do not need to go down to the lathe, just remove all the old plaster. The hole will become larger but don’t stop removing the peeling plaster until you no longer encounter loose plaster. Then, soak the lathe and surrounding area with water from a spray bottle which helps to keep the plaster from drying too quickly. Mix the plaster patch or plaster of paris in a small bucket with water. You should be sure to wear eye goggles and a respirator as the dust is hazardous. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for the product you are using. Mix the powder and water until it forms a paste (not too thick and not too thin so that it will run). Do not overstir or the paste will set too quickly. Apply the patch into and against the lathe and surrounding areas using a putty knife. Before it is dry, score the area with a nail which will help the next layer set. Let the patch dry thoroughly before applying the next layer. Keep repeating this process until your hole is filled and even with the rest of the wall. You may find that you need to sand between layers if the patch becomes too thick. Sand until the patch is smooth with the rest of the wall.

Priming: It is crucial to a finished look and nice, even painting to prime before you paint. Whatever you do, do not skip this step! Priming will cover any of the repair work you did, and allow the paint to bond easily with it as well as ensure an even application of the paint. The paint will also last longer. Use a decent quality primer. I prefer Behr Primer. Check the label to ensure you use the right primer for the job. The multi use primer is a good route to go and is a great, thick primer. Take caution in where you get the primer however, as it is more difficult to clean up than paint (even from your fingers!) You may want to apply two coats of primer to the walls (which I do) as you probably will find you need only one coat of paint later. You should also apply two coats of primer if your walls were originally a darker color and you are going to a lighter shade. You should see only the white of the primer before you move to the colored paint.

Now you are ready to paint. Cover your floors and any furniture in the room to prevent paint splatters from ruining it. Wear a hat and long sleeves and pants (unless you like getting paint all over your body). You can also apply a coat of Vaseline to your face and exposed arms to prevent paint from sticking to your skin. Mask off the room using paint tape. I mask the edges of the walls by the ceilings and all the trim.

Ceiling: Start off by painting the ceiling. Be sure to wear safety goggles as paint can easily spatter into your eyes and believe me, this will burn! Then, starting with the ceiling, first paint the edges using a small paintbrush or a neat gadget you can buy for a couple of bucks at your paint store that easily paints trim and can be put onto an extension pole, eliminating the need for you to use a paint brush to do this while standing on a ladder. You may still need to touch up some spots by brush. Before this is dry, start by cutting in the paint from the edges into the larger part of the ceiling. Cut in the paint with a V shape with your roller. Use diagonal strokes from the edge toward the middle of the ceiling. Keep going until the ceiling is done. I highly recommend using a pink tinted ceiling paint if you are staying with white in order to see if there are any spots you missed. There is nothing more annoying than seeing unpainted spots in your ceiling after you thought you were done!

Walls: Now that your ceiling is painted, remove the tape from the edges of the walls that you initially masked off and paint the corners (from top to bottom) and the edge that meets the ceiling. You can use the previously mentioned handy edger gadget, or a hand edger or even mask off the ceiling in order to paint the walls. Be sure to use paint tape made for freshly painted walls, otherwise you will end up with spots or entire strips of removed paint if you use the same tape as before. Then, again, just as you did with the ceiling, start from the edges of the walls and cut into the wall with your roller by painting a V and then a W repeatedly. Fill in the paint from there, overlapping the W’s with your roller to avoid visible edges of paint. Always be sure you do this when the paint is still wet. If you have to stop, at least stop after a section is completely painted.

Trim: Finally, remove the tape that you masked the trim off with and mask off the walls adjacent to the trim. Again, be sure the walls are thoroughly dried before you apply the tape and use the appropriate tape for fresh paint. Then, use a paint brush (I prefer an angled one) to paint the trim on your doors, windows and other moldings.

Clean up your paint brushes and rollers while they are still wet, otherwise the paint will set and ruin them for future use. Stand back to look at your work and enjoy your newly painted room!

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