Paint Preparation

Good paint preparation is the key to attaining a professional-looking paint job, providing a lasting impression that could ultimately impact a potential buyer’s final decision.

This means that before you do anything else, you need to make sure you’re intended surfaces are prepared correctly to ensure a beautiful, long-lasting finish. I’ve seen many attempts at painting that were performed with little-to-no paint preparation at all – and it showed.

Once you apply a coat of paint onto a surface, it’s like a magnifying glass was put over it.

All kinds of imperfections and mistakes, dirt, grime, whatever, come shining out at you like a spotlight!

Not just a dirty surface, but peeling and bubbling paint can result from careless paint preparation work. The horror stories could go on and on, but I think you get the point. A huge (and mostly unseen) part of a successful paint job is proper preparation.


I once was told by an owner of an expensive apartment unit to paint over a kitchen wall coated with grease. I refused, and told her my price came with removeing the grease as should have been done. She got someone else to do the job because she thought I was ‘way too expensive’. When the apartment was shown to people, they all said they thought the kitchen walls looked dirty. Nobody would rent the place. She finally relented and had the walls redone, and it came with a price – by me:)

To help you get professional paint preparation results, do the following:

man caulking

  1. Clear intended work space of furniture, and other stuff
  2. Remove all wall (receptacle) and switch plates, and any hardware
  3. Scrape/Sand peeling paint and dirt spots on surfaces
  4. Fill and caulk all holes and small cracks
  5. Thorough cleaning (basic paint preparation!)
  6. Tape off surface areas you don’t want paint on
  7. Prime any newly repaired surface (especially new drywall or bare wood)

A Closer Look At Each Function

We’ll use an example of painting the entire bedroom, and the steps needed for proper paint preparation.

Make Sure Work Area Is Clear

Remove any (and all) pieces of furniture, shelving, bed, stereo system, etc. Get everything out of the way so you are able to roam about the room freely, and unimpeded.

I know from paint preparation experience that even being aware of something you left in the middle of the room, you’ll probably still run into, or over it. Move it out of the way now, not after you’ve run into it.

Remove Wall (receptacle and light switch) Plates
Look around your room and remove all wall plates.(If you’re going to devote time, money and a lot of energy to making something beautiful with paint, why would you look past the negative effect that dirty, painted-over wall plates would ultimately communicate to the descriminating (home buyer) eye. Simply put, I think it reflects a rather lazy and indifferent approach to the paint preparation in particular, and job as a whole. Simply take the plates off, clean them up, and reinstall them later. You’ll be glad you did, and it will certainly be noticeable with a finished, clean look.)

You’ll probably find some plates that are cracked and split, and replacing them is the only thing to do. And please, don’t commit an absolute painting faux paux: putting a cracked plate back on where it was. Don’t laugh. I’ve known people who actually do this, thinking how unimportant and unnoticeble it is. Oh well!

Items to remove, depending on what you’re painting would be:

  • Wall plates
  • Window locks (usually found on older, wooden windows)
  • Door stops
  • Doorknobs and catches (the metal plate found on the door jamb that holds the spring-loaded device to hold doors closed)


Make outlets look new again, get a can of white spray primer and lightly spray the old outlet. It’ll give it that new, ‘store-bought’ white look to it.

Scrape Old, Peeling Paint
Make sure to scrape* off peeling paint with a putty knife. Rub your hand accross the face of the wall to determine if you need to lightly sand off old painted-over dirt and dust particles. If the surface seems somewhat gritty in areas, go ahead and sand. The result will be a smoother-looking texture to the wall.

*Note – If you are living in an old building, you might need to check to see if the old paint on the walls or woodwork is lead based. If so, proceed cautiously, as any paint particles released in to the air due to sanding or scraping could be potentially hazardous. Please refer to the website of the Environmental Protection Agency for further paint preparation information.

Fill Holes and Small Cracks With Caulk/Putty
Assess the amount of holes and cracks that have to repaired on the walls and woodwork. Use putty to fill holes or cracks on the surface of woodwork, and caulk to fill holes or gaps in walls and trim.

(It is at this point where we might differ from professional painters who might tell you to clean the surface areas first. But we believe for the sake of efficiency, you should fix the holes and cracks first, then worry about cleaning up the mess that was created (while filling said holes) later on. You’re going to create some dust, especially if you’re working with drywall material, so clean it all up at one time, not two or three extra times)

To smooth out irregular and/or damaged wall corners, apply a generous bead of caulk (latex ‘painter’s’ caulk will do just fine) along the whole length, from ceiling joint, to top of baseboard. Just wet your finger before smoothing the caulk out, and proceed in increments of about two feet until finished. Wipe off excess with wet rag.

Thorough Cleaning

  • Sweep or dust the area to remove all the nasty cob webs from the ceiling, the corners of the room where furniture (like the headboard of a bed) has been located (as evidenced by a lot of dust on the wall), and other crevices.
  • Vacuum the edges of the carpet (or hardwood/tile flooring) where it meets baseboard. This is where a lot of dust and dirt accumulate.
  • Clean woodwork. With your favorite cleaning solution, thoroughly clean the entire door jamb(s), window openings (and casing surrounding the window), and baseboards to remove all manner of dirt and grime.
  • Clean the closets. This area surprisingly gets missed quite often because most people think no one will ever look inside a closet and therefore is deemed umimportant. And while that may be true, I still go back to the old “if you’re to do a job, do it right” kind of thinking. And lastly, clean the baseboard all around – especially the corners, where dirt seems to build up heavier than anywhere else.

Tape Off Surfaces You Don’t Want Paint On
Use blue ‘painter’s’ tape to cover any surface that you don’t want painted. Items such as doorknobs (if not removed from door), door hinges, light fixtures, cabinetry, ceiling joints, etc. Just about anything you don’t want painted, cover with blue tape, and you’ll be fine.

One area that you can really make good use of tape, is along carpeting where baseboard meets the carpet, or hard surfaces like tile, or wood flooring. The reason blue masking tape is so good to use for paint preparation, is that the adhesive used is less tacky than ordinary masking tape, and therefore has less ability to stick to something as firmly. If you were to pull the standard tan masking tape off quickly, you might end up pulling the outer layer of drywall off with it. It happens, as I have proven to myself in the past. Blue masking won’t do this, as it’s meant for use in short intervals.

Tape off as much as you think you need to. But don’t fret, if there are mistakes made (like when paint can “bleed” under you’re tape), you can always touch-up later.

You can also use heavy brown-paper that comes in roll to lay out for protection. Most rolls come with adhesive-backed sides that in effect act as larger tape barriers. They come in varying widths from 3″ – 12″.

Don’t forget to lay out your drop cloths. Most drops come in lightweight canvas material in many different sizes, but you can use heavy (3 to 4 mil or thicker) plastic as well, and are just as effective. What makes canvas so attractive is it’s ability to stay where you lay it – in other words, it won’t slide out from under you

Always Use Primer On Freshly Repaired Surfaces
For general purpose priming such as covering freshly repaired drywall, and bare wood (such as after scraping old paint off of woodwork), use a high-quality latex primer. This will provide a good base as well as promote excellent adhesion for your finish paint.

If you don’t prime a repaired area, the result after painting with a finish coat will be blotchy and patchy-looking, at best. To correct this, you would need to paint the area a couple of times to get it right. Forget all that, and prime it the first time during paint preparation.

Use primer/stainblocker for covering any water stains on ceilings and walls, that may have developed over time.

Want to get rid of dark scruff marks on the walls or baseboards? Well don’t scrub them off with cleaner – you’ll wear yourself out! Use the same spray-on primer for paint preparation mentioned above. There are many good products out on the market now that let you take care of such a problem quickly and efficiently without ever having to open a can of primer. Great for closets, laundry rooms, kids bedrooms, you name it!

O.K., if you’ve made it this far with paint preparation, you’re serious about doing an excellent job, because you’ve just done the hardest part of the whole job.

You’re now ready to begin painting.