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How to Paint a Room

Updated on April 9, 2009

A How-To Paint Article to Pore Over

Sculpture "McCormack True Red" by George Lucas,
Sculpture "McCormack True Red" by George Lucas,


Springtime equals spring cleaning. Spring cleaning often equals painting a room. It’s not hard to do, especially if you follow a few basic steps- 1, 2, 3, (and 4, 5, 6, but I don’t want to scare you off right away)

Assuming that the paint is on-premisis, I can get the work listed here done in one 7-hour day, working by myself. But I do hate getting paint on my Superman shirt!

The BASIC LIST of steps is:

So as many people say at the start of a roller coaster ride, “Heeeeeeere weeeee GOOOOOOOO!”


  • Paints- use a wall color in a flat or eggshell finish; trim paint is usually in a semi-gloss finish; optionally, ceilings are the same wall color if light or use a "ceiling white"paint. All in water clean-up vinyl or latex.
  • Drop cloths, newspapers and plastic sheets to cover everything.
  • Paint tools- Step ladder or stool to reach the ceiling; roller handles and covers- both 9” and 4”; roller pan; broom stick/roller extension handle; decent quality 2 to 3 inch paint brush; edge guard; flat-head screw driver; hammer; pliers; sponge and/or rag for clean-ups; 1” blue painters tape; old clothes; drywall joint compound and 3” drywall knife; tube of caulk; utility knife; one-sided razor blades; roll of paper towels; bucket; and finally, that small container of spackle that every household seems to have.


NOTE: For the sake of this article, we are going to discribe painting a Dining Room. They tend to have most of the elements one finds in every other room in a typical house- ceiling, walls, trim, ceiling fixture, doors and windows.

So let’s prep the room-

Remove drapery and rods, but leave the wall brackets for them in place. Cover them with painter’s tape to make painting around them easier. Now is alao a good time to get those drapes drycleaned and/or dress the window with drapes for the new season. (My mother-in-law had four sets of curtains- one for each season!)

First decision- Are the artwork pieces in the room going right back up where they are now? If so, don’t bother removing the hooks and nails. You’ll just paint over them. If they are to be relocated, remove each hook and patch the hole now, before going on to the next. This helps avoid missing one along the way.

Patching holes and nailpops-

  • Pull out the picture hook with pliers (this will make a BUMP where the wall pulled out a bit along with the hook) A nailpop is already a bump.
  • YOU CANNOT PATCH A BUMP! Tap the bump lightly with the hammer to make it a dimple. Run your hand lightly across it to feel that it no longer sticks out. If it still sticks out, tap it again.
  • Fill the dimple. Take that small container of spackle that every household seems to have, and THROW IT AWAY! It does not have the same texture as your wall finish, so EVERY patch made with it will show horribly! Open the joint compound, and with the 3” drywall knife, apply a dollop of “mud” to the dimple. Wipe the mud across the dimple diagonally in one direction and again in the other, forming an “X”. If any gaps or dents remain, fill them in and repeat. If there are any ridges along the edges of the patch, pull the knife across them lightly to remove them. After a few times, you’ll get the feel. What you should have when done correctly is a smooth 2” roundish gray patch.

TRICK OF THE TRADE: if the wall has a texture because it’s been painted many times, this smooth patch will stand out way too much. To blend it into the wall texture,
This will texture the soft joint compound and blend it in with the textured wall.

Let dry as you move on to the next patch.

If switch plates and outlet covers are not to be painted, remove them, and SCREW THE SCREWS BACK INTO THE HOLES. This way you won’t lose them. If they have paint sealing them to the wall, gently cut around them with the utility knife to avoid large chips when they are pulled off.

Caulking cracks and joints-

With a clean, dry brush, dust off all the trim in the room- baseboards, window and doorjamb tops, ceiling/wall corners. Start at the top and work down. As you dust, check along each baseboard, all around each window, and along any crown molding and chair rail for gaps. We will fill any gaps with A SMALL AMOUNT of caulk. I prefer using a bathroom tub caulk that comes in its own squeeze tube, like toothpaste. It dries quickly, works easily, and remains flexable, so it is unlikely to crack again.

Let’s say that we have a gap along the baseboard that goes from the corner out about four feet.

  • Knead the caulk tube to mix the contents.
  • Open the caulk tube using scissors or a kinfe. Cut the tip along the topmost mark on the nozzle to make a tiny hole, following the angle shown there.
  • Feel along the gap to find any old caulk that may be sticking up- remember- YOU CANNOT PATCH A BUMP! With a utility knife (or razor blade) carefully cut away the old caulk that is sticking up.
  • Fill the gap with a thin bead of caulk.

TRICK OF THE TRADE: PUSH the caulk tube along the gap instead of pulling it. I am right-handed so I push from right to left. Set the tube at the start of the gap with the nozzle’s angle cut flat along the trim. (If starting in a corner, you will have to PULL for a few inches until you can turn it around and push) Squeeze gently from the back end of the tube, forcing the caulk out, into the gap. Like icing flowers on a cake. Watch the little roll of caulk that develops in front of the tip. All of the bead should be going into the gap, and the angled tip will be smoothing it out as you go along. If the gap becomes too wide to fill in one pass, use several passes to do so, finishing with the final push pass. After the last application (BIG “EEEW” FACTOR here), lick your finger and smooth out the entire bead IN ONE PASS in the opposite direction. Nothing has been found that does a better job than spit on a finger. Clean up any excess with a damp sponge. The whole idea here is to be neat and NOT USE too much caulk in the first place. Wash any caulk off those fingers with a damp paper towel while it’s still fresh.

When you have done all the patching and caulking, and the patches are dry (they will look white instead of gray), come back around the room and use the damp sponge to “sand” them by L-I-G-H-T-L-Y rubbing them to remove any ridges and bumps. The sponge keeps the dust to a minimum. Don’t rub too hard or you will just have to re-patch the hole.


The order of tasks is ceiling first, then the trim, and finally the walls.


(Notice I haven’t said anything about moving furniture yet)

  • Is there anything on the ceiling that needs to be painted around? If so, do it now. Push the dining table out of the way, lay a dropcloth on the floor under the chandelier and get to it from the ladder. Undo the ring that holds the top cover in place and let them both drop down the chain. Or wrap the trim where it meets the ceiling with painter’s tape to protect it. Cover the rest of the chandelier with newspaper taped in place to ward off splatters. (Keep the light turned off to avoid setting the paper on fire!)
  • Open the paint and pour most of it into a clean roller pan. You do not want to take a full can of paint up a ladder unless you are trying for the $100,000 prize on “America’s Funniest Home Videos”

TRICK OF THE TRADE: TO OPEN THE PAINT CAN PROPERLY, you will need tools- a screwdriver or paintcan opener, a stir stick AND A PAINT BRUSH! If the paint can has been standing around for a few days or more since it came from the paint store, you will need to stir it. A brand new can of paint that has never been opened before can be shaken vigorously by hand for several minutes instead. (Do not do this with one that has been opened before) Open the top, and CLEAN OFF ALL THE WET PAINT FROM THE LID. Otherwise this will dry and fall back into the fresh paint in the can, making it lumpy and unusable. That’s why you don’t shake an old can of paint. Stir the paint as needed, then clean off the stir stick. Pour the paint into the roller pan. After pouring paint into the pan, CLEAN OUT THE RIM OF THE CAN. You MUST do this to allow the can to close tightly.

  • Brush out the paint onto the ceiling, cutting in around the light for AT LEAST 8” allthe way around so there is little danger of bumping it with the roller later.
  • Now move the furniture. Pick up the dropcloth and place the furniture pieces in the middle of the room under the light fixture. Cover the furniture completely with drops, plastic sheets and newspaper. Keep at least one dropcloth available to cover part of the floor as you move around the room.
  • Fold the dropcloth lengthwise so that it fits in the space between the furniture pile and a wall.
  • Place a roller sleeve (the fuzzy tube) onto a roller handle, and attach the extender handle/broom stick.
  • Fill the roller with paint. There is no reason to be sloppy except for being lazy. Good painting is all about applying the materials neatly. Most people try to use too much paint, too much pressure and too little care.

TRICK OF THE TRADE: Barely touch the roller to the pool of paint in the pan and roll it down the ramp to spread paint all around the roller. The first time loading a roller takes a few tries to get it saturated all the way around. Once completely covered in paint, ROLL THE ROLLER IN THE PAN 4-5 MORE TIMES TO REMOVE EXCESS PAINT. Lift the roller from the pan to check that no paint is dripping from it. If it drips, roll it out some more.

  • Apply from near the center light fixture, outwards. Only use enough pressure to apply the paint evenly. The extender handle gives you a lot of leverage and reach, and makes the work go quickly. If ridges appear along the edges, smooth them by rolling in another direction. Use long, smooth strokes rather than short, choppy ones (A full roller should provide coverage of an area about 5’ x 2’ with 5' being the length of your stroke.)
  • Leave a gap of about 2’ to the walls. But bumping the wall at this point is no big deal. When the ceiling over the dropcloth is completed, finish along that wall with the brush. You DO NOT have to cut in the ceiling carefully- cover the ceiling and bring the paint into the corner and down onto the wall or crown molding. Stay over the dropcloth. Smooth out and drips as you go. When that area is covered, move the drop to the other end of the wall, or around the corner to the next wall.
  • Repeat this proceedure for the other three edges of the ceiling.
  • As you pass them, apply a light coat of paint on each of the wall patches made before, to prime (seal) them. If the color of the ceiling and the wall are too different, use the wall paint to seal them. These need time to dry before the walls get coated.


The main reason for this order of things is 1) the ceiling is still too wet and so the walls cannot be cut in along the corners. And 2) the flat wall paint is MUCH EASIER to cut in along the trim than the semi-gloss is along the wall. If you make “an oops”, the damp sponge will clean off the trim very easily. Not so the other way.


  • Do the windows on a wall first. That way you do not have to be concerned about wet a baseboard at your feet while you paint. If you paint around the window panes, wash them.
  • If possible, reverse the windows top to bottom to allow access to the center of the upper sash. Paint this part and re-reverse the sashes to finish the top sash.
  • Now paint the lower half of the window, and scrape off the wet paint.

TRICK OF THE TRADE: IMMEDIATELY after you have painted the top half of the window, remove any still-wet paint from the glass. Scrape one or two sides of a pane, wipe the blade off on a paper towel. Scrape the other sides, and wipe. Do this for all the panes, It is MUCH easier to remove it wet than after it has dried. (Washing the window before keeps the dirt scraped off from falling onto your brand new wet paint.)

  • With the 4” roller and sleeve, roll the outer trim. Fill in any parts not covered with the roller, and brush the entire frame smooth. Bring the paint around the edges to the wall. Paint the sill last.


  • Now do the baseboard trim- If the floor is carpeted, use an edge guard. It looks like a two-foot wide putty knife. Use it to protect and pull away the carpet while you paint. If there is a wood shoe molding, you can either tape it off or, using care, use the edge guard to keep pant off it. Either way, make sure to wipe off any paint from the guard after each use. Brush the paint up onto the wall a bit as you go, filling in the corner between wall and base. I like to work counter-clockwise around the room, crawling backwards along the baseboard.
  • When you come to a door, first cover the floor beneath it with sheets of newspaper under the door. Paint the door panel with the 4’ roller. If you have doors that have separate panels, roll paint into one or two panels and then finish them with the brush. Go to the next panels, and the next, each time smoothing them with the brush. Once all the panels are painted, roll the stiles and rails of the door (the main parts) and brush them to remove the roller dimpling and cut around the knob and hinges. Now roll out the doorjamb, getting as much covered as you can. Finish filling in missed spots and smoothing everything out with the brush.
    If the door has no decorative panels (called a "flush" door), first cut around any hinges and knob, and then roll the entire door panel. Finish by lightly brushing out the roller dimples for a smooth finish.
  • Move the dropcloth as needed and continue around the room until you reach the spot where you started.


  • If there is crown molding and/or chair rail in the room, do that next- brush the chair rail, making sure that the paint covers entirely from wall above to wall below. Chair rails should be painted a semi-gloss because of the wear they receive. All cutting in will be done with the flat wall paint.
  • By now the ceiling should be dry enough to cut in the crown. (Again, I work counter-clockwise around the room, cutting in the ceiling line by starting in a dry section and painting to rhe right for two feet until I reach wet paint. I fill in the rest of the trim down to the wall, and move the whole set-up counter-clockwise two feet or so, and repeat.) Try to be neat at the ceiling line, but you can always touch up any “oops” with the ceiling paint afterwards. If the room is small, I will often paint the crown molding with the ceiling paint to avoid putting too many decorative elements into a small space.


TRICK OF THE TRADE: Paint the largest wall first, the next-largest second, and so on. The reason for this is with just a small wall left when you run out, you can probably get buy with just a quart can to finish instead of needing an entire gallon. Also, if you wait to to run out of paint, there is a chance the second batch might not match perfectly. On a small wall this is not so obvious.

  • On the largest wall, set up the dropcloth on the floor. Check the coverage on the ceiling to confirm that another coat will not be necessary. If it looks good, you can use any dropcloths covering the furniture now, too, since you will not be painting above the furniture.
  • Roll out the wall, starting near one edge and continuing to the other side. Keep a gap of 2” or more from the ceiling, baseboards and corners. Roll around electrical outlets and switches and picture hooks, painting them when you fill in the corners in the next step.

TRICK OF THE TRADE: Always start the first stroke of a full roller in an upward direction. This way, excess paint that is squeegeed out of the full roller will be caught by the roller rather than running down the wall in drips and splatters. It’s part of that “keep it neat” thing.

  • Brush in the side gaps, filling them in entirely. This overlap between rolled and brushed areas is most often where the need for touch-up or second coats is most obvious. If the new paint is not the same color as the old wall color, count on painting the walls twice.
  • Brush in along the ceiling gap, or, if the walls and ceiling are different colors, carefully cut in at the ceiling line. I have seen people try taping off the ceiling, but that takes longer than just painting it, and the wall paint will bleed under the tape and mess things up anyway. If you use a good quality brush you can cut in a smooth line.
  • Cut in carefully along the baseboard. Remove any “oops” from the trim with a damp sponge or rag. Move around to the next largest wall after finishing this one.
  • If the paint is running out, complete the latest wall, leaving enough for touching up with the same paint used on the wall. You do not want to chance using a different, mis-matched paint to touch up.
  • Let the walls dry before replacing the furniture because THERE WILL BE TOUCH-UPS! If it will need a second coat then mis-matching won't such an issue since the entire wall will be re-painted.
  • To apply a needed second coat, do one wall at a time as before. Except this time, brush in the corners and ceiling first, and then roll the wall. It is not necessary to re-cut in the ceiling- just get it close. The second coat will use about half as much paint as the first coat to cover.


All done! Well, not quite.

Clean out your brushes and rollers.

  • wash the brushes with warm, soapy water. Rinse until no more paint washes out. Go outside and whack the brush back and forth rapidly on a tree branch, fence post, or other such object. All that SHOULD come out of the brush is water. (If you have ever seen the Bob Ross painting show then you know what I mean here,)
  • With the 3' drywall knife, scrape out all the paint left in the roller back into the pan- you'll be amazed at how much is still in there. No sense flushing all that into our water system. Now brush the paint remaining in the pan back into the can. Clean out any paint in the can's rim and close the cover tightly. Lay a section of newspaper on top of the can and tap the lid down all around with the hammer. The paper keeps the paint from spattering you or the room.
  • Fill the bucket half way with water and drop the rollers in. leave them for a day or two and most of the paint left in them will settle out to the bottom. Rinse the rollers out with fresh water in the bucket for one more day. when you rinse them again they will be clean. I have rollers that I have used for years, all because I clean them thoroughly each time
  • Pull off any tape- ceiling fixture, shoe molding, drapery brackets, etc.
  • Install the coverplates back onto the switches and outlets.
  • While you have the furniture out from the walls, run the vaccuum around to get those places that won’t see daylight for another year.
  • Before you re-locate the pieces around the wall where they go, dust their backs and undersides.
  • And while they’re uncovered, it would be a great time to wax, polish, or otherwise clean the surfaces thoroughly. This IS spring cleaning, after all.
  • Rehang the artwork, dusting and cleaning each piece as you go.
  • Clean any blinds that hang under the drapes.
  • Re-install your clean drapes
  • Remove the newspaper from the chandelier and re-install the trim ring and cover at the top. Clean any parts that need it.
  • Put the table and chairs back in place.

Now you’re done.
And just think how much worse it would have been if you were hanging wallpaper!

George Lucas

The author, George Lucas, is a professional artist, sculptor and theatre set designer in the Washington, DC area.His work can be seen at:

Like most people working in the arts, he had to do something "real" to make a living. George did home improvements, design and constructionfor 25 years, until a serious liver disease and subesquent liver transplant forced him to give up the heavy work. He is forever grateful to his donor family and their gift of life.

Be an organ and tissue donor. It works!


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    • lisa brazeau profile image

      lisa brazeau 

      8 years ago from Canada

      This is a great article. I just finished painting my entire apartment, ceilings included, and could have used a few of the tips.

      thanks again

    • glucasdesign profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Washington, DC area, north of the Potomac

      Thank you, KCC B C, you're absolutely right. You'd think that, as an artist, I would insert SOMETHING visual. And I will. My first objective was to "idiot-proof" it, and cover all the bases. I always believe if you've read the instructions and don't understand them, the instructions are at fault. Anything here that needs clarification? Besides adding images, that is

      thanks, george Lucas

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 

      9 years ago from Central Texas

      Great hub and great information. My only slight criticism is that you need pictures and/or video.......people need something visual. Otherwise you feel like you're sitting down to read a 4 inch thick instruction manual.

    • RKHenry profile image


      9 years ago from Neighborhood museum in Somewhere, USA

      Excellent execution. Thanks.


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