101 Guide: How To Prepare Your Home's Interior For Painting

About an hour
Step Away from the Paintbrush!


Ready, set, paint, right? Not so fast! What you do before you paint makes all the difference. Follow these easy steps for a paint job that looks great and will last for years.

Preparation is the ugly stepchild of painting. It's tedious, often neglected, and can't possibly match the glamour and excitement of watching those glorious swatches of new color roll across the old drab walls. Yet, preparation can make the difference between a paintjob that's creamy smooth and seamless or one that ends up splotchy, uneven, rippled, or even peeling. Good painters can spend as much time preparing as painting—because they know preparation is the key to success and that it makes the actual painting part of the job go a lot smoother.

Project Steps

Step 1

The first step is to move all of the furniture away from the walls and protect the floor. This will protect your furniture and make it easier to get at the walls and corners without having to crawl over your love seat. With heavy pieces of furniture, consider moving them to the middle of the room and covering them with a drop cloth. In any case, it'll go a lot easier if you enlist some neighborly help. You'll save time and wear and tear on your back!

Once the furniture's out of the way, be sure to lay a drop cloth down on your floor and tape it to the edge of the wall to prevent any shifting while you work. We recommend that you use blue painter's tape so that it will come up easy and is less likely to leave a residue behind.

Jane Tip: Disposable plastic drop cloths are cheaper than cloth, but they're also less durable and can definitely be slippery to walk on. You might consider taping plastic drop cloths to the floor and then using a cloth drop cloth on top for extra protection and safety.

Step 2

Take a close look at every surface to be painted. Paint simply won't stick to dirt so you'll need to spot clean at the very least. Remove fingerprints, stains, pencil marks, rub marks—anything that might show through the paint. Common household cleaners will remove most stains; be sure to rinse thoroughly by repeatedly wiping with a clean sponge.

If your room is really dirty (say a kitchen with a greasy film built up on the walls, or a room that hasn't been painted in many years) or you're painting over a high gloss existing paint, you'll need to do a thorough cleaning from top to bottom. To do this the way the pros do, use a product called Trisodium Phosphate or, more commonly, TSP. It's a heavy-duty degreaser/cleaner and de-glosser whose biggest function is to help your paint to adhere better. You just need to make a batch of warm water and TSP (check the box for the ratio of TSP to water) and wipe down your walls with a sponge. When working with TSP, remember to wear gloves and make sure to thoroughly rinse it off with another clean, damp sponge. If not, TSP could actually prevent the paint from bonding, so be thorough! As you wipe down the walls, be careful not to let water drip onto your flooring or carpet.

Jane Tip: Remember, if you are painting over semi-gloss or high gloss paint, this is a very important step. It not only allows the next coat of paint to adhere better to the previous one, it also helps to prevent the new coat from peeling.

Step 3

Fill in those cracks and holes! This is the fun part, because it's also the easiest. Get some light weight spackle and a putty knife and just like your putting a shmear of cream cheese on your bagel, fill the hole with the spackle and scrape away any excess. Spackle can be used on most small holes and cracks. If nails are sticking out of the wall, remove them with the claw (back end) of a hammer, or countersink them (meaning hammer them in with a tool called a nail set) below the wall's surface leaving behind a small hole that can be spackled. Now you're good to go!

Jane Tip: If you need to purchase spackle for this project, keep your eyes open for DryDex spackling made by DAP which goes on light pink and then changes to white when it's dry, letting you know when it's ready to be sanded.

Step 4

Let the spackle dry and then go over it with either 220-grit (fancy way of saying "fine") sandpaper or the scrubbing part of a dry dish sponge to smooth out any imperfections. Be careful of using scrub sponges with dark color, when damp, the color can rub off on your walls. Once you've sanded it, wipe down the area with a damp sponge.

Step 5

This is the perfect time to deal with mildew spots—these are not only gross but really stubborn. Yes, mildew is tough to remove, but if you skip this step, it will show through your next coat of paint. (You might not notice this immediately, but just your luck, you'll see it right before your next big dinner party.) So, wipe down any mildew area with a 3-to-1 solution of warm water to bleach or use a commercial mildew remover, like X14. Remember that bleach and skin don't mix very well, so wear a pair of gloves during this procedure and protective eyewear if possible. Again, be sure to rinse thoroughly.

Step 6

Once you've TSP'd, spackled, sanded and removed any mildew stains, be sure to do one last wipe down of the entire wall with warm water to guarantee you don't trap any dust, dirt or cobwebs that will incorporate themselves into the paint. These are not the kind of wall decor touches you need. Once you've finished, make sure to let the wall dry for at least eight hours before applying primer.

Step 7

Now you're ready to apply a primer. A primer acts as both a 'coverall' and as a way to insure that your paint job will last for years to come. Primers help to cover problem areas such as mildew stains and spackle repair and they help paint adhere to the wall surface. To begin, any areas that were spackled or repaired can be spot primed with a stain-blocking latex primer. Though whatever primer you decide to use, be sure to use it on the entire wall to insure proper consistency.

Once your primer is dry, you're ready to go. The hard part now is deciding on your paint color! If you would like more information on picking colors and painting, check out our guide to painting 101!

DIY Projects