Applying Paint: Know Before You Go

August 22, 2012 5:01 pm Last Updated: April 3, 2013 9:02 am

Last week we covered how to prep a room for painting. Now let’s go through how to prep the actual paint and materials. But first things first, you have to gear up.

They say that the shoes make the man, so make sure not to paint on your good shoes. No matter how careful you are with paint, it seems to always find your shoes. Wear clothes you are willing to sacrifice. Water-based paint will wash right out of your clothes if the smudge is fresh, but once it dries, it is there to stay. The same goes for your brushes and roller covers.

By keeping a bucket of water handy when you paint, you can keep your brushes, hands, and anything else that gets paint on it cleaned up while it is still wet. Wearing plastic or rubber gloves works well for a while but after some time they become uncomfortable. Most painters just keep washing and wiping as they go. If you have a hardened brush that you think is worth reusing, there are chemical brush cleaners available that can restore it. 

Paint: How Much, What Kind?

The average room takes about five gallons to paint. If you are changing colors, it can take more because you will need more coats to get the old color covered completely. Of course, the exact amount depends on a number of factors, such as the quality of the paint you are using, how thickly you apply it, and what the color difference is. Going to a lighter color takes more paint than going to a darker color. Changing to yellow takes the most. If the color stays the same or nearly the same, it will take substantially less. 

In paint selection, the first question is what formulation to choose. From an environmental perspective, there is just no good justification to use oil-based paint in your home any longer. The impact on the environment of using oil-based paint and the solvents that they require is too great to continue their use unless there is just no other choice. 

Most walls are already painted with water-based paints, so there is normally no problem with repainting over them with any of the new water-based paints. But in older houses, there is a lot of trim, doors, and windows that are painted with oil-based paint. Some say it is fine to paint over oil-based paint with latex, and that is true so long as the oil-based paint has been thoroughly sanded to give it a tooth for the latex to grab on to. 

Another option is to use one of the new primers that act as a bonding coat between the two different types of paint. There are several ways you can check what kind of paint your trim is painted with. Oil-based paint becomes brittle with age. Latex does not. If your old paint is chipping or peeling check, to see if it is brittle. If it is brittle, it is oil-based. 

 Another way to tell is to wipe a little denatured alcohol or Goof-off on a rag and rub to see if there is any paint on it. Latex paint will soften when it comes in contact with these substances. Oil-based paint will not. If your trim and doors are painted with glossy oil-based paint, it is well worth the effort to use a bonding primer before painting them with your chosen latex paint. 

The next consideration is finish. Flat and eggshell paint has the least amount of sheen. What type of sheen you choose will not only affect the look of your house and its maintainability, but will also make a difference in the ease of painting. 

Flat paint is the easiest to apply for the reason that you can go back and touch it up with relative ease. The glossier your paint is, the harder it is to touch up—when you go back and touch it with a roller or brush, it will leave a flash mark. 

Flat paint looks great but it is nearly impossible to clean, because using soap on it leaves a mark. One good option is to use flat paint on the ceiling only. It looks great up there and since it is rare for people to touch it, it stays clean. 

To avoid getting flash marks in your paint, you need to keep a wet edge. That means finishing the job completely as you move across the wall or around the door or window, thus eliminating the need to revisit any area, which invites flash marks. These show up when the light hits the surface at an angle. 

There is nothing you can do about flash marks, other than live with them or repaint the whole surface again. I see this happen frequently, even with professional painters. The same principles apply for brushing or rolling paint. Try to finish as you move along. The less going back and touching up the better. 

Brushes, Rollers, and More

There are many paint aids available and some of them are really handy and some are worthless. But there are two main tools that cannot be compromised: the brush and the roller. 

A good brush is essential in order to get professional results and to learn how to paint well. With care, your brush can last for many years. Generally speaking, it is best to get the biggest brush you can for any given situation since they carry more paint per dip in the can. For water-based paints, select a synthetic fiber brush.

Either clean your brush every time you are done painting for the day or hang it in the bucket of water with the bristles in the water but not touching the bottom. Another way to keep the brush or roller wet is to wrap it in a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator. This is fine for a day or two, but once the job is done you really need to clean your brushes thoroughly. 

For walls and ceilings, a roller is the best way to go. You will want to use a roller with at least 3/8-inch nap even if you have smooth walls. Shorter rollers don’t carry enough paint and you will find yourself having to go back to the tray too often. One key to rolling paint is a good extension handle long enough to reach the highest part of your project. It is best to have several lengths of handles or a telescoping handle. 

The other important tool is the roller frame. A flimsy roller frame will get the paint on the wall, but in order to really control how the paint goes on you need a strong roller frame. Look for the strongest roller frame you can buy. 

Gordon Elliot has over 30 years of experience in working on homes and is on a mission to arm people with the skills and confidence to do home projects they would not have otherwise attempted.