Painting Your Home? Don’t Skip This Prep Step

published Jan 22, 2022
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Choosing to paint your home can be a great way to save money on a potentially pricey home project. But if you opt not to hire pros, you should know up front that painting can be a pretty involved job, requiring meticulous taping, priming, and the elbow grease required to apply multiple coats of fresh paint. And before you even get to all of that, there’s one important step you definitely shouldn’t forget.

To ensure a long-lasting (and aesthetically pleasing) paint job, consider cleaning your walls your very first prep step.

Why You Should Clean Your Walls Before Painting

Why, you ask, is it such a big deal? According to Dustyn Ferguson, general manager of the Rhode Island-based cleaning company Cleaning Zoom, skipping this crucial step could result in a less-than-ideal paint job — and more work for you later on. “Even if your walls look clean to the eye, if they aren’t fully clean, your paint won’t stick properly,” he says, which means the paint could peel a lot sooner than you want it to.

Bill Nishanian, owner of Nash Painting in Nashville, adds that dust on the surface could also cause bubbles to form on your walls as the paint starts to dry.

How to Clean Your Walls Before Painting

Ray Brosnan, owner of the property maintenance company Brosnan Property Solutions, says there are a few steps you’ll want to follow before actually get started with washing:

First, grab a broom and knock down any spider webs and dust in the corners. If you want to go the extra mile, Nishanian recommends pole sanding the wall, too. Once the surface is smooth, simply grab a cloth and warm water and wipe any visible grime away.

Dirtier areas — like your bathroom or kitchen, which may have grease-splattered walls — may require additional cleaning. Nishanian suggests trisodium phosphate (TSP) — a powder detergent you mix with water — to clean grease, dirt, and other food particles that can stand in the way of a long-lasting paint job. Just make sure to put on some gloves and a mask first, as TSP is a strong chemical.

For mild-to-moderate dirty areas on any wall, Brosnan says regular soap can do the trick; simply fill a bowl with warm water and a mild soap (such as blue Dawn). “Use a damp sponge and wipe down all the surfaces you will be painting, then immediately rinse the walls with clean water afterwards,” Brosnan suggests.

After cleaning, be sure to let the walls dry thoroughly before applying the paint; Nishanian says paint easily runs on wet surfaces. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

While you’re waiting for the walls to try, grab a damp cloth and wipe all along the baseboards, window trim, and tops of your doors. “This is essential as your painters tape won’t stick to these surfaces if they’re covered in dust,” Brosnan says.

Pro tip: Not sure your own cleaning job will cut it, and want to ensure a top-notch job? In that case, Ferguson recommends hiring a pro cleaner instead of rolling the dice. It may cost some money up front, but it’s probably a lot cheaper than hiring pro painters (and a lot less annoying than repainting your walls again in a few months).

Finally, vacuum around these areas to pick up any leftover debris. And when you’re done be sure to clean any dried paint from your latest project.