How To Paint a Room

We’ve been working on a small renovation project that provided the perfect opportunity to try out some of the newest low & no-VOC paints for walls, trim and ceilings. Some people are a little hesitant when it comes to using the eco-friendly paints, but trust us, it’s really easy (and fun!)

What You Need

Benjamin Moore Natura (eggshell finish for walls) &mdash used this in the bedroom
Behr Premium Plus Ultra (eggshell finish for walls) &mdash used this in the hallway
Benjamin Moore Waterborne Ceiling Paint (Ultra Flat White)
Freshaire (white semigloss for trim)
Benjamin Moore Regal Underbody & Primer
Spackling Compound (optional for nail holes, crevices and other imperfections)

A good 2″ – 2 1/2″ wide paint brush (we got the best one ACE sold). Get one with synthetic brushes for latex paint.
Extension Pole (optional)
Mini Roller
Roller Tray
220 & 320 fine grit sandpaper
Low Tack Painter’s Tape (we used everything &mdash the blue & purple stuff as well as the fancy green Frog Tape. Honestly any of them worked fine with no discernible difference other than price)
Plastic sheathing (optional to cover windows)
Drop Cloths (cloth is better than plastic because it can absorb more paint and the paint won’t slide around like it will on plastic)
Sanding mask
Putty knife
Step Stool or Ladder
Wet Rag (for any drips and mistakes!)


1. Preparation: Remove all furniture, art, electrical fixtures, switch plates, etc. out of the room or towards the center of the room. Cover the floor with the drops clothes &mdash don’t skimp on this step because as much as you’d like to think you won’t drip, you will.

Additionally, even though we’re using low & no-VOC paints with this project, we still recommend opening a window or two for good ventilation (just make sure the temperature stays above 50-degrees). Even though none of the paints had that typical “paint smell,” they still had their own distinct scent that can get annoying after a few hours.

2. Using a putty knife, fill all nail holes in trim, any wall blemishes and crevices, and open trim/wall joints with spackel &mdash once dry sand with sandpaper. You will also need to lightly sand any surfaces that have a glossy finish &mdash the new paint needs some traction to adhere to. Clean all trim and walls to ensure the tape and paint will adhere properly.

3. Tape off areas as needed: We paint in the following order to manage drips and minimize taping time: 1)ceiling, 2)walls, 3)trim. You’ll definitely want to tape the walls when painting the trim, but when using a good angled brush, you should need to utilize very little taping. When painting the walls the only thing we taped off were our wood floors along the perimeter of the room and we didn’t tape the ceiling off at all. You may also want to tape and cover your windows with plastic if you’ll be painting near them.

NOTE: Use primer on all surfaces first, especially unpainted drywall and unfinished woods. Priming seals the surface, helps paint adhere to the surface and helps maintain a uniform color and finish. However many paints, such as the Behr Premium Plus Ultra, have the primer built-in, which will significantly reduce your painting time.

4. Cutting In: This is the most time consuming, but most important step to ensure a good looking paint job. When using the brush we just dip it directly into the paint can rather than pouring into a separate container to minimize wasted paint, but never dip a brush more than 1/3 then length of the brush or else you’ll risk ruining the brush because it will be very difficult to clean. When handling the brush, hold it as you would a pencil for maximum control. Press the brush lightly against the surface, then, as you move the brush, add just enough pressure to make the bristles fan away from the direction of your brushstroke. The bent bristles and the pressure will release a fine bead of paint that will spread perfectly along the edge you are creating.

Beginning at the corner of the room, use your angled brush to cut in (also known as edging), applying a thick band (2-3″ wide) of paint along the perimeter where you’re cutting in. Do this in 4-5″ long sections to ensure precision and a sufficient coating of paint. You will need to cut-in around all trim, ceiling/wall intersections, inside corners, and anywhere there is a change in color.

Some people like to alternate between cutting in and rolling to maintain a wet edge, doing so in one section at a time. We tried this, as well as doing all the cutting in at once, and then rolling all at once &mdash using a mini roller and Sarah Rae’s trick essentially eliminates any visible line between the brushed and rolled surfaces. Either method worked fine and neither produced any visible line or strokes.

5. Rolling the Surface: This is the fun, quick moving and least exact step in the process of painting. Pour a generous amount of paint into the tray (not too much that the paint overflows when you dip your roller, but the tray should be about half full). Cover the roller with paint and roll it back and forth over the ridges in the tray a number of times to remove excess paint and saturate the roller .

Start painting near the corner of the room, blending the fresh paint into the band painted previously with your brush. The most effective way to roll paint is to work in sections using a series of zigzag strokes &mdash for example, start with a large ‘M’, then perpendicularly cover that with a ‘Z’ and continue to do so in 3-foot sections until your sections and surfaces are seamlessly blended and covered. Be sure to roll slowly enough to not cause any splattering but quickly enough to keep a wet edge.

6. Painting the Trim: This is pretty straightforward, but more intricate because you’re working with a narrow surface. Paint the trim using a semigloss paint, and use a series of short strokes followed by longer strokes or even the mini roller depending on the size and style of your trim.

7. Examine your paint job for any areas you may have gotten “outside of the lines” or that may need an extra coat. The number of coats needed depend on the type and color of paint you used and are covering. With the Benjamin Moore Natura we needed two coats of paint, but with the Behr we only needed one!

8. Admire your hard work and freshly painted walls!

Additional Notes: We tried out several different brands of low and no-VOC paints for this project. Our reccomendation would be to go with the less expensive, big box brands (such as Behr or Freshaire) for the ceiling and trim paints &mdash most likely you’ll just be using white in the sheen standard for these surfaces. If you’re going to splurge on the higher-end paints, do on your high visibility walls (living rooms and bedroom), especially if you’re using unique or particular color. We were very happy with the Behr in our hallway and bathroom, especially because it had the primer built-in and only required one coating, but there was a difference in the available color selection, as well as the quality and complexity of the finished color.

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(Images: 6. Alistair Cotton/Shutterstock; 7. Re-Nest; all others by Rachel Wray. Originally published 2010-02-23)