The Foolproof Way To Paint A Room In Just A Few Easy Steps

updated Apr 3, 2020
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(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

Paint is one of the best ways to dramatically change a room, especially on a low budget. It may seem as simple as deciding on a color, buying paint, and getting it up on the walls. It’s even possible to paint directly onto existing wallpaper. But if you want the most professional-looking results (and only want to make one trip to the hardware store), follow these few simple steps.

Ready? Set? Here we go:

Need Painting Ideas?

In the age of virtual pin boards à la Pinterest, it’s easier to know exactly the look you’re going for before you start painting. Pin photos of rooms you like, color schemes and rooms with similar lighting styles to get those creative juices flowing.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

How to Choose Paint Colors

Here’s my advice: Don’t just choose one paint color. I like to choose at least three completely different colors, then pick three shades each of the colors I’ve chosen. Reason being, you know what you like, and you can let that guide you, but if you’re working in a room with a really difficult/dark natural lighting situation, sometimes the color needs to choose itself. Originally, we thought the room in our home was going to be marigold, but the lack of natural light made it look like macaroni and cheese. It turned out an entirely different color.

Types of Paint Finishes

Once you decide on the color, you need choose the finish for the paint. Here’s a quick guide on paint finishes:

Semi-Gloss: Super durable, easy to clean. Great for trim, doors, and windows. Surface needs to be very smooth before painting.
Eggshell or Satin: Softer appearance than gloss, easy cleanup, great for high-traffic areas. Satin is just a bit shinier than eggshell.
Flat or Matte: Non-reflective and low-luster. Great for textured walls and hiding imperfections.

Kitchen & Bath: High gloss or semi-gloss are good choices because they’re durable and easy to clean. Eggshell is also a great option if you don’t want your walls looking too glossy.

Living/Dining Room: Flat or matte are a great choice for this room, but if you’ve got a young family or pets, and the rooms get a lot of use, you should consider something that will clean up easier—like an eggshell finish. If you want something with a bit more shine, choose a satin finish.

Bedrooms: Flat or matte finishes are best in bedrooms, especially if you have textured walls. Flat paint is also great at hiding blemishes like cracks or bumps on a wall. It can be harder to keep clean, so you might want to consider an eggshell (which has a little more luster than flat paint) or semi-gloss if you’re painting a kids’ bedroom or playroom.

Hallways: Eggshell or satin finishes have just a tiny bit more luster than flat, but clean up a lot easier, making them great for high-traffic areas like hallways.

Ceilings: Flat or matte.

When in doubt, choose eggshell. You can’t go too wrong.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Buy Paint Samples First

No one likes to make multiple trips to the paint store, but it really is so necessary to purchase paint samples before you commit to an entire gallon (or more!) of paint. Test out your samples all around the room in small sections (especially those areas that don’t get a lot of natural light), and look at it during different parts of the day, and night, to help you decide on a winner.

How Much Paint Do I Need?

Add up the amount of square footage in the room you’re painting before heading to the store (measure the length and height of each wall, then multiply them to get a total). Generally speaking, one gallon of paint will cover 400 square feet, but ask the paint department. They will help you figure out exactly how much you need for your project, depending on the brand you purchase. You can also use on-line paint calculators if you want another opinion.

Painting Supplies

When it comes to tools and materials, invest in the best paint brushes you can afford, take good care of them and you’ll have them for years to come.


Prep the Walls and Room for Painting

Walls: Start by moving all furniture out of the room, or towards the center to keep it out of the way and safe from paint splatters. Then, dust the walls and trim with a rag or clean mop so that they are clear of debris. Tape off the border around all areas that are to be painted for easy trimming.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Floor: Line up your drop cloths around the room so that they cover the area below that will be painted by a width of at least 12-18 inches. If you’re painting a ceiling be sure to cover the entire floor. Canvas drop cloths are great, but can be bulky to store. I like to stock up on $1.99 plastic shower curtain liners when I’m at IKEA because they’re cheap and fold up quite nicely when you’re done using them. For this project I used masking paper because I wanted to protect my freshly painted baseboards, as well as my floor. Masking paper is best for experienced painters: it won’t protect your floor from big spills, but keeps paint flecks away quite nicely.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Mix it up: Your freshly mixed paint will have been shaken well at the store, but if it’s been sitting around for a few days give it a good shake before opening the can. Once the can is open, use the stir stick to swirl the paint around if you the color looks swirled or streaky.

Get Some Air: Be sure you’re working in a well-ventilated area. Open a window or turn on a fan to get the air circulating.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Paint Walls

Paint Edges First: Using a trim brush, apply paint around all widows, doors, ceiling, and the floor. Trim out at least a 3 to 5-inch border, lightly brushing the edge so it’s feathered, not thick and drippy. After everything has been trimmed out, the next step is to apply paint to the walls with your roller.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Use a Paint Roller: Start at the top corner of the wall and roll paint onto the wall in a “W” shape. Work in an area that is within your arms’ reach, working from the top to the bottom, working back in the same “W” pattern to fill in as you go. Most often you’ll need to apply an additional coat or two, especially if you’re painting over a dark color (even if you’re using a paint and primer!) just be sure the walls are dry before you do this. Paint dries relatively fast, but the weather can have an effect on dry time.

If you’re planning to paint the trim, give the walls a few days to cure before applying painter’s tape to the wall.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Paint Clean Up

As soon as you’re finished for the day, clean your paint brush. Even if the project isn’t finished, don’t be tempted to place them in a plastic bag, or put them in the freezer. The best way to clean latex paint from a paintbrush is to fill a clean container with warm soapy water, then dip the brush around in the solution so that the soap works into the paint brush, you may need to let the paint brush sit for just a few minutes. Follow up by rinsing the brush until the water runs clear and all the paint is gone. A paint brush comb is also a great tool to have on hand while cleaning your brushes.

Following these steps ensures the best possible outcome for painting your home without hiring a pro. So take a little more time to plan, and get a beautiful, finished look.