How to Paint a Room the Right Way

Painting can be an inexpensive way to give a room a major transformation. For the best results, follow techniques that are proven by the pros.

By Maureen Blaney Flietner and Bob Vila | Updated Feb 9, 2023 9:30 AM

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Paint a Room


Interior painting is one of the all-time favorite do-it-yourself jobs, but like everything else, there is a right and wrong way to do it.

Preparing to Paint

Some skip these steps and wind up spending more time cleaning up drips and spills or replacing ruined items.

Clear the room.

Paint preparation starts with emptying out the room.

  • Take down window treatments and remove as much furniture as is practical. Move the rest of the furniture to the center of the room and cover with a tarp.
  • Take down artwork, mirrors, or other wall decorations.
  • Turn off power to the room. Remove faceplates on electrical outlets and light switches.
  • Safely disconnect light fixtures.

Assess the walls and ceiling, making surface as needed.

Look for holes and dents to plug with spackling compound. Check to see if there is any discoloration on the walls or ceiling. If there is, consider painting with a stain blocker so the stain does not show through the new paint.

Address dirt, dust, stains and debris.

Vacuum the floor, walls, and ceiling. Wash the walls and ceiling with just a bit of diluted soapy water to remove any buildup, especially if painting the kitchen or bathroom. With a damp, lint-free cloth, wipe down the space to remove any soap residue and allow the ceiling and walls to dry.

Protect the flooring.

Cover the floor with a tarp or drop cloth. Consider using painter’s tape to attach the cloth to the baseboard to prevent it from moving. Run a line of tape on the edge of the woodwork where it meets the wall.

Particularly messy painters might consider using newspaper and painter’s tape to “package” the windows and doors to minimize the need for spill cleanup.

Paint Tools and Equipment

Before painting, assemble everything that may be needed. Typically, for a project involving latex- or water-based interior paint, this includes:

  • Paint roller and roller pan
  • An extension pole for the roller
  • A narrow 2″-4″ angled brush for “cutting in” or painting tight in areas
  • A wider brush for areas narrower than the roller
  • Stir stick

Have a roll of paper towels, old newspapers, a bag to dispose of used towels, a screwdriver (or paint key) to remove the paint can lid, a stepladder, and a lint-free rag.

Paint a Room


How to Paint a Room

Start with the ceiling.

A room is painted from the top down, so the ceiling is first. Don’t worry too much about neatness around the trim since you’ll paint that last.

  1. Using the angled brush, paint a strip about three inches wide on the ceiling where the ceiling meets the wall.
  2. When this is finished, clean the brush with soap and water and wrap it in paper towel to keep it clean with a shaped edge.
  3. Prepare the roller and extension pole. Pour some of the paint into the roller pan.
  4. Lightly roll the roller in the paint and start painting the ceiling at the furthest corner from the exit door.
  5. Paint with a criss-cross stroke to ensure sufficient coverage.

Paint small sections of the ceiling at a time.

Paint the walls next.

When the ceiling is completed, start on the walls.

Using your clean angled brush, paint an edge of about three inches out from the corners of the room, around the windows and doors, at the baseboard, and below the ceiling. After that’s done, use the roller and extension to paint the walls. The extension roller here helps to keep your strokes and pressure even.

As painting continues, spills and splatters may occur. Be sure to wipe them up quickly while they are easiest to remove. If not, there also is a risk of stepping in the spill and tracking it around the room.

Experts recommend two coats of paint for any surface, as the first coat can shrink when dry, revealing voids that were not there when wet. A second coat ensures uniform coverage.

Tip:If you take a break during the project, don’t leave your brushes or rollers sitting in paint. Clean them. Latex paint can dry out quickly. Cover paint trays with a damp rag. If the paint has a plastic lid, snap it back on. If it has a metal lid, clean the rim, put a piece of newspaper or a rag over the top, and gently tap the lid closed with a hammer.

Paint Cleanup

When finished, stand back and review the work. Check for paint drips on the wall or areas not sufficiently covered. If it all looks great, it’s time to clean up.

  • If you’ve used latex paint, clean all brushes and rollers with warm, soapy water and rinse them well.
  • Oil-based paints require solvents for cleanup, followed by a wash with warm, soapy water and a good rinse.
  • Allow brushes and rollers to dry, then wrap the brushes in paper towel to preserve the shape and prevent bristles from curling.

If there is any paint remaining, take a permanent ink marker and note the name and blend of paint and the room in which it was used. Wipe the can edge clean and seal it.