Quality Painting: 10 Tips for Thorough Surface Prep


A quality interior painting project begins with thoroughly and correctly preparing your home’s walls and woodwork. From cleaning and caulking to spackling and sanding, the condition of your walls and wood before you start painting is critical to executing a durable and beautiful paint job. The advice below: 5 to 10 tips from a professional house painter to help your DIY paint job look great and withstand the test of time.

Quality Interior House Painting: Tips for Thorough Surface Preparation

Proper Treatment of Walls & Wood Before You Paint is Crucial for Durable & Beautiful Painting.

preparing walls and woodwork is crucial for a high quality painting projectYour journey to a high quality interior painting job actually begins before you even get close to opening your first can of paint: it’s all in the surface preparatory work. Wall repair and preparation of the woodwork (trim and molding; doors and windows; etc.) in your home is not something that should be overlooked. But sometimes DIY homeowners will accidentally skip this crucially important step. A fresh coat of paint will look decent on just about anything – for a little while, at least.

This article covers the basics of interior painting surface prep… Follow the tips in this article to ensure your DIY paint job looks great and lasts a long time. Also, if you’re hiring a pro painter, this article will arm you with some knowledge about quality painting so you can check or ask about your painter’s work. That way you’ll know you are paying for a high quality painting project for your home’s interior. If you’re a homeowner doing it yourself, follow the advice in the tips below. This is how we do it at CraftPro Contracting, and if you follow our lead you’ll be well on your way to making sure your interior paint job is the highest quality painting project possible.

Painting Tip #1: Wall Repair – Leveling and Smoothing

spackle your walls for a high quality painting project, use your hands to feel for dents and divots that need fixing before paintingA quality painter spends more time on prepwork than actually painting… Your walls; the substrate: for example drywall or plaster – ought to be thoroughly prepared and smoothed to get ready for quality painting. This doesn’t just mean the obvious, major damage. A quality painting contractor will examine every inch of your walls using touch as well as sight and will apply spackle to the little divots, nail holes and small imperfections that make the difference between an average paint job and a quality painting renovation. Feeling the walls is important, because there can be imperfections in the walls that the eyes can’t see, but with certain colors and finishes these imperfections will be visible and will drastically decrease the quality of your painting project. After the spackle is applied and sanded smooth it ought to be primed. Using a quality primer on your walls after spackling is another way to help level and smooth them out. For a super high quality painting project, use an enamel primer and once the primer is dry, sand it smooth. A common term used for primers that are indicated for leveling and smoothing walls is “High Hide” or “High Build” – look for this when you’re shopping for primers. Your walls – be it Sheetrock brand or other brand drywall/wallboard, lath and plaster etc. are inextricably linked to the level of quality that you can achieve from a paint job. A good professional painting contractor will be familiar with drywall installation and will know how to fix errors in the your wall’s finish: be it bumps, waves, nail-pops, failed drywall tape, etc.

Painting Tip #2: Sanding Walls Before & Between Coats of Primer/Paint

Sand, sand, and sand some more… Start with coarser grit sandpaper (like 100 or 150 grit) and progress to 220 grit fine sandpaper. Sanding between coats of primer and paint provides what painting professionals call “tooth”: it scuffs the surface and opens up the pores for better adhesion of the next coat of paint or primer. It also helps eliminate small bumps and burs that occur when painting or priming. Always lightly sand between coats of primer and paint. For the second to last coat of paint, use ultra-fine 220-grit sandpaper and lightly sand the surface smooth while trying to avoid removing the undercoat unless absolutely necessary.

Painting Tip #3: Sand & Clean to Prep Woodwork

thorough sanding of trim and molding is crucial to quality paintingIn order to achieve a quality painting project it’s a good idea to clean especially dirty walls, doors, windows, trim and molding with bleach and then rinse it with water. This will remove any mold or mildew, grease or other dirt that can and will ultimately cause paint failure due to improper adhesion. Priming is the next step for a quality painting job that is both durable and beautiful. Sanding down previously painted woodwork (trim, molding, casing, doors and windows) is important for smoothing it out and also for removing contaminants. We like to use coarse-grit sandpaper for wood (60 or 80 grit) and then work our way down to 150 or 100-grit before finally finishing with ultra fine-grit sandpaper (220 grit). We sand thoroughly because it smooths the woodwork and it provides better adhesion for primer and paint. Cleaning dirt and debris is a crucial painting prep technique… These are high-end, high quality painting practices. Any bare wood needs to be primed with an appropriate primer and the primer should be lightly sanded as well. If you are using latex paint over existing oil-based paint then you need to prime it with an oil-based primer or the latex paint will not adhere. The topcoat will fail almost immediately.

Painting Tips #4 & #5: Caulk & Putty for Quality Finishes

Caulk all gaps in trim and molding for quality painting jobsOver time even the most properly installed crown- and base-moldings, window and door casings – all trims and moldings – will eventually separate or pull away from the wall slightly, causing gaps. Often times it will happen within a matter of weeks of the installation! Don’t blame the carpenter: this happens because the lumber wasn’t given enough time to dry at the mill and it had too high moisture content when the molding was installed. When that moisture evaporates, the wood shrinks and causes some gaps. These gaps NEED caulking, and professional painting contractors know that. A homeowner might be painting and will notice that the paint covers the gap, but when the paint dries that gap will be back. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty: caulking isn’t all that difficult. Caulking is an important paint prep step for asthetics… Here are some step-by-step directions for caulking your woodwork:

  1. Use an acrylic latex caulk with silicone for best results. We usually use DAP brand Alex Plus, which comes with a 35 year warranty. It also comes in a fast-dry formula.
  2. Cut the nozzle of the caulk bottle at a 45 degree angle to your desired width: close to matching the width of the gap. Then dust the entire area down using a dust brush.
  3. Load the caulk into the caulking gun and arm yourself with a damp towel or rag. Nothing fancy here – the only other tool you need is your finger. Slowly apply an even bead of caulk along the seem of the woodwork (where it meets the wall) and, using one of your fingers, smooth the bead of caulk into the gap and wipe away any excess with the moist rag. Remember: caulk is not sandable like spackle, so make sure your caulking is done neatly. Some gaps will be so deep that this process will need to be repeated. Make sure the caulk is dry before you paint, or your paint bristles will ruin it.

Painting Tips #6, #7 & #8: Wallpaper Paste – Thoroughly Remove, Block & Seal

removing wallpaper paste or glue is crucial to a quality painting projectWallpaper is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Wallpaper is quickly becoming an outdated home design element…I get more and more calls every month from homeowners, home sellers, realtors and home buyers who want wallpaper stripped and painting performed instead. This topic deserves a full article, but here are some things to keep in mind:

  • After you’ve stripped and removed the wallpaper you will be left with the wallpaper paste. There are many different types, and some are more stubborn than others. But all have on thing in common: if not properly taken care of, wallpaper paste will cause even the best paint to fail. Wallpaper paste must be removed and sealed.
  • Wallpaper paste removal requires warm water. Lay down newspapers around the perimeter of the room to soak up any water that falls to the ground. Make sure you lay enough absorbent material so that you don’t have any standing water that runs down the wall and will leak to the floor below.
  • We like to use a product by Zinsser called DIF. We mix it with warm water per the directions on the bottle (it also comes in ready-made spray bottles and in a gel, but we prefer the concentrate to make our own solution) and apply it to the walls with a backpack sprayer, but DIYers can use a regular spray bottle, or apply it with a sponge, etc. This product contains an enzyme that breaks down the wallpaper paste and makes it easier to scrub off.
  • Here is the most important part about wallpaper paste and how it relates to high quality painting projects: no matter how hard you scrub that paste, it is likely – almost a certainty – that some paste will remain, since it gets into the pores of the substrate in many cases. So, it needs to be sealed with an oil primer in order to stop it from rising up to the latex topcoat and causing that paint to fail. Zinsser also makes a product called “Gardz”: it’s water-based and almost as thin as water; it’s milky white in the can and goes on clear, creating a hard, impermeable film that will block the wallpaper paste from ruining your quality painting job. In some cases, when the customers are willing to pay for it, we use Gardz for the impermeable seal and then a coat of oil primer on top of that. This ensures the paste won’t ever come back, and the high quality painting service we go for is achieved.

RELATED: PRO TIPS FOR WALLPAPER REMOVAL (new window)

Painting Tip #9 & #10: Quality Painters Perform Durable Interior Paint Jobs

quality painting contractors should itemize all their preparatory work, materials and painting techniquesHigh quality painting projects come from painters with exceptional experience and product knowledge. A DIY enthusiast can probably achieve a decent result: educate yourself about quality painting practices and thorough surface preparation by reading articles like this one: written by professional painters. You can also get a lot of surface preparation and other painting advice – like product information – from the staff at your local paint store. If you hire a professional painting contractor, make sure products and practices are itemized and detailed in the contract, or the “professional” could be being vague on purpose in order to cut corners and use lower quality painting materials and practices. Check the contract and check the warranty. Don’t be afraid to ask your painting contractor questions, and if your contractor is vague, or gets defensive, then that should raise some red flags. Also pay attention to the warranty. At CraftPro Contracting our paint jobs are covered under a comprehensive warranty of at least five years because I’m confident in our practices and in our techniques. I trust the products we use based on their years of proven dependability. We only perform the highest quality paint jobs. Greater Morris County, NJ area homeowners can schedule a meeting for a free, detailed and itemized estimate and home consultation for a quality paint job with thorough prep work. Click here to contact us..


Check out the Google Plus profile of me, Richard J. D’Angelo, founding owner-operator of Morristown, NJ House Painter & Home Improvement Contractor CraftPro Contracting and author of this article. You can also visit CraftPro on Google+ and join our online community of home improvement, maintenance and renovation professionals.



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