Published on April 17, 2020

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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

A change of scenery is always a standby remedy for boredom or the blues—good thing there’s a secret trick to making your home seem like a new place. Sure, you can tackle an impressive renovation or buy some furniture, but few changes are as simple and instant as painting your walls a fresh color. 

Admittedly, if you’ve never picked up a roller brush before, the thought of tackling an interior paint job can be pretty intimidating. How much paint do you even need, and what about the primer? Never fear—we turned to Meghan Stewart, senior director of business to consumer sales at Paintzen, to answer all the questions you’ve been too embarrassed to ask. Here’s everything you need to know before you paint a wall.

What supplies are essential? 

Paint trays, tray liners, rollers, and brushes are must-haves. If your ceilings are extra-high, it’s worth getting an extension pole for your roller. Painter’s tape and Frog Tape both ensure you end up with even lines, but Stewart recommends Frog Tape in particular for beginners. It’s a bit more delicate, so you won’t end up accidentally pulling paint off your baseboards or letting your fresh coat bleed. 

You’ll also want to make sure your floor and furniture are covered in a drop cloth. Canvas options are a little more expensive than their plastic counterparts, but they are more likely to stay in place as you work—and they’re reusable. Alternatively, you can cover your floor with rosin paper that you keep taped in place. 

Do I really need a primer?

Not necessarily! Many brands offer self-priming paints, which Stewart recommends using alone if your walls are already light colored or you’re planning on using a hue that’s close to the original shade. If you’re painting a dark-colored wall a much brighter color, however, using a primer is a smart choice—it can save you money since it tends to be cheaper than paint. Typically, primer and two coats of paint get the job done.

What is the correct brush technique?

When using a roller brush, opt for the W technique: Keeping the roller on the wall the whole time, paint a W, then go backwards to fill it in as many times as is needed. This will help you to avoid something called a painter’s holiday—essentially, a spot on the wall where you can tell you missed a coat. Always paint in adequate lighting and look at your work after it’s dried to ensure it’s even. On baseboards, door frames, crown molding, and windows, use a paint brush, which allows for more detailed strokes.

How long should I wait in between coats?

If you’re using a latex-based primer (the most common option on the market), it will dry within about two to three hours. Apply your second coat of latex-based paint after about three to four hours. 

But beware, an oil primer (which isn’t often used today, and is typically reserved for priming walls that are already covered in oil-based paint) requires more than a day to dry and tends to be quite odorous. Oil paints also require about 24 hours before another coat can be applied—this is best left to the pros.

Can I sleep in a room that I painted earlier in the day?

Yes, if you are using a low VOC paint. Once it dries, it stops off-gassing fumes so it is perfectly safe. Just make sure you have proper air circulation while you’re painting by opening a window and turning on a fan if possible.

How can you fix a too-dark paint job?

There’s no easy way to brighten up that coat of paint that came out more intense than you anticipated other than starting over. But there is a trick to finding a hue that’s better suited to your needs: All the colors you see on a standard paint swatch are the same shade, each with different amounts of white. If the blue you picked is a bit too moody, the one just a step above could be your perfect match. 

How do I calculate the right amount of paint for my space?

If you’re buying paint at a hardware store, an expert can help figure out how many gallons you need, as long as you know the square footage of your room. Another strategy? Look up the spread rate of the paint (typically, one coat can cover 300 to 400 square feet). Just divide the square footage of your space by that number and you’ll know how many gallons you need.

How do I strip old paint?

When it comes to chipping away those layers, safety is a priority. Before you do anything, find out if your home was built before or after 1978. If it’s older, it has an increased risk of containing lead, which can cause health problems, so paint removal is best left to experts who have proper HVAC equipment to get the job done.

If your home is newer, strip the paint by scraping it off, applying a skim coat of drywall (a very thin layer), and then going in with your primer and paint. Though, if it’s still not coming off, hire a pro, who can use a product like Peel Away 7 to safely remove it.

Can I use wall paint on furniture?

Unfortunately, no—wall paint is formulated differently than the kind you’d use on decor or even cabinets, so it’s best reserved for walls and ceilings. That said, there’s no shortage of things you can do with any extras—why not make a mural or get creative with your doorframes?

How should I store paint?

Make sure the lid is tightly secured and keep your paint in a place that’s not too hot, not too cold, not too damp—say, a spare closet. A previously opened can will keep for two to three years if kept in these conditions. An unopened can of paint can last from seven to 10 years, but it will likely require some mixing: If it looks separated (like vinegar and oil), use some elbow grease to stir it to recombine. If it doesn’t come back together at that point, it’s time to safely dispose of it at a local drop-off center.

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