How To Paint A Room – 20 Steps You Need to Know

Hi Guys,

Well, it’s April 21, 2020. In New York, this is around the time when spring hits us with full force.


springtime outside my window photo by LBern

Time to open up the windows to air out the house, spring clean and–



Confession. I suck at painting.


And, I don’t mean painting something small. I mean painting a wall.


It’s for the same reason that I suck at sewing.

Add to that, the fact that painting is quite strenuous; well, at least it is for me.

However, where I do excel is getting everything covered with the paint.

That is anything within six feet of my brush or roller. That includes my hair.


Kind of like this.


Although, by August 2020, my hair is going to look like this.

Please, please, please open up the hair salons! That is an essential business!!!


me, August 2019


Anyway, I know that a lot of you are far handier with DIY projects. And, others might want to give it a try for obvious reasons.


So, I thought that this time would be good to go over what you need to do to learn how to paint a room.


But, Laurel, I thought you said that you don’t paint.


I don’t. However, just because I don’t doesn’t mean I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. Over the years, I’ve specified dozens of paint colors for as many clients. At that time, I learned what it takes to get the job done right. And, on occasion, what can go wrong if the job isn’t done right.


Painting is one of those Do-it-yourself projects that many can do, providing your walls are in reasonably good condition, to begin with.


If your walls are in crappy condition, i.e:


  • Badly cracked walls.
  • Paint that’s flaking off in chunks.
  • Orange peel walls from too many coats applied with a roller.
  • Mold issues.
  • Water damaged walls.
  • Huge gaping holes.


For all of those situations and possibly some others, it requires a lot more skill and materials to fix.


Therefore, if you feel it’s beyond your scope, I very much recommend finding a professional to at least do the necessary prep work.


Okay, it’s time to dive in and go over approximately 20 steps for how to paint a room.


20 STEPS!!! Laurel? Really???


Please, calm down. It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that some of the steps are going to be quite enjoyable. The less enjoyable ones, I’m going to spell out.


1. Choose a paint color. Okay, this might be the most challenging step of them all. So, I’ll be spending extra time on this one. For those of you who are subscribers, you received a guide that tells you how to do it. You received it twice if you subscribed in the last four years.

Now, please, wonderful subscribers, I need you to listen to read this part carefully.


I am not going to email the freaking out about your paint colors guide to you again, so please don’t ask.

But, I’m also not going to be a heartless b*tch.


***So, here is the guide you received when you subscribed.***


If you are not a subscriber, please consider subscribing by forking over your email address, fill out the form in the sidebar, if you are on a desktop computer or tablet. Otherwise, there is a “freaking out” form at the top of every blog post, and you will get the guide two more times. haha


For a LOT of additional help:


For more help on not how to paint a room, but what colors to select, please also consider purchasing my nearly 500-page two-part paint and palette collection. That link takes you to the page for all of my rockin’ digital interior design products. Please scroll down, and you’ll find two more links to both the paint and palette info pages. Why are they separate?

They came out separately because if I had tried to do it all at once, I would’ve expired. So, the paint collection came out in May 2016 and the palette collection (which uses the paint collection colors) in November 2016.


superwhite living room bonus board

Above is one of the bonus boards from the paint collection. You can find the rest of the bonus boards (there are 12) here. Once in a while, I share them. There are 40 more in the palette collection, but those you have to pay for. And, there are 144 paint colors in the paint collection. You won’t get all of the 144 paint colors with the bonus boards, however


However, for free, there are dozens of posts on this website that go over paint colors. (not how to paint a room; just the colors and palettes)


Actually, make that 100s of posts. If you’re bored, that’s enough reading to keep you occupied for a while. These are all of the pages that mention Benjamin Moore.

And, these are all of the pages where that mention Farrow & Ball.

Of course, there is some overlap.


How much paint will you need in order to paint a room?


Look on the back of the can or ask the guy at the paint store. This amount can also vary with the color, type of paint, and current wall-color. But, it is better to get too much paint than too little. The reason is, you can’t depend on the next batch of paint matching.

But know, if it’s an adjacent wall, you can always paint it a different dye-lot. The reason for that is that the colors usually look different anyway. I’ve seen situations so dramatically different on two adjacent walls, the same color looked like two completely different colors in some lighting situations.


2. Purchase your materials. However, for a comprehensive list of what you will need and more info on how to paint a room. Please look here.

3. Have a snack.

4. Put on some beautiful music. (whatever that is for you)

5. If there’s furniture, put it all in the center and cover it and cover the floor. Home depot sells drop cloths.


Swiffer duster long handle - Target - how to paint a room


6. Prepare the walls for paint. First, dust the walls with a Swiffer duster that comes on a long handle.


7. Clean the walls. The paint is going to adhere so much better to a clean wall. The easiest way to clean is to make a solution of 1 cup vinegar to two gallons of warm water in a big bucket.


Get some old absorbent towel rags and dunk clean ones into the solution and ring out.


Then, put one over your sponge mop and work from top to bottom. When it begins to look a bit dirty, take it off and use a fresh one. If the water starts to look dirty, make a fresh batch. You can also use a solution of detergent and water, but if you do, you’ll have to rinse. Let that dry thoroughly.


8. Next, fix small holes and imperfections with a good spackle. Let it dry and sand. (this page will link to spackle, putty knife, blue tape, and more.)


9. Use a primer. Primer prepares the walls to accept the paint and provides an excellent surface, as well. However, Benjamin Moore makes a fantastic low VOC paint that has the primer in it already, and it covers beautifully. It’s their Regal Select. I have used it many times, including my own home, and love it!


10. Sand lightly. I know… it’s a pain, but well worth it.


11. Dust walls again and follow with a damp cloth, just to make sure you’ve removed all of the dust.


12. Use painter’s blue tape to mask off areas not being painted.


Bronxville springtime 2020 - how to paint a room

Photo I took a couple of weeks ago here in Bronxville. If you’d like to see the inside of this home, go here.  (note: The home does have new owners now.)


13. Choose a dry day. Water-based latex paints will dry so much faster on a day with low humidity.


14. Start with the ceiling (unless it doesn’t need painting)


15. Use “cut-in” techniques. There are zillions of tutorials on youtube. So, try googling them. I do recommend a 2″ angled brush, however, for cutting in. For the ceiling and walls, you will want to use a roller. Again, there are painting tutorials available on youtube.


16. After painting the ceiling, let it dry thoroughly. I would wait several hours. Then if there is no crown moulding and/or the ceiling is a different color than the walls, tape the ceiling line. Then, paint the walls


17. Finally, paint the trim with your two-inch brush.


18. For ceilings, I recommend flat paint. You might enjoy this post about terrific colors to paint your ceiling.

For walls, I recommend matte, which is a flat finish, but washable. And for trims, I recommend semi-gloss. Benjamin Moore Advance is very good. If the trim is gloppy from layers and layers of paint, that is another issue entirely. If it’s awful, it is better to just replace the trim.


Speaking of which. If there is ANY chance that your old paint is lead or there’s asbestos anywhere, you will need a professional to take care of that. Do not attempt to remediate that on your own.


Depending on the type of paint, you may only need one coat or as many as five if it’s a dark color, for instance. If you want a guarantee of no more than two coats. I would try Benjamin Moore’s Aura formula. They say only one coat, but it’s still usually two coats.


19. Clean your brushes and stuff. For more information on how to do that, please look here. (lots of great tips here from a prof painter!)


20-home-interior-painting-tips-you-need-to-know - how to paint a room

please pin to Pinterest for reference


Well, I hope you enjoyed this guide on how to paint a room—one more important step.


20. Finally, take a shower. I very much recommend some of this Elemis ginger lime salt scrub.


(the link above takes you to the mother’s day gift guide. There’s still time to order gifts but hurry because shipping is going to take longer than usual.)


The salt scrub smells incredible and will leave your skin in great shape. Put on some clean clothes and order a take out dinner. You deserve it!

And, please check out the newly updated HOT SALES PAGES.



PS: I promised you a mother’s day flower guide today, but it will have to wait until Friday.


20 Responses

  1. The most important thing I have learned about painting along the way as a DIYer is to make sure the sides of holes in the wall are flush before you spackle. Pulling out a nail or an anchor leaves a little donut above the surface of the wall. You have to push the whole perimeter in, making the hole bigger but making it so the whole thing is below the surface of the wall. Kind of like the edges of the hole are beveled inward. Then the spackle will go on easy and sand to perfectly smooth. Same principle applies to a hole big enough to need a patch – you bevel the hole and the patch with a knife.

  2. My husband is a master carpenter and many of his friends are painters (residential and commercial) and I’ve learned something that really makes a difference. Before using a new roller pad, they “defuzz” it with masking tape first (I think lint roller would do the same thing).

  3. I can’t believe you mentioned needing hair coloring because that’s exactly what I’m obsessing about. I contacted a place called Hair Color To Go in the Milwaukee, WI area which works over the phone on figuring the exact color based on skin color and eyes. Too far for me to drive since I’m in I!linois. He emailed 3 Hair swatches to get my opinion. I picked one and he puts the formula together and mails it. I will have my son help apply it. His salon is closed for Covid but mails the color he formulates. Can’t wait to get it.

  4. I’ve always colored my own hair (my natural hair color is black, but I lightened it a couple of shades & even did my own highlights). But back in December, I decided to go cold turkey and let my hair go natural. It’ll probably take a couple of years to completely grow out (unless I chop it), but I’m super-excited. I don’t have a lot of gray yet, so I don’t think it’ll be too bad of a transition.
    Love all the painting advice from you and the other commenters; I’ve done my fair share back in my younger days. It’s very satisfying to do it yourself!
    Your blog is a highlight of my week. Thanks, Laurel! And stay healthy and safe!

  5. Laurel, Love your post! How do you feel about painting or grasscloth in bookcases. I want to do mine as an accent wall but not permanent. Is there a peel and stick grasscloth should I decide not to do color?
    Would love your thoughts !!

    1. I don’t know if there’s a peel and stick grasscloth. However, there is a wallpaper paste that is easy to peel off. I don’t know if it works well or not, however.

  6. Oh, Laurel, I look like Pepe LePew! A giant white stripe of hair sits between swathes of brown. All I need is a bad French accent and to behave in an aggressively inappropriate manner, and no one will be able to tell the difference!

    I’m with you on not being able to paint or sew, and the nice lady who hoped you were joking about opening hair salons, well, ma’am, those of us who can’t paint or sew should probably not be tackling dyeing our own hair either! Better the Pepe LePew look than how I’d look if I tried anything like what I pay my hairdresser big bucks for.

    I’m saving it all up for a day of beauty and relaxation. Massage, facial, mani/pedi, hair cut and color, ahhhh.

  7. You left something very important out Laurel !

    If a person is going to paint over old oil based paint with a water based paint, it is IMPERATIVE that they do the proper prep work or there will be very unhappy results. Latex paint can be peeled right off, as there won’t be a chemical bond between the layers. To remove the unadhered latex means hours of scrubbing with a scrotchbrite type pad or sanding. I know this thanks to the previous owner of my house, who was unclear on this principle. I can send you photos of this process and it is not pretty or fun.

    I’ve had good results with scrubbing the filth off old oil paint with TSP dissolved in water, followed up by a clear rinse. This is so extremely important for areas that have had contact with skin oils – like around doorknobs and light switches. The next step is to use an adhesion primer. This will ensure that your new layer of paint bonds to the existing surface.

    Use the correct product for the placement – ie eggshell latex paint goes on the walls, and an enamel paint goes on the trim and doors. I’ve had good results with BM’s Advance – but there’s a learning curve with it. It can be runny and drippy – and you absolutely must wait a minimum of 16 hours before recoating – just like the directions say on the can.

    Don’t know if the surface is latex or oil ? A q-tip dipped in alcohol rubbed on the surface will tell you. Latex paint color will rub off – alkyd paint won’t.

  8. Hi Laurel,
    Please explain HOW to sand walls and why it is important. Do you do it after the Primer? What if you use a primer and paint in one? Do you sand before? Thank you.

    1. Well, like I said, I don’t actually paint. And, each situation is unique. If it’s a fresh wall, you may not need to sand. Maybe look it up on a painting forum. I would ask a professional painter you trust.

  9. Hi Laurel,
    Can I add my additional step? It would be #16.5
    After the ceiling is taped off from the wall I like to brush a coat of the ceiling paint along the edge of the tape. If there’s any bleed through of paint onto the ceiling it will only be the ceiling color. This means no touch-ups.

  10. Laurel, I love your site and I’m hoping you were joking about opening salons. That being said, please buy a box of semi-permanent hair color and DIY until this pandemic is over. The last thing we need is to be opening close-contact businesses! I recommend L’Oreal Féria. It’s gentle, easy to use and pretty much foolproof.

  11. Dear Laurel,
    You have the same hair color as mine too
    Which is way too much grey
    Whatever shall we do?
    I finally Sanded off my gel nails and gave myself a manicure
    BUT hair…NO! I’m afraid 😱

  12. A great post setting out the steps. The prep is essential for a good result, no matter how boring it is. My extras:
    1) I agree with Korina Trew about not using rollers. They didn’t have rollers in the eighteenth century, so I don’t use them — I use a brush, including for ceilings. And I don’t like the orange peel finish.
    2) Washing the walls first may need detergent if the walls are dirty (if you live in a town); the best for this is sugar soap as it also roughs up the surface a little, but you do need to rinse and I would leave to dry for 2 days.
    3) If you need more than one coat of paint, sand the walls and wipe away the dust between each coat. This isn’t as bad as it sounds — it takes me 20 minutes to do my bigger rooms, roughly 16 x 16 feet with 9-foot ceilings.

  13. Hi Laurel, thanks for the post. I am just finishing painting the guest room in our house which has 7 windows, 3 doors and 10 foot ceilings. I don’t usually do my own painting anymore, but with all the time on my hands lately, I decided I needed a project! I was looking for something in the olive green family, so tested several from your paint colors guide. I never would have tried Nantucket Gray (really a green), but it turned out to be the perfect color for this room. I love it. I couldn’t agree more with the importance of prep, even though it feels very unrewarding while doing it. Also, at least for me, I lose precision when I get tired, so taking it slow makes for a much better job. Stay well!

  14. apparently I am quite ocd about painting. one thing I have noticed is people skip prep, and then they fight it and end up not happy with it. the other thing i see a LOT, is people not waiting for the current coat to dry. like, you should be able to sand and get dust, it shouldn’t feel cold. and can we PLEASE stop using rollers for everything? walls, fine. brushes are much better, you just have to figure out what brush works for the paint you are using.

  15. This is a beyond wonderful post. The best links. The best tips. The best humor. This should be a novel. No, can’t be a novel — it is non-fiction. Anyway, it is the best. Thank you.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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