Painting Tips For the Home Decorator

Paint 101: 35 + Painting Tips for Painting In and Around Your Home Like a Pro!

If you have been following my blog for a while or are a new reader you probably noticed that I paint A LOT. I think I wear paint clothes more often than non-paint clothes and I can’t tell you how many times I have gone out to the store with paint in my hair or on my face.

What this means for you is that I know my way around all things paint and have many invaluable painting tips to share with you. Painting tips that will help you not only get the job or project done faster, but better, too. These tips range from prep to clean up, to small projects all the way to painting large pieces of furniture.

Scroll through the painting tips below to become the expert home decorating painter you have always dreamed of!

Painting Tips For Every Home Painting Project

  • Don’t rush. Remember to take your time to get it right the first time so you will have a lasting finish.
  • Don’t paint in the dark or with uneven room lighting.  You will miss sections and not see drips.
  • More light coats are better than one heavy coat for the best adhesion.
  • Apply the paint and topcoat when the temperature in the room is around 72 – 78 degrees. This will ensure good adhesion and smoothness while allowing the paint to dry in optimal time.
  • Going over any surface with 100 – 220 grit sandpaper before painting is always a good thing. It only takes 5 minutes and will ensure proper adhesion.
  • Stir, stir, stir, and stir some more. There’s a reason that you are given a stirrer every time you buy a can of paint. The ingredients can and do separate—make sure to stir when you start to paint, and again every so often while painting. This ensures that the color and consistency of the finish will look great.
  • Read the can. Every type of paint and primer has need-to-know information about the particular formula on the can, along with the timing of coats and the right temperature to ensure proper coverage, adhesion, and drying time. For instance, did you know that joint compound on walls needs to dry for two days before applying primer over it? Save time and frustration in the long run –read the can first.
  • Don’t use a latex paint over a surface that was previously painted with oil paint. Oil paint on trim and doors is quite common in older homes. If you suspect the surface you want to paint is oil based, make sure to use a good primer over it first. It can be a latex primer, but it has to be a product that is made to prepare the surface and help with adhesion. When the primer coats are dry, then you can apply latex paint over it

When Choosing Paint: What Type of Paint Should I Use?

Depending on your budget it is always best to use a quality paint from one of the big brands – Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore, KILZ, and others. If you are not sure what paint to buy, check out the the Best Paints I Recommend.

The choice of paint also needs to be chosen by the type of surface you are going to be painting. For example to paint an exterior concrete porch floor, you would not use regular exterior latex or oil. The best choice would be a porch and floor paint.

Read the paint can’s label to see what surfaces the paint you are considering can be used on.

Using Flat Paint for Imperfections
  • When painting something that is flawed and not perfectly level, use paint in a flat finish. Flat paint does not reflect light, so you don’t see the imperfections and any un-eveness on the surface.
  • I did this in my kitchen under where the light hangs above my kitchen sink. We had to Spackle the area and it wasn’t completely flat. Using a flat paint finish hid the un-eveness.
Best Paint to cover Bold Colors
  • Rule of thumb when you need a very durable finish for tabletops and items that will get a lot of wear. The harder the finish the better. Look for enamel and/or acrylic on the paint label.
  • Spring for high quality paint and primer. You won’t regret it when you don’t have to repaint every few years.
The best glossy paint

For a glossy painted finish:  You have two options:

  • Oil-based Gloss creates the most glass-like shine with zero brush strokes. When painting large flat surfaces in oil gloss this is a good thing since many strokes of a paint brush are needed to cover the area. Tabletops, counters, doors will be as smooth and shiny as glass with no brush marks in the finish.
    • Cons – Smells bad, long drying time, may yellow with age.
  • Latex Gloss is not quite as shiny as oils, but are easier to work with, have little smell and dry fast, plus easy to clean up. It also does not yellow over time like oil-based paints can. Look for “Gloss” on the label as well as “Enamel” to get the highest sheen.

Do you Need to Use Primer Before Painting?

When to use a primer:

  • Always use a primer on new drywall and unpainted wood or metal.  For all other surfaces, using a primer can’t hurt and will only help with adhesion on all other surfaces.  I like using a multi-surface primer that works on all surfaces.
  • When painting over a bold paint color you need to prime the surface or wall first using a primer. Use a white primer if painting the surface/wall using a light color. Use a grey tinted primer if the new paint color will be dark or a very deep, saturated color.

The Best Paint BrushesThe best paint brushes and rollers

Just when you thought you had your paint project figured out, you head to the home improvement store and are faced with a decision that you never expected to be so hard: choosing the right paint brush. As you stand in front of the shelf, looking at literally a dozen types of paint brushes, how do you know if you’re choosing the right paint brush for the job?

You may think that a paint brush is just a paint brush and grab the one that is on sale, but this is not the best way to choose. The type of brush you use will determine how the painted surface turns out when it dries. To help you make sure that you’re choosing the right paint brush for the job, here’s a quick primer on what you should know.

Paint Brush Bristles: Synthetic or Natural?

  • Synthetic-bristle brushes are made from nylon, polyester or a mix of both. A synthetic brush is best for painting projects that use water-based or latex paint.
  • Natural-bristle brushes are made with animal hair. They are too absorbent for latex paint and work best for oil-based or alkyd paint projects.

How to Check for the Quality Brush?

  • Look at the tips of the bristles. A quality natural-bristle brush is flagged, meaning it has split ends on the tips. The best synthetic brushes have fuzzy-looking ends.
  • Make sure the bristles have a tapered, chisel-shaped end. You don’t want the end of the bristles to be flat.
  • The ferrule (the metal band that holds the bristles together) should be tightly wrapped around the bristles. To check for quality, tap the ferrule and then rub the end of the bristles over your palm a few times to make sure that no bristles fall out. Cheap brushes will lose their bristles. Loose bristles will drop into your paint and can dry in your painted finish, which will have to be picked out by hand and mess up the finish.
  • The hole in the handle is one of the most important features. It is used to hang the brush upside down after cleaning to make sure all the water drips out of the brush.

How to Choose the Choose Right Paint Brush

Square-cut brushes are best when you need to quickly cover a large area. They are made with natural or synthetic bristles and are available in widths up to 5 inches.

Angled/sash brushes are used for painting along window trim and moldings, hence the name sash brush. The angled shape makes it easier to paint a clean line than a square tip brush. Angled brushes are the best to use when painting furntiure, banisters, spindles and moldings.

Short handle brushes are best for painting in cramped spaces. The short handle allows you to easily maneuver. If you have small hands, a short-handled brush may feel more comfortable.

Chip and foam brushes are inexpensive alternatives that can be discarded after the job is done, eliminating clean up. Chip brushes are inexpensive, but shed bristles which could land in your paint. These types of brushes are best for touching up flat surfaces.

Speciality brushes, or stencil brushes, are round packed brushes with flat tops. They are best for stenciling a design on a wall or piece of furniture. Specialty paint brushes are great to have on hand to touch up or get paint into very tight spots.

How to Clean a Paint Brush

If used and cared for properly, a quality brush can last for years.

  • Dampen a synthetic brush before use. Paint will be less likely to dry on the brush, which will help it last longer.
  • To clean a synthetic-bristle brush, use soap and water and then rinse it thoroughly until the water runs clearly. Tap all the water out and then use the hole in the handle to hang the brush upside down so any water still in the brush will drip out. This will keep the ferrule from getting damaged and allow the bristles to dry in their natural shape.
  • To clean a natural-bristle brush after using oil-based paint, pour paint thinner in a small paint tray so you can lay the bristles flat in the thinner and swish the tray around. Once the paint is removed, wipe the brush with a paper towel and hang the brush upside down.
  • Don’t let a paint brush sit bristles down in a can of paint thinner or water. It will damage the edge of the bristles and create brush strokes and unevenness in your painted finish.
How to use a paint brush comb

  • Use a paint brush comb, run it under warm soapy water and then use a brush comb to remove any dried or caked paint inside the bristles and along the bottom of the metal ferrule. Using the comb will not only prevent excessive paint build up, but will also extend the life of your paint brush.

What is the Best Paint Roller for Your Paint Project?

Have you ever stood in the paint roller aisle in the paint or home improvement store and wondered what the difference between paint roller covers was? Some are thick, some are thin, and they come in many colors. It can be confusing. So what is the difference between paint roller naps?
difference in paint roller naps

Paint roller 101. The surface you are painting determines the nap (the thickness of the woven cover) you will need.

  • Thick 3/4″ nap roller covers are best used on stucco, decks, brick, and masonry. This thick and fluffy nap can hold more paint and get into the crevices of the rough surface.
  • Medium 3/8″ nap roller covers are best for ceilings and drywall.
  • Small 1/4″ nap roller covers or flocked or foam rollers will produce the smoothest finish and are ideal for use on walls, wood, and metal surfaces.

It’s important to choose the right size nap for your project. If you use a thick 3/4″ nap roller cover on a smooth wall, it will produce an orange peel textured surface. You should use a 1/4″ nap cover to produce a smooth finish. If you use a thin 1/4″ cover over stucco, the cover will rip apart quickly and not get paint into all the crevices of the surface.

Most paint roller covers are made of woven materials and come in a variety of colors. Each brand has different colors, but the majority are white, yellow, or blue. Microfiber rollers have become popular recently too. When you see a white roller cover with diagonal blue stripes, it’s microfiber. They are best used on light to medium textured surfaces. For very smooth surfaces, use a white woven short nap roller. It will provide you with an ultra fine finish.

There are two basic types of paint roller frames: large 9″ long roller frames and a smaller 4″ style. The large roller is better for big surfaces like walls and ceilings, while the 4″ style is ideal for doors, furniture, and cabinets. If needed, you can screw on a painting roller extension pole to each roller frame to reach high places. Use the rounded end of the foam roller cover when you don’t want any roller edge lines to show up in your finish.

To attach the roller cover to the paint roller frame, simply align the hole in the cover with the end of the frame and push it on.

Paint Roller Tips:

  • Always buy the best rollers and covers that you can afford. They will last much longer and give you superb results. Bargain roller covers may break apart quickly and can leave lint in your paint finish.
  • Try different brands of paint roller frames to make sure the handle feels good in your hand. If you are doing a lot of painting, a roller frame with a comfort grip will keep your hand from cramping.
  • Don’t use excessive pressure to apply paint—an even, light pressure is all that is needed.
  • Remove your roller cover from the roller frame right after you are finished painting.
  • Use soap and water to clean up after using latex paint. Hold the roller cover under running water and squeeze your hand over the roller to remove the paint. Repeat until all the paint is out of the roller, then let dry. Never leave the cover soaking in water.

How to Care For Paint Roller Covers

  • Don’t skimp on cheap rollers and brushes to save money. Your painted finish will thank you for using quality brushes and rollers. Purdy are my go-to, but Wooster makes great products also.  I always use flocked foam or mohair roller covers with rounded ends and angled paint brushes to get the perfect finish on everything I paint.
  • Higher quality rollers may cost more, but will not only give you a better finish, you’ll also have them for a few projects if you take care of them properly, saving you money in the long run.

Other Painting Tools that Will Make Your Paint Job a Success


what is a paint strainer used for?

Paint Strainers

These inexpensive paper cones with a strainer at the tip are not on most DIY painters’ radar, but they should be! They cost about 29 cents a piece. I buy a few at a time so I always have one when needed.

When to use a paint strainer

After stirring the paint well in the paint can, you should pour the amount of paint you think you’re going to need for your project into a separate container and use it to dip your brush or roller in. If you have extra paint when the project is completed that you want to pour back into the can, place the strainer over the can and then pour the paint back in. This will keep your paint dirt free so you can use it again. I usually tape the strainer to the can to make it easier to pour the paint back into the can.

The paint strainer also makes it easy to reuse old paint instead of having to toss it. Just stir the old paint well and then pour it through the strainer to take out any lumps that may have developed. This is a great trick to rescue old paint, especially if it’s been sitting in the garage or basement where the air goes through seasonal temperature changes.

Paint Edging Tool

paint edger makes painting easy

This Paint Edging tool is ingenious. It makes painting around doors, windows, ceilings and baseboards quick and easy. It creates a perfectly crisp edge every time.

How to Use a Paint Edging Tool

Use with a roller tray. Attach paint pad to the grooves on one side of the edger and dip the pad into the shallow end of the tray. You only want to get paint on the pad, not the plastic parts or wheels. Make sure no paint is on the wheels, place the wheel side right up against the trim and then move it up or down to create a clean line. Re-dip the pad as needed until you’re finished. Using this tool is the only way I ever paint along a ceiling line.

Spray Painting Tips

For more advise on how to use spray paint and tips for success, head over to this post: How to Spray Paint FAQ’s

Spray paint for a light fixture
  • When spray painting metal fixtures: Lay fixture on work surface in a well-ventilated area when the temp is around 78 degrees. Apply light coats about 8-inches away from surface. Repeat coats every 5 minutes up to an hour until you get the coverage you need.
  • If you need to re-coat after an hour you need to wait at least 48 hours before adding another coat. The initial coats of paint have to fully cure. If you re-coat too early you risk wrinkling the paint finish.

How to Easily Paint Drawer and Cabinet Pulls and Knobs

Painting tricks on How to paint cabinet knobs and pulls
  • When painting small items like knobs and drawer pulls, use a piece of recycled styrofoam to allow you to get full coverage without smudging the paint with your fingers. For more details on how to do this, see this craft room cabinet post.

How to Make a Spray Paint Tent or Shelter

Spraying Painting with Styrofoam
How to use a paint sprayer
  • If you do a lot of spray painting, consider purchasing a spray shelter tent. It is stored in a small bag and goes up easily.
Make a paint shelter with boxes

If you don’t want to purchase a spray paint shelter like the one above, you can easily make your own by recycling styrofoam from boxes and packaging to lift large items off the ground when painting.

  • To help keep spray paint overspray from getting on everything, use large cardboard boxes to make your own spray booth. I flatten and save large boxes.  They can be reused many times and stored flat against the wall in your garage or workspace.

Professional Painting Tips

Caulking Tips for doors and window trim
  • Don’t forget to use caulk:  Add a bead/line of caulk after applying the first coat of primer/paint. I find when I paint around door jams, windows and other trim the new color of paint shows where the joints/seam don’t meet. You can see any gaps that need to be filled after the first coat of paint.  I fill these gaps with caulk and then smooth the caulk with an ice cube or a wet finger.  Once dry, I can paint right over it. Now the wood will look seamless.
  • Cardboard boxes also make wonderful DROP CLOTHS. They are sturdy, recyclable and you can drag your painting project around easily on them.
Painter's tape tips
  • When you remove painter’s tape, pull up a 12″ – 18″ section of the tape at a time. As you are pulling the tape, ball up the used tape in your hand.  Removing it this way keeps the tape away from the wet paint and makes it easy to toss in the trash.
Painting Tips
  • When using latex paint, if you use painter’s tape to mask walls, glass, etc, remove it before the paint dries. If you don’t, you may end up pulling off some of the paint when you remove the tape. I usually wait about 15 – 30 minutes after painting to remove the tape.
  • If you don’t get the painter’s tape  removed before the paint dries, run the sharp blade of a craft knife right where the tape meets the wall or molding, then gently remove the tape.
  • After putting down painter’s tape to mask off an area you are going to paint, run the edge of a credit card over the edge of the tape to seal the tape to ensure no paint bleed.
  • Try painting pipes, wrought iron balustrades, and other contoured surfaces with a paint mitt.

Paint Clean-Up Tips

  • If you don’t have a dedicated slop sink in your garage to clean paint rags, brushes and rollers, this invention called The Washbox will keep your sink clean from paint splatters.
  • Use a pointy-tipped cotton swab. The pointy tips make it easy to swipe right into the crevice along the ceiling line, floor, or trim and clean up the smudge without affecting the wet paint on the wall. Without the pointy tip you would end up wiping some of the wet wall paint off while you’re trying to take care of the smudge. I keep them in my pocket when I paint, as I seem to always get paint where it doesn’t belong.
  • Easy Window Painting Clean Up Before painting window sashes, I spread a bit of lip balm right along the edge of the glass with a cotton swab. After painting, any paint that got on the glass is easily wiped away—no razor blade scraping needed. I first read about using petroleum jelly, but I found that was too greasy. Another way to remove paint from glass is to rub a cloth dipped in hot vinegar over the areas with paint until the paint comes off.
  • Dealing with Spilled Paint Imagine you just spilled bright orange paint on your rug or the roller slipped from your hand onto a section of the floor that wasn’t covered with a drop cloth. Thinking quickly instead of panicking will lessen the disaster.
    • Immediately STOP painting and deal with the spill ASAP. You don’t want the paint to dry. Do not wipe it at first. Instead, have two pieces of foam board or heavy cardboard (approx. 12 x 12) ready to go when you set up your painting supplies. Use them to scoop the paint spill up, working from the outside of the spill to the inside.
  • Wipe the paint off the cardboard and go back to scooping up the paint with the cardboard until you have most of it picked up.
  • Once the excess paint is removed, you need to work with an absorbent white towel and rug cleaner or a mixture of detergent and water.
    • Pour the cleaner and water mixture over the spill and begin to blot the towel over the spill.
  • Keep doing this, using a different section of the towel to absorb and remove the paint as you go,
    • If the paint is still visible, use a water suction rug-cleaning machine with a cleaning agent over the spill and then blot with a towel until the spill is no longer visible.
5-in-1 paint tool use

Clean a roller cover by running the curved blade of a 5-in-1 tool down the cover to remove all the excess paint. Pull the cover half way off the frame and then run it under hot water, using your hand to push the rest of the paint out of the fibers.

Best Soap to clean Paint off hands and skin
  • When your paint project is complete, this is the best soap I have found to clean hard to remove primer and paint off your hands completely. It is harsh on paint, but not your skin.
  • Good paintbrushes have a hole in the handle. Do you know why? It’s not just so it can hang nicely on a display wall in the store. It’s so you can hang your brush after washing it with brush cleaner or hot soap and water.
  • A just-washed paintbrush holds lots of water in the bristles and also in the metal band that holds the bristles together. When water sits in the brush, it can damage and loosen the bristles. Hanging a brush to dry allows all the excess water to drip out and will keep the bristles nice and straight for the next time you use it.

The Best Latex Paint Remover

It works on fresh and old dried paint. It is a good product to have on hand so when an oooops happens you will be able to clean it up, but also to remove old paint that is on any hard surface around your house.

How to Clean Up Painting Tools For Homes with Septic Systems

How to clean up Paint in a house with a septic system
  • All you need is a bucket of sand! Read more details in my post here.
  • Elevate what you want to paint. To keep newspaper or your drop cloth from sticking to the bottom of table and chair legs when you paint, drive drywall screws in about 1/2-inch into the bottom of each leg. The slight elevation will allow you to more easily paint the bottom of each leg, ensuring complete coverage.
  • For quick touch ups, pour a small amount of paint into a clean, empty shoe polish or craft paint bottle. Label the bottle with the room and paint color, snap on the lid, and store in a handy place.
  • If your paint roller gets ragged edges over time, trim the edge of the roller with a pair of scissors. This will keep the roller from leaving edge tracks in your paint job. When trimming, leave the edges slightly tapered.

The Best Drop Cloth to Make and Use

  • Make your own drop cloths by repurposing cardboard boxes. Read more in this post: The Best Dropcloth
  • Keep a package of baby wipes nearby for quick and easy paint splatter cleanup.
  • Save your hand from blisters and cramping by creating a soft grip for your paint brush or roller. Cut 2-inch diameter pipe insulation to the length of the handle. Thread the cut piece over the handle for a softer, improved grip.
  • Toothpicks can make it easy to remount curtain hardware, picture hooks, and towel bars in a room. Put the toothpick snugly into each hole you want to reuse, and patch the rest. The toothpicks make the holes easy to find when it’s time to reattach the hardware.
  • To save doorknobs from paint splatters, simply wrap them with foil or cling wrap.

More Painting Tips & Tricks

Check out these posts for more tips and answers to your painting questions.