How to Prepare a Room for Painting

Most interiors will look better if you just slap on a fresh coat of paint. However, you'll get results that are even more striking, and a longer-lasting paint job to boot, if you take special care in cleaning and preparing the surfaces.

Unless you know that you'll be undertaking messy repairs or surface preparation work, start with a thorough cleaning to strip the room of all dirt and cobwebs and to clean the baseboards, windows, and door casings. A vacuum with a crevice tool can catch the cobwebs and dust.

Paint's number-one enemy in a kitchen is grease, which clings to walls, ceilings, cabinets, and other woodwork. Use your favorite household cleaner to remove grease. Keep in mind that wood cabinets don't like harsh detergents or water, so work quickly and dry the surface immediately. If you intend to paint cabinets, they need special attention.

Bathrooms often have mold or mildew stains, in addition to dust and dirt. These living critters thrive on warm, moist surfaces. Give the bathroom the same general cleaning that you would any other room, but know that if you just wash away mildew stains, they'll return. To kill mildew, try a solution of 1 part household bleach and 3 parts water. Sponge or spray on the solution and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. Repeat the process if necessary until the stains are gone.

Bleach isn't good for painted surfaces. After it does the deed on the mildew, stop the bleaching action by rinsing the surface well with a neutralizer, such as clean water or a vinegar-water solution. Also, bleach is caustic and splashes easily, especially when you're working overhead. Wear goggles, rubber gloves, and your spouse's clothes.

As you empty a room for painting, clear the room as much as possible so that you have free and easy access. Move out as much furniture as you can. Place items you can't move elsewhere in the center of the room.

Go through the following checklist to get your room ready for the big makeover:

  • Take down pictures and other wall hangings. If you plan to return them to the same locations after you paint, leave the picture hooks in place. If it's time for a change, carefully pull the nails straight out. If you have plaster walls, twist them out with a pair of pliers to avoid chipping out the plaster.

  • Remove any area rugs. Put plastic drop cloths under your paint supply and mixing area, but cover the floor with quality canvas drop cloths, which are less slippery to walk on than plastic ones. Use two layers on carpeting for added protection.

  • Remove electrical switch plates and receptacle covers and place a strip of wide masking tape over the switches and receptacles to protect them. Also remove or lower light fixtures. Keep all the small parts together in a shoebox or similar container.

  • If you're painting doors, mask the hardware or remove it.

  • Even if you're painting during the day, you need good electric lighting, and you may need power for tools. Plug an extension cord into a nearby room or hallway to bring power to the room.

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