The Right Way to Paint Your Apartment, According to a Pro


If you have water or mildew stains on your surfaces, buy a quick-drying alkyd or oil-based stain-killing primer, which can double as a primer for patched holes and cracks (and in this case, a cheap disposable brush or disposable mini-roller and handle is fine). If you’ve no stains, buy a water-based primer to seal up any repairs or patches after they dry.

Here’s what you should get at the paint store.

• A nine-inch paint pan and one plastic tray liner for each color change

• Two nine-inch, medium-nap roller covers, and one sturdy nine-inch roller handle

• A two-and-a-half-inch angled paint brush

Photo


Credit
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

• One roll of fiberglass mesh tape to cover cracks before you apply Spackle

• As many plastic drop cloths as you’ll need to cover your furniture

• One roll each of two-inch masking tape and nonstick painter’s blue tape (to mask off doorknobs, floorboards, windowsills and other unpainted surfaces. Do not use regular masking tape for this or you will spend hours trying to peel it off afterward!)

• A quart of spackling compound, and two sheets of #120 sandpaper, if needed

• A quart of latex primer, if priming is needed

• A clamp-on electric light fixture, and extra 100-watt bulbs

Next, some supplies you likely already have:

• Flat-head and Phillips screwdrivers

• Plenty of rags

• Plastic quart containers (like the kind soup comes in from a takeout restaurant)

• An extension pole to attach your roller to (your broom handle will work, just be gentle so it doesn’t snap in half)

• A stepladder

• Gloves

• Cap, old shirt, old jeans, old shoes; clothes you’re willing to get dirty

• A standing fan

Protect your belongings

Once you have everything you need for the job, you have to properly protect everything you don’t want damaged, dripped on or sprayed (meaning your desktop computer, the desk, the flat-screen TV, the cat). Prepare the night before if possible, so you’re ready to start work early in the morning.

Photo


Credit
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Move as much furniture as possible out of the room, or, if you live in a studio, pile everything in the center of the room, leaving at least a body-width between your stuff and the walls. Then cover your possessions with plastic drop cloths, and tape the plastic to the floor so wind from fans or windows (which you’ll open before you begin for ventilation) doesn’t blow it off. Sweep and mop your floors, too; dust bunnies can fly up into your freshly painted wall or into your pan. If you have it in you, wash the walls with mild detergent and let them dry overnight.

Next, protect the surfaces you don’t want to paint. Use blue painter’s tape to mask off doorknobs, hinges and the floorboards. Cover the floors with newspaper or sheets. Remove all light switch and electrical outlet covers, and place all screws and covers in a quart container so you can quickly find them when you’re done. This is a time-consuming step, but worth it for the uniform, crisp look it provides when you’re done.

If you have cracks, holes or wall damage, now is the time to repair them. Open any wall cracks with your putty knife, cover them with your fiberglass tape (instructions on the package of fiberglass tape will show you how to do this correctly), and fill them with Spackle. Do a few light coats of Spackle instead of one thick one. If it takes too long to dry, you can speed things up with a blow dryer. In the morning, before you start painting in earnest, sand the patches lightly and apply a coat of quick-drying latex primer over them.

Start smart and finish in good time

First, suit up. Put on your gloves and your painting clothes. Grab your rags and step ladder, and assemble all of your tools. Turn your fan on the low setting, and open the windows. You’ll want to paint the ceiling first. It’s the most physically challenging part of the job. Many people leave the ceiling until the end, and by that time they’re tired and just want to stop.

Shake your first gallon of paint and use a flat-head screwdriver to open the can. Pour your paint into your quart container until it’s about three-quarters full. Resist the urge to fill it up or underfill it; it should feel balanced in your hand as you carry it around the room and up and down ladders. Dip your brush into the paint about an inch; do not saturate it.

Start by using the brush to “cut” in where the ceiling meets the wall all around the room. Brushwork takes much longer than rolling, so don’t be impatient if it seems to take a long time. When you roll, the job will go much faster. Anywhere detail is required, make sure to use a brush. Your goal is to finish the brushwork before you start rolling, so you don’t have to stop.

Once you finish the brushwork, it’s time to prep your roller. Pour about half a gallon of paint into your lined paint tray. Place a roller on the roller handle, attach the handle to your broomstick, dip the roller into the pan and roll your roller back and forth until it’s covered in equal amounts. Roll the paint onto the ceiling smoothly, in long, even strokes, from the center of the room out toward the walls.

When you move to the walls with your roller, start near the ceiling and work down and diagonally, instead of “straight, straight, straight” — you don’t want vertical lines in your finished work. Make sure it covers well, especially if you’re going white over white — it’s easy to miss spots. Resist the urge to apply pressure; let the roller do the work.

Finally, allow more time than you think you’ll need. A lot more. You may think two days is a ridiculously long time to allocate for painting a single room, for example, but the last thing you want is to be working at 2 a.m. on Sunday night when you have to be at work at 8 on Monday morning.

When you’re ready to clean up, warm water is your friend. Since your paint is water-based, all your tools (and you) will clean up nicely with H20, and a little patience. Any half-used cans of paint should be shut tightly, labeled and dated. You can touch up any dinged walls within a month or two, but wait any longer and you’ll see the touch-up.

More tips professionals use

• Don’t shop for paint before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. or you’ll get caught waiting in line behind all the contractors.

• Shop the day before you paint, especially if you’re not 100 percent sure about colors, as it can take a while to select, purchase and transport materials.

• Never leave a tool or paint bucket on a ladder; you can forget it’s up there, and when you move the ladder, down it comes.

• If you spill paint, stop right away and clean it up with a bucket of warm water and a rag. The longer you wait, the more trouble it is to get it all up. Prevent those spills in the first place by resisting the urge to daydream — keep your mind on your work.

• If you take a break for more than a few minutes, wrap your brushes in aluminum foil and cover the paint pan with plastic. Otherwise it will start to dry and leave little bits of dried paint in your pan.

• If you have a curious dog or cat, put them in the bathroom and close the door while you work.

• Don’t vacuum Spackle dust. It’s finer than household dust, will seep through the vacuum’s filter, and will instantly end your machine’s life. Use a sponge and soapy water to clean up. You may have to mop more than once.

• Don’t just throw your paint cans away. Google “How to dispose of empty paint cans” in your neighborhood. Many communities regulate the proper disposal of paint and painting supplies.

•Put your phone away and keep it hidden, unless you want paint on it.

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