How to paint a room

Painting a room from top to bottom looks easy but getting a professional finish isn’t. In this guide, we give you top tips on how to avoid potential problems and how to make sure the end result is one you’re proud of.

Before we begin make sure you read our step-by-step guides on:
How to paint interior walls & ceilings
How to paint interior woodwork & metal

How to paint a room

How to paint a room

The correct order to paint

  • Always paint a room from top to bottom. We suggest this:
  • Ceiling
  • Walls
  • Windows and Doors
  • Architraves
  • Skirting board
  • If you’re painting your room in radically different colours, apply the lighter paint first, then the darker.

How much paint do I need?
Use our easy Paint Calculator to figure it out. Just remember to add 10% contingency.

How do I get the walls ready for painting?
It’s all about the preparation. Fill in all the cracks and dents with a wall filler, then rub them down with sandpaper. For a rough wall, we’d suggest a 180grit paper, then down to a 120grit - the best grade of paper to start with a smooth wall. As you sand, dust off with a brush, working methodically so you can track which areas you’ve sanded. And remember, ceilings need sanding too, either stand on a ladder or a use pole and sandpaper-covered pad. Next, if you’re using masking tape, apply it around skirting boards, windows, doorframes and ceiling.

And how do I prepare wood for painting?
Start by repairing cracks and holes with a wood filler, brushing knotting compound over the knots to prevent the resin from bleeding and staining your wood. Black knots can be prised out and the holes filled.

Remove flaking paint using a sander or filler knife then sand the whole area smooth with a fine paper. Clean grease and dirt off existing paintwork with soapy water or sugar soap and treat any bare wood with a quick-drying wood primer. Use decorators' caulk to fill in any gaps between the skirting board and walls, and down the side of window frames.

What paint shall I use?
Eggshell or emulsion? Vinyl or varnish? For the full lowdown on which paint to use where check out our advice on different paint types.

Roller versus pad: which is better?
The jury’s out on which is best and ultimately it comes down to personal preference. Both are good for covering large expanses of smooth wall quickly but some prefer paint pads for corners, edges and angles.

A few tips: when buying your roller sleeve remember the rule: the rougher and more uneven the wall surface, the longer the fibres should be on the roller. Also bear in mind that rollers give a ‘bobbly’ texture to your walls that you don’t get with paint pads, small foam rollers or brushes. Rollers are more prone to splatters but with both types don’t overload them and try to maintain an even pressure.

Which brush type is best for which job?

  • Natural-hair brushes are more expensive and are recommended for use with oil-based paints as they leave a smoother finish. Synthetic brushes can be used with all paints but work best with water-based, emulsion paints.
  • Polyester brushes give the smoothest finish of all the synthetic brushes; they tend to hold and release more paint when in use and are used mainly with water-based paints. They’re also easy to clean.
  • Nylon brushes are durable and stiff so they suit rough surfaces and thick paints like acrylics and emulsions.
  • Ox hair-blend brushes have supersoft bristles which give the finest finish, eg for varnishing. Not recommended with water-based paints as they tend to absorb water.

    How do I a paint straight edges?
    Cutting in is a technique that all professional decorators use along skirting boards, windows and where the ceiling meets the wall at a right angle.
  • You'll need an angled 2” (5cm) sash brush for a nice sharp line and also a 'cut bucket' - basically a paint tin or bucket without a lip, which tends to overload the brush for cutting in
  • Fill the cut bucket with about two inches of paint, and use the clear sides of the bucket to dab paint off, making sure the brush isn't overloaded.
  • Grip the brush as you would a pen with your hand quite near the bristles - the brush handle isn't needed for cutting in.
  • Place the bristles on the surface just below the edge you want, forming a wedge shape with the brush, then push this shape to the edge you want.
  • Draw the brush along the edge, and as you begin moving, try to let the brush form a fan shape, letting the outermost edge of the bristles lay down the paint edge.
  • After a few inches, carry on painting, but draw the brush away from your edge. Then begin the process again further down the edge, creating an almost perfect line. As you practise, you'll be able to keep the brush moving straight for longer strokes, creating an even better edge.

    How do I store old paint? Can I use it again?
    It’s important to properly label your paint with its room name. If your home is a perfectly executed study of subtle greys from dove to slate you can easily see the potential for error.

    Don't store paint in your garage as it doesn’t like extremes of temperature. Under the stairs is a better bet. When storing paint always cover the tin with a layer of clingfilm before putting the lid back on.

    Don’t tip leftover paint down the drain. Instead, donate it – securely sealed and labelled - to a recycling scheme such as Community Repaint.

    TOP TIP: Once the lid is secured very firmly, store the paint tin upside down so any skin forming over the paint will cover the bottom not the top.

    Any tips for painting around glass?
    Windows, glass doors and glass-panelled cabinets can be tricky to paint around. If you’re not confident with cutting in you can use masking tape but it can be hard to position properly and remove.

    Some decorators swear by this clever tip: Take some sheets of printer paper and cut them into 1” (2.5cm) wide strips and wet them in water. Now position each strip on the glass around the frame using the water’s natural adhesion to hold it in place. You can use a dry paintbrush to smooth them all out if needed. Once painted simply peel off the paper from the glass.

    Any tips on painting textured surfaces?
    Regular brushes and rollers won’t cut it on a wall with stucco peaks and artistic swirls. Large soft brushes are the way forward, dabbing and pressing as much as brushing. Choose a deep roller nap of 1” (2.5cm) and be prepared for the job to take a good deal longer and use a good deal more paint than a regular wall!

    For textured internal surfaces read our useful guide How to paint tiles, melamine, lino & wallpaper.

    How do I prolong the life of my brushes and rollers?
    Clean, clean, clean! For emulsion paint just use warm soapy water and pat them dry with a paper towel. For oil paints use white spirit then press dry with paper towels followed by a clean in hot soapy water. If paint has hardened on to a brush soak it in white spirit but don’t leave it for days as it will damage the bristles. Hang brushes up to dry, bristles pointing downwards.

    How do I deal with blistering paint?
    Localised loss of adhesion is what causes bubbles to form. Scrape away the blisters, sand down and repaint using a quality acrylic water-based paint. If the moisture has penetrated the substrate you’ll need to address the source of moisture ingress (see our advice on dealing with damp problems), repair and prime.

    How do I deal with paint that’s cracking or flaking?
    The splitting of a film of paint starts out as a hairline crack then leads to more serious flaking further down the line. The causes range from inferior quality or over-thinned paint to inadequate surface preparation. The way to deal with it is to scrape away loose and flaking paint with a wire brush or scraper, then sand the surface, filling if necessary. Bare wood should be primed before repainting.

    How do I deal with staining or discolouration of painted timber?
    There are three likely causes and solutions:
    1) Old rusty nails. Rub down to remove the rust, prime exposed metal with a metal primer and repaint.
    2) Resin bleeding from knots in the wood. Remove the resin with white spirit, sand back, seal with knotting compound and repaint.
    3) Discolouration or yellowing through the ageing of solvent-based products. Clean with sugar soap solution and allow to dry. Areas that appear dirty could be infected with fungal growth so an application of domestic bleach will cure this. Now repaint!

    How do I deal with runs and wrinkles in paint?
    Sagging paint is caused by the weight of paint that’s been applied too thickly. To repair a wrinkled paint surface use a sharp putty knife or razor blade to scrape away the flaw. Now sand back. Use fresh paint in thin coats until it’s nice and even.

    TOP TIP: Stretch a rubber band across an open paint can so you can wipe the excess paint off your brush as you go.