10 House Painting Tips From the Pros

house painting tips

When it comes to painting, I’ve seen a thing or two. I learned how to remodel by working with my grandfather, which pretty much means I learned from the guys who worked for him. He wasn’t actually much of a tradesman himself but he made sure I learned all the trades, one summer at a time. One of the trades I liked best was painting and the painters taught me quite a few tricks of the trade.

Here are the 10 most important takeaways:

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1. Use Drop Cloths

While it may seem obvious, I still catch myself wanting to bust out a little bit of paint without covering anything up. As if on cue, Murphy’s Law enters the scene and paint gets on something it really shouldn’t. Chaos invariably ensues.

This is easily avoided by following the cardinal rule of a professional painter: Cover things up. Use a drop cloth. And in the world of pro painting, that often is an actual “cloth,” not plastic, which tends to make more messes than it prevents.

2. Always Put Pressure on the Leading Edge of the Roller

When rolling paint onto a wall or ceiling, use an up-and-down motion and move in one direction at a time. While doing that, apply pressure to the leading edge of the roller. So if you’re moving to the right, twist your hand a little to the right so you put more pressure on the right-hand edge. If you’re moving to the left, twist your hand to the left.

Properly applying pressure will eliminate “fat edges” that appear when paint kind of squeezes out of the edge of the roller and makes a line down the wall. Work a few strokes in one direction, then go back over the other way. Always up and down, not all willy-nilly and every which way.

3. A Roller Grate in a Bucket is Better Than a Roller Tray

Pros seldom use roller trays (pans). I’ve seen it, but it’s the exception not the rule. Most professional painters prefer a metal grate that hangs on the rim of a five-gallon bucket. These grates are easier to clean and make the work go much, much faster.

To use one, first fill the bucket about halfway with paint. Then, while holding the extension handle of the roller (see below), roll the roller down the grate until it kind of “slaps” the top of the paint. Then bring it back up on the grate and roll it out a bit. Do this a few times until your roller is evenly loaded with paint, but not so full that it’s going to drip. You get more paint per fill than with a pan.

4. Use an Extension Handle

When rolling, use an extension handle. A long handle allows you to stand back away from the wall, and your overall roller stroke can go all the way from the ceiling to the floor without you having to move much. Less ladder climbing, bending over and crouching to the floor means you won’t be as sore at the end of the day.

5. Roll Slowly

Roller spray gets everywhere. It gets on the ceiling, your clothes and your arms and face. The best way to avoid it isn’t to put less paint on your roller, it’s to simply slow down a little bit. If you watch, you’ll see that there is a speed where the roller spray just stops happening. It’s a physics thing. Something about inertia … or is it centrifugal force?

6. Avoid All Gadgets

When I see a painter with some sort of “as seen on TV” plastic tool of some sort I know something’s amiss. Professional painters don’t play with plastic gadgets like “edging tools” and brush extension handles. At least none I’ve ever seen.

The simple toolset of a traditional painter includes ladders, brushes, rollers, extension handles, roller grates, five-gallon buckets, small work buckets, rags, a caulking gun, a screwdriver and not much more. Maybe some professional prep and cleaning tools too to make sure the surface is ready for paint and to clean up afterwards.

What it doesn’t include: “As seen on TV” gadgets.

7. Spraying is Warp Speed

Spray rigs, not listed above, are very useful for big jobs. Pros use airless sprayers, which are essentially high-pressure pumps and air-pressure sprayers, such as automotive-type sprayers and HVLP machines. No matter what type of sprayer is in use, if the painter knows what he or she is doing, spraying can drastically reduce the overall time involved in a project.

Additionally, some finishes are only possible with a spray application. High-end trim and cabinetry, for example, is almost always done with an HVLP.

8. Good Paint is Actually Better

There is a difference between cheap paint and quality paint. The better paints are infinitely nicer to work with. They cover better, they stay on the brush or roller better and they clean up easier. The hard part is knowing the difference between paying for quality paint vs. paying for quality marketing! Next time you buy paint, look around for professionals buying paint too. See what they’re buying. If you don’t see any professionals, you’re probably not buying your paint at the right place.

9. Take Care of Your Tools

When I write things like this, sometimes I feel a deep sense of conviction. You know what it feels like when you’re being a total hypocrite. Well, that’s me when I say, “Take care of your paint tools.” Because I almost never do that. I throw away more good tools than you can shake a stick at because I don’t clean them well.

But this article isn’t about what I do … it’s about what “real professional painters” do and I can promise you: They take good care of their tools.

A good paint brush can last many years even when used daily. The same is true for roller frames, ladders and drop cloths. Professionals know that a quality paint job comes from tools that are ready to work and in good shape. They also know that purchasing new tools for every job makes the overall cost far higher than it needs to be.

So do as I say, not as I do: Take care of your tools!

10. Be Patient

The final bit of advice I’ve gathered from pros in the world of painting is to just take your time. Painting often takes longer than you thought it would and that can cause you to rush it. When you rush it, things get messy and the work is done poorly. Then you have to re-paint to fix the problem, which takes far longer.

So be patient and just focus on doing a good job. Armed with these 10 professional tips and a good attitude, you’ll be kicking out top-notch results in no time and your world will be better for it!

Happy painting!