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How to Paint a Room

Learn how to paint a wall, trim and ceilings.  We also have tips on planning for a paint project, tips on paint prep, buying paint, using paint tools and cleaning up afterwards. We'll share techniques for cutting in, using a roller and painting trim.

Tools & Materials

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Preparing to Paint

Cover furniture and move to the middle of the room.

The first step—and the key step—is prep. You’ll need to do this to get great results. We have the steps and some helpful tips in our How to Prep for Paint article.

Buying Paint

Boxing the paint

One gallon will cover about 400 square feet. Multiply the length times height to get the square footage for each wall and add them up. For the trim, multiply the length (in feet) by .5 for the width. If you’re not sure about how much paint you’ll need, see our Paint Calculator for help.

When using more than one gallon of paint, mix them in a 5-gallon bucket to ensure color consistency.


Paint the ceiling first.

Painting an entire room might take a couple of days to complete. Plan ahead and make sure you have plenty of ventilation while working.

Also, plan on working from the top down. Paint the ceiling first, then the walls, and finish with the trim.

Cutting In

Step 1

On the ceiling, cut in first.

To paint the edges, or cut in, dip a brush about a third of the way into the paint and don't scrape it against the sides.

Good to Know

Use a small paint bucket when you're cutting in. A small bucket will be much lighter and easier to handle when you're going up and down the ladder.

Step 2

Holding the brush as you would a pencil, paint with smooth strokes, feathering out the edges to prevent runs. Getting a little bit of paint on the trim won’t matter since you’re painting that later, but try not to be super messy.

Step 3

On the ceiling, cut in first along the ceiling line. Then switch to the roller.

For the walls, cut in one wall at time then switch to the roller. Painting can be a lot easier with two people. One person can cut while the other uses the roller.

Rolling On Ceiling/Walls

Step 1

Use a roller grid with a bucket.

If you’re using a 5-gallon bucket, insert a roller grid. For pans, use a liner for easy cleanup.

Step 2

Dampen the roller cover with a wet rag.

Load the roller with paint. To help the paint load, first dampen the roller cover with a wet rag. Dip just a little ways into the paint and roll onto the grid or liner a few times to even it out. Resist the urge to submerge the roller - it’ll make a mess.

Step 3

Roll the paint in a zig-zag pattern.

Starting a few inches away from the edge, roll the paint on the ceiling/wall in a zig-zag pattern. Overlap your lines and go slow to avoid paint spatter. Don’t press and squeeze the roller against the wall to get more paint out of it—just reload.

Work in 4-foot sections. For walls, work at the top, then the bottom.

Step 4

Turn the roller sideways.

Once you get some paint on the walls you can go back along the edges. Turn the roller sideways to get really close to the ceiling and baseboards.

Step 5

Lightly roll from ceiling to the floor.

To remove buildup and runs, lightly roll over the painted area from the ceiling down to the floor. Apply very little pressure.

Step 6

Paint one wall at a time. Apply two coats.

Step 7

Wrap your roller and store in the fridge.

If you need to take a break, cover your bucket with a lid and cover pans with plastic wrap. Also use plastic or aluminum foil to cover your brushes and rollers. If you’re not going to paint for a while, wrap the tools and store them in the fridge. Don’t store in the freezer.

Painting the Trim



Step 1

Press painter's tape down with a putty knife.

After the walls are completely dry, apply painter’s tape along the wall-trim edge. Press it down with a plastic putty knife.

Step 2

Paint the trim with a brush.

Paint the trim with a brush.

Step 3

Use a knife to cut along areas where the tape is stuck.

Carefully remove the tape shortly after painting. Don't wait for the paint to dry completely. This will prevent peeling. A knife can help cut along spots where the tape is stuck. Some tapes have specific removal time recommendations so check the package.


Latex-based Paints

Step 1

Use your brush to scrape paint from the pan back into the original paint can. Firmly press the lid back onto the can.

Step 2

Run the brush under water.

Run the brush under warm water and use a comb or nylon cleaning brush to help remove the paint from the bristles.

Step 3

Rub some hand cleaner into the bristles.

Rub some hand cleaner into the bristles and rinse again.

Step 4

Reshape the brush.

Reshape the brush and hang to dry.

Step 5

Use a 5-in-1 tool to remove the paint.

For roller covers, use a 5-in-1 tool to remove the paint under running water.

Step 6

Dry the roller in an upright position.

Allow the roller to dry in an upright position, then store in a paper bag or cardboard box.

Oil-based Paints

Step 1

Cleaning oil-based paints can be a challenge. Sometimes it’s best to let your tools dry and throw them away. However, if you plan on saving your tools you’ll need mineral spirits, paint thinner or lacquer thinner, a cleaning comb or brush and two metal containers or glass jars with lids. One container will be for clean solvent and the other for dirty solvent.

Step 2

Pour a little solvent into one of the containers, just enough to dip the brush about halfway.

Step 3

Dip the brush into the solvent and work out the excess paint/stain. As the cleaning solution gets dirty, change it out for fresh solvent. You’ll need to do this several times. When all of the excess paint or stain is out of the brush, clean it one more time.

Check with your local recycling center for solvent disposal instructions.

Step 4

After cleaning a synthetic brush with a solvent, use soap and water for one last cleaning. Reshape the brush and hang to dry.

Skip this step if using a natural bristle brush. After cleaning with a solvent, reform the brush and hang it to dry.

You need to know which type of paint you have before you start your project. Watch our DIY Basics video: Do I Have Oil or Latex Paint?

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