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How to Prepare an Interior Wall for Painting

Posted By Duncan Idaho On November 19, 2009 @ 6:06 pm In Home Design & Décor | No Comments

Many first-time painters look at a room, decide it could do with a little sprucing up, buy a brush and a can of paint and go to work. Initially they can get quite a good result, but a few months later it could be a different story . Without adequate wall preparation the paintwork could look patchy or, worse, begin to bubble and peel.

The tips below will help you to prepare your interior walls so that the paint you put on stays on.

Prepare Your Work Area

You’ll find painting a lot less tiresome if you aren’t stumbling over furniture or having to reposition it every time you move on to a new section of wall. Clear the room as much as possible – this is particularly important if you intend to paint your ceiling as well. If it isn’t practical to empty the room, move all furniture into the centre of the room and cover with a drop cloth.


To get a really good finish, you don’t just want to paint around things like light switches, power points, and light fixtures. It can be done, but invariably you’ll end up with a smear of paint here or there. Turn off the electricity and remove the faceplates of switches and power points. Often, complete removal isn’t necessary, simply unscrewing a faceplate will usually allow you enough room to paint behind it.

Light fittings, too, can just be loosened at their base (unless they are unduly heavy). Some even have a removable cover plate that masks their exit from the ceiling which can be unscrewed or popped away. Once loosened, cover the body of the light with a plastic bag to prevent damage from dripping paint.

Alternatively, if you aren’t confident about removing fixtures, you can mask them with masking tape. This saves a lot of time and still gives a very good result.

Wash the Walls

Over time, any wall will acquire a film of grease, dust and dirt. These are all things which will prevent your paint from adhering properly to the surface of the wall. To remove this film, wash the walls thoroughly with either sugar soap or trisodium phosphate (TSP). Make sure you also rinse the walls completely as you go – cleaning product residue will also prevent paint adhesion.

Ensure your safety, particularly if using TSP, with rubber gloves and safety goggles.


If the room you’re working on has been painted with gloss paint, you’ll need to roughen the surface a little to allow the new paint to get a grip. De-glossing can be done with a light sanding, though this is reasonably labour intensive, or by applying a de-glossing product. Speak to your paint shop about selecting the right product for your particular wall.

Old and Damaged Paint

In some cases washing and de-glossing won’t be sufficient by themselves. Where paint has begun to bubble or peel (usually a sign of inadequate preparation when the paint was originally applied) scraping or stripping will be necessary.

Use a paint scraper to scrape away the damaged paint from an affected area. Once the old paint has been removed, finish off with fine sandpaper – pay particular attention to the edges of the scraped area, you don’t want them showing through your new paint.

For larger areas, or if the paint on an entire room is so degraded (perhaps by damp, or simply by age) that it all needs to be removed, a paint stripper may be your best bet. Different strippers are needed for different paint types and base surfaces, so discuss your options with paint shop staff.


If your interior walls have cracks, holes or gouges, use an interior wall filler compound to fill and level these defects. The compound can be applied with a spatula or paint scraper and, once dry, sanded smooth and flush with the wall surface.


If you are painting a light colour over an existing dark colour you’ll have to do fewer coats if you paint the walls with an appropriate primer first. It can seem like extra work, but it actually saves time in the long run. Primer is also sometimes required over wall filler compound to enable your paint to cover it properly.


It is a lot easier to avoid over-painting areas like skirting boards, fireplaces, cornices etc. by masking them with tape and newspaper, rather than trusting you your keen eye and steady hand. Again, it’s extra work, but it pays off in a far crisper finish.

The steps above will have your walls in excellent condition not only to receive your vibrant new paint, but to hang on to it as well. Don’t be tempted to skip this preparation – you’re going to be looking at those walls for a long time.

Want to know how to paint over a plaster wall? Check out this video.

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