Newbies Guide To Prepping Your Walls For Painting Part 1

In my introduction to this series of posts about painting and decorating I made reference to the torturous process of preparing your room for painting. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s by far my least favourite DIY activity.  Unfortunately it’s also very, very necessary – otherwise you end up wasting time and expensive paint on shoddy looking walls.

Liz and I are hardly pro’s but we’ve learnt a few things along the way – some by trial and error, some by encounters with helpful DIY nerds on handyman message boards.

So here are some tips based on our experiences, that painting and decorating newbies might find useful:

skimmed walls in ultility roomLovely smooth walls in our utility room post skimming

Before you start….

Before you start out on the laborious journey of filling / sanding /smoothing / prepping your walls, take a long hard look at them and see what kind of state they’re in (especially if you’re in an old house):

1.  Are there any signs of damp? In our bedroom we noticed some dampness in the corner of the room.  This turned out to be the result of a crack in the pointing in the roof which needed to be fixed before we could start decorating.

2.  Are the walls so bashed / uneven that you’d be better just skimming them? Skimming is where a professional (don’t try this at home kids!) comes in and smooths a thin layer of plaster over your walls to form a nice even surface to paint on. We opted for this in our utility room as it would have taken us days to get the walls in a half-decent state, whereas it took our joiner John half a day to skim the whole lot (including the ceiling). Well worth the effort (though you need to factor in drying time before you start to paint – give it at least a week).

Tips continue under the cut….

Sand paper, masks, sponge and bucket

Tools of the trade

The minimum essentials you need to kit yourself out with for wall prepping are:

– Sand paper – the fineness of sandpaper is measured in grades or ‘grits’ – the higher the number, the smoother and finer the sandpaper. For walls I generally use 120, though I also buy some 80 (rough) paper for stubborn spots, and then also some 220 for a really smooth finish at the end.

–  A sanding block or hand sander to wrap the sandpaper round, or you can also get pre-graded blocks which are good but a bit more expensive.

– Sponge or microfibre (lint free) cloth – for wiping down walls

– A bucket

–  Step ladder

– Dust mask

– Scruffy clothes

– Painter’s tape

Dust sheets (also known as drop cloths) – get decent canvas ones.  If you get cheap ones the dust is likely to come through.  We found plastic to be very easy to tear,


You’ll most likely also need:

– Filler (I recommend One Strike) and a filling knife –  unless you’re very lucky and have lovely smooth un-dinted walls already

– A shower cap -to avoid grey hair syndrome – see below

– An eye mask / goggles


Other optional bits include:

Sugar soap – for cleaning walls (looks fluorescent but doesn’t turn your walls neon)

Caulk – for filling gaps between walls and mouldings

Wallpaper stripper – if your walls have wall paper that needs removing

Heat gun and a shave hook – if you need to strip back paint on wooden features such as skirting, window skills and doorways. Usually you can paint over them, but you might need to strip them back to the wood if they’re in a bad way.

– An electric sander – if you need to sand very large areas of walls.  Make sure you get one with a vacuum attachement to suck away the dust.  This video is a good demo on how to use them.


Minimise clean up before you start

Make no mistake: dust from sanding gets EVERYWHERE and it’s a huge pain to clean off (and posh hifi’s don’t tend to like it very much) so shift everything out of the room you possibly can, and if there are any big pieces of furniture that you really can’t move out, then slide them into the middle of the room and stick a drop cloth over them.

I’d even go so far as to masking tape up doors to other rooms – you’d be surprised how much dust can escape through one small gap. Also if you have carpet it’s a good idea to roll it back from the edges to avoid paint splatter and cover the main bit of carpet in the middle with drop cloths.

Safety fist

The other thing about paint and plaster dust is that it’s not great for your lungs and eyes, so:

– Get the area well ventilated – crack open those windows, even if it’s freezing outside

– Use a dusk mask when you’re sanding to avoid breathing in the fine dust particles (the insides of my nostrils were white when I sanded our living room without a dust mask…)

– Use eye masks when sanding (especially if you’re a contact lens wearer!)

– if you gave light switches / electrical points, you can unscrew the covers so you can sand / paint beneath to get a nicer finish, but make sure you tape over any exposed holes/switches with painter’s tape

– If you have an old house you could have lead paint underneath (which is poisonous) so if you’re going to be exposing old paint, it might be wise to take extra precautions (see here for more info)

Finally, it’s a not a safety point, but for vanities sake I’d recommend wearing a shower cap if you’re going to be doing a decent amount of filling and sanding. When we were doing our living room ended up with grey hair from all the paint dust and it took ages to get out of my scalp – it’s so fine, and my hair didn’t thank me for it. You’ll look an idiot but it is worth it!  (and no I’m not posting a picture of that get up….)


Part 2 to come next week with tips on filling and sanding your walls….

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