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Answering all those burning questions you didn’t know you had about home ownership.

Painting Tips & Hacks for the DIYer

Picture of Jessica Dabkowski

Jessica Dabkowski

Helping you with all things homeownership!

Last week, I shared that the smallest member of our household with the biggest personality is getting a bedroom makeover. Over the last week, I have spent a significant amount of time with a paint brush or roller in my hands. I jotted down some of the painting tips and hacks I have picked up over the years to make your life easier and/or your final product more professional.

Read on to the end for a sneak peak at my painting results.

Pay for the Good Stuff

I wish I had learned this much earlier in my DIY career. Just fork over your cash for the better tools and supplies. You know how many pieces of flooring I messed up in 2013 because I was too cheap to shell out for the $11 carpenter square? Yeah, I can tell you it was more than $11 worth of boards.

In painting, Wooster and Purdy are the kings of supplies. These are the ones the professionals use, and it’s for a reason. Their brushes and rollers are excellent quality. If you try cutting in with that $2 foam brush, you are going to be ripping your hair out. Foam brushes have their place in the DIY hierarchy, but painting walls is not on the list for me. I picked up the ACE brand roller packs to prime a wall and it left this crazy pattern in the roll because the roller itself was not made correctly. I used a Wooster to apply the paint, and I ended up with smooth walls and great coverage.

Handy paint pale in red with plastic inserts next to it
He’s got a lot of hours on the job!

Shell out for the appropriate support tools. I am partial to the HANDy Paint Pail for my brush work. (HANDy – I never noticed that before. 😄) It’s ergonomic, it has a little magnet inside so I can store the brush vertical along the side if I need to pause and the liners can go right into the trash. Buy the $2 paint pour pal to make your life so much easier as you pour into your roller tray or pail.

Lastly, pay for the good paint. It doesn’t matter if you have all the best tools, if you have low quality paint you’ll have a lower quality finish. Do your research and see what types/brands of paint might be best for your space.

Protect Your Tools

Once you buy these fancy brushes and tools, you need to take care of them. Clean your brushes at the end of every job. Don’t throw them in the fridge overnight wrapped in cling wrap. The brush will get gummy and you’ll get a crappy result. Your roller on the other, you can store in the fridge between coats unless you start to see too much paint buildup.

Yellow Purdy paint tool with comb and roller scraper
Meet the painting clean up game changer.

Buy a multi-use tool to help you in your mission. The above tool will pop open your paint can, squeeze out a big roller AND a small roller, comb out your brushes and you can use the handle to pound the paint lid back onto the can. All for the reasonable price of about $5.

Wall Repair

Along with new paint and wallpaper, I’m installing a closet organizer . . . which meant I had to tear out the standard shelf and rod that were currently in the closet. I’m a pretty cautious demolition-woman, but I couldn’t avoid ripping up the drywall (because the installer caulked the heck out of the support brackets).

Before you spackle or mud any damaged drywall, you should seal it up with a sealer to prevent the paper from off-gassing and bubbling up into your repair job. I recommend Roman Rx-35 for a nice seal. Then you can mud or spackle over the area.

I prefer to do one coat of mud scraped all the way back to just filler. After it dries for 24-hours, I sand and apply my finish coat where I gently feather the mud out from the repair. Once dry I sand it out and it’s ready for primer. I, of course, took no pictures of this step.

Too make sanding cleanup easier and protect my lungs, I recently picked up this drywall vacuum sander at Lowe’s – highly recommend as it did a great job and eliminated about 90% of the dust when I sanded down the closet repair. (I also wear a dust mask when I sand.)

Blue and white long napped roller cover on beige granite
This guys is a lifesaver for messed up walls.

If you have a wall with a lot of minor imperfections, there’s a contractor trick to even out the imperfections and retexture the wall. You take a partially full can of primer and add a decent scoop of drywall mud to the can. Mix and apply with a long napped roller cover like the one above. The mud will help fill in the imperfections and the roller will help add a uniform texture to the wall. We used this trick on a wall that had lots of minor damage from old wallpaper and also had some residual glue that wouldn’t come off. It worked great!

Cutting In

Now we get to the part that frustrates most DIY painter: cutting in the edges. YES! I feel you. It’s the worst. I’ll share my methods, but I’ve also learned everyone does it differently so you have to experiment with what is comfortable for you. I don’t tape my edges along ceilings or trim. It takes forever, I can’t get the tape any straighter than if I use a brush, tape is expensive and I have a 2 in 3 chance or messing up the existing paint with the tape. #hardpass

So if you want to skip the tape, read on, Grasshopper.

Tip #1: Get up close and personal.

Ensure your ladder is tall enough to put you up close and personal with that edge. If you are working too far over your head, you are not going to have the hand control you need to get a nice clean edge line. Your head should basically be just shy of bumping the ceiling.

Tip #2: Don’t go right up to your edge on the first coat.

Yes, you read that right. On the first coat of paint, I actually use the dreaded edger! This tool is a flat pad with little wheels that ride along the ceiling to give you a nice solid base edge to work with. The issue I always have is loading up the edger (pictured below) with paint without getting the paint on the wheels. I used to load it up with a brush, but then I discovered this hack that totally changed my edging life. (Thank you random Reddit contributer!)

Paint roller tray with gray edger, water bottle of lavender paint and painter's pale with brush
Water bottle hack in action.

A water bottle! I added paint into a water bottle via a funnel. Then I just gently poured paint onto the edger pad and slapped it on the wall. Is it time consuming? A little bit, but what I end up with at the end of the day is a base edge with great paint coverage which is ready to accept a more finessed second coat.

If you use a brush instead of the edger on your first coat of paint, leave about 1/8″ gap between the wall and the ceiling. You can fill this gap in on the second coat where the brush will glide much better over your base coat and give you more control over your edge as you paint.

Tip #3: Wet your brush first.

Thoroughly wet your brush, shake out the excess and gently squeeze with a towel. This has two purposes: (1) it helps prevent the paint from drying onto your bristles closer to the handle, and (2) it helps prevent your brush from soaking up excess paint into the bristle packet. (I don’t know if it’s called a “bristle packet”; I probably made it up.). It will also make your brush a little easier to clean.

Tip # 4: Take your time.

Once you are ready to cut in that final edge along the ceiling or trim, just go slow. Give yourself time to cut a nice clean line. You will have to experiment on how to hold your brush to get the best line.

Frankly, I change my angle and my grip every time I cut in. It just depends on what setup is working for me that day. You can watch about a bzillion YouTube videos on cutting in techniques, so watch a handful of those before you start. Sometimes I cut in with my non-dominant hand because I can get a smoother line.

When I am working in a corner, I like to put my brush below the edge and then gently wiggle back up to meet the corner. This gives me a fair amount of control to back the color up to where I want it to end.

Angled painters brush going into a ceiling corner
No paint, just demonstration here.

If I am really struggling, I have been known to leave the tiniest strip between the wall and ceiling and return with an angled craft brush to fill in my line. It’s extra effort, but sometimes if the drywall corner is wonky, it’s easier for me.

In the end, no one is really looking at your edge work. Unless it’s crazy sloppy, people are unlikely to even be looking up there. Cut yourself some slack.

Sneak Peak

For those of you who were curious about the room transformation, here’s a sneak peak of the mermaidalicious makeover! It’s still a surprise so don’t spill the beans if you see her.

Lavender painted wall next to mermaid scale wallpaper in teal, purple and pink
The mermaid swims towards the surface!

Thanks for joining this week to learn some painting tips and hacks! As always, I’m here to help with all your homeowner questions.

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