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Painting: How to Paint a Room Fast

A veteran painting contractor shares his secrets for painting walls fast, yet producing first-rate results. You can easily master these techniques too, and get a professional-looking finish.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Advice from a pro

Painting fast would seem to be at odds with getting great results, but that's how painting contractors make their living. You, too, can paint faster without sacrificing quality by using the tips shown here. Some of these methods are contrary to the painting advice you've been hearing for years, but they work—they'll save you time and leave you with a professional-looking finish.

For this story, we worked with painting expert Bill Nunn. Bill is a veteran painter and the president of William Nunn Painting. The tricks and techniques he shows here come from 32 years of experience painting hundreds of homes and apartments. Besides being a super-efficient painter, Bill leaves a flawless finish on woodwork, walls and ceilings.

Clean fast with TSP

You have to start with a clean surface for paint to adhere to previously painted walls and woodwork. Use a sponge and a trisodium phosphate cleaner (or TSP substitute) to quickly wash off dirt, grime and soot. TSP cleans fast and usually doesn't require a lot of scrubbing. Buy TSP concentrate and mix it with water—it's a better value than liquid TSP. A 16-oz. box costs about $5 at home centers.

Use TSP on all of your woodwork. It slightly etches the paint, which helps the paint form a better bond. And use it in kitchens to clean grease from walls, in bathrooms to remove hairspray and around light switches to remove fingerprints. Wear rubber gloves and turn up the cuffs to keep the TSP solution from running down your arm.

Strain out the goobers

Even if you open your paint right after bringing it home from the paint store, you can still have small chunks or strands of hard paint in it. If those end up on the wall, you'll have to pick them out and reroll the area. So spend two minutes straining out the goobers.

Buy a paint strainer at a home center or paint store or use old pantyhose to strain the paint. Place the strainer over a 5-gallon bucket, then pour the paint through the strainer. The strainer catches any debris in the paint. If you really want to be dollar savvy, rinse out the strainer in the sink and reuse it.

Paint window sashes faster

Most DIYers slop paint onto the glass when painting windows, then scrape it off with a razor. But if you're good with a paintbrush, you can cut in along the glass. You won't have to scrape, and better yet, you'll leave the paint seal intact between the wood and the glass.

Load your brush and lay off the paint on the sash, staying about 1/2 in. from the glass. As soon as the brush is about half unloaded, go back and cut in closely. Let the brush bristles just barely touch the glass so the paint seals the tiny gap between the wood and the glass. If paint does drip on the window, scrape it off with a razor after it dries.

Groove textured ceilings

It's almost impossible to paint right next to rough-textured ceilings (a process called “cutting in”) without getting paint on the ceiling. Taping off the ceiling doesn't work either. The solution? Knock off the texture at the edge with a putty knife. Hold the knife at a 45-degree angle to the wall and run the blade along the edge of the ceiling. The blade scrapes away the texture and leaves a small groove in the ceiling. Clean out the groove with a duster or a dry paintbrush.

Now when you cut in along the top of the wall, the paintbrush bristles will slide into the groove, giving you a crisp paint line without getting paint on the ceiling. And you'll never notice the thin line of missing texture.

Cut in quickly with a steady hand

Cutting in along trim that's not protected by masking tape takes a steady hand. And once you get the knack for it, you'll never want to fuss with taping trim again. Sure, cutting in can be hard for some DIYers, but you can learn to do it effectively.

Use a tapered paintbrush. The angled bristles uniformly unload the paint as you cut in. Dip the brush into the paint, then tap (don't wipe) each side against your container to knock off the excess. Brush the paint on the wall, about 1/2 in. from the trim. Then make a second pass, cutting in all the way to the trim. Avoid “pushing” the paint with your bristles or you'll leave a ridge where you're cutting in. Apply just enough pressure to let the bristle ends glide next to the trim. To help keep the brush steady, move your entire arm as you paint instead of moving your arm only from the elbow down.

Cover paint to keep it fresh

Paint dries fast, even paint in your roller tray. If you need to take a break for more than 10 minutes, cover the paint. Place a lid on your 5-gallon bucket of paint and a damp cloth over your handheld paint container. Use aluminum foil to cover your roller tray. If you don't, the film that forms on top of the paint may end up on your walls.

Use extenders to avoid do-overs

The longer that paint stays wet on walls or woodwork, the fewer lap marks and runs you'll have to deal with. Lap marks are those dark, ugly lines caused by painting over an area that's already dry. If you can keep the paint wet longer, you won't have to worry about them. And the way to prolong the “open time” of paint is to add a paint extender or a conditioner (Floetrol is one brand; at home centers and paint stores).

Pour all the paint you need for the room into a 5-gallon bucket, then stir in the extender or conditioner (following the manufacturer's recommendations). Because extenders and conditioners help level out brush marks and paint runs, you won't have to go back and fix them later.

Cut in one wall at a time

Once you have your paintbrush in hand, it's tempting to cut in along all the trim, the ceiling and the corners in the room. But you'll get better results if you cut in just one wall, then immediately roll out the wall before cutting in the next one. That's because if you roll out the wall right away, while the cut-in paint is still wet, the cut-in paint and the wall paint will blend much better, reducing the chance of lap marks.

Spend less time taping

Taping off all your trim with masking tape is time consuming and doesn't guarantee good results—paint can still bleed under the tape. In short, taping off everything is a waste of time. Instead, only tape horizontal surfaces, like baseboards and chair rail, where paint splatter can land and be noticeable. Vertical surfaces, like door and window trim, aren't as vulnerable to splatter, so don't bother taping them. Just be sure to cut in carefully with your paintbrush so you don't slop paint onto the trim (for help cutting in, see “Cut in Quickly With a Steady Hand” above).

“Tape creates its own set of problems, like coming off before you start painting and pulling paint off the wall when you remove it,” Bill says. “But I learned the hard way that you still want to tape baseboards—paint will always splatter on baseboards if they're not taped.”

DIY Success Story
I hate dealing with tape when I paint. I used to spend hours taping off my trim, only to have the tape peel off before I started slinging the paint. Now I just apply tape to the baseboards right before I paint, and that's it. Not taping the trim saves me a lot of time and frustration.
— Paul Squires

The fastest way to cover walls

Everyone who's painted has a personal technique for rolling walls. Bill honed his technique over three decades. It's methodical, which makes it fast and efficient. It also provides even coverage.

If you're right handed, paint the wall from left to right (it'll feel more natural when you're rolling). Load the roller sleeve with paint and roll from the baseboard to the ceiling to get the paint on the wall (Photo 1). Then roll straight back down (without reloading the roller) to ensure the wall is covered. Load the roller and move over about 3 in. to the right (the unpainted side of the wall) and roll the full height of the wall again to feather out the leading edge (Photo 4).

When you get to the top, move about 6 in. to the left (without reloading) and roll back down to smooth out any runs or lap marks. Then reload the roller, place it on the feathered edge and start the process over. As you paint, roll horizontally where you cut in along the baseboard and ceiling. Only roll about 3 ft. at a time so the paint will stay wet as you roll the walls.

“When I'm painting a room that has an 8-ft. ceiling, I like to attach a short handle to my roller instead of using the more common 48-in. pole extenders. The short handle gives me more control over the roller, and it's easier to turn the roller horizontal to roll along the baseboard and ceiling.”
— Bill Nunn

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Bucket, 5 gal.
    • Paint roller
    • Paint tray
    • Putty knife
    • Paintbrush

You'll also need a short handle extension for the roller and rubber gloves.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Painter's tape
    • TSP or substitute
    • Paint strainer cloth
    • Paint extender

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 9 of 9 comments
Show per page: 20   All
hoz

December 06, 7:18 PM [GMT -5]

I'm retired after 40 years in the trade and I've slung tons of paint. I agree with everything except the paint tray over a bucket and screen, his rolling technique, and that short roller handle.

A bucket and is more convenient, no need to constantly refill the tray. You don't just sock the roller down into the paint but carry it resting above the paint by utilizing the little "ears" on the rolling frame.

March 12, 11:18 AM [GMT -5]

Hi everyone! Nice to meet you! :)

One of the most basics tips I can add to this is to always making use of a disposable dish. It totally saves you time and effort since you don't have to go across the room whenever you intend to refill your paint brush from time to time.

February 05, 11:45 PM [GMT -5]

How fast? I would like to know how much time the work takes. Maybe an average person with average skills. It would be nice to know a job break out like prep time, painting time, and any other time consuming steps to allow for.

December 24, 1:05 PM [GMT -5]

WOW, have I ever been doing it all wrong!

August 07, 10:32 PM [GMT -5]

Tim - you could spray in that situation. A couple of things you might want to consider first:

- because of the overspray (the mist that forms in the air) you use more paint than rolling.
- make sure you have a breathing apparatus (probably want something more than a cheap paper filter with a rubber band.
- unless you're seasoned with a sprayer, achieving even coverage without runs can be challenging (especially watch your overlap). You have much more control with a brush and roller.
- rolling gives the wall a slight orange-peel texture that spraying doesn't. Some people look at a sprayed wall and find it doesn't seem right - they don't know why, but something is "wrong." It is the lack of texture that they've grown accustom to seeing on walls.

August 07, 10:24 PM [GMT -5]

As a painter for 31 years myself, I agree with much of the article. I would add a few suggestions:

1) Always sand! I've been hired countless times because a DIYer didn't sand the trim and the new paint started chipping or flaking off. Typically trim is painted with a semi/gloss finish or it is finished with a varnish/poly product - either way it is too hard for the new paint to adhere to. Sanding with a 180-220 grit paper (120 - 150 if it is rough and needs to be sanded down) will allow the new paint to grip tight and not chip.

Even walls look nicer when sanded. Rolling leaves an orange peal texture that builds up over time. Using a pole sander with 120-150 grit paper and lightly sanding prior to painting will knock down some of the texture and give you a smoother wall when you're finished.

2) Use a good brush. A cheap brush will only give you stress, frustation and a poor paint job. Spending the money for a high quality brush will save you time, effort and give you a far better paint job in the end. Take care of it and you'll be painting with it for many, many years.

3) When rolling, I use a very similar technique except I start in the middle of the wall and go up to the ceiling and then back down to the floor. When you go down you roll through where you started, picking up excess paint and spread it downward on the wall. If find this makes the coverage much more even across the wall. Also, once you've gone several feet, "back roll": before you get more paint on your roller, lightly roll backwards over the wet paint and then forward again. Again this evens out the coverage and eliminates roller marks on the wall (don't go so far that you roll into paint that is starting to dry or you'll have a mess!).

4) Always use a pole when rolling. I find I have much more control than just using the roller handle. Also it saves your back from having to bend down countless times to roll to the baseboard, get more paint, etc. I have a 1-2 foot extenstion pole that is great for hallways, closets, bathrooms, any small space. It is rare that I find a spot that I have to remove the pole and just use the handle.

Happy Painting!

August 07, 10:32 AM [GMT -5]


Thanks for the great article. It gave me some great pointers and I think is going to really help us.

But a quick question for the painting pros on here. We are getting ready to paint our media room after a DIY renovation. There is no carpet in the room right now and everything but the window is going to be the same color. It's currently a light color room which does not work well for a media room, so we are going with a dark blue color.

I plan on pulling all the outlets and switch plates and then covering the boxes with tape and dropping the ceiling fan. I figure I'll have to tape the window because of how it's set in the wall room, but that's not a problem.

Once that is done there is nothing in the room that has to be cut in. Is it still better to roll on the paint vs shoot it on with a paint gun, especially since we are doing the ceiling as well. (Over 8' ceilings in the room....)

Tim

August 06, 8:42 AM [GMT -5]

very good info will help on next paint project.

March 16, 2:09 PM [GMT -5]

Great tips! Latex extender is everyone's friend :)

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