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House Painting Mistakes Everyone Makes (and How to Avoid Them)

To help you avoid mistakes on your next paint job, we put together this list gathered from painting experts, The Family Handyman editors and our Field Editors. Pick up a new tip or two to help you prevent problems on your next painting project.

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Choosing the Wrong Colors

One of the biggest, most devastating painting mistakes you can make happens before you even pick up a brush or roller. That mistake is basing your paint color choice on color chips. We’ve all done it. You pick out a nice color from the strip at the store and order your paint. But when you put the paint on the walls at home, it doesn’t look like the color you picked out. You can avoid this problem by asking the paint store to mix a small sample of paint that you can take home and try out on the wall, in both natural and artificial light, during the day and at night. Then if you don’t like it, you’re only out a few bucks. Check out these 10 useful tips for how to choose paint colors, and you’ll be on your way to selecting the perfect hue for each room in your home.

Another paint-color related tip: If you’re selling your home, don’t choose bright colors. Buyers might not think your lime green kitchen is as cool as you do. Our advice: Keep it neutral.

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Making Rookie Mistakes

Two common first-time painting mistakes:

  1. Leaving the lid off of the paint can. The most obvious problem with this bad habit is that someone is bound to step on the lid and track paint all over. But there are other reasons to put the lid back on immediately. It’ll keep your paint clean and prevent dried-out paint crud from forming in the can or on the lid. Plus, you’re less likely to get the lids from two similar colors mixed up, which can cause hassles later.
  2. Forgetting to lock out pets. Here’s what can and does happen—you step out of the room you’re painting and pretty soon your dog is in there sniffing around. He grabs the paintbrush handle in his mouth and carries it, dripping, across the house to give it back to you, leaving painted paw prints in his path. Avoid all pet-related painting problems by keeping your pets locked away from the project at all times.

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paint mistakeFamily Handyman

Bumping the Ceiling

One second of inattention is all it takes to bump the ceiling with the roller and create a troublesome touch-up job. You can avoid this problem by rolling on a horizontal strip of paint parallel to the ceiling first. Then roll vertically up to the horizontal strip. The 9-in.-wide strip of paint along the ceiling will give you a nice buffer zone. If you do make a painting mistake on the ceiling, here’s how to cover it up.

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For the smoothest possible finish when you’re painting woodwork, doors or cabinets, avoid too much brushwork. Load the brush and quickly cover an area with paint. Then use a stroke or two to level it off. Brushing over the same area, especially after the paint has started to dry, will cause unsightly brush marks and ridges.

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Frozen paint chunksFamily Handyman

Extreme Temperatures

Paint doesn’t handle extreme temperatures very well. So, if you live in a cold climate, add this to your fall chore list: Bring the latex/acrylic paint into the house. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the latex caulk. Freezing ruins both latex paint and caulk.

Another temperature-related painting mistake is painting when it’s going to freeze. Paint can’t dry properly in freezing temps. It will only dry partway and will easily come off when touched. At the other end of the thermometer, painting a hot surface is also a bad idea. The paint starts to dry before you can spread it evenly and can bubble and slough off. Plan your painting to avoid direct sun if possible. Or at least try to paint south-facing walls in the morning or evening when the sun is less intense. This is the proper temperature to paint your home.

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Spray Painting Without Covering Everything

Don’t underestimate overspray from spray cans or paint sprayers. Cover everything in sight with thin plastic or drop cloths. And if you’re working outdoors, don’t spray on a windy day. The mist can drift a long way, and you may end up having to pay for a detailing job on your neighbor’s car. Check out these 12 spray can tips for perfect spray paint.

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Letting the Roller Touch the Floor

If you’re painting new walls before the baseboard is installed, leave an unpainted strip along the bottom where it will be covered by the baseboard. If you try to paint too close to the floor, your roller cover could touch it and pick up dirt, lint and hair that you will then spread across the wall.

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Best ceiling paint tipsFamily Handyman

Painting Over Popcorn Ceilings Without Testing First

Before you paint over a popcorn-textured ceiling, test-paint a small section in an inconspicuous spot. If the texture stays up and everything looks fine, go ahead and paint the whole ceiling. Some ceiling texture will fall off in sheets when it is painted over, so testing first is a must. Here’s how to remove a popcorn ceiling.

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Painting Over Glossy Finishes

When you paint over any surface that already has a coat of varnish or glossy paint, make sure to give the surface some ‘tooth’ first so the new paint will stick. Thorough sanding will work, but wiping the surface with a liquid deglosser is easier and more effective.  Check out these indoor painting tips and techniques.

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Painting in Low Light

Avoid painting interior surfaces in dim light. The painted surface may look fine at first, but when you uncover the windows to let in natural light, or turn on bright lights, you’ll likely see thin patches and other imperfections. Always make sure to have lots of bright light when painting.

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Using the Wrong Paint

If you’ve chosen the wrong paint for the job, no matter how good your application technique is, the project isn’t going to turn out well. Here are three situations to watch out for:

  1. When painting surfaces that aren’t perfect, don’t choose paint with a high sheen. The glossiness will only accentuate the problems on the surface. Light reflecting off the shiny paint will highlight every defect. So if you want to paint with a semigloss or gloss sheen, make sure the surface you’re painting is carefully prepared and perfectly smooth.
  2. When covering a light-colored wall with dark paint, start with a tinted primer. Ask at the paint store for advice. The staff will know what tint to use. Gray primer is a great choice under most dark colors.
  3. If you’re painting with two sheens of the same color, be sure to label the cans. It’s really easy to get the two mixed up, and you won’t realize your mistake until the paint dries. You’ll be really sorry if you accidentally touch up flat walls with semigloss paint.

Here’s how to choose the right paint sheen.

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Treating Untextured Ceilings Just Like Walls

A new drywall ceiling requires more care than a wall. Ask any painter and you’re bound to hear a horror story about an untextured ceiling that showed every drywall seam no matter how many coats of paint were applied. This problem is more severe where window light shines across a large, unbroken ceiling.

Even the best drywall taping job isn’t perfectly flat, and differences in texture between the taped spots and the drywall surface add to the problem. The best solution is to skim-coat the entire ceiling with a thin layer of joint compound. This helps feather out level differences, and more important, leaves a consistent surface for paint. Another fix is to roll on a special high-solids paint made for this purpose.  Plus, check out these taping drywall tips.

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Not Adding a Paint Conditioner

There’s no need to thin wall paint, but if you’re painting woodwork, cabinets or doors, the paint that comes straight from the can is often too thick. Adding a compatible paint conditioner will help the paint flow better and brush on more smoothly. Floetrol is one brand that works for water-based paint. Follow the instructions on the container to determine how much to add. Plus, here’s what you should not do on your next painting project.

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Painting Wood Without a Stain Blocker

Red cedar, redwood and cypress all have tannins that bleed through most latex paint. Fix the problem by priming these types of wood with a stain-blocking primer. Look for ‘tannin blocking’ on the label. Here’s how to prepare wood for a smooth paint job.