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. Pick up a new tip or two to help you prevent problems on your next painting project.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
Choosing the Wrong Color
One of the biggest painting mistakes you can make happens before you even pick up a brush — choosing your paint color based on a color chip. 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.
To avoid this mistake and get a true idea of what the paint will look like, always ask the paint store to mix a small sample of paint that you can take home and try out on the wall. Then observe it in natural and artificial light, as well as during the day and at night. If you don’t like it, you’re only out a few bucks and another run to the paint store. The Amazon Paint Finder is another alternative you can try to find complementary shades in seconds.
Not sure where to start? Here are the best paint colors, according to science.
Making Rookie Mistakes
These are the two most common first-time painting mistakes:
- 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 a hassle later.
- Forgetting to lock out pets. Dogs can knock over paint cans, brush against wet walls, or even pick up the handle of a dripping paint brush with their mouth. Avoid all pet-related painting problems by keeping your pets locked away from the project at all times. (Then reward them with one of these DIY pet projects.)
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.
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.
Paint doesn’t handle extreme temperatures well. So if you live in a cold climate, bring the latex/acrylic paint into the house before temperatures drop too low. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the latex caulk. Freezing ruins both latex paint and caulk.
And never paint when it’s going to freeze. Paint can’t dry properly in freezing temps. It will only partially dry and will easily come off when touched.
At the other end of the temperature spectrum, painting a hot surface is also 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. Here is the best time of the year (and the proper temperature) to paint your home.
Spray Painting Without Covering Everything
Don’t underestimate over-spray 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.
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. (Here’s how to paint a room fast, according to an expert.) Here’s a mess-free house painting hack you should try.
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.
Painting Over Glossy Finishes
When you paint over any surface that already has a coat of varnish or glossy paint, the paint won’t properly stick and you’ll be left with a terrible-looking finish. You need to rough up the surface first by thorough sanding or wiping the surface with a liquid deglosser (the easier and more effective method). In fact, using a deglosser is a secret painting tip from the pros.
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 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.
Using the Wrong Sheen
If you’ve chosen the wrong paint sheen for the job, no matter how good your application technique is, the project isn’t going to turn out well. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- 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.
- If you’re painting with different sheens of the same color, be sure to label both 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.
Only Rolling in One Direction
To avoid overlap marks on your ceiling paint job, it’s important to “keep a wet edge.” Work in about five- or six-foot square sections. Move quickly from one section to the next to make sure the paint along the edge doesn’t dry before you roll the adjoining section. Re-roll each section at a right angle to your first roller direction as you go.
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 ($20) is one brand that works for water-based paint. Follow the instructions on the container to determine how much to add.
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.