How to Paint a Room

Two Methods:Painting a RoomPriming & Painting

Painting can be a great way to freshen up a room at a very low cost. However, it's important to follow certain procedures. These steps will prevent a messy-looking room, or worse, flaking paint.

This how-to should be helpful whether you are just painting a ceiling, wall, or woodwork, or are doing a complete makeover.

Method 1
Painting a Room

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    Get the tools and supplies (see below). It's not always easy to run out to the store in the middle of dealing with wet paint!
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    Clear the room of all movable items, and cover things you can't or don't move. If you are only painting part of the room, you'll only need to clear or cover items in the danger zone. Paint drips downward, so anything underneath what you are painting needs to be moved or covered. Paint can also splatter sideways as you swing your tools or if you paint too aggressively. Consider the danger zone to be at least 2 meters (6 feet) horizontally from any surfaces that will be painted.
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    Take the opportunity to make your walls flat. Remove any unnecessary protrusions, like nails or old paint drips. Fill large holes with self-expanding sealing foam (e.g. Great Stuff). Fill small holes with Spackle, joint compound, or wood putty. Sand the wall flat and remove bumps and ridges. See How to Fix a Hole in a Wall and How to Prepare a Room for Painting.
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    Remove hardware (doorknobs, handles, hinges, electrical outlets, electrical switch covers, smoke detectors, doorbells, etc.) you don't wish to paint over. For painting purposes, it's better to remove than to mask, but masking is possible for items that you either cannot remove, don't care that much about, or which would be wobbly if removed and re-installed in the same place. Nothing looks worse than paint on door hardware.
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    Make the room dust-free. You don't want dust to blow onto your wet paint; it will make nasty bumps.
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    Carefully consider what you will be painting. Any colors you want to match exactly will probably need to be painted at the same time. Paint colors can fade over time, especially when exposed to sunlight.
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    If you have mold or mildew, remove it with a mix of bleach and water (50% of each), then wash again with plain water. Some molds can be very hazardous. Use of a filter mask is recommended. Be sure the room is kept dry enough to prevent future mold growth. Some primers and paints are mold and mildew-resistant. Some primers and sealers are specifically marketed to deal with stains.
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    Prepare the surfaces to be painted. They must be completely clean of dust, spider webs, etc., and also completely dry. You should be able to wipe the wall down with a sponge without having anything come off. If there is existing paint that is chipping, it will need to be scraped off with a metal brush or paint scraping tool. Otherwise, your new paint job will also soon start to flake off.
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    Remove any grease on the walls. Use a household detergent or a light acid. Trisodium phosphate (TSP) is one widely available cleaning product that is effective at breaking down dirt, grease, and oil on walls.
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    Read the can before starting, so you know how long it will take to dry. Paint drips may obscure the label later. This will also help you know how long the job will take, so you can schedule appropriately.
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    Apply your masking tape to the edges of areas that will not be painted (cabinets, windows, woodwork, floor, ceiling, etc.)
    • Make sure the tape is straight. The edge you lay down with the tape is the edge you will get in paint. A small error (especially if the wrong color is on the wrong surface) might be very noticeable later.
    • Push down hard on the edge of the masking tape nearest the side that will be painted, to prevent bubbles that could allow paint to seep under the tape.
    • It's almost certainly less annoying to use masking tape than to "be very careful" around the edges. It is nearly impossible to avoid accidentally getting paint in the wrong place, and it is difficult to wipe up an accidental smear when it's very close to a large area of wet paint without getting more paint on yourself or other inappropriate surfaces.
    • To keep paint from bleeding under the tape, you can first "seal" it by using either a clear glaze or paint of the same color of the surface behind the tape. You will then need to paint over this sealing coat with the desired color on the surface being painted. This will produce a very crisp line when you remove the tape.
    • Some surfaces (such as loose plaster or old wallpaper) will be damaged by masking tape. You will need to wipe stray smears, or hold a newspaper or other flat, non-stick object in the right place. Wide plastic blades are sold in paint departments for this purpose. If one surface is heavily textured, you may need to do the border freehand with a good paintbrush. Hopefully this will be in an area where it is difficult to notice small errors (such as high above, out of direct sight, or very low to the floor).
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    Deploy your drop cloth, making sure all areas in the danger zone are completely covered. It's important to take this step seriously; it will be more difficult if not impossible to clean up drips later. You may wish to tape your drop cloth to the floor. Masking tape does work on carpets.
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    Prevent tracking of paint into other rooms. Wipe your feet thoroughly before leaving the room, or use additional drop cloths in other rooms.
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    Prime! (See "How to prime and paint".) Priming is mandatory if you are painting over any non-paint surface, like drywall, unpainted wood, metal, Spackle, wood putty, ink, crayon, mold stains, or even oil paint. It water-seals the surface and also provides a layer that paint can stick to. Water-based paint will not stick to an un-primed layer of oil-based paint. Putting down white primer is a good idea when painting a light color over a dark one, but consider getting your primer tinted if you are painting a dark color over light. You probably don't need primer when repainting, if the older paint is of the same type and not too old. However, you should use a primer if the existing paint is very shiny, as new paint layers do not adhere as well to a glossy finish. Consider a bonding primer for high-gloss walls. When in doubt, use primer! Some specialty paints are self-priming, which may or may not save time depending on the number of coats needed.
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    Update your masking if necessary.
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    Paint! (See "How to prime and paint".) Add as many coats as it takes to make the surface look nice. Higher quality paint often requires fewer layers for an even color.
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    Remove masking when finished. Pull the tape off the wall at a 90 degree angle for a clean edge. You may need to re-mask if you are using more than two coats; otherwise, the paint layers may tear in a jagged fashion instead of being cut cleanly by the tape. You can wait until the paint is dry before removing the masking (this is not necessary if you are careful), but for the best cut, don't wait longer than 24 to 48 hours. If the paint has completely dried, the tape will be difficult to remove and may pull paint from the wall underneath.
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    If you had paint bleed under your masking tape, you can take a very small paintbrush (typically sold at art stores) and very carefully touch up the lines. The result will probably not be as good as a good masking job, but it will make errors less noticeable.
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    If you accidentally splattered the wrong color in certain areas despite your careful masking and covering, touch them up with a brush and some extra paint of the right color, being careful not to splatter yet again.
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    Wait until paint drips are dry before removing your drop cloths.
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    After the last coat is completely dry, replace any hardware you removed. You may wish to purchase new hardware that matches your new paint colors. If your electrical outlets, covers, and switches are discolored or no longer match, replacements are relatively cheap and easily installed.
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    Enjoy your new room!

Method 2
Priming & Painting

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    You will need to repeat this sequence once for your priming coat, and then as many times as needed to produce a nice color, with your desired paint color.
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    Mix the paint or primer thoroughly. Shake vigorously for 2-3 minutes before opening the can, or use a paint stirrer after opening.
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    Open the can and begin applying it to the walls. Work from the top down (e.g. do the ceiling first, then upper woodwork, then walls, then lower woodwork). This enables you to clean up drips from previous stages. If you have a paint roller, do the bulk of a large area before doing the edges. This way you'll minimize the area you need to do with the slower paint brush.
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    To apply with a paint roller:,
    • Dump paint into the roller tray until it is almost full (less if you have a relatively small area to do).
    • Roll the roller to cover all sides. Use the bottom of the tray to force it to rotate if necessary. Try not to submerge the roller enough to get paint on the insider or on the handle.
    • Move the roller to the surface to be painted without hesitation, to prevent drips. Slowly spinning the roller by turning the handle will also help prevent drips.
    • Spread the paint around. Don't go too quickly, or centrifugal force will cause the paint to splatter.
    • Orient the handle to avoid conflicts with nearby surfaces.
    • Pressing hard while rolling can release paint trapped in the roller, which is useful when you are coming to the end of the job. Avoid letting the roller get too dry; this produces poor coverage.
    • Don't necessarily worry about getting all the way into corners; this can be done with a brush. But getting as close as you easily can will save time.
    • To ensure an even coat, after covering a given area with wet paint (say an 8 foot portion), go back over it in a strictly up-and-down motion, with each stroke covering 50% of the area of the previous stroke. This is known as "laying off" the paint.
    • For more detail, see How to Use a Paint Roller.
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    To apply with a brush:
    • Dip the brush into the paint can, roller tray, or paper cup. (You can use leftover paint in a tray from a previous rolling step, or you can use a tray or cup as an easier way to carry around a small amount of paint while leaving the paint can safely sealed.) Don't dip more than an inch or so; if you go farther than that, you'll just be wasting paint and making it harder to clean your brush later.
    • Shake your brush off or gently scrape it off against the inside of the rim, to prevent drips.
    • Move the paint brush to the surface to be painted without hesitation, to prevent drips. Slowly spinning the brush will also help prevent drips.
    • Start at the top and drag downward.
    • It's best if you avoid holding your brush such that the bristles are above the handle. Paint will drip off the bristles and onto the handle, and make a mess. This will be unavoidable if you are painting a ceiling, so avoid putting a large amount of paint on your brush at any one time.
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    Clean baseboards and other surfaces immediately if paint splatters or runs onto them. Use a wet sponge or cloth. Paint thinner is needed to clean up oil-based paints. Water will clean up latex paints. Do not let the drip dry!
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    Before moving on to the next area, inspect for drips and wipe up with the brush or roller. Once dried, drips will produce a bump that is difficult to remove.
    • Completely finish one wall before going to the next wall. When paint is drying, it will dry darker. If you have to go back and touch up because you did not completely finish, the dry (or wet areas depending on the color) will look different and you will end up doing extra touch-up work.
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    When finished with your painting session, do not leave your painting tools just lying around! They will dry out and become useless. After using up as much retained paint as possible, clean your paint applicator (brush, roller, etc.). If you are using water-based paint, put the item under water, squeeze, and shake around. Repeat with clean water and alternate with running under the faucet until the water runs clear. Let the item dry thoroughly before using again. A thorough cleaning and drying cycle prevents older paint colors or water from mixing with your new paint, which will ruin the color or texture. To keep your tools from drying out for short periods, wrap in plastic or keep submerged in the paint. If you are painting with the same color the next day, you can also put your tools in a plastic bag, freeze overnight, and thaw when ready to use. If you cannot clean up properly right away, at least immerse your tools in water so they can be cleaned up later. (Assuming you are using water-based paint.) If you are using oil-based paint, water will not be helpful, and you must use paint thinner to clean your tools and your hands. Several different chemicals can act as paint thinner, but in general it is more annoying to use, produces noxious odors, and is not as nice for the environment.


  • If using a new roller, wrap the roller with painters tape to remove excess knap and any other debris that will contaminate your paint and end up on your painted surface. You will be surprised at how much excess knap and other debris will be stuck to tape when you peel tape off of roller.
  • If you get particulate matter in your paint (hair, a piece of the wall, a clump of dust), fish it out right away! Don't count on it to disappear; it will leave an ugly bump.
  • Take your time! Painting will never be fun (unless you inhale too many fumes) but a little extra time in preparation and application will make a world of difference. Remember, you will be looking at these walls for a long time and while your visitors won't notice that little drip behind the door, or the messy brush strokes behind the curtain, YOU WILL! Take pride in your work!
  • Color advice:
    • Dark colors can make a room feel smaller, and light colors can make it feel larger.
    • Ceilings are almost always painted white to make them appear higher.
    • If you need inspiration, pick your room color from a favorite object, i.e. painting, jewelry, serving dish, or flower.
    • Don't be afraid to go bold!
  • A great way to save time (and your back) when cleaning the walls, is to use a mop. Use the sponge type of mop (get a fresh one for your walls) and use a cleaner that won't leave a film
  • If your paintbrush is leaving foam bits or paint of a different color on your wall, get a new one.
  • You may want to get a whole or half shade lighter since sometimes paint dries a little darker than the real color.
  • One thing that many do not know about is problem with cracks between walls and ceiling. Walls can move and gaps between walls should be filed with acrylic - silicone - paintable caulk. Many people do mistake and fill gaps between walls and ceiling with cement or gypsum, those materials can not expand and they usually crack after few Years. This is very important and very simple to do.
  • If you have any questions specific to your situation, hardware store clerks are usually good at giving free advice.
  • Keep pets and children away.
  • With latex paint, clean your brushes with a 2 in 1 shampoo(any brand). The shampoo and conditioner mix gets your brushes good and clean.


  • Dust from cleaning, and particles from spray paint can trigger nearby fire alarms. Cover detectors as needed, but remember to un-cover them when finished.
  • Remove painting tape after you finished painting. If you do not remove tape after painting you can get it very difficult to remove it after. Tape can get dry and nearly impossible to remove after.
  • Mixing bleach-containing cleaners with certain other cleaners can produce chlorine gas, which is very toxic. Read the bottles for safety warnings, or be careful not to mix cleaners!
  • Oil paint is flammable and should be stored in a fire-proof cabinet.
  • Do not paint smoke alarms. That can impair function. Smoke alarms are important life-saving devices.
  • Do not use lead paint for new applications. It is toxic for everyone and dangerously toxic for children. It's also illegal to use it in many countries.
  • Be very aware of where your paint can is, and don't put it anywhere it can tip and spill. Paint puddles are very annoying to clean up.
  • Don't leave open paint cans or tools lying around where people can trip on them, especially if you are no longer actively working.
  • If you use a tinted primer, use it everywhere that you want to be the same color at the end of the job. Using the same paint on top of different primer tints will produce different results, which might not be fixable just by adding another coat of paint.
  • Make sure you work in a well ventilated room. Be careful not to blow dust on wet paint if you are using a fan.
  • If you are sanding or scraping chips off of an old wall, it's possible you will produce lead paint dust or chips. Lead dust and chips are toxic and dangerously toxic for young children. You will need to make absolutely sure that children are not exposed to the dust or chips (young children are prone to eating them) to prevent neurological damage, as well as protecting yourself (e.g. with the proper type of dust mask) to prevent lead poisoning. You may wish to have the paint professionally removed if you have children in your home. Local laws may also regulate what you are required to do with the surface and how you may disposed of the contaminated paint.
  • Turn off the circuit breaker or remove the fuse when replacing electrical outlets or switches. Do not put anything (e.g. your hand, a screwdriver, a paintbrush) inside an energized electrical box!
  • Be careful to put your stepladder on firm footing. It's much safer to move your ladder instead of leaning too far to one side.
  • If you buy multiple cans of the same color paint, you may wish to mix them in a large pail. Due to imprecision in the tinting process, they may be slightly different colors. This might not be a worry if you are putting one color on top of a very slightly different color, as opposed to putting them side by side.
  • Do not heat lead paint to remove it. Toxic fumes will result, and you will likely get lead poisoning.
  • Read the can. There may be important safety and usage information. Some painting-related chemicals are toxic and you will need to be more careful about avoiding contact.

Things You'll Need

  • 5 in 1 - This name is quite deceptive seeing as it is more like a 10 billion in one. This tool can be used for this from opening paint cans to a weapon for self defense.
  • Spackle. For filling up nail holes and dents (using your 5 in 1 tool)
  • Cleaning supplies (for preparing the room). A sponge mop for cleaning your walls if your walls are dirty. Having a sponge mop on a handle is great for cleaning your walls especially high up where you can't reach.
  • Indoor primer. Indoor primer is all you'll need, and it will need to be water-based to be compatible with water-based paint. Don't use anything oil-based indoors unless you have a good reason; it's much smellier and harder to clean up. Choose a tinted primer if you are painting only darker colors. If you are painting multiple surfaces different colors, it's probably easier to use the same primer for all of them. This will allow you to avoid masking for the priming coat. Be sure to read the can and get enough to cover the entire area you'll be painting.
  • Indoor paint. Latex paint is water-based. Don't use anything oil-based indoors unless you have a good reason; it's much smellier and harder to clean up. Take your time choosing the right color, and take home some paint swatches to compare with existing room colors to make sure they match. Keep in mind that color changes under different lighting conditions. Choose the right sheen for the application. High-gloss and semi-gloss are often used for trim (e.g. woodwork, shelving) and wet areas (e.g. kitchens and bathrooms). Satin and flat sheen are sometimes preferred for large areas, like walls, but check out the manufacturer's samples and recommendations. Be sure to read the can and get enough to cover the entire area you'll be painting.
  • Paint applicator. Be sure to use a new one or a used one that is relatively clean. You don't want rust or color from a previous job to mix into your nice new paint!
    • Traditional bristle paint brushes will leave a slight grainy texture on smooth surfaces. They are excellent for rough surfaces, since they are sturdy and good at filling cracks and bumps. Difficulty of cleaning is moderate. Trim the brush with scissors if it has any wayward bristles, to prevent painting nearby surfaces unintentionally.
    • Foam paint brushes' are marketed as disposable, but can usually be re-used several times. Bad for rough surfaces; they will quickly become torn and useless. Will leave a fairly smooth texture on smooth surfaces. Good for corners since the tip is angled. Very easy to clean up. If you are using oil-based paint, it might be a good idea to use disposable foam brushes instead of trying to clean brushes with paint thinner.
    • For paint brushes, small widths are good for tight or curvy spaces, or very small jobs. Medium widths are the best general-purpose choices. Wide brushes may be hard to dip into the paint can. If you are painting a large area, consider using a roller or sprayer instead (unless you need a brush for texture). Paint brushes are cheap; pick up a variety of widths and use the one most convenient for the job at hand.
    • A paint roller is good for painting a large area, such as a wall or ceiling. You will also need a paint tray for dipping and roller handle. Narrow-width rollers (3 to 6 inches) and handles are good for smaller swaths (such as a door) or if you have some tighter spaces you'd like to do quickly. It might be cheaper to buy a full-width roller and cut it in half. (Be sure to trim the ends with scissors and rinse out to remove shag on the sides, which can result in accidental application to inappropriate surfaces.) Several different textures are available, depending on the way you want the surface to feel. Pick the thinnest roller for the texture you need, to minimize the amount of paint you waste. Rollers go through paint a lot faster than brushes, but produce much better visual coverage in fewer coats, and are much faster. Cleanup is more difficult because of the large amount of paint they retain. As an alternative to a tray for large jobs, you can use a 5 gallon (18.9 L) bucket and a small metal screen (both available at paint and hardware stores).
    • A paint sprayer is a more expensive alternative to paint rollers for very large areas. You may need to do more thorough masking and room preparation to avoid getting paint on inappropriate surfaces.
    • Edging pads are marketed for creating clean edges, but you may have difficulty producing a sharp line without using masking tape. Cleanup is relatively easy. Some people like them for doing woodwork. A "ceiling edge pad" is for painting walls near ceilings. The pad slides up the wall, and is kept from hitting the ceiling by wheels that allow you to move it along the wall. It attaches to the end of a pole so it can be operated from the floor.
    • Edging rollers are designed to paint corners quickly, but you'll probably be happier getting corners with a paintbrush.
    • Long handles are available for paint rollers, to make painting ceilings and tall walls easier.
    • Spray paint (in a spray can) is generally not cost-effective or convenient for painting room surfaces. It is relatively expensive, difficult to contain, may produce unwanted drips, and has highly noxious vapors. It may be appropriate for metal surfaces that need to be sealed to prevent rust, but good ventilation is essential. Spray painting a ceiling is difficult. Cleanup is trivial, but masking becomes very important. In some places, you must be 18 or older to purchase spray paint, as a graffiti-reduction measure.
  • Dropcloth.
    • Thin, clear plastic tarps are available very cheaply at home improvement and hardware stores. They are often marketed as being disposable, but can usually be reused many times. Choose a thickness that will be resistant to tearing when being walked on.
    • Durable plastic tarps (usually blue) also work, though they are heavier and noisier, and may have grommets that will need to be folded over to prevent leaks.
    • Newspapers are usually freely available, but may allow large paint drips to seep through. The printing can also rub off on previously painted surfaces.
    • Old sheets can also work, but are even more likely to allow large paint drips to seep through.
    • An easy way to protect your floors is to use plastic carpet runner (the kind with or without the sharp little spikes). It rolls up for easy storage and it will hold your tarp/plastic down better than tape. Just lay your plastic down in front of the wall, and then lay the runner up flush against the wall. A 4 foot section gives you plenty of protection and just move it along with you as you work on the wall.
  • Paint can opener. A flat-head screwdriver is best, since it has an ergonomic handle and is multi-purpose. (Wide heads generally bend the rim less.) You can also buy a dedicated tool for this purpose. Or you can use your 5 in 1 tool.
  • Screwdriver(s) to remove hardware, if needed.
  • Masking tape. Several types are available, including regular tan masking tape, low-stick blue "painters' tape", and low-bleed green "Frog Tape". Low-stick is probably best for walls with a fragile layer of old paint. 2" tape (usually the widest available) is reasonably good at preventing unintentional smears. Only get narrower tape if you need a narrow strip to fit a tight space or make a narrow stripe.
  • Stepladder, if needed to reach higher areas. For larger jobs, you can use 2 ladders and a 2"x12" plank to access a large portion of the ceiling and upper wall without moving your ladder constantly.
  • Painting clothes. Wear something you don't care about. It's almost inevitable you'll get paint smears on your clothes and shoes. Your hands will be most vulnerable, so gloves are a good idea. Cheap, disposable latex gloves will work, but general-purpose or gardening gloves will breathe better. Consider a painter's cap - they're cute and will keep paint out of your hair. If you have long hair, you might want to put it up to keep it out of danger. If you don't like gloves, you can also coat your hands and wrists with petroleum jelly so water and oil based paints do not penetrate the skin and come off easily. However, the jelly is itself oily and can be annoying to wash off, but it is at least moisturizing if you have dry skin.
  • Water, and a sponge, paper towels, or cloth rag. It's likely you'll need to wipe up a spill or two.
  • A sink to wash your tools. Ideally one you can stain with paint without worrying, but if necessary you can carefully wipe up splatters.
  • ===Optional tools===
  • Paper cup for your paintbrush. (Optional for small areas.)
  • Metal brush or paint scraping tool, if you have chipping paint you want to paint over.
  • Paint stirrer. Nothing more sophisticated than a stick; wooden ones are usually available for free wherever paint is sold. You can probably get away with shaking the can before you open it, instead.
  • Work lights if the room lights are disabled or won't be bright enough.
  • A painter's 5-in-1 tool' is essential for cleaning rollers. It has a circular blade that is designed to "scrape" the extra paint out of the roller. As much as a half-cup of paint can remain loaded in a roller when you are done painting, so you will waste a lot of paint and a lot of water or paint thinner trying to wash it all out.
  • A brush spinner is another great tool for cleaning both brushes and rollers. This spins the brushes and rollers to dry them very thoroughly and quickly. Use it inside a bucket so you don't splash paint everywhere.

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Categories: Painting and Other Finishes