How to Prep a Room for Painting – Consumer Reports

Even if you’re using a high-quality paint, the results will disappoint if the surface isn’t well-prepared
When you shop through retailer links on our site, we may earn affiliate commissions. 100% of the fees we collect are used to support our nonprofit mission. Learn more.
Paint projects are an inevitable part of homeownership. And if you’re a renter, giving contractor beige walls a splash of color could be the perfect way to personalize your space. But painting requires much more than picking up a brush and tackling your walls. It calls for readying paint surfaces to ensure they are in optimal shape.
In the case of paint prep, a little effort goes a long way. And you’ll be glad you took the extra time when the project is done. Preparation makes way for smooth surfaces and uniform paint coverage. It can also prevent moisture from damaging the job. 
Below we’ve provided five secrets to great paint preparation. Follow these steps for a top-notch paint job and walls that look their best.
If you need help choosing a formula before you get to the prep stage, check out our interior and exterior paint buying guide, as well as our primer on how to pick the right finish. For details on the most popular paints on the market, CR members can check out our interior paint ratings.
Smooth the surface. Scrape away cracked or peeling paint with a metal putty knife, and use it to remove bumps, paint, and edges around nail holes. Taper any sharp edges where old paint remains by sanding very lightly with very fine sandpaper.
Fill gouges. Apply a lightweight, fast-drying spackling compound, such as Fast ’N Final. Rub a tiny dab into the holes using your finger. (With a putty knife, you’re more likely to use too much spackle, leaving lumps.) Let dry, then smooth it down with a dual-sided scrub sponge to clean the wall.
Close gaps. Apply caulk to the gaps around windows and trim using a wet fingertip to smooth it flush as you go.
Remove cobwebs. Paint needs a clean, dry surface to adhere. Dust ceilings, walls, and trim with a duster on a pole extension. Or cover the bristles of a broom with an old pillowcase, and dust.
Clean up. Mix a low-suds detergent such as Spic and Span in a bucket of water. (Sudsy detergents will leave the surface too slippery.) Then use a dual-sided scrub sponge to clean and lightly rub down imperfections, roughing up the surface for better paint adhesion.
These standout formulas, listed in alphabetical order, are recommended for your next paint project. You’ll notice a couple of them have Greenguard Gold certification, meaning they emit lower levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs—particularly formaldehyde—than the industry standard. VOCs are chemicals that can easily become airborne and affect your health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Low levels of VOCs—some paints even come with a “zero VOCs” claim—are ideal for interior paint projects.
Do you have some painting projects planned for your home? On the “Consumer 101” TV show, Consumer Reports expert Rico de Paz shows host Jack Rico how to give walls the perfect coat.
Tanya A. Christian
I’ve spent more than a decade covering lifestyle, news, and policy. At Consumer Reports, I’m happy to sit at the intersection of these specialties, writing about appliances, product safety and advocacy, consumer fairness, and the best tools and products to help you spruce up your home. When I’m not putting pen to paper, I’m exploring new cultures through travel and taking on home makeover projects, one room at a time.
We respect your privacy. All email addresses you provide will be used just for sending this story.