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Achieving professional results when repainting interior walls and ceilings involves much more than just slinging paint. Prep work is as important as the actual painting process.

Santa Rosa-based professional painters Stephan Sallee (Stephan-sallee-painting.com) and Michael Chavez (mikechavezpainting.com) share their tips about how to prepare wall surfaces, when to use a primer and how to get crisp paint edges and ensure proper paint coverage.


If your walls have flat paint and are relatively clean, you’re probably good to go. But if they are dirty and grimy, Sallee recommends scrubbing them with no-rinse TSP (trisodium phosphate). “Wipe the walls with a rag and then wipe down with a dry rag,” he says. Wear gloves, a long-sleeve shirt and safety glasses to avoid skin irritation.

For kitchens, and bathrooms, Sallee recommends adding the TSP to one gallon of water, along with ½ cup of bleach. The solution also is ideal for cleaning window frames, especially aluminum, where mildew tends to accumulate.

Drape furniture, and mask the windows. Sallee suggests inexpensive paper tarps with plastic backing for floor protection, which absorbs spills and splatters better than plastic.

Caulk the edges of windows and door trim, as well as the top edge of baseboards to hide gaps and create a crisp transition between trim and wall surfaces. Sallee prefers the 35-year siliconized caulk because it resists cracking and shrinkage over time.

Prime time

If you are painting over gloss or semigloss oil-based paint on doors, trim or walls, Chavez recommends lightly sanding, then priming the surfaces with an oil-based or hybrid primer, which will bond with the new paint. For problem walls with water stains or crayon marks, he recommends Zinsser High-Hide primer.

If your color palette includes dark red colors, Chavez highly recommends a gray-tinted primer, and dark gray for darker colors. A white primer is essential for light colors such as yellow and pink that have semi-translucent characteristics.

“This will allow you to achieve an opaque finish without having to apply a third coat,” he says.

Get ready to paint

Forget the traditional metal paint tray. Chavez and Sallee use 2½- or 5-gallon buckets to hold their paint, along with a roller screen that hooks onto the inside rim and looks a bit like a washboard ($4.95 at Ace Hardware). That allows them to dip their rollers and squeeze off excess paint on the roller screen.

Start with the ceiling

Begin by painting around the perimeter, bringing the paint an inch or so down the walls. When it comes time to paint the walls, it will be easier to achieve a visually crisp line between them and ceiling, Sallee says. If there’s a large window at one end of the room, Chavez recommends rolling the paint in a pattern that leads away from the window. This will hide what he calls the vineyard-row effect, the subtle lines created by the roller pattern.

Taping the edges

When the ceiling is dry, Sallee and Chavez recommend that DIYers use painter’s tape to achieve a crisp edge between wall and ceiling. If you can finish the job in one day, white masking tape is fine, but if it’s going to remain in place for a few days, use blue painter’s tape, which doesn’t permanently bond to painted surfaces. Both prefer 1½-inch wide Scotch Edge-Lock because it is thin and easy to work with, and it has superior bonding ability.

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Apply the tape to the ceiling’s perimeter, pulling it taut across the ceiling edges and keeping it as straight as possible. Cut the tape into manageable 2- or 3-foot lengths.

Tape baseboards if you are not painting them. Chavez uses a putty knife to press the tape firmly against them, although firmly pressing Edge-Lock with your fingers will suffice in most cases.

Paint the perimeter

Load a 2-inch polyester-nylon angled brush with paint, dabbing off excess on the roller or paint screen. Push the bristles gently against the wall about an inch below the ceiling. This will force some of the paint in front of the leading edge of the brush.

Glide it close to the ceiling along the upper edge of the walls.

“On the first pass, don’t worry about getting too close to your tape edge,” Sallee says. On the second pass, hold the brush at a 20-degree angle and glide the bristles along the edge of the tape.

“If you let your eyes focus on the edge line you are cutting in rather than the brush, you will wind up with a much straighter line,” he says.

Let’s get rolling

Once the edges have been cut, Sallee starts the priming and painting process by painting around the perimeter of all wall surfaces using 4-inch weenie rollers. He prefers Whizz brand “yellow stripe” lambs wool and “blue stripe” micro fiber mini-rollers, which allow tighter access to edges and corners.

Use a standard 9-inch roller (6- or 7-inch rollers for small rooms) to paint the rest of the wall surfaces. Thin coats are preferable to overloaded roller coats. Touch the first coat to confirm that it is dry before applying the second coat.

Tom Wilmer has been a licensed general contractor since 1986. Contact him with questions or comments at tomwilmer@aol.com

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