Looking for an easy and inexpensive way to update your home? Do you need a “change” in your surroundings? Do you hate the colors you inherited when you bought your house? If you answered “yes” to any of these, then a DIY painting project may be just what you need.

DIY painting isn’t hard, and can actually be relaxing as well as fun – IF you have some clue about what you’re doing. These tips will save you time and money, not to mention a lot of frustration.

Except for when I was pregnant, I’ve always done my own painting (albeit often with my mama’s help!). I worked my way through school in part by painting during summers, so I was lucky enough to learn these tricks “on-the-job.”

So if you’ve ever contemplated a DIY painting project, but aren’t sure how to go about it, read on.

Considering a DIY painting project, but don't know where to start? These pro tips will help you save time & money on this easy, cost-effective home update!

Save Time And Money With These DIY Painting Tips

1. If you’re in an older home, think twice about DIYing

As in, you’re talking paint from 1978 or older. This is critical, especially if you have kids.

Why? Because older paint can contain lead. Lead is dangerous, especially to little ones. You don’t want to risk having yourself or your children exposed to the lead that will come from messing with old paint on the walls.

Better to hire professionals who have experience with lead paint remediation. If possible, arrange to be out of the house while the work is going on. (When we were trying to sell Dear Hubby’s old house with the peeling walls while I was pregnant with Kimmie, we arranged to have the peeling walls dealt with while I was away for a month.)

2. Invest in decent tools and treat them well

If you’re going to have your paint job look decent when you’re done, you should invest in some quality equipment. At the very least, you’ll want a roller pan, decent roller covers (look for “shed resistant” covers with a plastic core that will stand up to washing), a roller handle, and a quality 1″ or 2″ sash brush. An edging tool is also a good thing to have, as are some basic tiny paintbrushes from your local art store, for touch-ups.


Wait – how come I’m telling you to get the higher-quality paint tools, when this post is supposed to be about SAVING money on DIY painting? Simple: If you get the cheapest possible tools (e.g., “disposable” brushes and roller covers), your finished paint job will look like crap. Your tools will shed all over the place, and the finish won’t be smooth. Trust me on this one: you’re better off investing in decent tools, and then washing them carefully and thoroughly when you’re done so they’re ready to go next time.

For rolling large surfaces, get the wider (9 inch) rollers, not the smaller sizes. And pick the nap (thickness of the roller covering) based on your project. For smooth walls, you’ll want 3/8″ nap. For rough or textured surfaces, go for at least 1/2″. As for washing? Assuming you’re using latex paint (see #5 below), as soon as you’re done with them for your project, rinse them under warm running water with a little dishsoap, and don’t stop until the water runs clear and stays clear when you squeeze the tool. (This will take several minutes, but is necessary for getting all the paint out.)

Considering a DIY painting project, but don't know where to start? These pro tips will help you save time & money on this easy, cost-effective home update!

Compare the larger swatches to the smaller ones; see what I mean?

3. Grab lots of duplicate sample chips

When I’m at the paint store looking for inspiration, I always grab 3-4 of each color I’m considering, not just one. Why?

Simple: When you’ve narrowed down your selections, you can tape the chips together into a larger swatch, then tack the larger swatches on the wall to get a better sense of the color. It’s a lot cheaper, faster, and easier than buying those sample-sized jars and painting a bunch of swatches on the wall.

Larger sample pieces will also make it easier to evaluate your color choices under all the possible lighting combinations (sunlight, cloudy outdoor light, interior light, etc.). It’s so hard to tell what a color will look like if you’re studying a teensy little 2-inch square or smaller.

Considering a DIY painting project, but don't know where to start? These pro tips will help you save time & money on this easy, cost-effective home update!4. Organize your inspiration

If you’re serious about surrounding yourself with wall colors that make you happy, you need two crucial tools: a multi-pocket organizer file, and a small looseleaf binder.

I’m always on the search for new paint color ideas. I regularly rip pages out of magazines (especially those home-decor magazines that have the ads with a one-inch circle of “this season’s latest color” on the page). I then file them away, as I come across them, in one of several pockets in my multipocket organizer. That way, when I’m finally ready to do a project, I have all my color inspirations in one place, and don’t have to try to remember where I put them.

And I would be lost without my little six-ring binder that holds my final color selections. I am pretty classic in my tastes, and like to reuse my favorite colors; my mama and I recently finished repainting my basement in a soothing creamy color that I first used on my bedroom in my condo almost two decades ago.


Having the original paint selection (or a decent-sized swatch of it) will help the paint store look up the formula for the color if you want to reuse it down the road, or if you need more of that color for touch-ups. But having a swatch that’s more than 2″ x 2″ will also help the paint department folks do a custom color match, if they can’t locate the right color in their system.

5. Buy quality latex paint

Not oil-based. Latex cleans up with soap and water; oil-based does not. (The exception is for spot-priming problem areas; see #9.)

And DON’T  buy paint at a discount department store. Go to a paint store, a hardware store, or a home-improvement superstore. Yyou get what you pay for. Just like buying cheap tools will leave you with a lousy-looking finished project that screams “I DIY’d this and had no clue what I was doing!,” so will cheap paint. The pigments are not good quality, the finish will look lousy, and the coverage will be poor. You could even need 3-4 coats to fully cover your old color, rather than the standard 1-2.

This doesn’t mean you need “designer” or professional/contractor-grade paint, either. This review article lists 10 top choices for interior paint jobs, including the brand I’ve used since my summers on-the-job. Expect to spend $20-$30 per gallon for quality paint. The ease of application and coverage will more than make up for this, versus “saving” by buying a cheaper option.

As you’re narrowing your selection, consider things like how important a low-VOC rating is for your paint and whether you’ll need to prime first. “Primer” is a base coat underneath your paint. Many quality paints list themselves as “paint + primer” nowadays, but read the can carefully. (For more on situations where you’ll  still need a separate primer coat, see #9 below.)

A final note: Taking care of your paint cans between use will protect your investment for future touch-ups. Use a paint key to open your cans (not a screwdriver) and a rubber mallet to pound them shut again (not a hammer). And after you’ve poured paint into your roller pan, use a brush or rag to wipe the excess paint from the rim of the can, so it doesn’t interfere with putting the lid back on and removing it.

6. Get the right amount and sheen

Before you buy your paint, calculate how much paint you need and what sheen (level of glossiness) you want. Usually, a gallon of paint will cover 250-400 square feet. Don’t forget that you’ll probably want to do a second coat as well, unless you’re super-careful with applying the first coat and your paint is a premium line guaranteed to cover in one coat.

If you’re not familiar with your sheens: Most paints come in five sheens, or gloss levels. These are (from least glossy/reflective to most) flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss. The higher the gloss, the more durable (easy to clean) the paint will be, but the more it will highlight imperfections in your surface.

  • Flat paint is best for ceilings and for covering walls that aren’t in great shape. For example, I use flat paint on drywall that was formerly wallpapered and has an uneven, damaged surface.
  • Eggshell and satin are good choices for walls. Eggshell works well for living spaces and grownup rooms. Satin is perfect for kitchens, baths, kids’ rooms, and high-traffic areas.
  • Semi-gloss and gloss are best for trim, woodwork (cabinets, bookcases, etc.), and doors. These are the most washable surfaces, but their ability to reflect light means that they won’t hide imperfections at all.
  • If your wall surface is so damaged that it still looks lousy even when painted with flat paint, it’s worth considering a decorative painting approach, such as sponge-painting. I’ve sponge-painted a number of bathrooms over the years to hide damage to the drywall surface from removing wallpaper. The effect was stunning, and you’d have to look closely to make out the flaws in the underlying drywall.

7. Invest the time in prepping well

Prepping your surfaces well may seem like extra work, but it’ll save you tons of time and mess later:

  • For wall decorations you plan to rehang, remove the hardware from the walls – but leave the holes, so you don’t have to measure for them again. Use a 1.5-inch putty knife to wipe a thin coat of spackle over all other holes to fill them. For larger/deeper flaws, use joint compound instead of spackle. Allow to dry thoroughly, and reapply as needed, before priming and painting.
  • Using a screwdriver, remove all switch plates and outlet covers. (Tape the screws to them so you don’t misplace the screws.) Set them aside until you’re done painting.
  • Use 1.5″ or 2″ wide blue masking tape (painter’s tape) to mark the edges of all surfaces you don’t want to get paint on, like the edges of the ceiling and trim. Press down the edge closest to the painting surface so it forms a tight seal. Leave the tape up until you’re done painting.
  • If the surface you’re going to paint is dirty or grimy, spend a few minutes cleaning it with a melamine sponge (magic eraser). This will help the paint adhere better.
  • Use drop cloths or large sheets of plastic to protect the surfaces under where you’re painting, from countertops and furniture to floors. You can tape the edge of your drop cloth right to the molding at the base of the wall you’re painting (using your masking tape, of course), if you like. In a pinch, you can cut open large (ideally, contractor-sized) garbage bags and lay them flat for more drop cloths.


8. Banish the kids

Unless you have teens that you can put to work, don’t try this unless your kids are somewhere else. Send them to their grandparents’ for a weekend. Or do this when they’re in school or at camp. Just trust me, you DON’T want them around wet paint.

In fact, it’s worth seeing if you can banish everyone from the relevant area, including spouses and pets. My current project of repainting our kitchen is challenging because the kitchen connects to every room on the first floor. And repainting the trim includes the door to the garage and two pocket doors. Because of this, I saved this project for when the girls are away, and  work on the doors only when my hubby is at work.

9. Don’t forget to prime and seal where needed

As noted above, while many paints nowadays include primer, you still need to prime surfaces that have never been painted, such as unpainted wood and new drywall/ceiling. For priming these surfaces, you want a basic primer paint; one coat should be enough.

You’ll also want to lightly sand, wipe down (to eliminate sanding dust), and prime surfaces covered with oil-based products before painting with latex. DON’T think you can skip this step. I tried it once on the kitchen cabinets in my condo. Without primer on top of the oil-based original paint, the latex paint I used flaked right off once it dried.

And if you have wood with knots, mold or mildew stains, or oily or greasy stains that you can’t remove with a magic eraser, you need to use a special shellac-based primer/sealer on just those spots first. (Sometimes you’ll need two coats.) The one I use is Zinsser B-I-N, but I’ve also used Kilz Max; both get the job done. They’ll cost more per gallon than your paint, but a gallon will last you a long time because you’re only spot-painting small areas with it. This is another step you don’t want to skip, unless you’re OK with having to redo your work when the stain bleeds through again later.


10. Work smart

Finally, be smart about your painting:

  • The best time to paint a room is right BEFORE you get new flooring, not right after. That way, you won’t need to worry about messing up your new floor surface.
  • When painting an entire room, always work top to bottom. Paint the ceilings first, then the walls, then any trim.
  • Make sure you allow sufficient dry time between coats. Remember that if it’s too hot, too cold, or too humid, the paint will take longer to dry.
  • When painting a wall, always do the edges first with your sash brush or edging tool. Then roll the wall, working top to bottom in sections that are 2-3 feet wide and 2-3 feet high. For more specifics on how to paint walls with a roller, check out this short guide.
  • If you’re painting a door with hinges, remove the door from its hinges first.
  • For surfaces like a bookcase or changing table, let the paint dry for several weeks before putting things on it. If you try to pile things on in a day or two, items may stick to the paint, even if it feels dry to the touch.

top to bottom

3-foot sections

edge first, then roll in Ws

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Considering a DIY painting project, but don't know where to start? These pro tips will help you save time & money on this easy, cost-effective home update!

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