Consumer GuidesPainting & Staining

Paint Basics

Interior paints: Latex-based paints are used for most interior paint jobs. Latex paints come in a variety of colors, and you can clean up using water. Flat or low-gloss finishes work best for rooms that get a minimal amount of wear. Consider a glossier finish for rooms that get more use (children’s bedrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, pantries). A paint that has a glossier finish can take more wear and tear and more cleaning.

Glossy finishes also work great for floorboards and trims as a contrast to flat wall paint, and because trim often gets the most handprints and dirty smudges.

For bathrooms and other areas that get the most humidity and traffic, use an oil-based paint. The toughest oil-based paint has a high-gloss enamel finish that has a hard plastic finish for extreme conditions.

Paint usage: On average, a gallon of paint will cover in one coat around 400 square feet. This will vary depending on the surface quality, the color of paint and how thick you apply it. Professionals will apply exactly as much paint as needed; do-it-yourselfers often will use more paint than necessary. Paint will cover a room best in two thin coats instead of one thick coat, and the gallon will go farther, too.

Interior wall surfaces: Textured drywall is one of the most common finishes found in modern houses or remodels. It will have a textured finish that looks like bumps or ripples.

Smooth drywall is another finish found in modern homes that looks very smooth, almost like glass.

Plaster is an interior wall finish found in older homes made of a putty-like mixture that is trawled onto a lath. The lath may be wooden strips (in pre-1930 houses), gypsum lath (wallboardlike) or metal (in commercial buildings). The painted finished surface looks just like a finished drywall in modern homes, but plaster is harder and more brittle.

Plaster or drywall: Here’s an experiment to test whether you have plaster or drywall:

Try to stick a thumb tack into the wall. If you have plaster, the surface will be very hard, and it will resist your pushing. It may also crumble and break away into a powdery substance. If you have drywall, the surface will provide initial resistance and then allow easy insertion.

Wood surfaces are usually stained and show the wood grain. Window and door frames, stair rails, baseboards and trim are also normally wood.

Remember those holes: Repainting a wall is a perfect time to fix all those holes and imperfections in the existing wall. Smaller cracks are easy to fix; larger ones will need more work.

If your existing paint is peeling, remove it! Otherwise your new coat of paint will also peel. This prep work will add time to your paint job.

Small surface holes are also easy fixes. Larger ones will need more work. This can add time to your paint job.

Exposed nails should be replaced or removed, and their holes should be fixed before applying a new coat of stain or paint.

It’s a good idea to clean the surface before applying a fresh coat of stain or paint. Over time, dust and oil collects on walls, and these can affect the quality of the new paint.

New wood or metal surfaces should be primed before painting. The primer prepares the new surface for paint, and gives the paint something to which to stick.

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