Buying, Selling, and Decorating Your Dream Home

Best Tips for Painting Your House Explained


There’s nothing like a fresh coat of paint to liven up a tired looking room, or even to transform the look of your house completely. But whilst you love the finished product, you may find the job itself a bit of a chore.

Not to worry – we have loads of tips and advice to make it seem a lot less like hard work, from choosing the proper tools to completing the project.

You’ll get the job done faster and may even have fun in the process!

Using Colour to Best Effect

Magazines and TV programs revel in completely transforming rooms with colour, which can be both inspiring and daunting when it comes to choosing paint schemes for your own home.

Painting A House Guide
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There are some basic things to take into account, such as the shape and size of the room, features you want to draw attention to or hide, and the effect of natural light. Even subtle variations of shade can have a significant impact on the overall look.

There are simple ways to test colours and, even if you get it wrong, it doesn’t take long or cost too much to repaint a room.

What to Consider When Choosing Your Colour

  • Colour is a background that complements the furniture, pictures, books, and accessories that make up your home. Colour can add interest to a room without needing to be outrageously bold.
  • Equally, intense, bright shades can be effective without being overpowering. The key to choosing the right colour for a room is taking into account the various factors that will affect its final appearance.
  • Choose colours that match the mood of a room and how and when it’s used. Vibrant combinations work best in areas where you don’t spend much time – in the hallway, for example. Rich red walls may be fine in the evening but could look dark and oppressive by daylight.
  • Choose calming colours, even if they’re dark, for the bedroom, which is the first and last thing you see each day.
  • Bold colours can work well in kitchens and bathrooms, but as these rooms tend to have a lot of visual clutter, a simple overall colour scheme will probably work best.
  • Natural light affects the appearance of colour. Whitewashed walls, cool and fresh in Mediterranean light, can look flat and dull in the softer light of northern Europe. Light, ice-blue walls might make a north-facing room look chilly, but the same colour in a south-facing room will seem airy and bright.
  • Artificial light, especially harsh fluorescent light, can alter colours. Change the lighting or the paint.
  • The size of the painted area affects colour. A small patch of lemon yellow looks fresh and clean, but the same colour on an entire wall will start to look green.
  • Pale colours maximize the amount of light in a room. The sensible conclusion is that you should use light colours in small, dark, or poorly lit rooms and darker colours only in bigger, brighter rooms. However, sometimes it’s better to do the opposite and emphasize a room’s character, enhancing a large, sunny room with light, bright colours, and making a small, dark area warm and cozy with strong, deep shades.
  • Colour can give a sense of continuity throughout the house. Even if you use different colours to create an individual mood for each room, you could create a visual link by choosing one colour to appear in every room on, say, the skirting boards or even in the furnishings.
  • Don’t make switches of mood or style too abrupt. Going from Edwardian to Scandinavian to Mediterranean in the same house would make it feel disjointed and small.

Types of Finish

As well as the colour, the type of paint finish affects the impression of light in a room.

  • Matt is the most light-absorbent finish, which makes it a good choice for covering minor imperfections in plasterwork.
  • Satin gives a degree of reflection and looks livelier than the matt equivalent of the same shades.
  • Gloss reflects the most light: it’s hard on the eyes if used over a large area, but used on relatively small areas it adds sparkle to the overall scheme. It’s also the most durable finish, so it’s ideal for surfaces that get heavy wear, like skirting boards, window frames, and doors.

Looking at Paint Colour Charts

All colours are derived from three primary colours: red, yellow, and blue. Two primaries mixed in equal proportions create a secondary colour (red plus yellow makes orange; yellow plus blue makes green; blue plus red makes violet).

The shades in between (the tertiary colours ) are a combination of a primary and a secondary colour.

sample of Paint Colour Charts
sample of Paint Colour Charts from

The colours on the red and yellow side of a colour wheel are often described as ‘warm,’ and those on the blue and green side as ‘cool.’ With decorating colours, however, the terms ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ indicate the amount of red present in various shades of the same colour so you can have cool and warm versions of all the main colours.

It’s best not to combine warm and cool shades in a colour scheme, as the warm shades can take on a muddy hue, while the cool ones may look thin and harsh. Many paint charts are divided into groups of colours that share similar characteristics of, say, warmth, coolness, depth, or intensity, and one of these groups makes a good starting point.

The range of colours in each group is wide enough to allow you to experiment with different effects, but because the shades sit comfortably together, there’s no risk of visual jarring.

Testing Different Colours

When choosing a paint colour, the best way to decide what you like and what’s suitable for the room you’re going to paint is to test some different colours.

  • Use 1-2 m/3-6 ft lengths of lining paper (plain wallpaper – ideal to be painted over) for each colour. The larger the sample, the better you will be able to judge it.
  • Before you apply the paint to the lining paper, write the manufacturer and the name or code number of the colour on the back of the paper.
  • Paint the lining paper, taking the colour as close to the edges as possible. Trim off unpainted margins when the paint has dried.
  • Stick the samples on the walls and live with them for a while. Look at them in natural light on both sunny and dull days, and artificial light, in the darkest corner of the room as well as on the brightest wall. Make sure they work well with the room’s carpet, curtains, and furniture.

Choosing Paint For Your Home

Paints fall into two types: oil-based (also referred to as solvent-based) and water-based. Recently there’s been a swing towards using water-based paints, for health and environmental reasons, and certainly, for the home decorator, these are much easier to use. Especially when it comes to cleaning up.

Choosing Paint for your home

Water-based paints also offer a great deal of choice: the range of colours is vast, and there are a variety of finishes for – literally – floor to ceiling. There are still some situations, however, in which an oil-based paint will give the best results.

What’s in the Can

All paints are made up of pigments suspended in a medium that, once the paint has been applied, forms a solid film that binds the pigments together and sticks to the painted surface.

In oil-based paints, the medium is a mixture of oil and natural or synthetic resins. In water-based paints, the medium is made up of water and synthetic resins.

What determines the final appearance of water-based paints is the proportion of pigment to resin. Matt finishes contain the most pigment and therefore have the greatest covering capacity. Gloss finishes have a higher proportion of resin.

Generally, the higher the gloss, the more durable the finish is. Various other additives affect the qualities of paint, such as how quickly it dries, whether it’s liquid or non-drip, and its shelf-life.

Cheap paints usually contain a lower proportion of pigment, and therefore several coats may be needed to achieve adequate coverage – so they don’t necessarily save you money and may cost you far more in terms of time.

Paints for Walls and Ceilings

Previously Painted or Papered Surfaces

These are usually given one of the following finishes:

  • Flat emulsion (sometimes called flat matt). A non-reflective finish that covers well and hides blemishes. Good for ceilings but marks easily on walls.
  • Matt emulsion. Despite its name, this is sometimes very slightly light-reflective. Good for hiding minor imperfections and suitable for ceilings and walls in low-traffic areas.
  • Soft-sheen and mid-sheen emulsions. Found in ranges for kitchens and bathrooms, they have more reflective finishes.
  • Silk emulsion. Reflects light, is resistant to scuffs, and can be sponged clean. Suitable for most walls, although imperfections will be more conspicuous.
  • Paints for decorative effects. These are for sponging, ragging, and so on. Some have metallic finishes. Most are two-paint systems (which you buy together), an undercoat followed by a topcoat. Follow the instructions.
  • Textured finishes. These include masonry paint with sand in it. Good for disguising poor plasterwork. The preparation required is similar to that for other painting tasks, but you must remove wallpaper and mask adjacent surfaces, as splashes are hard to remove once they’ve dried.

Brand New Plasterwork

You can buy paint that’s specifically for plaster, which allows the surface to breathe.

Don’t use standard vinyl emulsion, as it creates a film that prevents the plaster from drying out completely.

Dry, Unpainted Cement & Plaster Finishes

These absorbent surfaces can be difficult and expensive to paint. It takes more effort to drag the brush or roller across the surface, and most of the paint will be sucked into the material, rather than form a film on top.

Avoid these problems by using a primer sealer, or diluting the first coat of emulsion with up to 10% water (follow the manufacturer’s recommendations).

A Three Stage System for Wood and Metal

Bare wood and metal are traditionally treated with a three-paint system  of primer, undercoat, and topcoat, which gives maximum adhesion to these constantly expanding and contracting materials.

Buy all three paints from the same manufacturer, as they’re designed to work together. Properly applied, the paints can withstand climatic extremes.


The first layer of protection. You can buy oil-based and water-based primers. Some primers are for a specific type of surface such as wood, metal, non-ferrous metal.

But if you have some small painting tasks to do, it’s most economical to buy a multi-purpose primer.


Provides a key – a surface to which the topcoat can adhere – and helps build the depth of colour, so always use the colour recommended for your chosen topcoat.

Two coats of undercoat will increase the life of the topcoat, especially on exterior surfaces.


Provides a decorative finish and a tough skin that resists moisture, mould, ultra-violet rays, and pollution. Because it also provides a smooth surface, dirt is less likely to stick.

The following finishes are available:

  • Satin. A mid-sheen finish. Available in oil-based and water-based paints.
  • Eggshell. A slightly glossy finish – the oil-based equivalent of silk emulsion, but more durable. It can also be used on walls.
  • Gloss. A hard-wearing, shiny finish that resists knocks and can be wiped clean. It highlights surface imperfections. Available in oil-based and water-based paints.
  • Liquid gloss. An oil-based paint that gives the smoothest, shiniest finish. It’s the most unforgiving of a less-than-perfect surface and is the most durable finish, so it’s suitable for exposed exterior woodwork and metal.

Special Purpose Paints

Kitchen and Bathroom Paints

Special Purpose Paints

These are designed to resist moisture and condensation. Some contain fungicide to protect against mould growth.

Floor Paints

Formulated to be tougher than paints for walls. Water-based versions are good for old wooden, concrete, or stone floors. For areas of heavy wear such as doorsteps, garage floors, passageways, oil-based products are recommended.

Anti-Mould Emulsions and Gloss Paints

These contain fungicide. They’re designed to block out staining caused by minor mould growth and to deter regrowth. They don’t solve the underlying cause of mould.

Anti-Damp Paints

These can be applied to damp surfaces before you redecorate with your chosen colour �, but they’re of lasting benefit only if the source of damp is cured first.

Anti-Burglar or Security Paint

Remains permanently slippery. Use it on drainpipes to deter people from trying to climb them.

Slip-Resistant Paints

Recommended for doorsteps and concrete floors, but note that they’re not non-slip.

Multi-Surface Primer

Can be used on almost any surface, from MDF (medium-density fibreboard) to melamine, to create a good base for a gloss or satin topcoat.

Ceramic Tile Primer and Paint

These give greater adhesion than ordinary paints, so they’re good for painting tiles.

Vinyl Floor Paint

Can be used on vinyl and another soft flooring. It’s formulated to stick to and flex with the surface.

Woodgrain Effect Paint

Can be applied to most surfaces. It can give a painted door, for instance, a passably natural-looking finish. Saves the hassle of stripping back to bare wood.

Painting Equipment

The key to doing a painting job easy is to start off with the right equipment. Trying to make do with minimal or unsuitable equipment is false economy.

It will be harder to do the job well, and the chances are that three-quarters of the way through the work you’ll end up having to get the tools you need, so you might as well have them at the outset.

This doesn’t always mean you have to buy the most expensive tools available.

painting equipment list
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How Much to Spend

Good-quality equipment should last a lifetime if you look after it, but sometimes life seems too short to spend time cleaning it.

Here are some tips on when you need to go for the best, and when cheap and cheerful will do the job.

With hard-working tools such as scrapers and shave hooks, buy the best you can afford.

Paintbrushes range in quality and price, from professional animal-hair brushes, through mid-price natural and synthetic brushes, to cheap, disposable brushes.

The mid-range brushes are adequate for most DIY tasks: they’re durable enough to survive a fairly extensive painting project, but not too expensive to throw away if you forget to clean them, or the bristles become distorted.

Disposable brushes are fine for one-off jobs, such as daubing on paint stripper, and for small painting tasks, but they won’t stand up to prolonged use. The cheaper the brush, the more it will shed bristles.

Paint rollers and trays are often offered as sets at temptingly low prices. If you’re only painting one room, they’re good value for money.

If, however, you’re redecorating the whole house, it’s worth buying a more expensive roller, which will have a more durable sleeve and a roller mechanism that operates more smoothly.

Professional dust sheets are heavy and absorbent. Disposable polythene dust sheets are cheap, but because they’re not absorbent, paint splashes remain on the surface and inevitably get trodden on and spread further.

Newspaper or old sheets and bed covers placed on top of the polyethene will absorb most of the splashes, while the polyethene protects the flooring.

Specialist Extras

Any of the following might be helpful, depending on what kind of paint job you’re doing:

  • cutting-in brush for painting window bars, but you can use a 12 mm (1/2 in) brush for this
    radiator brush or roller for painting behind radiators
  • caulk (mastic) gun for filling small gaps where wood and plaster meet, for instance between walls and ceiling
  • soft-bristled brush for dusting (but a clean paintbrush will do)
  • wallpaper scraper with a long handle and sharp, renewable blades, makes lighter work of shifting the last, stubborn pieces of wallpaper.

Which Abrasive To Use


abrasive for painting a house

Used to rub down surfaces and provide a suitable surface (sometimes called key) for paint. It is sold as coarse, medium, and fine, or labeled with a grit number.

As a guide: 40G is extra-coarse; 60G is coarse; 80-100G is medium; 120-180G is fine; and 220G+ is extra-fine.

Use coarse for rougher surfaces, fine for a smoother finish.

Wet-and-Dry Paper

This is made up of silicone carbide particles glued to a waterproof backing. It can be used dry on wood but is normally dipped in water and used on paintwork.

Instead of flying into the atmosphere, the dust forms a slurry that you wipe off. Suitable for rubbing down potentially toxic substances like leaded paint, which you should avoid breathing in as dust.

Garnet Paper

Distinguishable by its reddish-brown colour, garnet paper comes in very fine grades. Good for finishing hardwoods.

Flexible Sanders

These have abrasive particles glued to a foam block or sheet. These are not very durable but are good for rubbing down shaped surfaces.

Liquid Sandpaper

This is a brush-on solution that dissolves the surface of sound paintwork just enough to make it suitable for the new paint. Good for fiddly shapes such as banisters.

Sanding Packages

The packages are a handy way to buy all the abrasives you need for a particular project – rubbing down metalwork or preparing to stain and varnish, for example.

Steel Wool

Like sandpaper, steel wool is available in coarse, medium, and fine grades, which are indicated by the number of Os. Grade 000, for example, is medium; grade 00000 is very fine.

Good for stripping old finishes from turned wood (such as table legs rounded using a lathe), and for working wax finishes into the grain.

Note, though, that the fine metal dust reacts with and stains some woods. It should never be used in damp conditions, as the metal particles rust.

Preparing to Paint

Preparation is the single most important element of decorating anything ; from painting a picture frame to tackling a whole room.

It’s the foundation not just for the immediate project but also for all future redecoration, and poor preparation is the most likely cause of a disappointing result. Taking short cuts is, in the long run, a waste of money and effort.

But if you set aside sufficient time, and prepare thoroughly, the actual process of painting will be far quicker and more rewarding.

Preparing to Paint a house

Preparing Inside Surfaces

Sound Plaster Work

  • Wash walls and ceilings with warm water and sugar soap. Sugar soap is available in powder, liquid, and concentrated form; follow the recommendations on the packaging. You may need to rub down minor imperfections in brand-new plaster.
  • Always wash walls from the bottom up. Water running down onto a damp surface disperses, whereas if it runs on to a dry surface, it may leave indelible dribble marks that show through paint.
  • Unless the surface is filthy, you don’t need to rinse the walls after washing. If you do clean, work from the top down.

Plaster Work With Problems

  • Fill minor blemishes, such as fine cracks or holes left by picture hooks, and allow them to dry.
  • Major defects, such as damp, large cracks, or extensive mould, could be symptoms of another more serious problem, which must be put right before you do any decorating.


  • If the woodwork has been previously painted and the finish is in good condition, wash and lightly sand it.
  • If the woodwork has been previously painted and the finish is in poor condition.
  • If the woodwork is unpainted or has been stripped, you can give it a translucent finish or paint it.
    Wash and lightly rub down sound paintwork.
  • Remove peeling or blistered paint with a wire brush; treat any rust. Apply a rust inhibitor and an appropriate primer (some preparations combine the two functions) to exposed metal.
  • Use a chemical stripper to remove any build-up of paint. Especially if, say, it interferes with the action of metal-framed windows.

Preparing to Paint Outside

  • Avoid painting exterior surfaces in the winter months as they are likely to be damp. The perfect painting weather is warm, dry, and slightly cloudy.
  • Clean and repair gutters and downpipes.
  • Wash all surfaces to be painted as for inside walls above. Use a fungicide if there are any signs of mould.


  • Use a wire brush to remove powdery or to flake masonry paint.
  • Fill cracks and holes with suitable filler.
  • Old finishes that feel ‘chalky’ and new render will both benefit from a coat of stabilizing solution.


  • Rub down sound paintwork with wet-and-dry paper.
  • Fill any open joints or cracks with flexible wood filler.
  • Scrape out loose putty from window frames and renew it.
  • It’s best to remove extensively cracked, blistered, or crazed paint.
  • Cut out any rotten wood and replace it. Treat the new wood with preservative.
  • Unpainted woodwork, or woodwork that has been stripped, can be stained or painted.

Dealing With Old Problems


lead based paint

Lead was used in the manufacture of some primers and woodwork paints until the 1960s. It is potentially dangerous when you disturb it by scraping, sanding, or stripping.

To be on the safe side:

  • Use wet-and-dry paper with water to rub down paintwork, so that you don’t create dust.
  • Use a chemical stripper if it’s necessary to remove the paint. Heat stripping can release toxic fumes.
  • Collect all the paint debris, wet-and-dry paper, soiled newspaper, and so on, and seal them in a plastic bag before putting in the dustbin.
  • Wash exposed skin and hair.

Lead paint test kits are available from hardware and DIY shops.


This is an old form of paint, made up of powdered chalk mixed with glue and water, and is most likely to be found in old houses. It can’t be painted over, and washing it off, though theoretically possible, creates a seemingly endless sludge.

Brush off as much loose material as you can and then seal the surface with a stabilizing solution.

Polystyrene Ceiling Tiles

As a potential fire hazard (with the added danger of releasing poisonous fumes when burning), these tiles should be removed if at all possible.

They will probably be stuck on with five blobs of adhesive, and whilst the tiles can usually be prised off with a wide scraper, the adhesive is harder to remove.

If you can’t scrape it off, try, in this order:

  • soaking with warm water
  • wallpaper stripper
  • paint stripper

soaking with a solution of half a cup of household ammonia and a squirt of washing-up liquid added to a bucket of cold water.

Because you’ll be working above your head, protect your face and eyes from splashes. As an absolute last resort, you could paint the tiles. Use emulsion – never an oil-based paint, as this would increase the risk of fire.

Putting on Paint

When you’re painting, working in a logical order speeds up the process and makes you less likely to damage your new paintwork by splashing or scuffing it.

It’s also worth following a few simple rules, such as always waiting until one stage is dry before moving on to the next, and never touching up an uneven finish before the recommended time for recoating. Paint always looks patchy as it dries and a second coat is often needed to give the desired depth of colour.

Techniques for Applying Paint

Whether you use a brush, pad, or roller is a matter of personal preference. Pads and rollers cover a surface more quickly.

Using a Brush

  • To load, dip only the first third of the bristle length into the paint. Wipe the brush on the edge of the can to remove excess paint – unless you’re using a non-drip paint, in which case you don’t need to remove the excess.
  • Apply the paint with vertical strokes and even it out with horizontal strokes. Finish gloss paints with light upward strokes to prevent sagging and runs.

Using a Roller

  • To load, fill the dish of the roller tray with paint. Dip the roller into the paint. Roll it gently on the ribbed section of the tray until the sleeve is evenly coated.
  • Apply the paint in a random criss-cross pattern, working quickly to blend edges. Don’t press hard, but keep the roller in good contact with the surface to ensure even coverage.

Using a Paint Pad

  • To load, dip the pad into its paint tray and pull it across the integral roller.
  • Apply the paint by sweeping the pad in a criss-cross pattern across the surface. Keep the pad flat. Finish gloss paints with light vertical strokes.


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