How to Paint the Interior of your Home in 10 easy steps

Learn on your own, or hire a pro to help.

Instructions by a Thumbtack professional

Learn how to paint in 10 easy steps

Life looks good with a new coat of paint. But do you know how to paint an interior without making a mess or leaving uneven lines? And how many coats are required for each situation? Clifton Leung of ARCC Builders has outlined 10 easy steps for painting an interior room in your house. Clifton and his crew of 12 full-time employees offer general contracting and house painting with decades of experience. On average, they paint 60 houses a year (with Thumbtack providing about 50 percent of those leads). Interior paint jobs make up 75 percent of their work and exterior paint jobs make up the other 25 percent. Long story short: They know their stuff.

As long as you have two days, the right equipment and a little bit of elbow grease, your living room walls are as good as matte gold.

Estimated Cost

$200–$400 for 12x12-foot room

Estimated Time

Two full days

Skill Level


Tools & Materials

2 rolls painter’s tape, Plastic tarps, Roller frames, Roller covers, Rolling tray, Rolling tray liner, 3- or 4-inch slanted paint brush, 1 gallon nontoxic primer, 2 gallons latex paint, Ladder

STEP 1: Learn how to paint

Assemble your equipment

You’ll need:

  • Two rolls of painter’s tape (or more) for blocking seams and making edges straight
  • Plastic tarps to cover furniture and floors (because somehow paint will get everywhere)
  • Really good roller frames, roller covers and a rolling tray with liner
  • A three- or four-inch slanted paint brush. Don’t skimp here, Leung warns, cheap brushes lead to a cheap-looking outcome.
  • One gallon of nontoxic primer. Nontoxic primer is preferable for the health of your family. Plus, regular primer smells really strong.
  • Two gallons of latex paint for an average-sized living room
  • A ladder for hard-to-reach corners and surfaces

STEP 2: Learn how to paint

Prep to paint (Day 1)

Avoiding paint accidents is all about preparation — before you start to paint. Cover everything you don’t want to get paint on. Move large pieces of furniture to the center of the room and drape with plastic. Take everything off the walls. Dust cobwebs off the walls using a duster and then wipe them with a damp towel. Allow to dry completely.

Remove all light fixtures and electrical outlet covers. Cover them with tape so that dust and paint can’t get in. Apply painter’s tape anywhere you want a straight edge — along baseboards, at connecting corners of walls and where wall and ceiling meet. The taping-off process should take a nonprofessional about two hours for a standard room.

Last, tape plastic onto the floor along the bottom of the baseboard. Ideally you’ll have plastic covering the entire floor.

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STEP 3: Learn how to paint

Apply primer (Day 1)

You have to prime the walls, or it just won’t turn out right, says Leung. Use a roller to apply the primer, then finish in the edges with a paint brush. The primer coat doesn’t have to be perfect; you just want a smooth coat covering everything you’ll paint over later.

Open windows and turn on fan to aid in drying airing out the smell. Wait two hours to make sure it’s dry. As long as it doesn’t get on your fingers when your touch the wall it’s good to go.

STEP 4: Learn how to paint

Prep to paint (Day 2)

You’re basically ready to go, but it’s a good idea to take a moment to make sure all your tape and plastic is still in good shape — especially a good idea if you have a cat who is prone to late-night hockey sessions.

Stir your paint for about 30 seconds to make sure it’s well-blended. Pour paint into your roller pan, taking care not to fill it too full.

STEP 5: Learn how to paint

Cut in paint edges (Day 2)

Use your slanted brush to cut in color anywhere your roller won’t be able to reach, such as where the walls connect at corners, along the baseboards and at the ceiling. Do this before putting any color on the main part of wall. You’re basically painting a border square around the walls, explains Clifton. Make the border about four inches thick in all areas. This step takes a lot of time and focus, but it is not the time to rush. You want these lines to be crisp. Once completed, dive right into rolling paint onto the walls.

STEP 6: Learn how to paint

Roll paint onto the walls (Day 2)

Roll your roller brush into the paint well of your roller tray, then roll a couple times on the upper part of the tray to remove excess paint, which could drip. Roll the paint onto the wall in a tight W formation. Envision a long, tall zig-zag with no spaces in between that runs from top to bottom back up to top. If the roller feels too wet, your paint will go on too thick. Try rolling off more excess paint into the roller tray. If the roller doesn’t have enough paint, you’ll see white primer peeking through. Be sure to cover any white areas with a solid coat of paint.

Make your way around the room, one wall at a time. Wait two or three hours for the paint to dry, touching it to test in an inconspicuous corner.

STEP 7: Learn how to paint

Paint a second coat (Day 2)

It’s not necessary to cut in your corners again for a second coat. Just roll on the paint when you are certain the first coat is completely dry. After the second coat is applied, wait another two or three hours.

STEP 8: Learn how to paint

Remove painter’s tape

When removing tape, pull it toward your body, so it comes out at an angle and doesn’t peel any paint of the walls.

STEP 9: Learn how to paint

Clean up

Wash your paint brushes with warm or hot water, and be careful not to let paint clog your drains. Never pour excess paint down your drains. Hang your brushes to dry for about a week, then store somewhere safe. Roller covers are disposable, as are roller tray liners. Wash and keep the tray and roller frame for your next DIY paint day.

STEP 10: Learn how to paint

Remove paint spills

After preparing your area for painting, clean up is probably the most time-consuming, says Leung. Even the most careful painter who prepared everything exactly right before getting started can still discover a stray splash of paint. A fingernail or paint scraper can get most latex paint off flooring fairly easily. Use a nontoxic latex paint remover if you’ve spilled paint onto the carpet or upholstery. Just follow the directions on the container.

Overall, your project is likely to take two full days, including shopping, prep, painting, dry time and clean up. If you want your walls done quickly and don’t have two days to spare, a pro can often get a room done in less than a day. Happy painting!

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