Professional Tips

What are the advantages of flat and lower sheen paints?

  • They provide even light reflection, to give the surface a softer, more uniform look.
  • They don't highlight surface imperfections like higher sheen paints, so they usually don't require as much surface preparation (like patching, texturing or sanding) prior to painting.
  • They are much less likely to show "lap marks", so they are generally easier to apply and touch-up than higher sheen paints. (When one painted section dries before the next section is painted, the two sections won't flow together into a uniform film, resulting in a "lap mark".)
  • They don't need to be sanded or deglossed before repainting, unlike higher sheen paints.

What are the disadvantages of flat and lower sheen paints?

  • They are less stain and scuff resistant than higher sheen paints, so they should not be recommended for high-traffic areas or on surfaces that will be handled, washed or scrubbed frequently.
  • They are less washable and less moisture resistant than higher sheen finishes, so they are not the best choice for areas that are exposed to high humidity levels, or on surfaces that will be washed frequently.

What are the advantages of higher sheen paints?

  • They have better stain resistance, so they resist dirt pick-up and stay cleaner longer.
  • They have better scuff and wear resistance, so they're good for high traffic areas and on surfaces that are handled, washed or scrubbed frequently.
  • They have better moisture resistance, which makes them ideal for surfaces and areas that are frequently exposed to high humidity levels.
  • They have a smooth, bright, more lustrous finish that some people prefer.

What are the disadvantages of higher sheen paints?

  • They tend to highlight any surface imperfections, so more surface preparation (like patching, texturing or sanding) will usually be needed before painting.
  • They are harder to touch-up than lower sheen paints, because the higher sheen tends to highlight the slightly raised surface of the film where the touch-up was done.
  • They usually need to be sanded, deglossed or primed prior to repainting, to ensure good adhesion of the new paint.

Should I use latex or oil paint?

Latex paint is a great choice for most instances, but there are still situations where a solvent-based paint may be preferable. To help decide which is best in your case, consider the following:

What are the advantages of latex paints?

  • They have a less objectionable odor, which makes them good for repaints and painting in occupied areas, where solvent odor is an issue.
  • They clean up with soap and water; there's no need to work with hazardous and/or flammable solvents, and no used solvent to dispose of afterwards.
  • Latex paints dry faster, and can be recoated sooner; this makes them a good choice for painting in occupied areas, where someone might touch or brush up against the freshly painted surface.
  • Latex paint binders hold up better in sun-exposed areas, because they're more resistant to UV (ultraviolet) radiation; alkyd and oil binders will absorb more of this radiation and break down more quickly.
  • Latex paint films are less prone to yellowing over time, especially with white, light off-white and pastel colors.
  • Latex paint films are more breathable; they allow small amounts of water vapor to pass through the film, so the chance of blistering is reduced. This is especially important when the surface being painted is slightly damp.
  • Latex paint films have better gloss and color retention, so they'll keep a "like-new" appearance longer.
  • Latex paint films are more elastic, so they can expand and contract with the substrate better; this means they'll be less likely to crack and peel over time.

What are the advantages of solvent-based paints?

  • Solvent-based paints are less sensitive to application conditions, which means they can be applied over a wider temperature and humidity range (however, the surface must still be dry for good adhesion).
  • Solvent-based paints can be applied in a thicker coat with less sagging, for better coverage.
  • Solvent-based paints have better flow and leveling characteristics, so they'll dry to a smoother finish, with fewer brush or roller marks (this advantage is reduced somewhat for low V.O.C. alkyd paints).
  • Solvent-based paints provide better surface penetration, especially on weathered wood; this means improved adhesion and better surface protection.
  • Solvent-based paints have better adhesion on smooth surfaces.
  • Solvent-based paints initially have a sharper, richer-looking gloss (however, they also tend to lose their gloss faster over time).
  • Solvent-based paints initially provide a harder, more durable finish (however, they also tend to become more brittle over time).

What paint accessories do I need?

In addition to paint, there are other items you may need that will help you do the job better, faster, easier and/or neater. This includes products for cleaning and preparing the surface, applying the paint to the surface, and cleaning up afterwards.

The best way to find out what additional items you need is to ask yourself certain questions about the painting project. Based on your answers, you'll be able to decide what else you'll need to get the job done better, faster and easier. For example...

For any painting project, the following items might be needed:

For masking surfaces not being painted

  • Drop cloths/polyethylene film
  • Masking tape
  • Paint shields/edging tools
  • Newspaper
  • Masking paper

To protect the painter

  • Goggles/safety glasses
  • Dust masks
  • Respirator
  • Rubber gloves
  • Cotton gloves
  • Painter's hats

To apply the paint

  • Paint brushes
  • Roller covers
  • Roller trays
  • Roller frames
  • Bucket grids (for using a roller with a paint pail)
  • Empty five-gallon pails (for using with a paint roller and bucket grid)
  • Mini roller (for painting in hard-to-reach areas)
  • Paint pad applicator

Miscellaneous items

  • Stir sticks
  • Cloth rags (for dusting and/or spill cleanup)
  • 5-in-1 tools (for cleaning roller covers)
  • Dinner forks (for cleaning brushes)
  • Mineral spirits or other compatible solvent (for alkyd or oil-based paints)
  • Hand cleaner

To remove any dust or debris prior to painting, the following items might be needed:

  • Rags
  • Tack cloths

What items might be needed if the surface is dirty?

  • Sponges
  • Buckets
  • Scrub brushs
  • Tri-sodium phosphate (detergent)
  • Mildew remover

If there are glossy surfaces that are going to be painted, what items might be needed?

  • Medium or fine grit sandpaper (for scuffing up the glossy areas)
  • Sanding block
  • Chemical deglosser (an alternative to sanding)
  • Primer for glossy surfaces (another alternative to sanding)

If there are holes, nicks, dents, gaps or cracks that need to be filled or patched, what items might be needed?

  • Spackling paste
  • Putty knives
  • Medium or fine grit sandpaper (for smoothing the spackled areas)
  • Primer for spot priming any bare surfaces (the top coat paint may be used for this, if it's self-priming)
  • Sanding blocks
  • Caulk and caulking gun
  • Drywall topping compound (for major drywall repairs)
  • Drywall joint tape (for major drywall repairs)
  • Broad knife (for major drywall repairs)
  • Glazing compound (for sealing the glass in wood window frames)
  • Wood putty (for patching smaller holes in wood that's going to be clear finished)
  • Water putty (for patching larger holes and dents in wood surfaces)
  • Patching plaster (for patching cracks and holes in lath and plaster walls)
  • Concrete patch
  • Trowel

If there is any chipped, flaking or peeling paint that's going to be
painted over, what items might be needed?

  • Paint scraper
  • Spackling paste
  • Putty knife
  • Coarse or medium grit sandpaper (for leveling out uneven surfaces)
  • Medium or fine grit sandpaper (for final sanding before priming)
  • Primer for spot priming any bare surfaces (the top coat paint may be used for this, if it's self-priming)
  • Wire brushes

If paint is being applied in any high or hard-to-reach areas,
what items might be needed?

  • Stepladders
  • Extension poles (for an "added reach" when using a roller or brush)
  • Extension ladders
  • Brush extenders (for attaching a paint brush to an extension pole)

What is the best paint applicator?

To get the best paint job with the least effort, the applicator is just as important as the paint that's used. To decide which kind of applicators to use, consider the following:

What are the advantages of paint brushes?

  • Brushes are better for applying paint in smaller, hard to reach places.
  • With a brush, paint spattering is less of a problem.
  • Brushes are easier to clean.

What are the advantages of paint rollers?

  • Paint can be applied faster with a roller than a brush, especially over large surfaces.
  • In general, less experienced painters can apply paint more easily with a roller than a brush.
  • Paint rollers are much less expensive than other types of high-output paint applicators (like spray equipment).

Why use a quality brush?

Paint brushes are a must for almost every painting project. They're good for applying paint in smaller or hard to reach places, with greater control and less spattering. There are a variety of brush types available, for every type of painting project. With the following information, you'll be able to select the best brush for your needs.

If you're looking for high quality results, you should always use a high quality brush. A quality brush will help you get a better quality paint job, in less time and with less effort.

Quality brushes have the following advantages over "bargain" brushes:

  • They pick up and hold a lot of paint.
  • They release paint efficiently to the surface, in a smooth, even coat - not thick in one spot or thin in another.
  • They're less likely to leave brush marks or loose bristles on the painted surface.
  • They make it easier to apply the paint in a straight, clean line where necessary (this is known as "cutting in").
  • They last a lot longer.

To pick a quality brush, look for the following features:

  • Flagged (split) bristle tips, so the brush will hold more paint (for a faster paint job), and release it more evenly (for a smoother, more uniform finish).
  • Tapered bristles that are narrower at the tip, and wider at the base. Tapered bristles help the brush release paint slowly and evenly. They also help give the brush an overall taper, which will make the brush better for cutting in.
  • Resilient, springy bristles that snap back into place when pressure is released, so the brush will hold its shape better.
  • Longer bristles in the center, shorter bristles on the edges (a "push-chiseled" brush) gives the painter greater control over where the paint is applied, especially at edges or in corners.
  • Bristles that are 50% longer than the brush is wide. Longer bristles pick up and release paint better, and make it easier to cut in at corners and on trim work.
  • Bristles that are firmly attached to the handle with a plug and high quality epoxy adhesive, so no more than one or two come out when you tug on them. Firmly attached bristles will stay on the brush and not end up stuck in the paint film.
  • A comfortable, well-balanced hardwood handle, which makes the brush more comfortable and easier to work with. A wood handle is more comfortable than a plastic handle, and a hardwood handle is less porous and more moisture-resistant than a softwood handle.

What are the advantages of synthetic vs. natural bristles?

  • For latex paints, you should always use a brush with synthetic bristles. Natural bristle brushes are not recommended for latex paints, because natural bristles absorb the water in the paint, swell up and lose their shape.
  • For alkyd or oil paints, varnishes and shellacs, either a natural or synthetic bristle brush can be used.
  • When applying a glossy alkyd paint or an oil varnish to a smooth surface, a natural bristle brush will provide the best finish.
  • While natural bristles provide a better finish than synthetic bristles, they're not as durable; synthetic bristles will hold up better on rough surfaces.
  • All-nylon bristle brushes are not a good choice for painting in very hot weather, because the bristles become limp and lose their "snap back" at higher temperatures.
  • The best synthetic brushes are made with a blend of nylon and polyester bristles; the nylon bristles provide good durability and wear resistance, and the polyester bristles provide good stiffness and snap back, especially in hot weather.

Why use a quality roller?

Rollers are another very popular type of paint applicator. Paint can be applied much faster with a roller than a brush, especially over large surfaces. Paint rollers are also more user-friendly than brushes for less experienced painters - with a roller, it's easier to apply paint more evenly, without leaving brush marks.

Quality roller covers have many of the same advantages as quality brushes:

  • They pick up and hold a lot of paint.
  • They release paint efficiently to the surface, in a smooth, even coat - not thick in one spot or thin in another.
  • They're less likely to leave fibers on the painted surface.
  • They last a lot longer.

Why is surface preparation important?

Inadequate surface preparation is the biggest single reason why paint failures occur. Depending on the condition of the surfaces being painted, proper surface preparation might include cleaning, repairing, patching, sanding, masking and priming. Each of these steps are described below in greater detail, for both interior and exterior painting:

When should I repair, patch, sand and mask?

Note: If you're going to be doing any sanding, scraping or wirebrushing, it's best to use the appropriate safety equipment, like goggles, gloves, dust masks, etc.

  • Check for rotting, degraded or otherwise damaged surfaces, and repair or replace where necessary; the paint needs a stable substrate for good adhesion.
  • Old, weathered wood should be scraped, wirebrushed and/or sanded to remove loose wood fibers and create a sound substrate for better primer and paint adhesion.
  • New wood should be sanded with a fine grit sandpaper; the sanding should be done with the grain, not against it. New wood surfaces should also be lightly sanded after priming, to remove any wood fibers that were raised by the primer.
  • All surfaces to be painted should be checked for cracks, gaps, dents and holes; these areas should be patched with spackling paste or caulking. Be sure to check the following areas:
    • Around window or door frames (these areas get a lot of wear and tear!).
    • Where siding meets the foundation or masonry.
    • Where the siding forms corner joints.
    • Around vent ducts and other openings for plumbing, wiring, or cable.
  • When using spackling paste, apply it so it's slightly higher than the surrounding surface. Once dry, sand the patched area so it's smooth and level with the surrounding surface.
  • Check existing caulk and window glazing; remove sections that are inflexible, cracked or pulled away from the substrate, and replace them (be sure to clean these areas and let them dry before putting in new caulk or glazing).
  • Check gutters and downspouts, and replace them if they're badly rusted. Otherwise, use a wire brush, scraper or power sander to remove any rust and/or loose paint. Then, use an all-purpose cleaner to remove any dirt, and rinse the surface thoroughly.
  • Before painting over a surface that was previously painted with a glossy paint, use fine or medium grit sandpaper to scuff up and roughen the surface, so the paint will adhere (be sure to do all sanding in one direction; if a circular motion is used, the scratches may show through the topcoat). A chemical deglosser may also be used.
  • If there's any flaking or peeling paint, it must be removed by sanding or scraping, so the paint will adhere. Where necessary, these areas should be patched and sanded so the surface is smooth and uniform. Start with a medium grit sandpaper and work to progressively finer grits until a smooth, uniform surface is obtained.
  • If there are any rusty nail heads, remove the rust by sanding, countersink the nail heads, prime with a rust-inhibitive primer and apply spackle.
  • Check masonry surfaces; wherever there's a crack, undercut it, wet it and apply a latex masonry caulk, or use a masonry patching compound. If necessary, use a wire brush to remove dirt, loose/peeling paint and loose masonry.
  • After all the patching and sanding has been done, use a tack cloth, brush or broom to remove any dust from the surfaces to be painted.
  • Next, use masking tape and paper or plastic to mask any items or surfaces that aren't going to be painted, like doorknobs, light fixtures, window panes, etc. The tape should be pressed firmly in place so the paint can't seep underneath.

When is priming necessary?

Some surfaces must be primed before painting, to ensure the best possible results. Primers are normally used for one or more of the following reasons:

  • To fill and seal the pores in surfaces like bare wood or weathered masonry.
  • To provide a smooth, even surface for the finish coat, especially for enamel topcoats.
  • To cover the substrate, so the topcoat will hide better.
  • To lock in stains from staining woods like cedar and redwood, and cover stains from water damage, knots and sap streaks.
  • To bond to slick, shiny and other hard-to-paint surfaces, and create a surface the topcoat can adhere to.
  • To provide corrosion resistance for metal substrates like iron, steel, aluminum and galvanized metal. In general, a primer should be used in the following situations:
    • Primers should be applied over surfaces that have never been painted before, like new wood, masonry, and metal. On these surfaces, a prime coat will help create a uniform surface for the topcoat, for improved coverage, better adhesion, more uniform finish and easier touch-up.
    • When repainting, primers are needed when a surface is weathered or when the surface has been stripped or worn down to the original substrate.
    • Primers can also be used on hard-to-paint surfaces, where surface stains or poor paint adhesion may be a problem.

(Note: While primers are effective problem solvers, they can hide only so much. If a stain is caused by a leaky water pipe, for example, it's important to fix the leak before using a primer to conceal the stain. It's still important to properly prepare the surface, even if a primer is being used. This includes cleaning, patching, sanding, etc.)

What causes mildew?

Mildew is an airborne fungus that can grow on most surfaces, including painted ones. It can be black, gray, green or brown in color, and may look like dirt on the surface.

Mildew requires moisture, warmth, a food source and a surface in order to grow; the following conditions will increase the chances of mildew growth:

  • Warm, humid conditions
  • Poor air circulation
  • Protection from direct sunlight
  • Proximity to existing mildew

What causes peeling?

Peeling is the final result when a paint film loses its adhesion to the substrate. Peeling may occur between coats of paint (intercoat failure), or all the paint coats may peel from the underlying substrate (total film failure).

Poor surface preparation - The following surface conditions may cause peeling if not prepared properly:

  • Slick, glossy or non-porous surfaces
  • Dirty, greasy or grimy surfaces
  • Chalky surfaces
  • Rusty or corroded metal
  • New alkaline masonry
  • Porous, weathered wood
  • Galvanized metal
  • Unsound surfaces (like loose, crumbling masonry, or surfaces with peeling or flaking paint or multiple paint coats)

Application conditions - Peeling can also occur if the paint is applied in less than ideal conditions:

  • If the temperature is too hot or cold, incomplete film formation may result in poor adhesion.
  • If the paint is applied to a wet or damp substrate, or applied when the humidity is too high.

What do I do about peeling and how do I avoid it?

First, remove the peeling sections of paint, by sanding, wire brushing or scraping.

Next, properly prepare the substrate:

  • Slick, glossy or non-porous surfaces - Prepare the surface to give it more "tooth" (a rougher surface profile), so the paint will adhere better. This can be done by sanding, using a surface conditioner like Paso, or using a primer designed for slick surfaces.
  • Dirty, greasy or grimy surfaces - Clean the surface with a suitable cleaner (like a TSP solution). Be sure to thoroughly rinse afterwards, and let the surface dry before painting.
  • Chalky surfaces - Prime mild to moderately chalky surfaces with a suitable surface conditioner primer; for moderate to very chalky surfaces, remove the chalk by sanding, wire brushing, pressure washing or sand blasting before painting.
  • Rusty or corroded metal - Remove the rust by sanding, wire brushing or sandblasting, then prime with a suitable metal primer.
  • New alkaline masonry - Allow the surface to cure for 30-60 days before painting. Prime highly alkaline masonry surfaces with an alkali-resistant primer.
  • Porous, weathered wood - Remove unsound wood and loose wood fibers by sanding, wire brushing or scraping, then prime the surface with an alkyd or oil primer.
  • Galvanized metal - Prime with a latex primer designed for galvanized metal surfaces.
  • Unsound surfaces - Remove unsound portions of the surface by sanding, wire brushing, scraping, pressure washing or sand blasting, then prime with a suitable primer.

Repaint the surface when the temperature and humidity are suitable for painting.

What causes surfactant leaching?

Surfactant leaching refers to a sticky, brownish-yellow residue that shows up on a recently applied latex paint film. It usually occurs when the paint is exposed to high moisture or humidity while it's drying and/or curing.

Surfactants are a necessary ingredient to all latex paints; they help give the paint good stability, color acceptance and application characteristics. Usually, surfactants in the paint will either evaporate away or get washed from the surface by rain or dew. However, under certain conditions, surfactant leaching can occur:

  • If the paint is applied in cool, humid conditions, it will dry more slowly, giving the surfactants time to migrate to the surface before the paint has dried.
  • When paint is subjected to mist, dew or fog shortly after it dries, the moisture can draw the surfactants to the surface of the paint film.
  • Tinted colors are more prone to surfactant leaching, due to the extra surfactants and glycols in the added colorant.

What do you do about surfactant leaching?

  • Surfactants can usually be rinsed off with water or wiped off with a damp cloth.
  • It's best to remove the surfactants as soon as they're noticed; if surfactants are exposed to enough direct sunlight, they can be baked onto the surface, which will make them harder to remove.