Home & Garden

Here's how to paint over almost any home surface—and one you should avoid

From walls to window casings

A person paints their white walls blue. Credit: Getty Images / kitzorner

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Painting is a project that the majority of homeowners can handle themselves. All that’s really required is time, patience, a little bit of research, and a willingness to think ahead. And paint and painting supplies, of course.

When it comes to painting, every surface is a little bit different. There are some surfaces that you can paint right over, some that require specific preparation before painting, and some that you should never paint over.

Knowing which is which is a first step in giving your home the aesthetic that you’ve always wanted.

Primer can be an option for an already painted wall

Credit: Kilz

Color choices is one factor that can determine if a primer is necessary.

One common project is painting over an already painted wall. A basic, but important, question to ask is whether or not you need to put down a coat of primer before you paint.

If you are applying oil-based paint over oil-based paint or latex over latex, you may be able to get away without a coat of primer.

However, if you’re putting oil-based paint onto latex, or vice versa, or if you’re not sure, then you’ll want to apply a coat of primer to help the new paint adhere to the surface.

Color choices can also determine if you need primer. If you’re painting the room the same color just to freshen it up, then you don’t need to add a coat of primer. You may also be able to skip it if you’re applying a dark color on top of a light color.

If you’re trying to put a light color on a dark color, then do yourself a favor and put down a coat or two of primer. Otherwise, the dark color will constantly show through the finish coat.

Primer is usually cheaper than colored paint, so you’ll save yourself both time and money by committing to a primer coat.

Finally, if you’re trying to cover up stains on the walls or ceilings, primer is a must. And you probably want to upgrade to a primer made specifically for stains. Cigarette or smoke stains, for example, will eventually bleed through your paint, discoloring and ruining the finish. As will water stains on a ceiling.

If you have any doubt about whether or not you need primer before painting, then put down a coat of primer. It can save a lot of hassle.

Yes, you can paint over wallpaper!

Removing wallpaper is one of my least favorite tasks. It’s messy, it’s time consuming, and it always seems to end up damaging the wall. It is much easier to paint over wallpaper than to remove it and then paint.

If you decide to paint over the wallpaper, make sure you put down at least one coat of oil-based primer that is formulated for wallpaper material. Vinyl wallpaper may require a different kind of primer than true paper, for example. Consider using a primer-sealer that will help keep the wallpaper from peeling away in the future.

Before painting over the wallpaper, inspect it carefully. If it’s torn, sagging, bubbling, or starting to peel, remove at least the damaged portions before painting. The paint or primer-sealer isn’t going to stop damaged wallpaper from peeling for long, and before you know it, you’ll start to see your fresh paint peeling away with the paper.

If you do have to remove the wallpaper, make sure that you get all of the adhesive off the wall and repair any damage before painting.

Get rid of soap scum before painting tile or porcelain

Credit: Getty Images / MarioGuti

Painting tiles requires more prep work than you might expect.

Retiling a backsplash, wall, or floor can be an expensive prospect. Painting the tile instead can be a cost-effective way to achieve a new look, provided that the underlying tile is in good shape.

While it’s not an overwhelming job to paint tile, it does require a bit more prep work than some other surfaces do.

First, thoroughly clean all of the tile that you’re planning to paint. You need to get all of the mildew, grime, and grease off the tile so that the paint will adhere. Once the tile is clean and dry, repair any cracked tiles. Because you’ll be painting, you can use a paintable caulk for the repair.

Next, lightly sand the tile with 100 or 120 grit sandpaper to roughen up the glaze and ensure that the paint will adhere to the tile. Then clean the tile again to eliminate the glaze dust.

With the tile again clean and dry, you’re ready to begin priming and painting. Use a high adhesive primer to ensure that the paint will adhere to the tile. After a coat or two of primer, use an epoxy-based tile paint to finish.

The same basic process applies to any porcelain fixtures in your bathroom or kitchen, as well.

Painting vinyl siding depends on age and condition

Credit: Getty Images / ftwitty

Consider the condition of your vinyl siding before painting it.

While we don’t often think of painting vinyl siding, under the right circumstances it can be a great option.

If your siding color is starting to fade or you’re just interested in a new look, painting can be a cheaper alternative to installing new siding.

That said, there are a few things to consider before you decide to paint.

First is the condition of your siding. Paint will do nothing to fix inadequate siding. If your siding has cracks, leaks, or is buckling, then don’t bother painting it—it’s simply time for new siding.

Likewise, if your siding is reaching the end of its expected lifespan, then replace it, don’t paint it.

Remember that the number one purpose of siding is to protect your house. There’s no point in going through the effort of painting if you’re just going to have to replace the siding in a year or two anyway.

If you have any questions about the condition of your siding, contact a siding company. Many installers will come out to inspect your siding and help you decide whether it needs to be replaced.

Finally, keep in mind that painting the siding may void your warranty. Confirm with the manufacturer and installer (if you have their information) that you’re still protected if you paint the siding.

Once you do decide to paint, make sure that you do it right. Clean your house thoroughly with a vinyl siding cleaner.

After the siding is clean and dry, apply one to two coats of exterior primer, which is formulated to adhere to vinyl. Only then are you ready to actually paint, again making sure that you select a paint designed to work with vinyl.
You also want to select a color that’s the same shade or lighter than the existing vinyl. A darker color may cause the siding to absorb too much heat and warp.

Painting window casings can make a great accent

If you’re painting your house, you should consider painting your front door and window casings an accent color. Windows are easy enough to paint. Before painting, find out what kind of material your window casing is made of. Window casings may be wood, clad-wood, fiberglass, aluminum, or vinyl. All of these materials are easy to work with but have slightly different requirements for primer, paint-base, and prep work.

While window casings aren’t hard to paint, they can be painstaking. More than almost any other project, painter’s tape is going to be your friend. Tape off the glass itself and around the siding so that you don’t slip and make an off-color mess.

And, if your house is more than one story, be very, very careful on the ladder. Always use a ladder stabilizer, hooks for your bucket and brush, and have a spotter down on the ground.

It is never OK to paint over outlets

Credit: Getty Images / RightFramePhotoVideo

Paint that gets into an outlet is a safety hazard.

Painting over outlets and switches is a safety hazard. Don’t do it.

Paint that gets into an outlet can catch fire or cause additional resistance on plugged-in wires, again, causing a fire.

What’s more, paint may cause some of the safety mechanisms on the outlet or switch to stick and malfunction. A GFCI outlet may not work properly or a child safety outlet may get stuck in the open position because of the paint.

It also won’t look as good as you think. Outlets, switches, and covers are all high touch devices, and it won’t be long before the paint begins to chip, fade, stain, and generally look ratty.

Even if you just paint the cover and not the outlet or switch itself, it will still chip. There are companies that sell outlets and switches with more color options than just white and beige. Look into one of those instead.

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