Skip to main content

Sanding, primer, or both? This is how to prepare a wall for painting

Don't skip these important steps before you start your next paint job

Painting is the easiest way to transform any room in your home. A simple coat of paint is all it takes to make a drab space become a vibrant, bright room that everyone will love hanging out in. However, when it comes to actually getting the painting job done, there are some preparation steps that you need to consider.

Painting requires a bit of prep work, regardless of what condition your walls are in. Walls with holes and dents may take longer to prep than walls that just need a coat of paint. Additionally, you may need to consider sanding, priming, and other prepping methods that’ll help your painting project go smoothly and ultimately result in a stunning, finished look.

So, here’s everything you need to know about prepping your walls and deciding if you should sand or prime before painting. We have the tips you’ll need to create an outstanding paint job.

Woman dusting window frame

First things first, dust your walls

The very first step before you add anything to your walls is to give them a good dusting, suggests SFGATE. Your walls are actually more dusty than you may think, especially in corner areas.

  • It is important to dust away any dirt, hair, grime, and more in order to create a clean surface for the next steps.
  • You can use a damp cloth or duster to rid the walls of excess dirt.

This way, when you begin to paint, you don’t have to worry about dust and dirt getting mixed into your paint and ultimately sticking to your walls.

Person spackling yellow wall

Touch up wall blemishes with spackling

If your walls have dents, cracks, or holes, then it is important to seal up any open crevices before beginning the painting process. Paint is incapable of filling in these spaces due to its thin texture, so painting over them will just leave them exposed and can sometimes even accentuate them. You can easily and quickly fill in holes and cracks with spackle. Spackle is a type of paste that you can smooth over holes and cracks, filling them in and ensuring that they are sealed. 

True Value states, “Spackling paste or spackling compound is made of gypsum powder and binders and is used to patch small holes, cracks and other imperfections like dents in drywall, plaster walls, and sometimes in wood.” This way, when you start painting, the final look will result in a smooth, clean wall.

Most spackles these days can dry within 10 minutes, so they won’t set you back on schedule if there is a last-minute hole that you need to fill in. Some are designed to change color from pink to white, so you know when it is dry and safe to sand down. It is important to sand the wall after spackling in order to ensure a flat and smooth surface for your paint. 

Man and woman painting interior wall

Now it’s time to begin priming

Primers are designed to help cover up the previous color on a wall. They are used before the actual paint color to create a blank, neutral surface, so your chosen paint color can be vibrant and bright. Priming is a must for dark or bright colors and is suggested for all others. If you are trying to paint over a black wall or a bright red wall, for example, a primer is needed. The primer will quickly and easily cover the existing color, making it a neutral white so that your new color can be displayed at its best and brightest.

Today, many paint companies design paint with a built-in primer. This is another great option for any wall painting job. The built-in primer can save you time and money because you don’t have to wait for the primer to dry before you start painting. This is recommended for any painting project, even if you are just painting over pale walls. It will ensure a solid, clean look that will last year after year. Besides, the paint might form bubbles after a primer-free application, and you don’t want that. Spectrum Paint advises, “Discuss your project with your local paint expert in order to create a professional, long-lasting result.”

Person using paint roller to coat a textured wall

Sand your walls if necessary

The final step before painting is to sand down the walls. This is a must if you have used spackle or regular primer on your walls before painting. Sanding your walls will help ensure a flat, even, and smooth surface for your paint to go on. It will help you achieve a high-quality and clean final result. 

  • It’s important to use a lower-grade sanding material since primer and spackle can be sanded off fairly easily.
  • Utilize sanding sponges or sanding paper for a quick and simple sanding process that will leave you with stunning results. 

When it comes to painting any wall in your home, there are a few key steps that need to be taken. The steps you take to paint a room will help you achieve a high-quality color on your walls. It is important to assess the condition of each wall and spackle in any holes, cracks, or dents. When it comes to primer or no primer, it is important to take into consideration the current color of the room. If the color is particularly dark or bright, then a primer is your best bet for ensuring your new color really pops. Use these tips and techniques to make your next painting experience a more smooth, so you can have a result that you will love.

Editors' Recommendations

Deb Goncalves
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Deb's work has appeared on Moms, Babygaga, and WorldAtlas. When she's not working (that's hard to say about a Capricorn), she…
The house maintenance tasks homeowners think first-time buyers should know
A few considerations when buying your first home
try these 11 bathroom diys you can do in one hour plumber

Buying a home for the first time isn't for the faint of heart. There are so many decisions you need to make and so many considerations to keep in mind before you sign on the dotted line. The biggest worry (beyond the biggest financial investment you're making) is what you don't know, especially regarding house maintenance. Luckily, we have the expertise of those who have come before us.

Redditor theforeverletter recently posed this question on the r/Home Improvement subreddit: "Homeowners who have been doing this for [a while], what regular maintenance do people need to do to their house they don’t know they should be doing? For those of you who know far more than me, I bought a house last year; what things do I/other first-time homeowners need to do to keep up with everything we may not know? Of course, this depends on the house (Septic/city water crawl space/no crawl space) and things can vary, but happy to learn as much as I can!" Hundreds of people were happy to share their advice, and we've taken some of the most popular, so you know what to look out for.

Read more
5 washable paint brands perfect for keeping kitchen walls clean and beautiful
Top picks for washable paint brands to color your kitchen walls
Kitchen with washable paint

Let's face it, kitchen walls can get messy. Between food spatters from cooking or spilling, food can wind up everywhere. If you're looking to refresh your kitchen walls or want an excuse to try out a new color, washable paint is a great way to update your kitchen.

Here's a list of our favorite washable paint brands and colors to give you kitchen paint ideas that will not only make your kitchen walls easier to clean but also give your kitchen the makeover it deserves.

Read more
What colors go with gray? How to make a neutral hue pop in your home
How to make gray walls work for your home decor
Modern living room with gray walls and yellow furniture

Neutral colors like gray and taupe are always popular options for your home's interior design. Both are versatile shades that can go with a plethora of other hues, which means you can easily change up the look of your decor with gray walls and a rotating rainbow of accessories like colorful throw pillows. With all the different shades of gray paint available, from matte to glossy, warm to cool, and brownish to blueish, it's certainly possible to find the one that's perfect for you and your home.

Of course, you can always have too much of a good thing. While gray can be a sophisticated and elegant shade, too much gray can wash out a room or make it feel dull and dingy or cold and unwelcoming. Think of gray as the backdrop on a canvas that lets your color palette shine, and you can't go wrong. So, it’s important to incorporate other colors into the decor, whether it be with pieces of furniture, art, or throw blankets -- but what colors go with gray? If you're looking for the best options to brighten up your current decor, keep reading to find out how to accent this elegant tone.

Read more