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How to paint walls and ceilings

There are many reasons why you may decide to change the look and feel of your home, it might be because you've just moved in and want to stamp your own identity upon the interior with a whole new scheme of paint colours, or alternatively you may just fancy a total change in mood. Paint could be considered a decorator's secret weapon when it comes to freshening up tired looking rooms as giving your room a new coat of paint is the most cost effective way to update your homes decor.

Difficulty rating: Low

These tasks should be fairly straightforward, whether you have experience doing DIY or none at all.

Before you get started on any of our 'how to' guides, please take a moment to read through our DIY safety tips.

Tools for the job

1. Choosing a colour

Need help finding the right colour?

Choosing the most appropriate paint colours for your home interior isn't an easy task. Our colour experts can give you lots of advice on choosing shades to create a brilliant look for your home. Talk to us about the mood you want to achieve for a particular room and we'll work closely with you to make it happen.

At Homebase we also offer a colour matching service. We take a shade from any of our furnishings and match it with just the right paint to create a complete and beautifully co-ordinated effect.

This video shows how our trained experts can help you find amazing colours for your home.

How to choose a paint colour

Advice on how to choose the right colour for your paint.

2. Choosing the right paint

Take a look at our Emulsion paint buying guide. There you will be giving hints and tips to help you make the right choice for your home.

3. Buy the right amount of paint

There is nothing worse than running out of paint when you're in the middle of a decorating project. That's why we've put together this handy online calculator to help you purchase the right amount.

Paint calculator

4. Preparing walls and ceiling for painting

The key to a good result is spending time getting your walls and ceilings in a decent state for painting.

  • Before painting, walls and ceilings should be clean, dust-free, smooth and completely dry. Wash them down with detergent or sugar soap. Then rinse with clean water and let them dry.
  • If the plaster is gloss painted, rub the wall down with 40 grit abrasive paper wrapped around a cork block.
  • If you have new plasterwork you will need to remove any blistering and fill in any blemishes. 
Helpful hint...

White, fluffy alkaline patches can be rubbed off with a piece of hessian or worn coarse glass paper.

How to prepare walls for painting

This great video goes through all the basics of preparing your walls before you start your project.

5. Using a primer on bare plaster

  • If you opt for an oil-based paint, use a primer suitable for plaster.
  • Underneath emulsion paint, use one of our primers and base coats specifically designed to prepare walls for painting.
  • Emulsion can be used over most wall coverings, as long as they're in good condition and firmly stuck down. But if your old wallpaper has a textured finish, the texture will show through the paint.

6. How many coats are needed?

  • The number of coats of paint needed for each job depends upon the type and make of paint you buy, and what you're painting over. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the tin for the best results.
  • Some darker colours and patterns need up to three coats of emulsion to cover. Always leave the paint to dry between coats. 'One coat' emulsion may be more effective if the colour contrasts aren't too great.

7. Protect your floor and furniture

  • Floors and furniture should be covered with dust sheets.
  • It's a good idea to keep a bucket of water and a sponge handy to wipe splashes off woodwork, as some colours can stain light-coloured gloss paint.

8a. How to paint a ceiling

1. Your ceiling needs to be prepared. Clean using an extended duster to remove any dust.

2. Fill holes and cracks using a filler product.

3. Leave to dry and sand down if necessary before masking off any light fittings.

4. Start painting around the light fittings first. A one coat matt paint is perfect for ceilings.

5. Next, paint along the ceiling line; you can go down onto the wall by around an inch.

6. For the large open area, begin with the corner by the window. 

7. Remove any masking tape around fittings when dry and you’re done.

*Don’t forget safety first! Use an extension pole to reduce the risk of hyperextension and safety goggles for any splash back.

8b. How to paint a wall

1. It’s a good idea to remove and curtains and tape off any fixtures.

2. Time to prime! Cracks or holes can be easily fixed using filler products.

3. Allow plenty of time for filler to dry and set.

4. Wipe clean and sand down any excess. Remember to remove loose dust afterwards.

5. Begin by cutting in around the edges. It’s best to start at the top, remember to use a step ladder and don’t over extend.

6. When painting a large open space, try using a “W” motion for best coverage on the roller.

7. To paint those tricky bits behind a radiator, use an extended roller with a narrow sleeve.

8. Allow sufficient drying time before removing tape and replacing furniture, and enjoy your new room!

Choose the right tool for the job

Need help choosing between a brush, roller or paint pad? Click take a look at our Decorating equipment buying guide. There you will find a video with everything you need to know.

9. Painting with a brush

  • For the first coat use a primer or basecoat, following the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Then, half fill a paint kettle with your paint and dip in a 50mm brush up to one-third of the bristle length.
  • Hold the brush at 90 degrees to the ceiling and paint a straight line, cutting into the corner between the walls and the ceiling (fig. 1).
  • Turn the brush parallel to the ceiling to go over the first stroke firmly and steadily, keeping the bristles close to but not touching the ceiling (fig. 2).
  • This procedure should be repeated along the bottom and the top of the wall.
  • A large brush can then be used to fill in the remainder. The edge of the brush is used to cut into the corner of the wall (fig. 3), then the paint should be applied in a criss-cross fashion. The final step is to feather out or lightly brush out the paint in long strokes.
Start by holding your brush at 90 degrees and paint the line where the walls and ceiling meet.
Figure 1
Turn the brush and go over the first stroke firmly, keeping the bristles close to but not touching the ceiling.
Figure 2
Use a large brush to fill the remainder of the wall and ceiling.
Figure 3

10. Painting with a roller

  • Pour some of your emulsion into a paint tray so it is about a third full. Dip the roller into the paint and roll it firmly up and down the ribbed 'platform' (figs. 4 and 5). Do not overload the roller - it should rotate freely rather than skid over the surface of the wall/ceiling.
  • Unhurried vertical strokes will avoid 'splatter' and should be finished off with parallel movements in one direction. The aim is to apply the paint evenly and always work from a 'wet' edge. The edges need to be blended in to avoid leaving a ridge of paint.
  • It helps to imagine the surface divided into areas approximately 1m square and work systematically over the whole area.
  • Rollers can't get into corners or around and behind pipes, so a 50mm brush should be used instead - do this either at the beginning or end.
  • To make painting ceilings a little easier, attach a long handle extension to your paint roller.
Helpful hint...

To keep your roller tray clean, wrap a plastic bag around it before you start rollering. When you have finished carefully remove the bag from the tray and dispose of it. The tray is completely clean and ready for another colour!

Fill the paint tray about one third full with emulsion. Dip the roller and roll it firmly up and down the ribbed 'platform'.
Figure 4
Do not overload the roller. It should rotate freely rather than skid over the surface of the wall
Figure 5

11. Painting with a paint pad

  • Use a 200mm pad for walls and ceilings, and a 30mm-50mm pad for cutting in round the edges (fig. 6).
  • Load the pad by drawing it across the captive roller in its special tray (fig. 7).
  • The pad must be kept flat on the wall or ceiling and be moved gently in random directions, finishing with long strokes (fig. 8).
Use a 200mm pad for walls and ceilings, and a 30-50mm pad for cutting in round the edges.
Figure 6
Pads come with a special tray. Load the brush by pulling it across the roller.
Figure 7
Keep the pad flat on the wall or ceiling and move it gently in random directions, and then long strokes to finish.
Figure 8

12. Painting top tips

Decorating top tip elastic band
Top tip

Prevent a build up of paint around the edge of the tin by using an elastic band to wipe your brush instead.

Decorating top tip line paint tray
Top tip

Does the cleaning up after painting put you off even starting it? Why not line the inside of your paint tray to save on washing it up

Decorating top tip primer tint
Top tip

To save an extra coat of paint, tint your primer paint with your final colour

Decorating top tip
Top tip

Use WD40 to remove those 'accidental' wall drawings

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