8 Things to Do Before You Paint a Living Room

Wall painting supplies

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

One of the best ways to transform a living room is with a fresh coat of paint. In just one day you can make a room look completely different―without having to buy any new furniture or spend a lot of money. However, despite the fact that paint is considered an easy, inexpensive fix, it doesn't come without some cost and some effort. Particularly in large rooms and awkward to paint areas (such as stairways). So before you start painting your living room you need to make sure you've done your due diligence and taken the appropriate steps.

Here are eight things you need to do before you paint a living room. 

Choose a Paint Color

Choosing a paint color can be a difficult task. There are so many options that it can be tough to narrow it down to just one. Should you go light or dark? Bright or muted? What kind of finish do you want? Any painted details like stripes, stencils, or molding? A lot of people find these decisions overwhelming, but the key is to take your time and follow all the steps for choosing a paint color. The most important step is to take your time choosing. Quick decisions can lead to unhappy results and the fix can be time-consuming and tedious.

Wall paint swatches
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Test the Paint Color

Once you've chosen a paint color it's a good idea to test it on the wall before you commit. Sometimes the way a color appears on a paint chip, or the way it looks in a photograph, is a little different than the way it will look in your home. The main reason is due to the room's lighting. Lighting has a huge effect on how a paint color looks. Some rooms are flooded with natural light while others depend largely on artificial lighting. And sometimes the light can appear very different depending on what time of day it is. The best way to account for these issues is to try three different shades of the color you want―the one you think you want, a shade lighter and a shade darker. (Most paint stores sell small sample jars just for this purpose.) Test small patches in a couple of different places―near a window, in a dark corner, and right in the middle of the wall. Look to see how different they appear at different times of the day. This will help to determine the right one for the room.

Prep the Walls

Once you've settled on a paint color it's time to prep the walls. This means cleaning, patching holes and cracks, and sanding down any bumps. Dirt on the walls can prevent paint from adhering, so the first thing to do is wash the walls. Get rid of any dirt or grime that may have accumulated over the years. Then use a filler to fill any holes, cracks or chips that may exist on the walls. At this time you should also remove any other loose paint from previous coats that may be chipping away (often found around the trim) and fill the area. Give the filler sufficient time to dry and then sand it down to create a smooth surface. After sanding give the walls another wipe down to remove the sanding dust.

Filling wall holes
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Tape off Trim and Molding

A lot of people skip this step because it's time-consuming, but it's definitely worthwhile to spend the time taping around all the trim and molding. This means baseboards, crown molding, door, and window casings, and any other types you may have such as chair rail or wainscotting. Taping helps protect the trim so that you won't have to do any additional touch-ups later. That said, don't be lulled into a false sense of security around the taped off areas. You still need to be careful around the trim so that paint doesn't seep under or go over the tape.

Remove Items From the Room

Any time you paint the walls of a room it's important to remove as many items as possible. It can be tempting to simply pull items away from the walls and put everything in the center of the room, but you may find yourself tripping over things throughout the process. If taking large pieces of furniture out is not an option you should, at the very least, remove all the accessories, and as many small pieces as you can. Also, if you have area rugs, roll them up and take them out of the room.

Remove all furniture before painting
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Put Down Drop Cloths

Even the best painter in the world can make a mistake or have an accident so don't skip the step of putting down drop cloths―especially if you have wall-to-wall carpet. While paint splatters can sometimes be picked off of hardwood, laminate or tile floors, it's virtually impossible to get paint out of the carpet. And if something happens and you accidentally spill a can or a tray full of paint you'll spend a lifetime trying to remove it from the floor―no matter what type of flooring you have.

Woman laying drop cloth before painting
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Gather Materials in One Place

Painting requires brushes, rollers, paint trays, cloths, ladders, and any number of other items depending on what and where you're painting. Save yourself time and frustration by making a list of all the items you'll need to get the job done and make sure they're all together in one place before you start. There's nothing worse than being in the middle of a project only to discover you can't find something you need.

Prime the Walls

Priming the walls is an important step in order to ensure a smooth, even finish. Walls tend to absorb paint and if you don't prime first you may find you need multiple coats to get the look you want. Also, if there's already another color of paint on the walls you may find it needs two, three or even four coats to cover it. Priming the walls first will eliminate some of these issues and ensure you get the finished product you want.

Prime walls for painting
The Spruce / Margot Cavin