How to Skim Coat Walls
Over time, walls can develop surface imperfections such as shallow gouges, ripped drywall paper, or chipped paint. If you think that you will need to replace the drywall, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that there is an easy, alternative wall fix: skim coating your walls.
What Is Skim Coating?
A skim coat is a thin layer of drywall joint compound (also known as mud) that gives walls a glass-smooth finish. It's also called plastering a wall though you are using drywall joint compound, not plaster. The purpose of skim coating is to repair damaged walls and smooth down intentionally applied wall texture.
Some walls have a coating known as orange peel or knock-down texture. Some homeowners may want smooth walls instead of textured walls. Skim coating is an easy, low-mess alternative to chipping away the texture material.
There are advantages and disadvantages to skimming walls. It costs less than alternatives like replacing drywall, removing texture, or adding paneling. But it's laborious and if you're a beginner, it helps to know that you need patience to get the skimming just right for that coveted seamless look.
Skim Coat Application Methods
Rolling drywall compound onto the surface with a paint roller cover and frame is a popular way to apply the product. The drywall compound goes on quickly, and clean-up is easy.
The drywall knife, which is always used to smooth down the drywall compound for skim coating, can also be used in earlier steps to apply the compound to the surface. This offers the advantage of keeping your tool purchases to a minimum. The downside is that the application is laborious and slow.
The fastest and most effortless way to apply drywall compound to the wall is with a sprayer. You cannot use an ordinary paint sprayer—you will need to rent a texture sprayer. After spraying on the drywall compound, it is finished in the same way as roller or drywall knife application—follow steps 4 to 6 below.
Before You Begin
Preparation for skim coating is essential for a smooth result. That means you will need to prime the wall before skim coating. Priming will also seal any loose paper on the drywall that you're covering. Apply one to two thin coats of appropriate primer to the wall and wait until it is thoroughly dry to begin skimming.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- 12-inch drywall knife
- Drywall mud pan
- 9-inch paint roller cover
- Paint roller frame
- Paint roller extension pole, 4- to 8-foot range
- Fine-grit drywall sanding screen
- 5-gallon bucket
- Paint rolling screen for the bucket
- Lightweight all-purpose drywall compound
- Clean water
- Painter’s tape
Prepare the Work Area
Cover up areas that will not be skim-coated. Shut off electrical circuits to outlets and light switches. Remove faceplates and then cover the outlets or light switches with painter’s tape. Lay down drop cloths and tape them up to the wall baseboard.
Mix the Drywall Compound
Use a light-body drywall compound. Since the compound serves almost no structural purpose, heavy body compound is not necessary. Plus, lightweight mud is easier to sand smooth.
Mix the drywall compound according to the mix ratio on the product instructions. Often, it's better to short the water slightly to produce a heavier, stickier product. This gives the skim coat greater strength, plus it's cleaner to apply. Mix to a stiff, yogurt-like consistency.
Roll Out the Drywall Compound
Roll out a section about 2 feet wide by 8 feet high. Press the roller firmly into the wall to force out bubbles. Working time depends on the amount of drywall compound deposited on the wall, room temperature, and airflow. It's always better to maintain smaller working zones so that the drywall compound does not dry up on you.
Be sure to keep the drywall compound consistent across the surface. Even though the drywall compound does get scraped off, inconsistent compound dries at different rates, so the process will be easier if you do a consistent application.
Skim the First Section
Skim out the drywall compound with the 12-inch knife. Scrape either upward or downward in columns, applying slightly more pressure to the left side of the knife than the right. This eases out imperfections on the left side but leaves a low ridge on the right side.
Skim the Rest of the Sections
Make a second pass adjacent to the first column. Again, favor pressure on the left side. This eliminates the ridge on the left. Overlapping ensures that most of the ridges are taken care of by the drywall knife. This leaves less drywall sanding for later.
Sand the Dried Skim Coat
Allow the skim coat to dry. It should dry within an hour or two. Finish with a light sanding with fine-grit drywall sandpaper.
Wall Skim Coat Troubleshooting
Drywall Compound Is Hard to See on the Wall
Set up a work light on the floor to cast a low-angled beam on the skim coat surface. This helps to identify high and low spots.
The Roller Slides on the Wall or Gums Up
When the roller slides, this means that the roller is stuck and is not turning. Knock off the roller cover, run water over the roller frame to clean it off, then replace it with a new cover.
Drywall Compound Is Not Sticking to the Wall
The compound may be mixed too thinly. Add a little more dry mixture and mix again to stiffen up the product. Also, walls painted in high gloss paint may not hold the drywall compound well. These walls should be lightly sanded before skim coating.
Is it worth it to skim coat walls?
If you want a flawed wall to have a smooth, seamless appearance, skim coating is well worth the time and effort as it will instantly refresh a room. In addition to fixing some damages on drywall, skim coating walls can be used to fix problems left from wallpaper removal. Oftentimes living spaces, like dining rooms, are skim coated.
Can I paint after skim coating a wall?
Yes, you should paint after skim coating a wall. The skim coating is fragile and can be easily damaged if left unfinished. Priming and painting the skimmed wall will protect its flawless beauty. Wait until the skim coating has fully dried. Refer to the drywall compound's instructions to find drying times.
Can you skim coat an entire wall?