9 Interior Painting Tips for a Flawless Finish

can of open paint on a drop cloth

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Interior house painting is not intuitive, though it seems like it should be. Beginning in kindergarten with finger-painting, most of us are familiar with the process of applying paint to a flat surface. But a truly professional interior paint job is an entirely different matter. Incorporate these tips into your next interior painting project and make the job go faster and smoother, with a cleaner, more attractive appearance.

Use a Tack Cloth to Clean the Surface

A tack cloth is a very inexpensive painting tool that helps you clean the surface prior to painting or staining for flawless results. A beeswax-impregnated cheesecloth, tack cloth lightly pulls off sawdust, wood shavings, and all manner of debris from your surface. By using a tack cloth, you avoid applying a wet cloth to the surface. If you do not have a tack cloth, you may use a damp cloth, but make sure to squeeze it out thoroughly beforehand. Do not use a tack cloth over large surfaces. It is suited more for trim, doors, and cabinets than for walls and ceilings. Also, avoid pressing hard on the tack cloth as this may smear beeswax on the surface, and this can be difficult to remove.

Purchase High-Quality Roller Covers and Brushes

Cheap, low-quality roller covers leave fuzz and lint on the walls. Once fuzz and lint are embedded in the paint and the paint subsequently dries, you are left with bumpy walls that are difficult to repair. Inferior-quality brushes leave streaky brush marks; instead, purchase high-quality brushes and be meticulous about maintaining your pricey purchase. Some do-it-yourself painters make the mistake of purchasing inexpensive chip brushes. Chip brushes should not be used for interior painting. Rather, they are meant for applying glues, adhesives, and solvents. For both roller covers and brushes, it is worthwhile to pay extra for better tools. In the end, your surface will have a better finish.


Cut in the corners and around your trim with a brush to start the process and finish the ceiling and walls with a roller.

Paint roller and tray
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Purchase High-Quality Paint

When you see one paint advertised for a price and another, apparently comparable paint for five times as much, what is the difference besides price? Often, rock-bottom cheap paints are builder's grade paints that have fewer solids than higher quality paints. Solids are what help to create a good paint build. Builder's grade paints such as Sherwin-Williams ProMar 400 Interior Latex and Valspar Professional Interior Latex do have their place in quick, low-cost, low-commitment paint jobs. But for a paint that will last, purchase a higher-quality paint.

Test for Loose Paint With the Duct Tape Test

Will the existing painted surface take new paint and will it hold this paint for years to come? While it is impossible to predict the future, you can get a good sense of the quality of a surface by testing it with a strip of duct tape. Lay a strip of fresh duct tape over the surface in question, then rip it off. If flakes of paint more than microscopic size come off, you may need to scrape and then sand.

Use Latex or Nitrile Gloves

Latex gloves are great for keeping your hands clean while painting. Water-based interior latex paint easily cleans off of hands, but if you are using enamel or oil-based paint, cleaning can be a challenge. If you do not like latex gloves or are allergic to latex, use a similar type of glove material called nitrile.

Liberally Apply Low-Stick Painter's Tape

Painter's tape, sometimes known as blue tape, has a low-stick adhesive that comes off easily and resists peeling off primer or existing paint. While painter's tape can be expensive, it is well worth the cost to liberally apply it to the edge of all surfaces that will not be painted, such as the junction between walls and ceilings.

Apply painter's tape to wall
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Maintain a Wet Edge to Avoid Overlap Marks

Always keep a wet edge as you paint and work away from that wet edge. The glossier the paint, the more prone it will be to showing overlap marks. Semi-gloss and glossy paint, in particular, demand strict attention be paid to maintaining a wet edge. With flat or matte paint, though, there is virtually no danger of creating overlap marks.

Use Masking Film to Cover Clean Areas

Masking film is one of those secret tools that professional painters use frequently, yet many do-it-yourself painters may not know about. Masking film is a thin plastic sheet that either comes in rolls or in folded up squares. Its thinness is key to making it work. Unlike the thicker plastic sheeting often used to cover furniture, masking film grabs onto flat surfaces and stays in place, on its own. Except for bringing the film adjacent to the edge of a painted surface, there is no need to tape it down. Static electricity holds masking film in place.

Wrap the Brush or Roller to Avoid Cleaning

At the end of your painting day, you need to deal with picking up and cleaning. The part that many people dread is cleaning the brushes and rollers. Brushes are hard to clean, but using a paint comb helps immensely. Cleaning roller covers is more difficult: It seems that no matter how much you wash the roller, it still dries out too stiff to use again.

Yet there is one secret to side-stepping this cleaning. If you know that you will be returning to your work before long, you can preserve your roller cover or brush with the paint still in it, either by:

  • Freezing Them: Wrap the brush or roller in a plastic bag and put them in the freezer. This should preserve the brush or roller indefinitely. Allow plenty of time for the roller cover or brush to thaw before you attempt to paint with them again; or,
  • Wrapping Only: If you dislike the idea of putting brushes or roller covers in a food zone, you can still wrap them in plastic and keep outside at room temperature. Just make sure that the plastic is airtight. This should preserve the brush or roller cover for the rest of the day. You might even be able to push it to the following day if the wrap is very tight.