10 Common Painting Mistakes to Avoid During Your Next Project

Avoid these everyday painting pitfalls to ensure you love the final look.

A fresh coat of paint is an affordable way to elevate the overall look of your home, whether you’re coating your walls or adding color to an outdoor deck. But what’s meant to breathe life into your space can quickly have the opposite effect if it’s done incorrectly. From minor mistakes, like not cleaning your walls before you get started, to bigger errors, like choosing the wrong paint color, we’re sharing the most common painting mistakes to avoid during your next project.

Skipping Prep Work

Skipping prep work is one of the most common mistakes people make when painting. “Without proper preparation, flaws may occur on the painted surface,” says Ed Edrosa, senior product manager for Behr. “Some examples of those flaws may include poor adhesion of the paint to the surface—or the surface may not look as uniform as you desire.”

Before painting your walls, make sure you cover all floors and furniture, sand the surface for better adhesion, repair any cracks in the walls, and scrape away loose paint.

Cans of paint with brush

Not Cleaning the Walls

Cleaning the walls prior to painting is another essential prep step that helps the paint adhere to the surface. “Warm, soapy water is your best bet here. Harsh chemicals will eat at the paint from first application,” says Annie Sloan, a paint and color expert and the creator of Chalk Paint Annie Sloan. “You just want to move dust, debris, and dirt so that these things don’t get painted on just to peel off and compromise the finish of the entire wall in the future.”

Not Using Painter’s Tape

Whether or not you use painter’s tape depends on your skill level, but it is highly recommended for beginners. “Painter’s tape ensures straight lines, helps prevent overlaps, and may help avoid getting paint on surfaces such as the molding or ceiling,” says Edrosa. Skipping this step may negatively impact the overall look of your project.

Picking the Wrong Primer

Primers are special coatings designed to fix certain surface issues, such as staining, efflorescence, alkalinity, and adhesion, says Tim Bosveld, vice president of product management at Dunn-Edwards. If you choose the wrong primer for the job, it can impact the durability and longevity of your project.

Skipping Primer

Primer is an essential step in some cases, such as bold color changes, painting old wood paneling, or painting surfaces with peeling or loose paint. “Skipping this step can be a big mistake if your substrate requires a primer,” says Anthony Kulikowski, owner of Five Star Painting, a Neighborly company. “Not applying a primer can cause early paint failures, which lead to frustration and more money spent.”

Not Buying Enough Paint

Not buying enough paint is a fairly common mistake homeowners make, but it can be avoided with proper planning. Many brands offer paint calculators online to help with this. “Make sure to adjust your paint calculator for the type of product you’re using, the substrate you’re painting, and the condition the substrate is in,” says Kulikowski. “For example, old wood siding that hasn’t been painted for several years will absorb more paint than what an online calculator will tell you.” If you’ve accounted for these factors correctly, the online calculators can be very helpful.

Adding a Second Coat Too Soon

While it may be tempting to add a second coat of paint before the first one dries, it’s worth it for a final look you’re happy with. “Waiting for the first coat to dry completely before applying the second coat ensures proper adhesion and prevents the paint from smudging or lifting, resulting in a smooth and even finish,” says Sloan.

Choosing the Wrong Type of Paint

Buying the wrong paint can cause the paint to fail prematurely and can make your project more costly and time consuming. “Knowing what type of paint isn’t a matter of what is right for you, but a matter of what is right for your substrate, and knowing what the space will be used for,” says Kulikowski. “Choosing the correct paint can be easy, as most paint cans will have information on them as to which substrates you can apply the product to.”

Choosing the Wrong Paint Brush

Using the wrong paint brush can negatively affect the application of the paint and can even make the job more difficult. “A synthetic bristle brush is recommended to be used on all water-based paints and a natural bristle brush is recommended to be used with oil-based paints,” says Edrosa. If you’re still unsure of what brush to use, check the label as many products list which projects they’re best suited for.

Not Testing the Paint First

Before painting the entirety of your walls, be sure to do a color test first. “Apply color samples on your wall and check how the light changes it,” says Bosveld. “Light is different in the morning, noon, and night, which affects how the color looks. To be really sure about your color choice, live with it for a bit to feel confident in your color choice.”

Madeline Buiano