Painting is a fantastic way to hit the reset button to the feel of a home. It sounds simple, but this can be a little more complex than expected with a fixer upper. We learned that valuable lesson in our own home. Older homes like ours often require extensive repair and proper wall prep before painting. This preparation is crucial to provide an even base for the paint color of your dreams as well as getting rid of odors from cigarettes, pets, and other unwanted smells. Let’s discuss in detail how to prep walls properly and strategically.

Creating our prep and painting plan

After our rocky start to home ownership, we first created our renovation plan by prioritizing the tasks that refreshed the energy, smell, and cleanliness of our home to modernize the spaces we occupy the most. Subsequently, we planned to paint the following rooms in the following order:

  1. The primary (formerly known as the “master”) bedroom
  2. The primary closet
  3. The office/bedroom #2
  4. The guest bedroom/bedroom #3
  5. The hallway
  6. The living room

(Side note: most of the photos in this article feature our primary bedroom with glimpses of the living room.)

As you can see, before we could paint those rooms their final colors, we had to properly prep and prime the walls.

…we created our renovation plan by prioritizing the tasks that refreshed the energy, smell, and cleanliness of our home to modernize the spaces we occupy the most.

Thus, we worked our way from our most used room (the primary bedroom) and all the way to the living room. Essentially, we prepped one wing of our home in one fell swoop. And surprise! – these are the rooms that stunk the most due to the overwhelming cigarette smell.

Furthermore, we aimed to prime the rooms after the 30-year-old carpet was removed and before the brand new carpet was installed. We didn’t want to be too concerned about spilling primer on our new flooring. Overall, the job took two weekends to complete.

When you prep walls, it can get messy.
When you prep walls, it can get messy.

We primed every surface possible: the walls, ceiling, and cabinetry.

Necessary tools to prep walls

As a DIYer, you will use the majority of these items many times, so they are great to have on hand. Many of these items are on my must-have list of tools for new homeowners.

  1. Paint sprayer
  2. Paint tray kit
  3. Extension pole
  4. Work platform
  5. Celling texture scraper
  6. Pump sprayer
  7. Putty knife
  8. Painter’s tape
  9. Drop cloth
  10. Drywall tape (I prefer the mesh kind, put paper is fine too)
  11. Drywall mud
  12. Broom
  13. Primer (This primer is my all time fav!)

The step-by-step guide to best prep walls

Before you prep walls, purchase a quality primer

First, many people prefer buy paint + primer combinations. However, we chose to buy our primer separately to better eliminate the smell. I recommend buying a five gallon; it is more cost-efficient and handy to keep on standby for other DIY projects.

Clear rooms when you plan to prep walls

Move furniture to unused rooms and/or the garage. Take in account your normal pathways. You don’t want to move furniture to a high traffic spot and accidentally block off an important area!

You can cover ceiling fans with trash bags.

Remove and cover electrical wiring 

Remove outlet/light switch covers and light fixtures. Next, cover wires. Then, wrap ceiling fans with a trash bag.

Remove cabinetry and prep walls afterwards
We removed the built-ins and sanded the paneling smooth.

Begin to prep walls by removing obstructions

After that, we ripped out dated built-in cabinetry flanking the fireplace. We saved the lumber for later projects.

Removing decorative horsehair trim before and after
Trim in process of removal

Additionally, we carefully removed some unwanted decorative moulding/molding from the primary bedroom and living room ceilings.

Prep the ceiling by removing trim.
The ceiling looks better with the trim removed! You can see the difference between walls exposed and not exposed to nicotine.

Scrape ceilings

This was a difficult job that I will dedicate a future article to. For now, I’ll surmise to say that we opted to knock off the popcorn nodes to lessen the texture. Eventually, we may return to this job to smooth out the ceiling with a skim coat of mud later. Our goal was to make the ceiling look better and to get rid of built up dust that accumulated on the popcorn texture.

Prep work includes cleaning!
This is just a part of the texture that we scraped off the ceiling!

Clean up

Sweep up and dispose of messes as you work! Less mess equals more efficient work. Don’t walk in dust and track it all over your house!

To properly prep walls, patch and sand.
To properly prep walls, patch and sand.

Patch holes and cracks

Next, we taped and patched holes, cracks, and other imperfections in the drywall. Areas most in need of patching were around the air duct vents, in corners, behind doors, and under windows. Afterwards, we sanded down the patches on the drywall as well as the wood paneling where the built-ins used to be joined to the wall.

Clean again

Keep sweeping!

Me, Felicia, rolling primer on the ceiling.
Me rolling primer on the ceiling.

Spray and roll

If we were to do it again, we would have purchased our current paint sprayer to make the job much easier. That’s why I had to include it on my must-buy list! I recommend that one person uses the sprayer and another uses the roller to smooth out drips and runs.

The primer should be completely dry in a matter of hours.


The pros and cons to prepping walls DIY style


  1. With everything primed, our home was blank slate. Our home smelled so refreshed and looked so bright!
  2. We got it all done at one time. Though it took two weekends, it saved us time to prime everything without having to cover the flooring.
  3. Expense: Buying a five-gallon bucket of primer is more cost efficient than buying gallon by gallon.


Buy a 5 gallon bucket of primer if you are working on several rooms. It’s more affordable!


  1. This is a labor-intensive job. It is comprised of many steps to ensure the best look of your home.
  2. It takes lots of cleaning – but that is any DIY job in general unfortunately.
  3. The expense is both a pro and a con depending on how you view it. The majority of the big costs are upfront. But once you buy your five gallon bucket of primer and your sprayer, the pricey expenses are accounted for. Again, the items needed to prep walls are tools you’ll probably use multiple times.
Our home felt much fresher and ready for paint after good preparation!
Our home felt much fresher and ready for paint after good preparation!

In conclusion, preparation is key

Remember, no matter how beautiful of a color you choose to paint your walls eventually, if you do not prep well, you will be disappointed in the end. In other words, there is a ton of work that goes into producing the best version of your home. But, the sense of accomplishment is worth the work. In conclusion, if you are a DIYer prepping your walls for paint, take your time and do it right. 

Thanks for reading!


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