July 18, 2013 at 4:12 PM ET
Whether a room in your house needs a quick facelift or you’re renovating an older home, picking a color for the walls is usually the easiest (and most fun!) part. The tough part is the prep work. Where do you start? Follow these 5 easy steps for removing paint and ensure a smooth paint job.
Inspect the walls for chips, cracks or bubbles. Spot any of these and it’s best to remove the paint. Otherwise, a new coat of paint on a few old-but-smooth layers is okay.
House built before 1978? There’s a chance some lead-based paint may remain underneath one of the many newer layers. Consider hiring a professional to remove any lead-based paint.
Remove hangings, décor or furniture up against the wall, and dust. Lay drop cloths on the floor.
Try taking the flaky, peeling paint off the wall with a lone scraper. Place a dust mask on your face before removing paint, and drag the blade with moderate to firm pressure in every direction under the paint until the wall is bare.
If the scraper didn’t do the job or you’d like to shave time off the process, use a liquid paint-softening stripper. Put on heavy-duty rubber gloves, and follow the directions.
Try a heating gun, torch, or iron if you’d rather not use harsh chemicals. Wear a respirator mask to prevent yourself from breathing in fumes when removing paint, and be sure to ventilate the rooms with exhaust fans. With one hand, apply heat to a section of the wall from a few inches away, waving the heater back and forth. Once it starts bubbling, use the other hand to remove paint with the scraper.
Techniques like scraping and stripping require plenty of patience and a little bit of muscle. Let a power tool do the work for you. Buy or rent an orbital power sander with 40-grit sandpaper. Drape a cloth or tarp over any nearby appliances or furniture and open a window for ventilation—the sander creates a lot of dust. Put on a facemask and goggles, and sand the wall section by section.
Fill a bucket with cool water and soak a sponge in it. Squeeze out any excess water, wipe down the wall, and let dry.
Dispose the removing paint chips on the drop cloth, and vacuum the surrounding area.
Christine Petrozzo is a freelance writer living in San Francisco, Calif.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.