Avoid Problems With Painting

Dear NH,
I have a problem with the walls in my home... virtually all of them. Every time I try painting a room, the old paint comes off in sheets. Not everywhere, but in enough place to make me crazy! Is there some way I can repair these walls?
DR from Canton, CT

Painting can only be successful if the material to be painted will:

  1. allow paint to stick to it and
  2. not come off the wall during the painting process!

Being sure a surface is clean, oil-free, and dry usually insures paint adhesion. Glossy surfaces will accept paint, but paint will always adhere more strongly if the surface is roughened slightly. Some paint primers, such as Zinsser 1-2-3, will stick to even glossy surfaces though most painters will lightly sand the surface anyway or apply a deglossing liquid such as Wilbond immediately prior to painting.

What may have happened to your walls? Painted surfaces that have been exposed to moisture or were not properly prepared prior to the LAST coat of paint may loosen when the new paint is applied, even though the painted surface appears to be totally sound! This is one drawback in using water-based paints... you often have no idea the surface is bad until you start to roll the paint on and it begins to lift off the wall... onto your roller!

If this happens... immediately stop painting. Continuing will only make the situation worse! Use a sponge or towels and wipe the fresh paint off the walls and let the wall dry thoroughly. Now that you know you have a problem wall, there are easy steps you can take to lessen the damage.

Once dry, scrape any loose paint from the wall. Second, in order to prevent the moisture in the latex finish paint from lifting more of the old paint, apply a full coat of an oil-based primer-sealer. I use either Kilz or the new Zinsser Odorless Primer-Sealer. The Kilz is superior if there is lots of water staining or you need a one-hour drying time. Otherwise, the Zinsser product is fine with its two-hour drying time.

The principle is simple. By sealing the entire wall with the primer, you prevent moisture from touching the old paint surface and can subsequently apply latex paints without any problems. By the way, this same technique is useful for painting over wallpaper.

You might say... what about the rough spots on the wall where the paint lifted? Shouldn't I repair them before priming the walls?

NO... if you apply drywall compound onto the walls to level them without priming first, the moisture in the compound will most likely cause more paint lifting! Seal the walls first... then apply the patching compound. Once you have applied, sanded, applied again, sanded again, etc. and the walls are smooth, spot prime all the repaired areas. If they are extensive, reprime all the walls again! Then and only then are you ready to apply a full coat or two of quality latex wall paint.

And don't forget to prime ALL the walls and even the ceiling. Murphy's Law says that if anything can go wrong, it will. If you have one bad wall, odds are all the walls and the ceiling in that room are in questionable shape!

Have a small home repair question for THE NATURAL HANDYMAN? Just click here NaturalHandyman.com/aitikia. For more home repair information, visit NH's growing list of original home repair articles and quality links NaturalHandyman.com. If this information has been valuable to you, please consider making a small donation to support NH's free service to the home repair community! For more information, please visit our "Friends" page NaturalHandyman.com/Friends.

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