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guide to plaster by experienced drywaller


A Complete Guide to Painting Plaster Walls


For more than a century, interior plaster walls have been the construction of choice in American homes. From ancient palaces to old country houses, these beautiful walls are still found


in many homes today. Modern homeowners are probably familiar with drywall or drywall, but not plaster. This guide will answer all your questions about painting plaster walls.

Can you paint plaster walls?


Many classic homes may have perfectly intact plaster walls hidden behind dated wallpaper or peeling layers of paint. The good news is that you can paint these walls with the same equipment you would use on plaster! From a classic makeover to a modern makeover, you can spruce up your plaster walls with a fresh coat of paint.



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Painting over the plaster will look the same as the prep work below, so make sure you don't skip any steps.

Preparing plaster walls for painting


Safety tip: Most old household paints contain lead. Always wear eye protection and a respirator when sanding or removing old paint.

Removing old paint


The first step to painting old plaster walls is to remove whatever is covering them.


Old paint can be removed in two ways:


Scrapers and sandpaper: for old chipped and flaking paint.

Chemical Strippers: For relatively undamaged paintwork.


Patch and repair the plaster


Once the walls have been stripped, you will need to repair and repair any old cracks or damage. This process can be tedious, but it is one of the most important steps. Plaster walls are unforgiving and cracks left alone are likely to widen.


Paintable putty can be used to fill small cracks. It remains flexible, so the crack is less likely to reappear. Larger holes in old bolts or longer slots should be repaired like drywall and sanded down. The goal is to create a smooth, even surface with no visible cracks or holes.


To do this, start by mixing the new patches or plaster into the old plaster with rough grit sandpaper.


Once the surface is more or less level, sand the surface with high grit sandpaper to create a smooth surface for the primer coating.

What is the best primer for plastering walls?


Gypsum walls are more vulnerable to moisture than drywall and require high quality primers. Oil-based primers are the best option for old walls. They have superior stain blocking abilities and will prevent old stains from bleeding through new paint.


Oil-based primers are also great for sealing in moisture, which can be a big problem for old plaster walls. Perhaps the most useful is the oil primer's ability to fill and seal the surface of the plaster.


Kilz brand primers are known for their stain blocking abilities and are available at many DIY centers. As a premium option, Sherwin Williams offers durable plaster-specific primers.


Some bright colors, especially reds and yellows, will generally look best with a tinted primer.


The paint shop or hardware store should know if your paint needs it and can mix up the appropriate primer.

What is the best paint finish for plaster walls?


Plaster walls can be finished with any sheen, from glossy to ultra matte. The most versatile finish for most home applications is the asatin finish which combines the soft warmth of a matte or flat finish with the cleanability offered by semi-gloss or gloss finishes. If your home has a traditional Victorian style, a softer finish will nicely complement the glossy lacquer or enamel finishes around the doors and around the ceilings.


Matte or matte finish paint will not be as easy to clean and will stand out much easier than satin paint, but the lightly textured finish can be very useful in hiding small imperfections in the underlying plaster.

What type of paint should I use on plaster walls?


The best type of plaster wall paint is the color you like!


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Once plaster walls have been properly patched and primed, they can easily take on any color or finish. Satin and eggshell finishes are very popular and lighter, neutral shades of cream and white are ideal if resale value is an issue.


There is one type of paint you should not use: all-in-one paint and primer. The label is misleading, as these paints do not actually contain a primer. Instead, they are mixed to create a thicker, more durable coating.


While long-lasting paint isn't a bad thing, these products don't help solve the two biggest problems that primer solves on old plaster: glue paint the wall better and prevent stains. decades of potential stains from bleeding through fresh paint.

Painting the plaster walls


Then the plaster was patched and the surface is smooth and prepared.


Now it's time to paint!


Plaster can easily be painted with the same techniques as drywall. Even with a good coat of primer, plaster walls are notoriously in need of painting. Using an open space roller and paintbrushes around the trim and edges, spread an even coat of your paint of choice. Don't try to completely cover the wall all at once.


Two or three thinner coats will create a much nicer finish than one heavy coat, which is likely to run off and look uneven.


Plaster walls also lend themselves to creative paint schemes, such as sponge painting and rustic, antique finishes.

Five Steps to a Flawless Plaster Wall Painting


Old plaster walls have probably been through the years as homeowners hung pictures, painted, and wallpapered. For this reason, they generally involve a more extensive preparation process for a new paint job than drywall. Here are the five steps you should follow for the best painting experience and results:

Test your walls for lead


It is essential to ensure that your plastered walls are lead-free paint, as it was a commonly used paint ingredient in the past.


Indeed, continued exposure to lead poses a number of serious health risks. Always check with a home lead test kit before proceeding to any other step.

Remove the old paint


If the lead test does not detect any contaminants in the plaster walls, it is safe to begin removing the old paint. If any nicks, peelings, or loose plaster are visible, it's best to scrape them off to ensure you have a smooth, dent-free surface. A spatula is a great tool to help you through this process.

Filling cracks and holes


Plaster walls tend to develop holes, dents and cracks over the years. For small cracks and holes, a paintable putty is your best ally to repair them! For damaged areas and larger dents, repair the area by adding tape and filling the area with compound.

Sand the walls


Sanding the plaster walls is essential to smooth out anything that was not taken care of with the previous steps. This gives you one last chance to level the walls before installing them!


Use both coarser and finer sandpaper for best results.

Apply a high quality primer


When you are satisfied with the smoothness of your wall's texture, you are ready to apply a high quality primer. Old plaster walls look better with an oil-based primer. This is because oil primers are much more effective at preventing stains from leaking water and other materials, which is a more common problem with plaster walls.


Once the primer is completely dry, you are well equipped to start the fun part: painting!


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