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After covering drywall with a skim coat, it’s important to pick a solid primer so that paint looks smooth and pristine. Here are my favorite tips on painting interior walls after drywall repair and painting after a skim coat.
Last post before the new paint, promise! I had to wait for the right lighting this afternoon to snap a few photos, so those are being edited. But since new drywall (or in my case, repaired drywall) is a little different than just slapping up a coat of paint, I thought covering some info on the prep work was worthy of writing about first.
When you are dealing with repairing damaged drywall after wallpaper removal, there are a number of things you have to stay on top of. One, of course, being that you properly repair the surface. I’ve covered skim coating and a few other tips and tricks about drywall repair on this blog before, so I’ll skip that part and move on to how things are supposed to look right before you paint.
- How to remove wallpaper
- How to fix and skim coat damaged walls
- More drywall repair tips: avoiding (and fixing) bubbles, cleaner sanding, etc.
One disclaimer though, I suppose: these are the results I’ve experienced with the products I’m recommending; there are a LOT of opinions out there, and I did a fair amount of research before I got to the painting step to give myself the best chance of a favorable outcome. Most recommendations flat-out contradict each other, even when they are “from a pro”. And that’s actually part of the reason why I have this blog in the first place; to test stuff out, let you know what worked and what didn’t, and learn as I go along. That also means that I haven’t tested every product on the planet and have often chosen what’s conveniently available over anything that is special order, and I tend to prefer low voc paints since I live in this house and prefer not to offend my nostrils with the amount of DIY I regularly engage in. So, without further ado… here are my recommendations for a smooth finish on your newly repaired walls!
How to prep and paint walls after a large drywall repair
Clean the walls
Step one begins as boring as can be: smooth, sanded, and perhaps most importantly: wiped down. I’ll admit, this hasn’t always been a step I’ve done well (wiping? pssh… let’s PAINT!), and I’ve later regretted it when the drywall surface just doesn’t want anything to stick. It’s gross, actually, because the paint dries slightly and then wants to come back off of the wall and onto your roller again. So, I’ll repeat: it will absolutely ruin all of your hard work if you skip a good wipe-down. A slightly damp rag is fine; just don’t get it sopping wet or you risk wetting down the top layer of joint compound again (in most cases, it has to be completely dry for a solid 24-48 hours before you put up the primer – says so on the can, which may differ slightly depending on which you use).
The best paint primer for drywall
The next step is picking the right primer. And I know what you want to ask:
Can you use self-priming paint?
Sorry, friends, but I’m going to have to say this is a hard no. Most paint and primer combos are not designed for new walls, which is basically what you’re starting with when you repair drywall to the point of having joint compound all over that is freshly sanded. New walls or newly repaired walls have a porous surface that needs to be sealed, and most self-priming paints aren’t really equipped for that. At least, for now… there’s only one product I’ve heard of that is a primer and paint combo that’s actually been tested and approved for new walls, but after all the work I’ve put in, I wanted to do the two-step process since I was doing a dramatic color change. It’s an important step and not worth shortcuts when you’ve put in the work!
Another consideration is cost. Primer is often incredibly cheap compared to regular paint, and self-priming combination latex paint is usually even more expensive. In my experience, the use of primer (especially if you tint it) means that you have to use fewer coats of paint to get a uniform finish. Whether I am painting with primer, paint, or primer+paint, the number of coats usually winds up being about the same in terms of time and labor. That means that the cost primer and paint gallons separately can be cheaper than buying and painting with multiple gallons of the pricier stuff. Even if you go with a primer/paint combo as the topcoat (which is the more common product I’m finding in stores), it’s still cheaper to paint that first coat of primer and not buy a second gallon.
For new drywall or freshly repaired drywall, it’s important to use an actual primer/sealer that specifically states on the can that it’s meant for this type of application (“new drywall” or “new walls”). There are lots of brands you can choose from (and some of them are dirt cheap), but I wanted to find something that could do the job without having to track down a specialty paint store. So I did a little homework on some online contractor forums of professional painters and sought out which brand people have used with pleasing results. While most of them still insisted I go to a specialty store, it was already 7pm, so that wasn’t going to happen. And then a handful mentioned Glidden Gripper Primer or Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 (both water-based primers).
I snagged the Gripper because it had been mentioned twice as much and had a slightly better review rating online, and was water-based; after painting the walls with oil primer a few weeks ago, I wanted to avoid the strong odors of an alkyd paint. Only problem was, the Gripper primer explicitly stated that it’s meant for light topcoats; and the dining room, I’m going for a dramatic change. Since I knew I’d be using a topcoat that was a paint/primer combo already, I figured just having the right primer to seal the walls was what was most important, so I went with the Gripper anyway. Normally with primers, you can tint them just like paint. I still asked the paint counter if they could tint it, since covering something that would be similar to my new paint was better than pure white, and that’s when I found out why it’s only meant for light coats – apparently they just don’t plan for this paint to receive a lot of colorants, so “there isn’t much room in the can for dark tint” (seriously, that’s what I was told). No matter, though – just a simple gray tinting would make sure I thoroughly covered my walls. I randomly picked a swatch of gray from the wall and he gave me back my primer.
Update: Since this post first appeared on the blog, lots of you guys have reported having great results with this handy primer! However, the Glidden Gripper is now called PPG Seal Grip Interior/Exterior Acrylic Primer with Sealer. It’s still listed as an all-purpose primer designed for use for hard-to-stick and porous surfaces (drywall, masonry, wood, plaster, and previously painted metal surfaces like aluminum siding).
Now, there is also more in-store availability of PVA primer. “PVA primer” is a latex-base product that seals the pores of the drywall. But again, it was initially about availability and performance. Glidden PVA Drywall Primer and Kilz PVA primer are two of the most common I see locally, but they weren’t available when I first started repairing walls. I will be doing a new project soon where I’ll need to once again use drywall mud and prime bare drywall, so I’ll be testing out one or both of these drywall sealer products to see how they perform and report back.
Can you use regular primer?
I’ve gotten this question a number of times as well with regard to the type of primer and whether or not it matters. Given that pros have reported using the Zinsser 1-2-3 with good results, I think if you are in a pinch and happen to have a large quantity other all-purpose primer around, you might be able to use it. Will it work as well as something specifically designed for sealing drywall and creating a smooth surface? Perhaps not. But that’s sort of the difference when we talk about what the best primer is and what will do just fine when aren’t feeling picky. I’ve even seen some pros say they use simple flat white paint. I personally think that any primer coat would be better than none, so I think most of these would be good choices and it’s up to you. I just wanted to share what I have consistently liked through the primers I’ve tested, and I think this Gripper product is a really good choice and my top pick.
Other Prep Work
Before priming, though, I needed to take care of some loose ends. Mainly, getting the chair rail in decent shape to paint on. That including thoroughly wiping down and scrubbing off any joint compound (I was a little sloppy when I applied it, so there were dried chunks of it in random spots on the rail – which is removed easily enough with some water, a paper towel, and a fingernail).
Priming, too (there were a few spots where all the sanding had stripped the existing paint right off):
I also had to caulk the seam between the wall and top of the chair rail. I’d already caulked everything else below it back when I installed the picture frame molding, but knowing that it was going to be dusty and craggy while finishing the skim coat, I waited to take care of this step until after the walls were smooth again.
Tip: for applications like this, when you want to get the caulk into the seam, push your caulk gun along instead of pulling it; I find that the caulk goes right where I need without oozing or extra cleanup.
Much better, don’t you think? There will be a few spots that will need some semi-gloss touch-ups after the paint above the chair rail goes on, so I’m skipping that last step for now (try as I might, I am just sloppy sometimes – so touch-ups are all done after the paint goes up).
And then, it’s primer time.
As you can see, the gray tint in the primer reassured me that I got even coverage to seal the wall. After all, primer isn’t just for making sure the paint sticks on top; it actually has several different purposes. Lightweight joint compound is awesome for getting your smooth finish, but unless you’re using the kind that chemically cures (which typically isn’t done for the last coat on drywall), the product air dries by letting moisture evaporate. Which is great if you want to smooth things out with a wet sponge, since it makes the surface soft and pliable again (one of my favorite tricks for fixing nail holes and avoiding sanding). But when you want to paint over it with a latex (water-based) paint, things can get a little messy if you don’t seal it first (the paint just gets soaked up into the joint compound like a sponge… and unevenly at that). Plus, the primer acts to smooth things out in general; it’s nice and thick and fills in tiny scratches and other imperfections left over by your sanding screens (note that it’s not a cure-all, but does improve the wall surface a little bit). It also helps prevent “flashing” – discrepancies in the paint sheen when parts of it get sucked up into porous surfaces like the parts of the wall with joint compound. That last part isn’t very noticeable when you use flat paint, but from eggshell to high gloss, you don’t want a big dull spot to be a dead giveaway that you DIYed the paint job.
All in all, I was really satisfied with my choice. The primer didn’t stink, it dried fast, smoothed out the surface, and I was ready for paint in no time. Oh, and the taping you see in that last pic was meant only to protect the top part of the chair rail from getting splattered with flecks coming off the paint roller as I rolled the walls; the line on your primer doesn’t have to be perfect.
I’m really excited to show you the end result, so look for that to go up tomorrow. For now, here’s a sneak peek at the paint color. It looks way more dramatic on the walls (and this is the boldest color I’ve ever had in the house), so be sure to check it out.