DIY Bathroom: Painting Tips

I’m going to assume that you all have painted a wall at some time or other and you don’t need detailed instructions about how to get paint from a bucket onto said wall.  However, after years of practice and gallons of paint, I do have some tips and tricks for getting the best results out of your painting experience.

First of all remember, it’s just paint. It may sound simple, but this is the best advice I’ve ever gotten about painting.  A scenic artist I know was watching me stress out about getting something just right and she said, “Relax, it’s paint. If you mess up, just paint over it.”  She imparted this nugget of wisdom with the air of passing on knowledge that she had learned from one of her mentors, and so I pass it along to you.  Stress is not your friend when you are trying to get a good clean line.

Before I got to actually apply any paint, there was a lot of prep work to be done.  I removed all the cabinet doors and their hardware and sanded them down to erase some of the flaws from the previous nine layers of paint they were sporting.  If you don’t want to do this, I won’t judge you.  I’ve been known to just paint things as they are and do my best to avoid hinges and handles, but this time I wanted to do it “right” and try to make the doors look a little less lumpy.  If you do choose to sand cabinets and doors, remember to wipe them down with a damp cloth before painting to get rid of the old paint dust.

They must first look worse, before they can look better

Prepping the walls was a huge pain in the ass, but it had to be done.  Someone* had taken down the old wallpaper and just painted over the weird crappy mess that the wallpaper removal had left behind, not to mention all the holes from towel bars that had been hung and subsequently removed.  When it comes to wall repair, I prefer joint compound to spackle.  I really like saying “spackle,” the word sort of bounces off your tongue like Pop Rocks candy, but I think it’s kind of useless for filling holes.  Joint compound is more sturdy and gives a smoother finish.

When you are filling holes in the wall, remember to sand – fill – sand.  Most holes have raised edges, so first sand those down, then fill the hole and, when the filler is dry, sand again.  It won’t be quite baby-butt smooth, but it will be darn pretty when you are done painting.

As for the walls, since mine were all weird and rough and patchy from the old wallpaper, I did what’s called a “skim-coat” with the joint compound.  That’s where you lay down a really thin layer of filler over a large area to smooth it out.  When I say thin, I mean you should be able to see wall through most of it.  When it dried, I sanded all the walls with an electric palm sander.  Now, I got into a huge argument with someone who was a “professional” handy-person about using a palm sander on drywall.  According to her, it is not possible to do it without damaging the drywall beyond repair.  I do it all the time, but I have a fairly light hand with a sander.  If you think you can use one without gouging chunks out of the walls, I say go for it, but you’ll want to use a respirator.  For real,  the air was pretty thick in there.  You can get a respirator for about $30 at the hardware store, it’s just a mask that covers your mouth and nose with charcoal filters to keep all the nasty out.  When using a respirator, it’s a good idea to take regular breaks to go outside and breathe normally for a few minutes.  Your body has to work a little harder to inhale, and it can take some getting used to.  You may also want to have some mints handy, because you will be getting up close and personal with your own breath.  More than once I have found myself regretting my lunch choices when I had to spend an afternoon in a mask.  It you can smell anything outside the mask, it’s not on properly.  If you don’t want to invest in a respirator, get a good dust mask.  The cheap ones don’t do anything but make you look silly.

The last step of prepping is cleaning the walls.  In the bathroom, there were some areas near the toilet with unidentified ick on them, and we were starting to cultivate some mildew over the shower.  For both, I scrubbed the offending areas down with a half and half bleach/water mixture so nothing would be left to seep through the new paint.

Finally, prep work is done.  I love to paint.  It soothes me.  The only thing I hate about painting is tape.  I really really hate to tape.  It is a PITA extra step, you still end up with that funky hairy edge, and chances are there will be areas that need touch-ups after the tape comes down.  When my friend Jill told me about the professional painter who did her whole kitchen, including the trim, without using any tape at all, I decided then and there I would never tape again.  It takes practice, but it can be done.  The keys to a clean, tape-free edge are to move smooth and steady, use a good brush, and to use more paint than you think you should.  When I say more paint than you think, I don’t mean lots and lots, you don’t want gobs of paint dripping all over the place, but when you are worried about making a mess with your paint, the natural reaction is to use less paint than normal.  This backfires, because you end up getting that hairy “I’m almost out of paint” line after a few inches, and fixing that stupid hairy line is where I invariably get paint all over the place.

Your first try will probably look more like this, but if you practice...
They can look like this :) (No tape was used in the making of this photograph)

When it comes to paint accessories, I am somewhat divided.  On the one hand, I was taught that a good painter doesn’t need expensive tools to do a good job.  My first teacher wouldn’t even let us use the good tools until we had proven that we could use and care for the crappy ones.  When you get into faux finishing, there are lots of crazy expensive options out there, but I have gotten my best results with sea sponges, $1 brushes and, in one memorable instance, a wad of damp paper towels.  On the other hand, I love a good paint brush.  My go-to brush is the Purdy.  They are soft and smooth and keep their shape very well.  For this project I also tried a WizzGreen eco brush, which I highly recommend.  It’s made of bamboo and recycled fibers and it held up very well.

This was the part of my bathroom project where I splurged the most.  I bought two new brushes and decided to replace all the cabinet hardware.

1 Gallon eggshell wall paint – $21.46

1 Gallon satin blue cabinet paint – $23.44 (I don’t know why I thought I’d need a gallon, I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry)

1 Quart satin brown cabinet paint – $9.98

Joint Compound – $5.99

Rollers – $6.78

Drop Cloth – $3.59

Total w/ %6 sales tax – $75.51

Total from last time – $242.90

Total – $318.41


New Purdy – $14.77

Bamboo brush – $5.27

Paint cup – $4.39

Little rollers that I didn’t end up using – $5.15

Teflon coated paint tray – $5.97

New wall plates – $4.94

Cabinet hardware – $23.91

Spray paint – $5.77

Total w/ tax – $97.67

Grand total so far – $416.08


*It was me.  After the monumental PITA** of taking down old wallpaper, I was so tired of being in the bathroom I just painted the walls and called it art.

**I just realized that the acronym for “Pain In The Ass” is “PITA” and I think it’s really cool.


By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at if you're interested in checking it out.

4 replies on “DIY Bathroom: Painting Tips”

Those are the colors I’m playing with in my bedroom! I love them as cabinets!

I’ve painted a few cabinets, and it’s always hard, even though most woodgrain cabinets I’ve lived with have been painfully ugly. It feels kind of subversive to paint them, but it’s a huge improvement. My kitchen island is painted, I’m going to get brave and paint the rest sooner or later. I painted the vanity white in the ittybittytoiletcloset, the crappy orange oak was a blight in such a small space. I’m not sure white is better, but I’m kinda inspired to try something fun now…

As much work as I know remodeling is, you make me long for the day when I either own my home or long-term rent a place that allows for extensive modification. Pretty paint! Changing cabinet handles! Whatever! I’m just sick of white/beige living spaces.

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