by Meghann Finn Sepulveda

prepIt’s common industry knowledge that the key to a great paint job is the prep work. Prepping not only saves money and time, but it creates a quality final finish.

Today, there are many products on the market—from power tools and adhesion tapes to specialized primers and coatings—that are available to assist pros with interior surface prep work.


Recognizing that approximately 90% of the total job is the prep, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) instructors spend a lot of time teaching apprentice journey painters about the importance of prep work.

“We try to stress that painting is really secondary to the overall preparation, which is what makes a quality paint job,” said Michael Krawiec, instructor at the Chicago-area IUPAT. “If you don’t start out with a good base, it’s not going to go well from the very beginning. Paying attention to items like caulking, proper priming, and fine sanding between coats are critical to delivering a job well done.”

As evidence of IUPAT’s emphasis on prep, Krawiec notes that as part of their training, apprentice journey painters complete 960 hours of classroom training, including an 11-day course dedicated solely to prep.


As Jenny Burroughs, senior product manager for PPG Paints notes, “The process for cleaning walls before painting is largely dependent on the surface and the use of the room. If you are painting a kitchen, it is common for areas around the stove to be exposed to cooking grease, which must be removed to ensure the new coating will adhere.”

According to Burroughs, this can be done with warm, soapy water in some cases, but depending on the area, may require a diluted vinegar or trisodium phosphate (TSP) and warm-water solution.

“Another example of walls that require heavy cleaning before painting includes homes or rooms that have been exposed to smoke,” Burroughs added. “Nicotine creates a yellow residue on the surface that must to be removed before painting. Using a TSP and warm-water solution works very well for removing this residue.”

For surfaces that are damaged and in need of patchwork, industry experts like Krawiec suggest dividing the wall into three sections—top, middle and bottom—so nothing is missed.

“Start from the bottom and work toward the upper center and then to the ceiling line to hit all the spots that may be hiding,” Krawiec said. Products are available to help pros when caulking between dissimilar surfaces, fill cracks or make repairs.

“For holes that are smaller than the diameter of a pencil, minimal tools are required,” said Michael Provenzano, product manager for PPG specialty products, including the Homax brand. “Simply use a drywall knife to apply spackle, such as Homax Spray Spackling or Homax Nail Hole Patch, over the hole.”

These products make patching and repair easier with less mess. As opposed to traditional spackle, Homax provides a smooth, less visible patch.

Medium to large-sized holes usually require sanding, and additional drywall may be required. If the wall has a textured surface, an aerosol product may be most beneficial.


While experts stress the need for sanding as part of prep, the resulting dust can create a whole new set of problems if not dealt with properly. Without the right tools, dust management can be very time-consuming.

Dust extractors are one power tool that’s proving very effective at not only tackling dust and debris removal, but also at increasing workflow through faster cleanup.

“We estimate that pros using our system will see a 30% to 70% in time saving on surface preparation,” said Johannes Frick, business development manager at Festool.

Designed with ease of use and efficiency in mind, Frick notes, “The Festool system including sanders, dust extractors, storage and organization options work together,” allowing you to keep the job moving along instead of switching out from one device to the next. In addition, Festool drywall sanders are expandable and can be extended or reduced in length to reach every surface, meaning you don’t have to stop your cleanup to move your ladders in and out of place.


Innovative new primers are now on the market including Zinsser’s Mold Killing Primer, a water-based fungicidal protective coating that can be used to paint over all existing mold, mildew, moss, fungi, odor-causing bacteria, and any other fungal organisms. The product is an EPA-registered antimicrobial primer that can be found and tinted at most home-improvement retail stores across the country. Rust-Oleum plans to introduce an aerosol version of it this summer.

“For professionals who need to remove mold, this is a great option that does not require the use of bleach or any other harsh chemicals,” said Brendan Steidle, brand manager, primers and specialty coatings at Rust-Oleum.

Other new primers such as Benjamin Moore’s Fresh Start primers, which come in latex and oil-based formulations, ensure the best possible results by providing the proper foundation for every finish coat.

“Our Fresh Start line includes seven specialty products that solve problems with stains, moisture damage, tannin bleeding, and other common issues,” said Carl Minchew, VP of color innovation & design at Benjamin Moore.


As every painter knows, paint bleeds can be time-consuming, costly, and downright annoying.

FrogTape from ShurTech has virtually eliminated the issue with its patented PaintBlock technology. Paint- Block is a super-absorbent polymer that reacts with latex paint. As soon as you run your brush or roller over the tape edge, it instantly forms a gel, creating a micro-barrier that seals the edges of the tape and prevents paint bleeds.

As Michigan-based pro Dan Brady of Dan Brady Painting & Wood Restoration, and a FrogTape brand ambassador, attests, “For us in the field, we all know that you can’t cut a line as straight as you can tape it. With this product, I can pull the tape and be left with a razor-straight line every time.”


Because products and processes related to prep are constantly evolving and improving to save you time and money, it’s important to stay current on training.

Members of PDCA have access to a number of education and training courses. Prep to Finish ( also offers several top-notch training programs and workshops for both newcomers to the industry and seasoned pros that focus on all aspects of prep from new tools and equipment to industry tips and best practices.

Pros also shouldn’t hesitate to ask manufacturers’ reps what they can do to support your desire to keep crew members up to speed on the latest innovations in prep products and processes. Many manufacturers sponsor training programs in a number of forms that may just offer the information you need.


Interior, exterior, hardboard, stucco, plaster, new and painted, old and painted, to be stained, and on and on … the number of surfaces you might face on a daily basis is daunting.

It was with all the potential possibilities in mind that the Paint Quality Institute (PQI) developed its online how-to guides for prep, prime and paint.

Found under the ‘Advice and Tips’ tab at, the guides provide exacting detail for every possible painting surface in every possible condition.

Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson of the PQI says, “This is a great site for contractors to not only reference but also use as supporting information to educate consumers on the scope and nature of work that needs to be done to achieve a quality finish.”

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