Are you painting in the wrong order? Check our guide to getting it right

Want to paint a room like a pro? Our expert guide reveals the best order to follow to get the prefect finish.

Painting a room is one sure-fire way to transform a space without breaking the bank. However, before you start prizing open the paint lid, you’ll need to think about what order you should paint a room. Why is it so important? “Painting a room in the right order can save a ton of work and effort,” says Rob Green, co-founder of Coat Paints

To help you get the order just right, we’ve put together a handy checklist of jobs.  

Follow these step-by-step tips, starting with the ceiling and working your way down to the woodwork and you should end up with a professional-looking paint job you’ll be proud of. 

Couple painting a wall with rollersCredit: Shutterstock/Ground Picture

The order you should paint a room

Work from top to bottom

When it comes to painting a room, can you mix up the order you paint the walls and woodwork or is that a big no-no? “There’s only one simple rule to paint by – work top-down,” explains Green. Ken Jensen, senior technical consultant at Crown Paints, agrees: “You should always paint a room from top to bottom.”  

“Whatever room you’re painting, starting with the ceiling or the highest point stops any worry about spatter or drips ruining freshly painted surfaces,” says Green. If any mess happens, you can just wipe or sand it off and nothing’s lost. Skirting and woodwork should be last, because you can cover up any spillover from the walls and create nice clean lines.”  


1. Assess the room first, and carry out repairs

Before you start painting, check the surfaces thoroughly

It may seem obvious but looking at the walls, ceiling and woodwork that you want to paint is an important part of the preparation. It’s all too easy to become blind to the wear and tear in the rooms we live in every day.  

So, it’s important to look at the condition of the surfaces. Are there holes you need to fill? Scuffs you need to sort? Cracks you need to investigate? Are you painting over woodchip or textured walls and ceilings? Any of these scenarios will impact on the work you’ll need to do before painting your room in the right order. 

If the condition of the walls is less-than-OK, consider getting the room plastered or skimmed. It’ll save you a lot of work, rather than having to try and patch up large areas of a wall or ceiling.  

Skimming walls and ceilings is definitely worth it

“My decorator insisted we have the ceilings skimmed when he was painting the living and dining rooms in our Victorian home,” says Saga Exceptionals Editor in Chief for Homes, Amy Cutmore. “It cost us £70 in the dining room and  £120 for the living room, as we needed some wire mesh to support a particularly damaged patch of plaster. I wasn’t sure it would make much difference, but I trusted him.

“I must admit that the ceilings now look like an ice rink and far neater than where we didn’t bother. I’ll definitely be getting all my ceilings skimmed in the future!” 

Filler can only fix small things 

If the holes or cracks in the walls are large, you might be better off calling in a professional decorator to repair them for you. It can end up looking worse if you try and fix it yourself – and you’ll always ‘see’ it, even after you’ve finished painting. 

If you do end up having to have some walls plastered, you’ll need to apply a mist coat before painting on a topcoat. A mist coat – made up of a watered-down emulsion – seals the freshly plastered walls, which are really absorbent, so that your topcoat has a layer to seep into. This process avoids patchy, unevenly painted walls. 

Paint tins and rollers ready to useCredit: COAT Paints

2. Buy your paint

Make sure you order enough

The reason it’s wise to buy your paint after you’ve checked the room over for any repairs is in case you need to add anything else to your shopping list. You might need filler and a primer to help fix peeling paint, as well any new brushes and rollers. And importantly, any less-than-perfect walls may require an extra coat.     

Making sure you have enough paint to paint a cover sounds obvious, but it’s one of those tasks that can get overlooked. You’ll want to avoid scraping away at the remnants left at the bottom of the paint tin when you’ve still got a whole wall left to paint.  

How much paint do you need? 

To calculate how much paint you’ll need, measure the height and width of the room and then multiply them together to get the square metre measurement. Do this for each of the walls and then add the totals together. Don’t forget to take away any areas you don’t want to include, such as windows and doors. Deduct the measurements of these areas from your total room calculation.  

You can then compare this to the figure given on the back of the tin, where you’ll usually find the paint’s coverage in square metres. 

You will also need to take into account how many coats of paint you’ll need. For example, Dulux recommends that if you’re using its Simply Refresh paint, you’ll only need to apply one coat. But if you opt for the more durable Dulux EasyCare Washable & Tough, two coats of paint will be required.  

Painting the ceiling and cutting in the edgesCredit: COAT Paints / @danlovattdesign

3. Start with the ceiling

Paint your ceiling by ‘cutting-in’ the edges first

Once you’re happy that all the surfaces in the room have been prepped, primed and cleaned, you can start painting. When it comes to the order you paint a room, the ceiling is the area you need to focus on first.

Start by cutting-in the edges of the ceiling. “Cutting-in is an essential step in achieving a professional-looking paint job, and it is highly recommended to do this first before using a roller,” says experienced decorator Pav Wasik, founder of Uptown Interiors.  

Use a high-quality angled paint brush for this job to help with precision. “Dip the brush about one-third of the bristle length into the paint, tap off any excess and carefully follow the edge or trim, using steady and deliberate strokes. Take your time to ensure clean lines and a seamless transition between the cut-in areas and the rolled sections,” advises Wasik. 

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Now you can paint the ceiling proper. Use a roller instead of a paint brush for smooth, even coverage. It’s easier to blend the cut-in edges you’ve created with a roller, too. “To achieve a seamless look between the cut-in edges and the rolled ceiling, slightly overlap the edges with the roller. This blending technique helps to feather out the brush strokes and create a smooth transition. Work in small sections, maintaining a wet edge while rolling, to avoid visible lines or patches,” suggests Wasik.  

To paint the ceiling without having to balance on a step ladder, it’s worth buying an extendable pole to attach your roller to.  

What is cutting in when painting? 

“Cutting in involves painting the edges, corners, and trim with a brush before using a roller to cover larger areas,” explains Wasik. “It helps create clean, crisp lines and prevents any overlapping marks when you’re using a roller. By doing this step first, you have more control over the paint application and can focus on achieving precise edges.” 

Painting walls with a rollerCredit: COAT Paints / @danlovattdesign

4. Next job, the walls

Once you’ve painted the ceiling, you can paint the walls

Now that the ceiling has been painted and you’ve cleared up any splatters, you can turn your attention to the walls. Prime first, if you need to, then follow the same steps as the ceiling, cuttingin edges first. Mask off the woodwork, such as door frames and skirting, so that you can paint right to the edges for crisp, clean lines.  

Now you can apply your topcoat colour to the walls. It’s best to use a roller for this job as it’s easier to cover large surface areas this way. It also makes it easy to blend the edges.  

A long-handled radiator brush, pad or a mini roller is well worthwhile buying as it makes the job of painting behind a radiator less fiddly than with a paintbrush.  

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Be realistic about what you can take on 

Although painting a room can be a quick decorating win, it’s important to be realistic about how much of the work you can take on. It’s a physical job, especially if you’re taking on the preparation of the room, too.

Bear in mind that you’ll need to use a step ladder to be able to reach to cut-in the edges of the ceiling and top of the walls more precisely, so you’ll want to feel confident doing this.  

You can use an extendable roller to paint the ceiling. Painting uses lots of repetitive arm movements so if your joints are prone to getting a little stiff, plan your prep and painting so you have some down time in between tasks. 

Painting window framesCredit: COAT Paints / @danlovattdesign

5. Paint your window frames

Doing this after you’ve painted the walls will give you cleaner lines

Once you’ve applied two coats of paint to the walls (if needed) and you’ve already primed your window frames and the sill, you can paint them. Completing this job after you’ve painted the walls will ensure you get a clean finish.  

Use a good quality paintbrush – a 3.8cm (1.5”) or 5cm (2”) firm brush would be ideal. For the sills, you might prefer to use a mini roller. 

Depending on the condition of the frames and sill, you may only need to apply one coat of paint as the primer will act as a coat too. If they do need a second coat, make sure the first has dried thoroughly – check the directions on the tin for the recoat and drying time. 

If your door frames and doors need painting, you can turn your attention to them at this stage too. 

Painting skirting boardsCredit: COAT Paints / @danlovattdesign

6. Leave the skirting until last

Now you can paint the rest of the woodwork

When the walls have completely dried, mask off the bottom edge, along the top of the skirting so that you can paint an even line. Give the skirting one or two coats of paint using a 3.8cm (1.5) or 5cm (2) brush, as you did for the window frames. Make sure you pick a paint suitable for woodwork. 

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Michelle Guy

Written by Michelle Guy she/her


With an editorial career spanning more than 20 years, Michelle Guy has spent time working on educational magazines and websites as well as being a freelance copy editor for companies like BT, until her career pivoted, and she moved into and embraced the world of homes and interiors.  

Working on magazines and websites including Homebuilding & Renovating, Real Homes and Period Living, Michelle honed her skills writing about all things renovation, extension and self-build. From interviewing homeowners to writing buyer’s guides, from sharing advice about kitchen renovations and extensions to design ideas for bathrooms, Michelle has written about a whole range of home improvement projects for discerning home improvers and keen DIYers alike.