Plaster Walls are worth saving and painting
Plaster walls are harder than the modern drywall, but it is great to save them, and that will probably cost you less in the end. Often plaster walls have a lot of lime so mold cannot grow in them. Great news.
Right here at the top, you will be happy to see my top primers and paint. (For old plaster, I don’t recommend any paint-and-primer-in-one).
For plaster in good shape, prime any bare plaster (or drywall), with basic drywall primer. Comes in a one-gallon also, but buy 5 for the price of 4.
For paint, there are so many, but here is my best advice: don’t skimp. The best paints don’t fade, go on easier and last longer than a well-advertised big box store brand. I normally use Ben Moore Regal (well worth the money).
I’m always asked about a low-budget wall paint option: Rust-Oleum’s Zinsser is very good for the money, but nothing like the Ben above.
Also, just as a point of interest, the reason people put wallpaper over the plaster walls was not just for decorating. The wallpaper also gave strength and stability to the walls! But don’t paint over wallpaper.
Plaster walls are usually cracked but are worth saving. If the plaster wall is still firm and has just separated from the backing “lath” which was usually cedar strips, you just need to re-attach with drywall screws. This will cause some cracking which you just patch up with spackle (sand all when dry). The products you need are all below.
Painting plaster walls in 5 steps
- Use a putty knife to remove any loose plaster. If you see a brown discoloration, that is probably water stain from years of moisture and maybe leaks in the roof, etc. You’ll have to prime that with a stain-blocking primer such as Kilz Premium or a good product called 1-2-3. For mold, it’s this primer, (comes in quart or gallon), but please read our post about mold-resistant paint.
- One trick is to fill tiny cracks with a paint-able caulk. It’s faster, and it gives a little whereas other spackle and mud compounds will not. You have to assume those cracks will keep moving.
- Patch the hole with a pre-mixed drywall compound and give it a day or so to dry, and add a second or even 3rd coat if the dried patch keeps shrinking. Deep patches will shrink no way around that.
- Large repairs will need tape and you can find how to do that in this post on preparing walls for paint.
- Sand with rough, then transition to, finer sandpaper and prime with drywall primer linked above (apply only one coat).
You should be ready to paint at that point.
Paint your walls with 2 coats of paint (in most cases):
Sometimes, if your primer is white and your wall/ceiling/trim/whatever is going to have white paint over that, you may be ok with one top-coat, but you have to cover every square inch with no skipping.
Make sure you have all the painting tools that you need.
If you are working with a lot of sanding, read our respirator mask guidelines.
How to paint plaster wall – summary
Painting plaster walls is just like painting any other drywall. The primer that you use is the key. You need to us the best primer for plaster walls to seal the wall because paints won’t take to it evenly without a good primer.
On that point, watch the toxins you are putting into the air that you and yours are breathing.
Key point: most water stains from plaster walls will bleed through every coat of latex painting work. After your primer, you paint plaster walls just like any other interior paint job, which you will read about all over my site. Write a comment below with any question about how to paint plaster walls!