Painting plaster walls is not at all difficult. If your house is old, it will have plaster, sometimes called ‘horsehair plaster’ on the walls. The old workers used the tail hair from horses to mix in with the plaster to give it strength.
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.
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!
This plaster wall is usually cracked but is 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).
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 white pigmented shellac such as spray Kilz or liquid Kilz or a good product called 1-2-3. For mold, 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 where as other spackle and mud compounds will not. You have to assume those cracks will keep moving.
- Patch the hole with 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.
- Sand with rough then transition to finer sandpaper and prime with drywall primer (apply one coat). Please don’t buy paint-and-primer-in-one: here is why.
You should be ready to paint at that point. Paint your walls with 2 coats of paint.
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. On that point, watch the toxins you are putting into the air that you and yours are breathing.
Plaster walls will drink anything you put on them, so you want to put an end to that with the primer, and at the same time if you have any stains you want to seal them at that level: most water stains from plaster walls will bleed through every coat of latex painting work. After your primer, you painting on plaster walls is just like any other interior paint job, which you will read about all over my site. Write to me with any question about how to paint plaster walls!