How to Use a Paint Roller

Here's a simple method to quickly spread a smooth, even coat of latex paint on interior walls. It gets the job done quickly and eliminates common problems like light areas, roller marks and built-up ridges.


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    Buy professional-quality equipment that will last a lifetime for just a few dollars more than cheap, all-in-one roller setups.
    • Start with a good roller pin.
    • To extend your reach and give you better control, screw a 48 inch (1.2 meter) wood handle or extension pole onto the end of the roller.
    • Invest in a good roller cover (also known as a sleeve). It’s tempting to buy the cheapest cover available and throw it away when you’re done, but cheap roller covers don’t hold enough paint to do a good job. It’ll take you twice as long to paint a room and the results won't be as good. Use a 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) nap for flat paint on walls and ceilings, 3/4 inch (1.9 cm) nap for rough surfaces like textured ceilings, and 1/4 inch (.63 cm) nap for satin or semi-gloss paint. See the Tips below for more information on how to take good care of your equipment.
    • You’ll rarely see a pro using a paint tray for painting very large areas. A 5-gallon (18.9 liter) bucket with a special bucket screen hung over the edge works better because it's easier to load the cover, it's easier to move around, and you're less likely to trip over it or step in it. And if you need to take a break, you can just cover it with a damp towel to keep the paint from drying.
    • Roller trays work well for smaller areas such as bedrooms where a single gallon of paint might be all that is needed. Cleanup is also easier with roller trays. Add a tray liner to make cleanup even easier.
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    Brush paint around the edges first, as described in the Related wikiHows below. Since rollers can’t get tight to edges, the first painting step is to brush along the ceiling, inside corners and moldings.
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    Lay the paint on the wall with a sweeping stroke. Start about a foot from the bottom and 6 inch (15.2 cm) from the corner and roll upward at a slight angle using light pressure. Stop a few inches from the ceiling. Now roll up and down back toward the corner to quickly spread the paint. You can leave paint buildup and roller marks at this step. Don’t worry about a perfect job yet.
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    Reload the roller and repeat the process in the adjacent space, working back toward the painted area. Keep a wet edge. Keeping a wet edge is crucial to all top-quality paint jobs, whether you’re enameling a door, varnishing furniture or rolling paint on a wall. The idea is to plan the sequence of work and work fast enough so that you’re always lapping newly applied paint onto paint that’s still wet. If you stop for a break in the middle of a wall, for example, and then start painting after this section has dried, you’ll likely see a lap mark where the two areas join.
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    Roll back over the entire area you’ve covered to smooth and blend the paint. Don’t reload the roller with paint for this step. Use very light pressure. Roll up and down, from floor to ceiling and move over about three-quarters of a roller width each time so you’re always slightly overlapping the previous stroke. When you reach the corner, roll as close as you can to the adjacent wall without touching it.
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    Smooth the paint along the ceiling using a long horizontal stroke without reloading the roller with paint. Get as close as you can. This “cutting in” process leaves brush marks that won’t match the roller texture on the rest of the wall. For the best-looking job, you’ll want to cover as many brush marks as possible with the roller. Do this by carefully rolling up close to inside corners, moldings and the ceiling. Face the open end of the roller toward the edge and remember not to use a roller that’s fully loaded with paint. If you are skilled enough to roll within an inch of the ceiling while rolling vertically, you can skip this step.
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    Scrape excess paint from the roller before you wash it. Use your putty knife, or better yet, a special roller scraping tool with a semicircular cutout in the blade. A painter's "5-in-1 tool" is perfect for this task.
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    Wash the roller with warm water and detergent. Lather up the roller and scrub the mat with your fingers like you are washing a short-haired dog. The detergent will pull a lot of the paint residue out of the mat and make the next step easier.
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    Rinse the roller cover until the water runs clear. A roller and paint brush spinning tool, available at hardware and paint stores, simplifies the cleaning task. Just slip the roller cover onto the spinner and repeatedly wet and spin out the roller into an empty bucket until it’s clean.


  • High-quality wool covers tend to become matted down if you apply too much pressure while painting. Rolling demands a light touch. No matter what roller cover you’re using, always let the paint do the work. Keep the roller cover loaded with paint and use only enough pressure to release and spread the paint. Pushing on the roller to squeeze out the last drop of paint will only cause problems. Start with a large "V" or "W" and fill in between. Smooth with up and down motion. Look at it in a minute or two to make certain there are no runs.
  • If you notice roller marks (vertical paint lines) flip the roller in the other direction and re-roll it (within 10 minutes for latex).
  • Strain used paint through a mesh paint strainer to remove lumps. Five-gallon size strainers are available at paint stores.
  • Keep a wet rag in your pocket and pick lumps off the wall as you go.
  • If you have to finish painting later the same day or next, you can wrap the roller covered in paint in a plastic bag. Also good to put it in the fridge. It will stay nice and you can get right back to painting.
  • An easy way to keep things less messy is to take a kitchen-sized white trash bag with yellow handles (the kind that, when you pull them out, the bag closes up), turn it inside out, and then slip it over your roller tray. Tie the yellow handles around the 'feet' of the tray; when you're done for the day, you can put your paint rollers in the tray and then pull the bag off of the tray, turning it right-side-in, and tie it off. If you do it well, it will keep the paint wet and you can reuse the rollers again the next day. Also means you don't have any clean-up for the roller tray.
  • To minimize shedding, wrap the new roller cover with masking tape and peel it off to remove loose fibers. Repeat this a few times. You can also use a lighter to lightly burn off any "Fuzzies" that you see.
  • Clean surface of debris or dirt before starting.
  • Cover the bucket with a damp cloth when you’re not using it.
  • Plastic paint tray liners are available at retailers for less than a dollar. Invest in about ten of these and simply throw them away at the end of the day for super easy cleanup.
  • If partially dried paint is sloughing off the screen, take it out and clean it.

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