6 Steps for PROPERLY Exterior Painting Your Home

Ah, springtime. The trees are budding, the grass is greening and it’s time to paint your house. Again.

And if your “again” came all too soon for you, say less than four years, and you really would like to get five years or more out of a paint job, this is the information you’re looking to.

Painting your house doesn’t have to be an ongoing event. But even the best paint won’t last if you don’t prepare the surface.

You’ll see the steps to take for a successful, long-lasting paint job. And you may be surprised to see that there are only six of them:

  1. Power washing
  2. Scraping
  3. Sanding
  4. Filling holes
  5. Caulking
  6. Priming

Sorry, none of them is easy. But each one is essential.

Do your prep work

I don’t care if the paint you use costs $15 or $50 a gallon, if the surface you paint hasn‘t been properly prepared, you’re wasting your money and your time. And quite frankly, most of us don’t have three or four weekends to dedicate to painting the house every other year. I sure don’t.

So, what are the steps to a successful paint job?

Power Washing

The cleaner the surface to be painted, the better the job.

There’s no way around this fact. And power washing is the best way to clean off the dirt and peeling or flaking paint from your house. Besides, after you powerwash your house, you may even discover that your house was only dirty and doesn’t really need painting yet. (You can at least hope for this pleasant discovery!)

Residential-use power washers are rated at pounds-per-square-inch (psi) pressure. You’ll get the best results if you use a unit that’s rated between 1,200 and 2,500 psi.

You can wash most types of siding with a power washer. However, if your house has wood siding, be careful not to gauge it with the high-pressure stream of water that these units generate.

Keep the wand at least 12 in. from the siding (Photo 1).

Power wash your house to remove dirt and pooling or flaking paint. Keep the wand at least 12 in. from the siding to prevent damage to the siding. Wear eye protection.

A good cleaning agent, such as tri-sodium phosphate (TSP), will blast away the everyday buildup of dirt and other air pollutants that end up on your home’s siding. TSP is banned in some states, so check for any restrictions in your area.

You can rent power washers for $80 to $120 a day. If you can’t get TSP, an all-purpose cleaner is usually sold where you rent the power washer.


Even with the most thorough power washing, you’ll probably need to scrape some areas. The best tool we’ve found is a long-handled scraper, like the one shown in Photo 2. It sells for around $20 and is available at hardware and paint stores and home centers.

Scrape all loose paint, down to the bare wood. If a painted area can’t be scraped off, don’t worry. That paint is bonded to the siding and is okay to paint over.

This type of scraper works with a pushing and pulling motion, and it will remove even the toughest peeling or flaking paint. Remember to scrape with the grain of the wood to avoid gouging the surface.

Each curved blade has two scraping edges. When scraping becomes more difficult, simply turn the blade around. You won’t have to work as hard and you’ll get better results.

Keep an extra set of blades on hand, too. The blades will get dull.

Lead paint

A word of caution about lead paint. If your house was built before 1972. The paint that was used probably contained toxic levels of lead, If you need to scrape, take the following precautions:

  • Wear a good-quality face mask that's designed to protect you against lead particles. (The typical paper dust mask does not protect you from lead dust.) Good masks are available at most paint and hardware stores.
  • Wear old clothes that you can throw away when you're done. This eliminates the chance of spreading the dust.
  • Use drop cloths to catch the paint chips. Check with your local health department for instructions on how to dispose of them in your area.


Once all of the loose paint has been scraped, you need to “feather” the rough edges, that is, get rid of the edge between the scraped area and the bare wood. To do this, it’s best to use a sanding block (Photo 3). They cost about $8-10 at hardware stores.

Sand all of the scraped areas using a sanding block and sandpaper. Feather the edges smooth between the paint and the bare wood. Start with 40-grit sandpaper and progress to 100-grit sandpaper.

Sanding with the proper grade sandpaper will make this part of the preparation easier. Start with an extra-coarse (40-grit) sandpaper and then a medium (100-grit). It’s usually not necessary to go all the way to a fine (180- to 200-grit) sandpaper.

Again, wear a face mask to protect yourself from the dust if you suspect the old paint may contain lead.


Even with a good scraping and careful sanding, you’ll still have spots where the bare wood is much lower than the old bonded paint. Too low. in fact. to sand completely smooth.

When this happens. you should fill these areas with a surfacing compound designed for exterior use (Photo 4). Use a 4- to 6-in, broad knife to ensure smooth application. You’ll find this type of filler and knife at most paint and hardware stores.

After the filler dries, usually within 30 to 60 minutes, sand it smooth with 100-grit sandpaper.

Fill any low spots on the bare wood and painted surface with an exterior-grade surfacing compound. After the compound dries, sand it smooth with 100-grit sandpaper.


To get the best-looking paint job, as well as prevent drafts indoors and save on energy costs, you should caulk all of the joints — where the siding meets the windows and door trim (Photo 5). These joint areas often have large gaps.

Caulk all joints between the siding and the window and door trim. Use a paintable acrylic latex or silicone acrylic caulk. Caulk under door thresholds and windowsills, too.

Scrape out all of the old caulk. Re-caulk the joints with a good-quality, paintable acrylic latex ($5-10 a tube) or silicone acrylic caulk ($7-12 a tube).

Latex caulk should be applied before you paint. Silicone caulks may or may not be paintable. Check the label. Non-paintable caulks must be applied after painting — paint won’t adhere to them.

Caulk around outdoor electrical boxes, outdoor water faucets, and exterior lights. Don‘t forget to caulk under the door thresholds and windowsills.


Before you even think about applying the paint, you must prime any bare wood. If you don’t, the new paint won’t adhere properly. Period!

Prime any new wood or scraped and sanded bare wood surfaces (Photo 6). Also, prime the filled areas. Then use either a latex- or oil-based top coat.

Primer is usually white. but you can have the paint dealer tint the primer so it’s about the color of your finish coat. This will assure good coverage on your final coat.

Prime all bare wood or scraped and sanded surfaces. Have the paint dealer tint the primer to a color that’s close to the top coat color for better coverage.