Various Paint Brushes and Color Swatches
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When you hire a professional to paint a room in your home, you expect beautiful, long-lasting results, but that’s not always what you’ll get. Less skilled and less honest painters can leave you with walls that are smudged or streaky, or that start fading or cracking quickly.

A bad interior paint job isn’t just bad news for your wall. It’s a sign the contracting company might have cut corners elsewhere, so you’ll want to check over the rest of their work.

If you’re having your walls painted or you’ve just had them done, the ability to spot the signs of a bad paint job will help you decide when to make a complaint. If you’ve moved into a home with painted walls, knowing the signs helps you plan for re-painting.

Signs Your Interior Paint Job is Going Wrong

Painter Sitting on Ladder
© Africa Studio / Adobe Stock

While most professional painters take great care in their work, some skip steps in order to maximize their profits at the expense of quality results. When you know how a paint job should progress, you’ll notice when your painter seems to be skimping on effort, so you can bring up your concerns immediately.

No Wall Preparation Was Done

For a paint job to turn out well, the wall must be clean and largely free from damage. Before applying paint, a professional painter prepares the wall by repairing minor flaws such as small dents and cracks, removing old paint when necessary or sanding old high-gloss paint so the new paint will stick. After this, the painter should thoroughly clean and rinse the wall, then allow it to dry.

Your painter should also come prepared with more than just some buckets of paint and a brush. They’ll need caulk, various types of brushes and rollers, edging tools, a sturdy ladder, and other professional supplies. If you see them using masking tape instead of painter’s tape, which is wider and typically blue or green, you know the job is unlikely to go well.

No Room Preparation Was Done

Your painter will probably ask you to move your furniture away from the walls, but you shouldn’t have to do much more than that. The painter should supply drop cloths to cover furniture, as well as remove light fixtures and cover windows, floors, and outlet covers.

In a room that’s already been painted, streaks of wall paint on the outlet covers and window frames are tell-tale signs of a bad interior paint job.

Signs a Bad Finished Interior Paint Job

Aftermath of a Messy Paint Job
© / Adobe Stock

Even if you weren’t there to see how the painter did their work, you can still tell when they didn’t do the job well.

The Paint is Wrong for the Wall

A garish color in the bedroom or a hard-to-wash matte paint in the bathroom might be just a bad choice on the part of the homeowner, but it also suggests the painter skipped the color consultation.

A truly professional painter takes time to help their clients chose the best colors and finishes for each room. For example, they’ll often recommend washable semi-glosses for high-traffic or messy areas, such as the entryway, laundry room, and bathroom, but suggest matte paints for the living room and dining room, where more color vibrancy and a smooth finish is important.

When the painter doesn’t provide this guidance, the homeowner is left to make their best guess on what paint to use, and they might not choose well.

Stains or Other Flaws are Visible Through the Paint

These are signs the painter either didn’t apply primer, applied too little or applied the wrong kind. Primer corrects minor surface flaws on the wall, so the paint goes on smoothly, dries with an even finish and vibrant color, and lasts years longer than it would otherwise. If the wall is water-stained, one or two coats of a sealer-primer is usually needed to prevent the discoloration from bleeding through the new paint. Less scrupulous painters might skip this step to reduce their costs and increase their profits.

A New Paint Job Looks Faded or Discolored, or Damages Easily

These problems suggest the painter used only one coat of paint where they should have used two or more. While some paints provide good coverage on light walls with just one coat, they’re the exception. For most, you’ll need two or even three coats. One coat alone will lack vibrancy, let the old paint under it show through, and fail to cover minor irregularities on the wall’s surface. If gently sponging off dirt on the wall causes the paint to come off, it’s a good bet the painter applied only one coat.

The Paint is Blotchy, Streaky, or Blistered

Flaws like these tell you the paint might have been applied to a dirty or wet wall. Over time, walls pick up dust and grime that can interfere with paint adhesion, so even a relatively clean wall should be washed before it’s painted. After cleaning, the wall should be allowed to dry thoroughly. If the painter skips these steps, the paint won’t adhere evenly, causing blotches and streaks. Escaping moisture can cause the paint to blister. Peeling paint is another problem that happens when a wet wall is painted.

The Paint is Smudged, Cracking, or Wrinkling

If you spot these problems, chances are a second coat of paint was applied before the first coat was dry. This is particularly true when paint cracks in a scaly, snake-skin pattern, known as alligatoring. In very old oil-based paint, though, alligatoring is the normal result of aging.

How long a painter should wait between coats depends on both the paint used and the room’s humidity level. While it’s safe to recoat latex paint after four to six hours, an oil-based paint will need to dry for a full 24 hours. If the room is damp or even if it’s raining out, the drying time will be longer. Wrinkled paint is usually the result of applying oil-based paint when it’s colder than 50 degrees in the room.

The Paint is Chalking

Chalking happens when the paint begins to break down. You’ll notice the paint develops a white, powdery film, the color fades, and you can wipe the pigment off with a light brush of a finger. Long-term sun exposure can cause this, but when it happens soon after painting, it typically means the paint was thinned too much, or the wall wasn’t cleaned properly before painting. Painting over a high-gloss paint without sanding it first can also cause the new paint to chalk.

Whether you’re assessing your painter’s recent work or deciding whether to repaint the walls in your new home, being able to tell a good paint job from a bad one will help you make smart choices. A bad interior paint job detracts from the beauty of your room and can exacerbate moisture problems, so if you find yours is less than ideal, consult an experienced and reliable professional painter for guidance.

Editorial Contributors
Henry Parker

Henry Parker

Henry Parker is a home improvement enthusiast who loves to share his passion and expertise with others. He writes on a variety of topics, such as painting, flooring, windows, and lawn care, to help homeowners make informed decisions and achieve their desired results. Henry strives to write high quality guides and reviews that are easy to understand and practical to follow. Whether you are looking for the best electric riding lawn mower, the easiest way to remove paint from flooring, or the signs of a bad tile job, Henry has you covered with his insightful and honest articles. Henry lives in Florida with his wife and two kids, and enjoys spending his free time on DIY projects around the house. You can find some of his work on Today’s Homeowner, where he is a regular contributor.

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