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Home Improvement

Tips for Painting Perfection

Buy right amount

Painting projects require about one gallon of paint to cover 400 square feet of smooth surface. Save money and avoid waste by purchasing the right amount for your project.

Note: If your browser has trouble running the estimator at left, compute your paint needs by dividing total area of project (in square feet) by 400 to find approx. number of gallons needed.

Choose right type of paint

Water-based (latex) paint will work for most home painting tasks. It's thinned with water instead of toxic solvents. Oil-based paint and thinner contain flammable and toxic solvents. 

Oil-based paint may be best for some tasks (like priming bare wood). But every year more water-based products are found on store shelves. Ask at your local stores about these products.

Choose right color

Paint retailers assist in finding the right shade without wasting paint and money. Retailers may be able to alter just one gallon of paint until it's the preferred shade. Many stores have computers that match paint color to a sample color you provide. Some stores allow you to return paint if it's not the right shade usually they resell it at a discount.

Paint safely

Provide adequate ventilation. Open windows and doors and run fan. Wear rubber gloves to avoid absorbing solvents through skin. Dust masks do not provide protection from exposure to oil-based paints and solvents. If you frequently use oil-based products, a respirator is a good investment.


Many paint-related products contain petroleum distillates - oil-based paint & primer/sealer, spray paint, furniture strippers & refinishers, paint thinners, and some adhesives. Look for these words on the label: ethylene, toluene, xylene, acetone, or methylene chloride.

Some solvents are flammable or corrosive, others explode easily, most are toxic. Most solvent exposure results from breathing vapors. Breathing solvent vapors, even for very short periods, can lead to lung and throat irritation, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, disorientation, even unconsciousness and death. Many symptoms pass quickly when exposure stops. Repeated exposure to some solvents can lead to chronic bronchitis, permanent liver and kidney damage, neurological problems, cancer, or birth defects. 

Reduce exposure: Open two windows (or window and door) for cross-ventilation run fan to keep air moving use product outdoors when possible. A dust mask will not protect you from exposure to solvents. If you frequently use oil-based products, a respirator is a good health investment.

Paint Strippers

Paint removers are among the most toxic products in the home. Most contain flammable and toxic solvents such as toluene, xylene, acetone, and methanol, or they contain methylene chloride, a cancer-causing agent.

Less-hazardous waterborne products have recently become available. However, the EPA has warned that products containing e-methyl pyrrolidone (EMP) may pose a health risk unless gloves are worn. Another alternative for paint removal is a heat gun, but these can cause fires or make hazardous chemicals in the paint airborne.

Clean up

Oil-based paint:
To clean brushes, brush excess paint onto newspaper or cardboard, let it dry, then put in garbage. Use thinner to finish cleaning brushes. Never put flammable products such as oil-based paint or thinner down any drain or into the garbage! Recycle thinner by storing in closed jar until particles settle. Strain clear liquid through a coffee filter and reuse.

Water-based (latex) paint:
If you're not finished with your project, save time and trouble by wrapping paint-soaked brushes and rollers in airtight aluminum foil or plastic bags and storing in freezer. To use again, let sit at room temperature 20-30 minutes.

When you've finished your project, brush excess paint onto newspaper or cardboard, let newspaper or cardboard dry, and throw in garbage. Wash brushes and rollers in inside drains with soap and water. Never clean them on lawn or street, since paint can end up in groundwater or streams.


When storing paint for future projects, make sure lid is secure, and store paint can upside down. Paint will create tight seal around lid, keeping paint fresh until next project.

Use up all paint

If you find you have paint left over, instead of storing or disposing:

  1. Apply second coat or use for touch-up Stencil or sponge-paint walls or furniture Mix latex paint together to use as base coat (mix interior with interior exterior with exterior) Give it away - Offer free paint to neighbors, friends, community organizations
  2. Paint a fence, shed or your doghouse

If you still have paint you can't use, don't throw it away! Paint poured on ground, into storm drains or put in trash could end up in groundwater and streams.


Small amounts of latex paint:
For one inch or less of leftover latex, dry out by opening can and letting liquid evaporate outdoors, away from children and pets. Dispose of paint can (with lid off) in garbage.

Larger amounts of latex paint:
Take to household hazardous waste collection site (Brown County Landfill).

Oil-based paint:
Do not dry up oil-based paint. Take to household hazardous waste collection site (Brown County Landfill).


Paint purchased before 1980 may contain lead. Take unused lead paint to a household hazardous waste collection site.

Cautions for Lead-Based Paint

Lead exposure can cause serious health problems, especially for children and pregnant women. Follow proper procedures to keep yourself and your family safe when removing lead-based paint. Before beginning, learn about the hazards of lead-based paint and procedures for lead abatement.

» Protect children from lead poisoning:
    National Lead Information Center 1-800-LEAD-FYI (1-800-532-3394)
» Other information on lead hazards: 1-800-424-LEAD

  • If you hire a contractor, ask what training they have in lead-based paint removal. Toddlers and pregnant women should remain out of homes during paint removal and remodeling if lead-based paint will be disturbed or removed. Remove rugs, furniture, and curtains before working. Carpets that cannot be moved should be covered with non-stick tarp and sealed with duct tape at edges. Seal off work area from rest of house to avoid tracking dust from remodeled area. Use high-quality dust mask and water spray bottle when removing old or peeling paint. Keep work wet. Do not use power sanders or heat guns! Clean up dust at end of each day.
  • After job is finished and all cleanup completed, test home for lead to determine if it is safe for pregnant women and children to occupy.