A Primer on Primers

By Annie Groer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008

It's tempting to paint walls without putting down an undercoat of primer, but experts know better. That's because primer adheres strongly to surfaces, covers the old color better and helps the final-finish coats slide on smoothly and evenly.

Those qualities are particularly important when covering new drywall, when existing paint is in bad shape or when you're making a dramatic color change, according to Gustavo Elias, manager of the Potomac Paint and Decorating Center in Chantilly. If you have your paint store tint less-expensive primer to match the final, costlier wall color, the job will cost less because fewer coats will be required. (At Potomac, a gallon of primer runs about $28, while Benjamin Moore paints start at $38, Elias says.)

And for a professional-looking job, Elias urges careful prep work before you pick up a brush, especially for older walls scarred by nail holes or numerous coats of paint: Fill holes with spackle and let it dry. Use fine sandpaper on all surfaces to even them out. Wipe dust from walls with a damp cloth and let dry. Then prime.

Facts About Finishes

You've found a color, but what about a finish? Flat paint hides flaws, but higher sheen is easier to clean. Charlie Boswell, president of Color Wheel paint and home decor stores in McLean and Fairfax, offers this guide:

Flat will not reflect light. It's not washable and it absorbs stains. Good for ceilings and imperfect walls.

Matte is the lowest sheen that's washable, scrubbable and stain-resistant. Good for any room but a kitchen or a bath.

Eggshell gives "extra glow or richness," Boswell says. It's washable and resists stains and moisture. Good in many rooms, including bathrooms not frequently used.

Satin has "quiet shimmer," Boswell says. It can be washed often and is very resistant to stains, moisture. Good for kitchens, bathrooms and homes with children.

Semigloss is highly reflective and very washable. Good for doors and trim.

High-gloss is mirrorlike and shows all wall flaws. (Consider having a pro paint this finish.) Good for molding, doors, window frames and accent walls.

Annie Groer

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