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How to Prepare the Exterior Surface of Your Home for Painting

When you look at your home’s exterior, do you see chipping paint, mildew spots, or areas that seem worn down? It’s not just an eyesore; it could be an invitation to more significant damage down the line. At Rhino Shield, we understand the anxiety and frustration that can come with seeing your home in less-than-perfect condition. Our expertise in high-quality exterior painting solutions ensures that you’re not just getting a new coat of paint but a comprehensive protection system for your home. In this guide, we’ll walk you through every step of preparing the exterior of your home for painting, ensuring that the results not only look fantastic but last for years.

Identifying Lead and Mold on Your Home

Testing for Lead Paint

Before diving into any paint project, addressing the safety concerns associated with older homes, particularly those built before 1978 is crucial. Lead paint, although banned, may still be lurking on your walls. You can determine if lead is present using a simple test kit from your local hardware store. If the test comes back positive, it’s imperative to contact a certified professional for removal. Handling lead paint without the proper equipment and training can pose severe health risks.

Recognizing and Treating Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew are common in humid climates but are hazardous to health and home integrity. These fungi appear as black, green, or brown stains and can sometimes feel fuzzy. To test if a stain is mold or mildew, apply a small amount of household bleach; if it disappears, you’ve identified the growth. For more severe cases, treat the area with a solution of one part bleach to three parts water or use an EPA-registered fungicide. For more information on mold and mildew, click here.

Cleaning Techniques for Exterior Surfaces

Efficient Cleaning Methods

The key to a lasting paint job is starting with a clean surface. For homes with existing paint, power washing at a moderate setting can effectively strip away old flakes, dirt, and debris. However, if your home features soft wood like cedar, it’s better to hand scrub with a mix of mild detergent and water to prevent damage.

  1. Pressure Washing:
    • Use a pressure washer to remove dirt, grime, and peeling paint from durable surfaces like vinyl, aluminum, and certain types of wood.
    • Adjust the pressure settings based on the material’s resilience to avoid damage.
  2. Hand Scrubbing:
    • For delicate or soft wood surfaces like cedar, hand scrubbing with a soft brush is recommended to prevent damage from high pressure.
    • Use a mixture of mild detergent and warm water to clean the surface gently.
  3. Chemical Cleaners:
    • Employ specialized chemical cleaners for tough stains such as oil, rust, or sap.
    • Follow manufacturer guidelines to ensure the cleaner is appropriate for the surface type and does not cause discoloration or damage.
  4. Mold and Mildew Removal:
    • To kill mold and mildew, use a bleach solution mixed with water (typically one part bleach to three parts water).
    • For more persistent fungal issues, consider using an EPA-registered fungicide or microbicide.
  5. Using Degreasers:
    • Apply degreasing agents to areas with accumulated oil or grease.
    • These are particularly useful on surfaces near garages or driveways where automotive fluids might have splattered.
  6. Spot Cleaning:
    • For isolated stains or areas that need special attention, spot cleaning with a targeted approach can be effective.
    • This might include using a stronger solvent or a stiffer brush, depending on the stain and surface type.
  7. Dry Cleaning:
    • Use a dry brush to remove loose dirt, spider webs, and other debris from surfaces before wet cleaning.
    • This helps prevent mud from forming when water is applied and ensures a more thorough cleaning.
  8. TSP Cleaning:
    • Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) is a heavy-duty cleaner ideal for removing stubborn stains and preparing surfaces for painting.
    • It should be used with caution, wearing gloves and goggles, as it can be harsh on skin and harmful if inhaled.
  9. Sanding After Washing:
    • Once the surface is clean and dry, light sanding can help remove any remaining loose paint and smooth out the surface for better paint adhesion.
    • This is particularly useful for wooden surfaces that have been weathered.
  10. Rinsing and Drying:
    • Thoroughly rinse the cleaned surfaces with clean water to remove any residue from cleaning agents.
    • Allow the surface to dry completely before sanding, repairing, or painting.

These techniques are essential for achieving a clean surface that will hold paint well and result in a durable and visually appealing finish.

Assessing and Repairing Damage

Inspecting for Physical Damage

Walk around your home and note any signs of damage—cracks, holes, or rotting wood. These need to be addressed before painting to ensure the surface is stable and smooth. Use wood filler for minor repairs and consider replacing boards that show significant rot.

Removing Peeling Paint

Scrape away peeling or flaking paint meticulously. For wooden surfaces, use a paint scraper that conforms to the surface without gouging the wood. After scraping, a quick pass with medium-grit sandpaper can help smooth out the surface. There can be many reasons as to why your paint is peeling, to learn more, click here.

Sanding for Superior Adhesion

Choosing Sandpaper

Selecting the right sandpaper is crucial for effective sanding. Use medium-grit sandpaper for rough areas to create a smooth base. Switch to fine-grit sandpaper for a final pass if you plan to apply a gloss or semi-gloss finish. Here’s a list of the types of sandpaper available and their unique qualities, tailored to suit various tasks and materials:

  1. Aluminum Oxide Sandpaper:
    • Durability: Very durable and widely used for sanding and finishing wood.
    • Best For: Wood, metal, and plastic. It’s also good for preparing painted surfaces for repainting.
  2. Silicon Carbide Sandpaper:
    • Durability: Harder than aluminum oxide and sharp-edged.
    • Best For: Sanding between coats of varnish or paint as it creates a smoother finish. It’s also used for sanding metal and plastic surfaces.
  3. Ceramic Sandpaper:
    • Durability: Extremely durable and stays sharp longer than most other types.
    • Best For: Rough sanding, shaping wood, and removing old paint from wood. It’s commonly used in belt form for heavy-duty sanding.
  4. Garnet Sandpaper:
    • Durability: Less durable than aluminum oxide but provides a finer finish.
    • Best For: Hand-sanding wood; it wears relatively quickly but leaves a finer finish.
  5. Emery Paper:
    • Durability: Durable enough for rough sanding.
    • Best For: Mainly used for sanding and polishing metal surfaces. It’s less common for wood projects.

Picking the Right Sand Grits

Sandpaper grit refers to the coarseness of the sandpaper, with lower numbers indicating coarser grits, and higher numbers finer grits.

  • Coarse Grit (40-60):
    • Removes material quickly.
    • Best for removing old paint and varnish and smoothing rough surfaces.
    • Not suitable for finishes as it may leave scratches.
  • Medium Grit (80-120):
    • Ideal for general sanding and minor smoothing before applying a finish.
    • Good for prepping new raw wood and for sanding between coats of paint or varnish.
  • Fine Grit (150-220):
    • Used for final sanding before applying stain, sealer, or varnish.
    • Produces a smooth surface without deep scratches.
  • Very Fine Grit (240-400):
    • For sanding between coats of paint and varnish.
    • Removes minor imperfections and adjusts minor variances in the wood grain.
  • Extra Fine and Super Fine Grit (400+):
    • Used for finishing touches and very fine sanding.
    • Suitable for polishing or lightly buffing metals and woods.

Sanding Techniques

Always sand in the direction of the wood grain to avoid visible scratches after painting. Consider using a power sander for larger areas, but hand sanding may be necessary for corners and delicate features.

To achieve a high-quality finish when preparing exterior wood surfaces for painting, it’s essential to employ effective sanding techniques. Here are the key points:

  1. Sanding Direction: Always sand in the direction of the wood grain to prevent visible scratches and ensure a smoother surface.
  2. Choosing the Right Tools:
    • Use power sanders for large, flat areas to save time and effort, with options like orbital, belt, and random orbital sanders available for different stages of the process.
    • For corners, edges, and delicate features, hand sanding is necessary to provide control and precision.
  3. Sandpaper Grit Progression:
    • Begin with a coarse grit to remove old finishes and smooth rough surfaces.
    • Progress to medium grit to refine the surface and remove coarse scratches.
    • Finish with fine grit to polish the surface and prepare it for painting.
  4. Dust Management: Clean the surface thoroughly after sanding to remove all dust, which can hinder paint adherence.
  5. Safety Precautions: Always wear safety glasses and a dust mask or respirator when sanding to protect against flying debris and dust inhalation.

By carefully following these techniques, you can prepare wood surfaces optimally for painting, enhancing both the appearance and longevity of the paint job.

Priming the Surface

Importance of Priming

Primer is an intermediary layer that helps your paint adhere better and last longer. It’s particularly crucial if you’re covering dark colors or if the surface has been patched or repaired.

Choosing the Right Primer

Depending on the type of paint you plan to use, select a primer formulated for oil-based or latex paint. A tinted primer can be incredibly effective in reducing the number of paint coats needed for dramatic color changes.

  1. Acrylic Latex Primer:
    • Description: Water-based primer that is flexible and resistant to cracking, making it ideal for varying weather conditions.
    • Best For: Most exterior surfaces including wood, masonry, and previously painted metals.
    • Benefits: Easy cleanup with soap and water, quick drying, and low odor.
  2. Oil-Based Primer:
    • Description: Slow-drying primer that penetrates deeply into porous surfaces and provides a strong bond for top coats.
    • Best For: Weathered wood, chalky surfaces, and metals that require rust prevention.
    • Benefits: Excellent adhesion, superior stain blocking, and seals porous surfaces effectively.
  3. Stain-Blocking Primer:
    • Description: Formulated to prevent stains from bleeding through the new paint, especially helpful in covering water or smoke stains.
    • Best For: Surfaces with tannin bleed, previous water/smoke damage, and woods like cedar and redwood.
    • Benefits: High opacity to cover existing stains, prevents bleed-through of existing stains.
  4. Bonding Primer:
    • Description: Designed to stick to hard-to-paint surfaces, providing a foundation for paint to adhere without sanding.
    • Best For: Glossy surfaces, vinyl, glass, tile, and previously painted metals.
    • Benefits: Eliminates the need for sanding, speeds up preparation work, and ensures paint adhesion on slick surfaces.
  5. Masonry Primer:
    • Description: Specifically designed for use on stone, concrete, brick, and other masonry surfaces.
    • Best For: Unpainted masonry surfaces or those previously painted with a porous paint.
    • Benefits: Fills and seals pores in masonry to prevent paint from soaking in, enhancing durability and coverage.
  6. Shellac-Based Primer:
    • Description: High-performance primer that can block persistent stains and odors.
    • Best For: Sealing odors (from smoke or pets) and blocking stubborn stains like lipstick, grease, and nicotine.
    • Benefits: Very fast drying, excellent adhesion, and works on both interior and exterior surfaces.
  7. Rust-Inhibitive Primer:
    • Description: Contains corrosion inhibitors that prevent rust on metal surfaces.
    • Best For: Iron, steel, and other metals prone to rusting.
    • Benefits: Provides a barrier against moisture and oxidation, extending the life of metal structures.
  8. Peel-Preventing Primer:
    • Description: Specially formulated to enhance paint adhesion and prevent peeling on older surfaces.
    • Best For: Areas where paint peeling has been a problem in the past, such as wood siding and trim.
    • Benefits: Improves paint durability and adherence, reducing the likelihood of future peeling.

Each type of primer serves a specific purpose and is tailored to different surface conditions and materials. Choosing the right primer is crucial for ensuring that your exterior paint job looks great and lasts longer.

Choosing the Right Time to Paint

Weather and Timing

Painting your home’s exterior requires planning around the weather. Aim for a stretch of days with moderate temperatures (50-80 degrees Fahrenheit) and low humidity. Avoid painting in direct sunlight or when rain is forecasted. Click here to get a guide on painting in humid weather.

The Painting Process

Applying the Paint

Start from the top of your home and work your way down, using a paint sprayer for efficiency and uniformity. Overlap each pass slightly to avoid streaks. For best results, follow up with a roller to ensure the paint is evenly applied.

Post-Painting Cleanup and Maintenance

Cleaning Up

Once the paint has dried, remove any painter’s tape, coverings, and drop cloths. Clean your brushes and tools with the appropriate solvents, and store leftover paint for touch-ups.

Maintaining Your Paint Job

Regularly inspect your home for any cracks or chips. Promptly touch up areas to protect against moisture and wear.


Taking the time to prepare the exterior of your home for painting properly can seem daunting, but with the right knowledge and tools, it’s a rewarding project that not only boosts curb appeal but also protects your investment for years to come. Remember, each step you take in preparation is an investment in the longevity and beauty of your home’s exterior.

By following these guidelines, your home will look great and be well-protected against Florida’s challenging environmental conditions, ensuring a durable and compliant exterior.

If you’re interested in getting paint on your new home that’ll last far longer than the typical 5 – 7 years, check out Rhino Shield here.

You can also get a free, no-obligation quote from us by clicking this link.

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