Fix Flaking Paint

Walls with flaking paint can make your home look poorly maintained. Not only does it look bad, it often means there's a larger problem with moisture on your exterior walls.

Find out why it's happening and how you can fix it by following the steps below. Then make a visit your local Cole's Hardware store for all the tools, products and expert advice you need to start right.

Step 1. Inspect Trouble Spots
Flaking paint occurs when moisture collects under a painted surface. Moisture enters the surface of wood from the unpainted side, gets absorbed then dries. This causes repeated swelling and shrinking of wood, which makes the paint pull away from the surface leaving it cracked and peeling. Locate sources of moisture by checking areas for leakage from gutters or eaves of the house. If paint is flaking on exterior walls near a bathroom or the kitchen, pipes may be sweating or leaking, or excess heat may be causing condensation that eventually leads to peeling paint.

Use a ladder to get a close look at areas outside where visibility is poor, or consider using binoculars to examine your siding's condition from the ground. Either of these will better help you identify potential problems.

Safety Alert!
Familiarize yourself with basic ladder safety procedures. Be wary of bee and wasp nests, especially when you are on a ladder. Be very careful around overhead electrical wires, especially when moving ladders around or painting near the locations of service lines attached to the house.

Step 2. Remove Loose Paint
Cover the ground with drop cloths to catch paint chips, dust and debris. Remove all peeling or flaking paint using a paint scraper. Next, sand the surface. You can rent or buy a disc sander with 60, 80 and 120-grit sanding discs. For very limited areas, use a random-orbit sander, hand sander or disc sander drill attachment. Begin sanding with a coarse abrasive and finish with a fine one. Pay particular attention to smoothing the edges between painted and scraped areas. This is called feathering. Painting will accentuate – not hide – any ridges and edges you leave.

Safety Alerts!
Scraping, sanding and removing old paint may release lead dust, which is toxic. Exposure to lead dust can cause serious illness, especially in children. Pregnant women should also avoid exposure. Before you start, find out how to protect yourself by contacting the National Lead Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD or log on to Wear a NIOSH-approved respirator to control lead exposure. Clean up carefully with a HEPA vacuum and a wet mop.
Always wear safety goggles and a tight-fitting dust mask when scraping or sanding painted wood.
When working inside, keep the area well ventilated. Open windows and/or use fans to exhaust rooms.

Helpful Tips: Sharpen and/or replace your paint scraper blades often. Dull blades not only make your task more difficult, they increase the likelihood that you will damage the wood. Dull blades require you to use more pressure and thus you have less control over how you're using the scraper.
Keep the disc sander moving constantly. This will prevent heat caused by friction, which will soften the paint and gum up the paper.

Step 3. Repair and Prepare
Fix any small issues with an exterior spackling compound. For larger problem areas, use a two-part polyester resin filler to repair any holes or damaged wood. Mix the filler as directed and apply with a plastic squeegee. Sand the cured filler with a hand sander to make it smooth and level with the surrounding wood.

Paint tends to peel or flake near joints between dissimilar materials — think siding and trim, window frames and glass, etc. This is where water seeps into cracks and soaks into the wood, causing the paint to peel. Use an old screwdriver or similar tool to scrape out any failed caulk from joints and cracks. Then use a stiff brush to clean the joint. Allow any moisture to dry completely before applying exterior paintable caulk with a caulking gun.

Helpful Tip: Do not caulk the horizontal joints between siding panels or the vertical joints between members in the same panel. These joints permit moisture behind the siding to escape. Clean and wash the surface before painting. Rent or buy a pressure washer to thoroughly clean your home's exterior. If mildew is present (black or gray spots), you'll need to remove it by washing the surface with a mixture of Trisodium Phosphate (TSP), bleach and a stiff brush. Wash from the bottom to the top to avoid staining. Allow the surface to dry for at least two to three days before painting.

Safety Alert!
Use TSP as directed by the manufacturer. TSP can corrode metal and damage finished wood. Be sure to wear protective eyewear, clothing and rubber gloves.

Helpful Tip: A pressure washer can also be very helpful in removing loose paint. If you use it for early prep stages, however, you'll still need to wash off the sanding dust at this stage. Remove light fixtures and other hardware with a screwdriver so you don't have to paint around them. If you can't remove a fixture, you can cover it with plastic sheeting and masking tape. Remove the shutters so you can paint behind them – you can save the chore of painting shutters for a rainy day in the garage. Also cover shrubs, the ground and walkways with drop cloths. Slide window screens up behind storm windows or remove them.

Helpful Tip: Don't mask until the last minute, and remove masking tape shortly after you complete painting an area.

Paint will not bond well to wood exposed by sanding. Make sure to use a high-quality paint primer before you paint. This seals porous surface material so your topcoat won't soak in and dry unevenly. Priming also helps prevent peeling, rusting and bleed-through (especially on wood and concrete). Apply with a brush, roller or spray applicator to all bare wood. Allow it to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Step 4. Start Painting
Once you've prepared the surface and primed it, it's time to paint. Pour paint into your paint tray, coat your roller applicator and get started. Follow the ''top-down'' rule – work from the top of your home down to get the most even coverage. Finish with the trim. Go over the paint surface with a roller again when you're done to balance coverage. Use paintbrushes for windows, trim, cracks and crevices. Use two coats for optimal results.

That's it! You've taken care of unsightly flaking paint on your exterior walls. When starting your next paint project, stop by your local Cole's Hardware store for all the tools, products and expert advice you need to start right.

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Shopping List

  • Ladder
  • Drop cloth
  • Scraper
  • Disc sander
  • Safety goggles
  • Spackling compound
  • Screwdriver
  • Stiff brush
  • Exterior paintable caulk
  • Masking tape
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Paintbrush or roller