How to Skim Coat a Wall for the Perfect Paint Surface

This simple DIY can save you some bucks

Audrey Bruno
Written by Audrey Bruno
Updated June 14, 2022
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Turn an idea into an I-did-it.

Time to complete

2 hours

1-2 hours per wall, plus drying time



If you already own the tools, this DIY is a no-brainer.

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What you'll need:


  • Paint tray
  • Paint roller
  • Squeegee and taping knives
  • Drop cloth
  • Drywall tape
  • 120–150-grit sandpaper
  • Paint stir sticks or stirring drill attachment


  • Painters tape
  • Drywall primer
  • Joint compound

Knowing how to skim coat a wall is a skill that will always come in handy. With it, you’ll always have the ability to fix up damages in drywall or revamp the texture of your walls altogether—and at a fraction of what it would cost to hire a local drywall contractor

Whether you want to give your interior walls a smooth finish or finally hide the imperfections you can’t bear to look at any longer, applying a skim coat will give you the results you’re looking for. Use this guide to make the process as simple as can be and find out exactly which tools you’ll need and how long the project will take for both beginners and avid DIYers alike. 

Prepping to Skim Coat a Wall

Because the objective of skim coating a wall is to establish as smooth of a finish as possible, it’s important to take a few preparatory steps to ensure that ends up being the case. Here’s what you might need to do beforehand to guarantee the best possible results. 

Protect Your Area

Painter using tape and cardboard to cover floor
Photo: Ladanifer / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Whether you’re painting, skim-coating, or demolishing a wall, it’s always a good idea to protect the rest of your home with a drop cloth and painter’s tape. Cover all areas that might be affected, and seal the cloth to your baseboards or the bottom of your wall with tape to prevent any slipping and sliding. 

Remove Old Paint or Wallpaper

Unless you’re working on a blank wall or one that has already been cleared of paint and wallpaper, you’ll need to do this task yourself. Fortunately, removing paint and wallpaper is easy to DIY with a few helpful tips. Once you’ve removed the majority of the pre-existing wall treatments, take time to remove stray pieces of drywall paper—either with a box cutter or your fingers—so your surface is easier to sand.

Sand to Smooth Walls 

Finally, sand out remaining lumps or imperfections with a hand or electric sander and minimum 120- to 150-grit sandpaper for drywall. Your base doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth (the joint compound will take care of that) but you’ll get a better final product if you start with a surface that’s as smooth as possible.

5 Steps to Skim Coat a Wall

Now that you’re prepped and ready to go, the process of skim coating a wall is no more difficult than adding a new layer of paint. Let’s get to it!

  1. Prime Walls and Let Dry

    Using a paint roller to prime a drywall
    Photo: Alsu Faskhieva / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

    This step ensures that your joint compound will adhere properly and provide a smooth surface for all your future wall-painting projects. Use a paint roller to apply an even layer of primer to your wall. Rather than attempting to do the whole thing at once, roll on primer from the outside in, working in squares until the entire surface is covered. Let dry before moving on to the next step. 

  2. Use a Paint Roller to Evenly Apply Joint Compound

    Woman using a painter roller with an extension pole
    Photo: duh84 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

    Pour joint compound into a paint tray and stir with a paint stirrer or stirring drill attachment until to create a more liquid consistency. Gently dip the paint roller into the tray until the former is covered in a thin, even layer of joint compound, then apply to walls the same way as the primer—working from the outside in and in squares until the wall is completed.

  3. Smooth Imperfections with a Squeegee Knife

    Once your wall is completely covered, drag a squeegee knife inward from the outer corners to smooth it completely. Positioning a spotlight from the side will cast shadows on any crevices that you might have missed. You may need a smaller tool, like a putty or taping knife, to fully even out tight corners.

  4. Apply Drywall Tape to Even Out Corners

    Imperfect corners are hard to ignore, but applying drywall tape is a foolproof way to create an even surface in these spots. Do this step after you’ve already completed the previous steps.

  5. Sand Remaining Imperfections When Dry to Finish

    Worker using a sanding block to sand a wall
    Photo: triocean / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

    Once the new coating of the joint compound has had a chance to dry, use sandpaper to smooth out any remaining imperfections. Opt for a hand sander over an electric one because the latter may remove too much and actually create more imperfections.

DIY Skim Coating a Wall vs. Hiring a Pro

The cost to hire a professional to skim coat walls ranges from $500 to $600 on average for an entire room. On the other hand, it can cost as little as $100 to do it yourself, depending on how much of the tools and equipment you already have on hand. 

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.