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Homeowner tip Tuesday: Matching old Interior Paint

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

As trusted interior renovation contractors, we're often approached by customers with general home improvement questions. Last week, we were asked about how to match an interior paint for touching up, so to avoid painting an entire room. This particular customer has two young boys who decided to use one of their playroom walls as an art canvas. The rest of the room was in great shape, and attempts to clean the graffiti, err, "art" only made matters worse. As we all know, painting a room can be time consuming and expensive. Have you seen the price of a gallon of premium paint lately?

Interior contractor paint
One of these walls was painted to match 5+ year old paint. Can you tell?

The Problem

Let's say it's been several years since you originally painted a room. Either you don't have any of the original paint saved, or you did save the original paint, and it has gone "bad". Or, you just purchased a new home and previous owners didn't leave any of the original paint behind. Often times, just one or two walls require freshening up, so who wants to spend their weekend painting an entire room due to just a couple of trouble spots?

Depending on how long it has been since the room was originally painted, having the original paint on hand doesn't necessarily help you. Latex interior paints will degrade after about 3 years, or if not stored properly, even sooner. Be sure to clean the rim and tightly seal used paint cans to maximize usable life. Also, store paint in a dry, climate controlled area to avoid exposure to moisture or freezing temperatures.

It's important to note that paint matching is as much an art as it is a science. Don't be discouraged by the fact that you don't have the original paint. The reality is that paint colors rarely match from one batch to the next anyway. For example, let's say you visit the paint store and purchase a standard paint mixture. If you were to run short of paint and return to the same store the following day to buy the exact same paint, chances are it will not match perfectly. It will be really close, but possibly not close enough to pick up where you may have left off. To that end, always buy more than enough paint for your job. If your job requires more than 1 gallon of paint, it's always a good idea to mix the gallons together in a larger bucket to avoid variances from one gallon to the next.

The Game Plan

Here's the truth. Unless you're lucky enough to have the original paint in usable condition, chances are you will not be able to simply spot paint trouble areas. For that matter, the wall paint will fade over time which means even your original paint may not match well enough for spot touch-ups! That is, unless the leopard spot look is what you're going for. This again does not mean that you're stuck painting the entire room.

What you can do, and what we recommend, is that you paint the entire wall where the trouble areas exist. This is still much cheaper, easier and faster than painting an entire room. Also, due to variances in lighting and the angle from which you're viewing each wall, dialing in the new touch-up paint becomes much more forgiving than attempting to only paint the trouble spots. There is no need to match the paint perfectly when you've chosen to paint an entire wall while leaving the others untouched. This is particularly helpful if you're dealing with a large open space such as a two-story foyer, or in the case of our customer, a very large kid's playroom.

Find the right paint

For the purposes of this article, we'll assume a trip to the paint store is in order. Where to begin? There are two factors to consider when attempting to match paint. Obviously color is first, and second is the gloss level or sheen of the paint. You'll want to begin by obtaining a sample of your current wall paint. Using a brand new utility blade, simply cut a quarter-sized section of the paint from your wall. Take the sample from a clean and inconspicuous area of the wall that's going to be painted. You'll need to patch up before painting, so don't forget to grab some lightweight joint compound.

When it comes to the color, the paint store will have a machine that analyzes your paint chip sample, and spits out recommended mixtures which are the most closely matched. Pretty cool, right? Most of the time, this does the trick. However, the machine is not infallible, and you'll want to examine the recommended paint swatch against your paint sample to be sure it's as close as possible by your eye. Many times, the machine will offer two or more similar colors which you can then hand pick before the sales clerk mixes the paint.

Sheen, while secondary in importance to color, can have a huge affect on how well the paint ultimately matches. Just like the paint color can fade over time, so can the sheen. For example, if your kitchen was original an eggshell or semi-gloss finish, don't get caught assuming that you need to use an eggshell or semi-gloss finish again. Chances are if it's been several years, the gloss level has faded to a lower sheen level. This means you should consider the closest match to your actual sample, without regard for what the paint originally looked like. The paint store clerk will be able to help you determine which gloss level will offer the closest match.

Get it right

Remember, paint is expensive. We said that already. Don't jump right into buying a quart or even a gallon of paint. The lighting conditions inside the paint store will be very different than the lighting conditions in your home. We suggest picking 2-3 of the best matches and purchasing the small sample jars to take home with you. The small sample jars usually cost $5-$6 each. A few extra dollars up front could save you $50+ and a gallon of wasted paint! Take the samples home and apply each of them in 2'x2' sections to your wall. Walk away for 30 minutes and come back to inspect your work. One or more of the samples should virtually disappear or blend into the existing paint. Be sure to keep track of which sample is which! After determining the best match, then and only then should you return to the paint store to make your final paint purchase.

Interior Renovation Specialists

If your home requires more than just a little touch-up paint, call Andrew Porter Contracting today at 774.452.2129. We are full service roofing, renovation and restoration contractors serving Massachusetts and Connecticut.



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