How to Paint using an Airless Sprayer

By Larry Walton


How to prepare for and spray a new paint job on an old house by using an airless sprayer.


Anytime I’ve got much painting to do, I consider using an airless sprayer. Once the prep is done, applying paint with an airless sprayer is quick and easy. It has the advantage of consistent coverage on a variety of textures and of getting into all the cracks and crevices that are hard to reach with other paint-smearing tools.

Like all paint jobs, spraying is more about preparing to paint than anything else. Once you get it into your head that the prep work is part of the painting process, you’ll be more likely to relax and go with it. Don’t be too anxious to get into the paint can, especially if you are spraying because it takes a little more prep to spray compared to other methods.

Prepping a house for exterior paint usually involves finding the house amongst the plant life, cleaning the siding, removing loose paint, repairing damaged wood, caulking gaps, priming bare wood and masking and/or covering everything you don’t want painted.

The first thing we had to do was find the house! Apparently yard work wasn’t a top priority for the renters of this house, so the blackberry bushes on the back side of the house had run amok. Painting often calls for some shrub trimming. We sometimes use long lengths of rope to pull shrubs back away from the house, anchoring the rope on a stake in the lawn or tying off to a tree or fence post. This produces the added entertainment of some trip hazards on the job site. Video cameras ready?

Stiff bristle brush
We found a stiff bristle brush with an extension handle to be very effective against the stuff that was stuck to this house.

Once you’ve found the house, it’s time to wash it. Washing does several things. First it removes surface dust and spider webs that can keep paint from sticking to the surface. Washing, with the help of such products as T.S.P. or a quality mildew-cleaning agent can kill surface mold and mildew, which is not only ugly but keeps paint from adhering.

Finally, washing accentuates any paint flaking problems. Why would you want to do that? Because we want our new paint to stick only to existing paint that is firmly gripping the house.

We used a TSP solution with a stiff bristle brush mounted on an extension handle to get the wash job done on this house.

After scrubbing the siding with a TSP solution, we sprayed it down with a hose. If the weather is over 70 degrees, you can generally paint the following day after washing, or in a couple of days if it’s not that warm.

Random orbit sander
We used a random orbit sander to smooth out the areas we filled. We also used the sander to taper the paint where flaking left a hard edge of several paint layers.
Putty knife
We used a putty knife to scrape off loose paint.
Twist drill bit
I used a twist drill bit to drill out the rivets on the gutter downspouts so they could be removed.

Next, we used a putty knife to scrape all the areas that had loose paint. The house we were painting had smooth siding and had been repainted several times since its construction. On smooth siding, you can smooth out the areas that have missing paint with a sander, which can feather the hard edges where the paint-to-paintless transition is a noticeable step. This makes these patches nearly invisible after painting, which is pretty cool.

Paint-able caulk
We used a quality, paint-able caulk to seal gaps like this transition between window trim and siding.
Auto body style filler
This house had been retrofitted with drill-and-fill insulation, but the plugs were not done well. Painting gave us a chance to use an auto-body style filler to fix these scars on the siding.
Paint brush to apply primer
We used a paint brush to apply primer to all areas where paint flaking exposed bare wood.
Our primer had been sitting around long enough for the components to separate. Be sure paints are thoroughly mixed to a consistent color.

Make any needed repairs to the siding or trim. This can often be done with a quality wood putty or auto body filler, which is my favorite. This is the time to do any caulking that needs to be done, which on an older home can involve a serious amount of caulk.

Masker dispenser
A masker dispenser is one of my favorite painting tools. It applies masking tape to the edge of masking paper and allows you to cut it off at any length you need.
Painters plastic
We covered the windows first with painter’s plastic.






Masking tape
We sealed all of the seams with masking tape, which keeps paint out but also prevents wind intrusion. A properly sealed masking job can handle some wind.
Masking paper
Masking paper with a masking tape edge can be placed accurately along the edge of features you wish to protect from the paint spray.


Once you have the surface clean, sanded, caulked and ready to go, it’s time to get busy masking the other surfaces—you know, those you don’t want to paint. This includes cars, windows, doors, trucks, utility boxes, automobiles, porches, decks foundations, vehicles, railings, sidewalks and driveways. Unless you want it the color of the house, cover it!

Drop cloths
We first edged this deck with masking paper and then put down drop cloths to cover the deck. We also use drop cloths on sidewalks and driveways. You can move the cloths ahead as you progress around the house.
Project house
Here’s our project house nearly ready for the sprayer. Washed, scraped, filled, sanded, primed, caulked and masked. Add some drop clothes and shielding boards and we’re about there.

If you don’t own an airless sprayer, you can rent one at your local tool rental facility or at a paint store. Pay careful attention to the instructions that the rental employee gives you. Ask questions if you’re not sure of the sequence and settings to be used as well as to the method required to clean the machine. You will be responsible to return the sprayer as described or pay extra.

The spray gun, which remains attached to the hose, creates a consistent spray pattern when the nozzle is clean and not overly worn. Abrasive components in the paint eventually wear larger openings in the nozzle with extended use. If the spray nozzle is creating heavy lines in the spray pattern, the nozzle probably needs to be replaced.
The spray gun, which remains attached to the hose, creates a consistent spray pattern when the nozzle is clean and not overly worn. Abrasive components in the paint eventually wear larger openings in the nozzle with extended use. If the spray nozzle is creating heavy lines in the spray pattern, the nozzle probably needs to be replaced.
Airless sprayer
An airless sprayer pumps and pressurizes regular house paint, which you can apply in a controlled mist for fast and consistent paint coverage.





Foot Valve of airless sprayer
The foot valve of an airless sprayer is placed directly into the paint bucket. Pros often pour additional paint into the supply bucket rather than moving the foot valve during the spray process.

Usually the sprayer has some water or other liquid in the hose, so be prepared to exhaust the extra material into a bucket. Keep spraying until you see your paint coming out of the spray nozzle. Now you’re ready to do the fun part of the job.

prepped and masked
Once everything is prepped and masked, the paint can finally be sprayed on. Covering bare body parts is as important as covering items on the house.

Remember all the covering up you did around the house? Yeah, that applies to you and your helpers as well. Cover up with a painting hood, long sleeves, gloves … if it’s exposed it will likely get painted.

Slight upward angle
Hit the underside of lap siding with a slight upward angle. Carefully overlap areas already covered as you finish a section. For the lower sections, get as low as necessary to keep the gun somewhat square with the house surface.
Spraying pass
Movement is extremely important when spraying. Do not pull the trigger unless the gun is moving. Swing into a spraying pass and squeeze the trigger as you continue to move the gun parallel to the house surface.


Start the spray job in an inconspicuous area of the house if possible. Make sure the spray gun is sweeping across the project in a constant motion BEFORE pulling the trigger. Keep moving after the trigger is released. Failure to keep moving will result in a paint overload, which means a house-paint waterfall—unsightly and difficult to repair. Keep moving.

It’s easy enough to make another pass if you start out too lightly.

Masking on the glass
We left the masking on the glass of this wood-trimmed window until the trim was painted.
Window trim
We don’t paint the edges of our window trim with an accent color, but leave it body color and only paint the face and inside edges of the trim.


Trim paint
A little more trim paint to go, and this paint job is done.

As you apply the paint, be sure to point at the project from different angles to get all of the surfaces. If a surface or an edge can’t see the paint sprayer, it won’t get painted. Team work is a good idea on a spray job. The non-sprayer can move drops and ladders ahead of the gun. They can also help you spot areas you missed so you can hit it with some paint before moving on to the next portion of the house.



Beware of Textured Siding

Caution: Do not sand or fill missing paint areas on textured siding. Smooth spots on textured siding will be more noticeable than a chipped paint edge. Any repairs done on textured siding must replicate the texture, which often means replacing some siding.



Problems with Peeling Paint

Sometimes chasing the peeling paint is an endless job. Just when you think the loose paint is gone, the edges curl again. On a project like this, you can use a product such as XIM Peel Bond which will help bridge the scraped areas to the paint surface and seal the peeled edges securely. In other words, instead of removing all flaking paint, the approach is re-bond the paint to the house.



Weather Worries

Wait for the weather. You can do most of the paint prep in inclement weather, but you can’t spray in high wind, while it’s raining or when the temperatures are below recommended levels. According to “When the forecasters predict changing temperatures that may drop below the normal recommendation of 50° F for latex paint, consider using a house paint that can be applied and will cure at temperatures as low as 35° F. This will give you the opportunity to extend your painting season by as much as two months in most areas of the country.”



Avoid Overspray

How are you at re-painting cars? Be careful about wind direction and vehicles that may be in the overspray drift. If there is any doubt at all, then move the vehicle, ask a neighbor to move the vehicle, cover it or don’t spray!

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