Can You Skim Coat Over Painted Plaster Walls? Yes, Here’s How To!

Bob Thomas


Skim coating is a technique used to smooth out uneven or damaged walls, creating a fresh, smooth surface for painting or wallpapering.

You may wonder, "Can you skim coat over painted plaster walls?"

The answer is yes!

With the right preparation and technique, you can skim coat over painted plaster walls and achieve professional-looking results.

In this article, we'll walk you through the process step by step, so you can transform your walls with confidence.

Quick Summary

To skim coat over painted plaster walls, follow these steps: 1) Clean the wall, 2) Remove loose paint and repair damaged areas, 3) Apply a bonding agent, 4) Mix and apply the skim coat, 5) Sand the surface, and 6) Prime and paint. With patience and attention to detail, you can achieve a smooth and even wall surface.

Clean the Wall

Before starting any work, make sure the wall is clean and free of dirt, dust, and grease.

Wipe the wall down with a damp sponge or cloth and let it dry completely.

Remove Loose Paint and Repair Damaged Areas

Using a putty knife, scrape away any loose or peeling paint from the wall.

For any cracks or holes, use a premixed patching compound to fill them in.

Allow the compound to dry, then sand the repaired areas with 120-grit sandpaper until smooth.

Pro Tip: For larger repairs, consider using a setting-type joint compound, which dries harder and is less prone to shrinking.

Apply a Bonding Agent

To ensure proper adhesion of the skim coat, apply a bonding agent to the painted plaster wall.

A water-based acrylic primer, such as PVA primer, works well for this purpose.

Apply the primer using a roller or brush, and allow it to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Mix and Apply the Skim Coat

Using a joint compound, mix it to a smooth, creamy consistency, following the manufacturer's instructions.

Starting at the top of the wall, use a taping knife to spread a thin layer of the joint compound in a smooth, even motion.

Work your way down the wall, covering the entire surface.

Allow the skim coat to dry, then apply a second coat if necessary to achieve a smooth finish.

Sand the Surface

Once the skim coat is completely dry, lightly sand the wall using a pole sander with 150-grit sandpaper.

This will remove any imperfections and create a smooth, even surface for painting.

Prime and Paint

Before painting, apply a high-quality primer to the skim-coated wall, which will ensure proper paint adhesion and a consistent finish.

Once the primer is dry, you can paint the wall with your desired color and finish.

Risks and Considerations

While skim coating over painted plaster walls can provide excellent results, it's important to be aware of the potential risks and considerations involved in this process.

In this section, we'll outline some key factors to keep in mind before undertaking a skim coating project.

Lead Paint:

  1. If your home was built before 1978, there's a possibility that the existing paint on your plaster walls contains lead. Disturbing lead-based paint can release harmful lead dust into the air, posing a health risk, particularly to children and pregnant women. If you suspect your walls may have lead paint, have them tested by a professional and follow proper safety procedures for handling and removal.


  1. Some older plaster walls may contain asbestos fibers, which can pose a health risk if inhaled. If you're unsure about the presence of asbestos in your walls, it's best to have them tested by a professional before proceeding with any renovations.

Moisture Damage:

  1. If your walls have suffered from water damage or excessive moisture, it's crucial to address the underlying cause before skim coating. Failure to do so can result in mold growth or ongoing structural issues.

Structural Issues:

  1. Skim coating can cover minor imperfections, but it's not a solution for significant structural problems, such as large cracks or bulging walls. If your walls show signs of serious damage, consult a professional to assess the situation and recommend appropriate repairs.

Skill Level and Experience:

  1. Skim coating requires patience and attention to detail to achieve a smooth, even finish. If you're inexperienced in this type of work, the results may not meet your expectations. Consider practicing on a small, inconspicuous area or consulting a professional for guidance.

Proper Ventilation:

  1. When working with bonding agents, primers, and paint, ensure proper ventilation to minimize the inhalation of fumes. Open windows and doors, and use fans to help circulate air and promote drying.

Cleanup and Disposal:

  1. Skim coating can be a messy process, and it's important to properly clean up and dispose of materials to prevent environmental contamination or safety hazards. Be sure to follow local regulations for the disposal of paint, primer, and other chemicals.

By considering these risks and factors, you can make informed decisions about your skim coating project and better ensure a successful outcome.

Proper planning, preparation, and safety measures can help minimize potential issues and deliver a smooth, even wall surface that's ready for a fresh coat of paint or new wallpaper.


Despite careful preparation and attention to detail, you may encounter issues during or after the skim coating process.

In this troubleshooting section, we'll discuss common problems and their potential solutions to help you achieve a smooth, even finish on your plaster walls.

Uneven Coating:

If your skim coat appears uneven or patchy, it may be due to insufficient drying time between layers, inadequate mixing of the compound, or inconsistent application.

To fix this issue, sand the area lightly and apply another thin layer of compound, ensuring you've allowed enough drying time between coats.

Bubbles or Pinholes:

Bubbles or pinholes may form if you've applied the skim coat too thickly, trapped air in the compound, or didn't mix the compound thoroughly.

To remedy this, lightly sand the affected areas and reapply a thin, even layer of compound, making sure to mix the material well and work out any air bubbles.

Cracks or Delamination:

Cracks or delamination can occur if the skim coat dries too quickly, is applied too thickly, or the surface wasn't properly prepared.

To fix this, remove the loose or cracked material, clean and prime the surface again, and reapply a thin layer of compound, allowing for adequate drying time.

Poor Adhesion:

If the skim coat is not adhering well to the painted plaster wall, it could be due to a poorly prepared surface, incorrect primer, or using the wrong type of compound.

Ensure the surface is clean, dry, and properly primed, and use a compatible compound designed for skim coating over paint.

Visible Seams or Lines:

Visible seams or lines can appear if you don't feather the edges of the skim coat properly, or if the compound wasn't blended well.

To fix this, sand the area, and apply another thin layer of compound, making sure to feather the edges and blend the material smoothly.

Dust or Debris in the Finish:

Dust or debris in the skim coat can result from insufficient cleanup or working in a dirty environment.

To resolve this issue, carefully remove any dust or debris from the surface, and reapply a thin, even layer of compound.

Keep the work area as clean as possible to minimize the risk of contamination.

By addressing these common issues, you can improve the quality of your skim coating and achieve a smooth, even surface.

Remember that patience and attention to detail are key to a successful outcome.

If you're unsure how to resolve a particular problem, don't hesitate to consult a professional for advice.

Frequently Asked Questions Section (FAQs)

Q. Can you skim coat directly over glossy or semi-glossy painted plaster walls?

  A: Skim coating directly over glossy or semi-glossy painted walls can be challenging because the smooth, shiny surface may not provide adequate adhesion for the compound.

To improve adhesion, you should sand the glossy surface lightly to create a slightly rough texture.

Then, clean and prime the surface with a bonding primer or PVA primer before applying the skim coat.

Q. How can I determine if the painted plaster wall is suitable for skim coating?

  A: To determine if the painted plaster wall is suitable for skim coating, perform a simple adhesion test.

Apply a small amount of joint compound to a discreet area of the wall and allow it to dry.

If the compound adheres well and does not easily peel or flake off, the wall is likely suitable for skim coating.

If the compound does not adhere well, you may need to further prepare the surface or consult a professional for advice.

Q. Will skim coating over painted plaster walls affect the paint color or texture?

  A: Skim coating will cover the existing paint color and texture, creating a new, smooth surface.

Once the skim coat is dry, you can paint over it with the color of your choice.

It is essential to prime the skim-coated surface before applying paint to ensure proper adhesion and an even finish.

Q. How long should I wait before painting over a skim-coated painted plaster wall?

  A: The drying time for a skim coat can vary depending on the thickness of the applied layers, temperature, and humidity.

Typically, you should wait at least 24 hours for the skim coat to dry thoroughly.

However, in some cases, it may take up to 48 hours or more. Once the skim coat is completely dry, you can apply a primer followed by your chosen paint.

Q. Can I use a textured paint or apply a decorative finish over a skim-coated painted plaster wall?

  A: Yes, once the skim coat is dry and primed, you can use textured paint or apply a decorative finish to achieve your desired look.

Keep in mind that the skim coat should be smooth and even to provide a proper base for the textured paint or decorative finish.

Q. What if the paint on my plaster wall contains lead? Can I still skim coat?

  A: If the paint on your plaster wall contains lead, you should take proper precautions before attempting any work, including skim coating.

Lead paint can be hazardous if disturbed, and it is essential to follow safety guidelines and local regulations when dealing with lead paint.

In some cases, it may be necessary to hire a certified professional to remove or encapsulate the lead paint before skim coating the wall.


Skim coating over painted plaster walls is a practical solution for updating uneven or damaged surfaces.

With careful preparation and the right technique, you can achieve professional-looking results that will breathe new life into your space.

Remember to be patient, take your time, and follow each step closely for the best outcome.

Happy skim coating!

Suggested Products:

  1. All-Purpose Joint Compound: SHEETROCK Brand All-Purpose Joint Compound is a versatile and high-performing compound suitable for skim coating over painted plaster walls. It offers excellent adhesion and workability, providing a smooth and even surface for painting.
  2. PVA Primer: KILZ PVA Drywall Primer is a reliable option for preparing painted plaster walls for skim coating. It enhances adhesion and provides an even base for the joint compound to bond, ensuring a successful skim coat application.
  3. Bonding Primer: Zinsser B-I-N Bonding Primer is a high-quality primer designed for difficult surfaces, including glossy painted walls. It provides exceptional adhesion, ensuring that the skim coat adheres well to the painted plaster wall.
  4. Sanding Sponge: 3M Pro Grade Precision Sanding Sponge is an effective tool for roughening glossy or semi-glossy painted surfaces before skim coating. Its dual-angle design allows for comfortable handling and efficient sanding, ensuring proper adhesion of the skim coat.
  5. Flexible Taping Knife: Warner Tool ProGrip Blue Steel Taping Knife is an excellent choice for applying the skim coat. Its flexible blue steel blade and ergonomic handle provide precision and comfort, enabling a smooth and even application of the joint compound.
  6. Drywall Primer: Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer is a high-performance, water-based primer suitable for priming skim-coated painted plaster walls. It ensures proper adhesion and an even paint finish, making it ideal for preparing the newly skim-coated surface for painting.

About the author 

Bob Thomas

A fully certified interior decorator and house painter , Bob Thomas brings immense expertise and knowledge amassed from many years of hands-on experience with residential, commercial and specialty painting and decorating projects of all sizes and scopes.

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