Smooth over. Scrape away cracked or peeling paint with a metal putty knife, and use it to remove bumps, dried-on paint, and edges around nail holes. Taper any sharp edges where old paint remains by sanding very lightly with very fine sandpaper.

Fill gouges. Apply a lightweight, fast-drying spackling compound, such as Fast ‘N Final. Rub a tiny dab into the holes using your finger. (With a putty knife, you’re more likely to use too much spackle, leaving lumps.) Let dry, then sand smooth with a scrub sponge to clean the wall.

Close gaps. Apply caulk to the gaps around windows and trim using a wet fingertip to smooth it flush as you go.

Remove cobwebs. Paint needs a clean, dry surface to adhere. Dust ceilings, walls, and trim with a duster on a pole extension. Or cover a broom’s bristles with an old pillowcase, and dust.

Clean up. Mix a low-suds detergent such as Spic and Span in a bucket of water. (Sudsy detergents will leave the surface too slippery.) Then use a scrub sponge to clean and sand imperfections, roughing up the surface for better paint adhesion.

Check our interior paint ratings to find a finish that's right for your project and budget. 

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the May 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.