Time: 2 Days
Skill Level: Advance
Project Cost: $150-$200
Professional Cost: $1,800
How to skim coat a wall
Tools you Need

Time to stop placing wall decor based on wall imperfections. Learn how to skim coat a wall.

Learn how to skim coat a wall by smoothing over rough and damaged walls with joint compound to achieve the professional look and feeling of new walls. Skim coating walls is a project that is completed before painting a room. It is a multi-step process in which thin layers of joint compound are applied to walls and then sanded down to create a smooth uniform surface. It is a perfect solution for the hiding surface imperfections such as textural difference that can be a result of patching. It is also performed to cover up textured finishes such as those fabulous popcorn ceilings. Skim coating is also the last step when installing new drywall when you are trying to achieve a level 5 finish. Level 5 means extra smooth.There are two (2) ways to skim coat a wall. “Hawk and Trowel” and “Roll and Squeegee”. Roll and squeegee will be covered in this How To since it is the easier of the two to master.

How to skim coat a wall - wall repairs
How to skim coat a wall - Skim Coating Wall Textures
How to skim coat a wall - Skim Coating Dry Wall Install

DIY or hire?

Bauen likes to be honest… and to be honest skim coating requires patience and is quite a workout. But can we convince you that your back and arm muscles will be amazing after it? However, if you take on skim coating you will save a lot of money. A typical room in the Northeast (walls and ceiling) can run you around $1,800.00. We would recommend hiring someone if your walls are severely damaged. If you aren’t sure email us and we can help you out.

BottomlineNo matter how hard you sand, scrap and patch, the only true way to achieve ultra-smooth walls is to skim coat. Trust us, Bauen has tried.

How to skim coat a wall -old wallpaper
How to skim coat a wall - person performing lead test

Assess your room before starting. There is a chance might learn something!

1. Was your house built before 1970?
If yes, there is a good chance you have lead paint either exposed or in sub-paint layers. Lead paint is most harmful when dispersed through the air in tiny particles such as sanding dust. We recommend you perform a lead test if you plan on scrapping or sanding during your prep phase.

ALL ABOUT LEAD PAINT – Click to learn more.

2. Do you have raised areas such as old paint build up? Do you have holes in your wall?
If yes, we recommend you remove the raised areas and patch the holes prior to skim coating. We will cover this in the ‘Prep’ section.

3. Do you have wallpaper remnants, including glue, on the wall?
If yes, then you will need to prime your walls first. Primer will seal the glue and wallpaper remnants and provide a surface for the joint compound to stick to.

4. What is the temperature like in the room?
If it is cold, the compound will dry very quickly, which means you will need to work extra fast. Just something to keep in mind. Compound takes longer to dry in humid temperatures.

Consider prep work. It’s worth the effort. We highly recommend performing a lead test if you have any exposed old paint.

How to skim coat a wall - protected room with painters tape
How to skim coat a wall -prepped skim coating products

Protect your room and yourself.

1. Remove it all. Remove window treatments and furniture from the room. Disassemble any hardware that is on the walls to be skim coated. This includes: outlet covers, light switches, TV mounts… you get the drift.

2. Protect your room. Cover the entire floor with your plastic drop cloths and tape the edges to the baseboard or shoe molding. You will also want to add protection all doors when you reach the sanding phase, so keep some extra drop cloths on hand. Bauen likes 2 millimeter drop cloths because they have decent thickness and won’t rip easily. It is optional to tape trim edges, door frames and window frames if you don’t plan on painting them post-skim coating. Whatever you do, use painter specific tape!

3. Protect yourself. Wear your N-95 or P=N-100 sanding respirator and goggles when scraping, dusting and sanding. Even though you might not see the particles, they are DEFINITELY in the air and really like your eyes, nose and throat.

ALL ABOUT RESPIRATORS – Click to learn more.

Proper wall prep is essential for smooth walls. Do what applies to you.

How to skim coat a wall - peeling paintScrape raised areas using your painters tool and/or sand paper. Raised areas include old paint build up and peeling paint.

How to skim coat a wall - small holes in wallFill pin and nail sized holes with patching compound. Use your putty knife or 5 in 1 tool to remove putty from container and liberally cover hole. Let compound dry and then sand smooth using your fine sanding pad.

How to skim coat a wall - large holes in wallUse setting compound to fill holes larger than ¼”. Bauen likes the 90 minute setting compound. If you also have to patch small holes, you can use setting compound for that too.

5. Clean. Give your walls a good wipe down with a lightly damp microfiber cloth. Joint compound wont stick to dust.

Feeling adventurous? Prep your trim!

While you are at it prep your trim and molding at this time if you plan on painting these surfaces after skim coating. Why? You will already have the tools out and protection in place for sanding. This means ONE sanding dust clean up. We at Bauen don’t like to do things twice!

How to skim coat a wall - Prep Trim Gaps Holes
How to skim coat a wall - Prep Trim Cracks Paint Build Up
How to skim coat a wall - Prep Trim Peeling Paint
How to skim coat a wall - Prep Trim Gouged Trim
HOW TO REPAIR TRIM – Click to learn more.

Prep your product.

How to skim coat a wall - mixed joint compound
How to skim coat a wall -prepped skim coating products
6. Making some batter. Scoop 1/3 of the joint compound into your 5 gallon bucket and slowly add water in 1/4 cup increments. Mix with a drill bit mixer or by hand. The ultimate goal is to make a nice pancake batter consistency, think fluffy pancakes. No worries if you add too much water – just add some more compound! Make sure to keep the lid on the bucket. You want to keep that batter moist.

7. Almost ready. Put your 1/2″ nap roller on the roller handle and use tape to remove any excess nap. Get your 4 inch putty knife and squeegee ready go to. Fill your mud pan with compound as well as your paint tray with plastic liner. You are now ready to start. Stretch out those arm muscles and get excited!

Take the time to thoroughly protect your room. WEAR PROTECTION. Bauen recommends prepping your trim and molding at this time if you plan on painting the room.

How to skim coat a wall - person skim coating wall
How to skim coat a wall - joint compound


Who would have thought you could use a squeegee to skim coat a wall. The squeegee method is great because it allows you to smooth large areas of compound using a tool that is more forgiving when compared to the hawk and trowel method. The key to a successful squeegee job is using the correct pressure and angle. If your angle from the wall is to large or small then you might notice ripples in the compound. Your pressure should be light-medium and steady. If you press too hard, you will remove too much compound from the wall. The perfect pressure will leave behind a thin layer of compound and will wipe away the excess. Do a few practice passes to see what works for you.

The race against drying time. Work quickly!

1. Work in small sections. Bauen likes 3’x3′ sections – makes it manageable.

2. Edges. Pick a corner to start. Use your 4 inch putty knife to apply compound to the two (2) edges of your 3′ x 3′ working wall area. This will either be a corner or the edge of a trim. Extend the compound approximately 4-5″.

3. Get your roll on. Fill the roller with lots of joint compound. Don’t be shy. Roll the compound on the walls and make sure to overlap with the edge compound. You want to create a nice heavy texture on the walls. Think 1980’s popcorn ceiling. Refill as needed to cover your 3′ x 3′ area.

How to skim coat a wall - putty knife apply compound

How to skim coat a wall - rolling joint compound

4. Smooth it. Use your squeegee to smooth out the compound. Start at an edge and pull the squeegee to the across the textured area in both horizontal and vertical directions. It’s good to do both. If you notice compound build up on the squeegee clean it by scrapping excess into your mud pan and wiping off the remaining with a damp paper towel. Sometimes the tiniest piece of compound can leave a big streak. It might feel like you are removing a lot of compound, but don’t worry. This is a layering process. If the squeegee feels like it is “pulling” then it could indicate your compound is drying. Use your spray bottle and give it a little water spritz.

5. On to the next one. Move on to the next 3′ x 3′ area that is adjacent to the one you just completed. Repeat steps 2-4. There is a good chance the previous area’s compound has started to dry. In order to ensure a smooth transition between your working sections, give the previous section a little water spritz as the edge that will overlap your new section. Continue this process until you are done with the room.

How to skim coat a wall - squeegee skim coating layer

How to skim coat a wall - spray joint compound

6. Dry time. Time to take a break and rest those muscles. Dry times vary based on temperature and humidity. We say leave it alone for at least 12 hours and get some rest. How do you know it is dry? The compound will harden and turn white.

7. Light sand and clean. Do a quick inspection of your walls and lightly sand any raised areas. Wear your respirator! Gently wipe the sanded areas with a microfiber cloth. Let the dust settle before moving on. Clean your tools.

Just can’t get enough. Time for the next round.

8. Repeat steps 1-5 from above. Do exactly the same thing as above. Fun fun! If this is your last pass, you can apply a little extra compound on areas that might have more damage or are raised. Use your putty knife to do this. Also, very important to know – it also doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth. You will be sanding the entire surface once the compound dries.

9. Dry time. Time for another break. By now your arms are definitely feeling the burn. Let the compound dry thoroughly before sanding.

10. Sand. Put on your respirator, goggles and coveralls (optional). Use your extra fine sanding pad to sand the entire wall. Start in a corner and work your way to the opposite side. Use light to medium pressure. Don’t jump around because it can be hard to tell where did and did not sand. The goal is to remove the ever so slightly textured surface of the compound as well as any raised areas. Bauen recommends running your hand over the areas you sand to ensure its smoothness.

How to skim coat a wall - person sanding joint compound wall

How to skim coat a wall - person sanding rough joint compound

11. Wipe and inspect. Use your microfiber cloth to quickly wipe down the walls to remove excess dust. Examine the surface closely to find areas you missed. You might notice small pock marks. Pock marks can occur from air bubbles that form in the compound when applied to the wall. You can give these areas a little extra sanding but be aware of how much compound you are taking off. If you start to see wall underneath, STOP! It might be hard to see these in natural or overhead light so Bauen likes to hold a flashlight on an angle to catch any of these areas. The flashlight makes a big difference.

12. Almost there. Let the dust settle, then use your microfiber cloth to wipe down all surfaces starting from the top and working your way down to the baseboards. Let the dust settle again. Almost there!

13. Clean up. Give the baseboards another wipe. Often the dust can settle at the little ledge at the top. Pick a corner and slowly fold the drop cloth towards the center of the room. The goal is to collect all the dust within the drop cloth.

How to skim coat a wall - skim coating flashlight inspection

How to skim coat a wall - skim coating clean up

15. Congrats!  You are done! Time to paint your room. Painting will now be a breeze.

Speed with finesse. It will undoubtedly take a few passes to feel comfortable, but we promise you will get the hang of it and soon you will be doing your whole home.

Ready to make your walls smooth like new?

Time to take the guesswork out of what skim coating products to buy. Purchase our project kit that includes all the tools needed for a successful skim coating project.

person skim coating a wall
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