How to Smooth Textured Walls with a Skim Coat

Before moving to Texas and building a house, I didn’t realize the wide variety of texture finishes that are possible on drywall. Where I grew up in Utah, walls were always smooth, and the heavy texture that seems to be the norm in Texas and many other southern states feels unfinished to me. So, I’ve decided to tackle the texture myself by smoothing it out with a skim coat before I paint or wallpaper each room.

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I started the process in this small bathroom, where I was planning to add some fun jackalope wallpaper, but couldn’t wallpaper over the thick texture. After lots of research I determined that a simple skim coat would do the trick to smooth the walls enough to add the paper. Adding the skim coat to smooth the textured walls was super inexpensive and a very simple process.

You can hire a painter to smooth textured walls, but the cost for labor would have put the project out of my budget. The cost of supplies and doing it myself put the total investment around $50 and 5 hours. Not bad for the huge impact.

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Here is the bathroom before. I was told that the walls get this orange peel texture treatment to hide imperfections in the sheetrock seams, but I’ve lived in a lot of places with sheetrock and flat walls, so I’m not sure what is really going on. What I do know is that I don’t love it.

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How to Smooth Your Textured Walls

The process of smoothing textured walls with skim coating is fairly common. It refers to spreading a layer of joint compound over the walls to fill in the bumps and valleys in the texture, effectively creating a smooth surface. The texture itself is made of a spray-on joint compound, and since my walls were painted with a flat paint, I had no prep work before I got started. I looked at a few tutorials before attempting on my own, and as I began I actually developed a little different method that really worked quickly and easily.

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Step by Step Instructions for Smoothing Textured Drywall

To smooth your textured walls with a skim coat, you will need:
– All-Purpose Joint Compound (I got mine at Home Depot in the box, and next time I’ll get the bucket for ease.)
– 10-12 inch taping knife
– 14 inch mud pan
– smaller putty knives for details

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First, scoop some of the pre-mixed compound into the mud pan. It has the texture of creamy peanut butter. The process of layering it onto the wall is also a little like smoothing peanut butter onto a piece of bread and going all different directions until it stays perfectly smooth.

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Once you have the mud in the pan, use the longer taping knife to scoop a couple inches of compound up, then with the mud facing the wall, simply spread in a smooth motion down the wall.

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You’ll find that the long taping knife makes creating a smooth surface pretty simple. Scraping right on top of the existing texture, pulling the compound down the wall will start to fill the holes in the texture and create a smooth surface.

Work in about a 2-foot area by pulling the compound down and down, then back and forth in smooth motions until it begins to set a little bit. As it dries, the compound becomes harder to scrape, so the final swipes with the taping knife can create a fairly smooth surface without a bunch of seam lines.  You can see the difference between the skim-coated surface on the bottom of this shot, and the textured wall below. What a difference!

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You can see that the compound can have bubbles in it, and you may notice some air bubbles forming as you spread the mud on the walls. Don’t worry, you’ll easily be able to smooth those out further as the coating dries, and even add more mud if you need to.

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As you finish spreading in one area, scoop another inch or so of mud and move onto the next area. With the large knife and some efficient scraping, you’ll be able to make great time. I was able to start and finish the bathroom skim coat in about 4 hours.

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To skim coat around the tile and fixtures, I taped it all off as I would have had I been painting. The joint compound is super easy to clean-up once it’s dry, because it’s basically dried powder. I used the ladder to reach the tops of the walls. I decided against skim coating the ceiling (I’m planning to add some wood planks eventually).

Once the skim coat has dried, examine it for major rough areas, or fallen globs of mud. These can all be carefully smoothed with some sandpaper. Once the walls are smoothed and sanded, you’re ready to paint or add wallpaper!

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I love the finished look of my smooth, wallpapered walls. You can find more details about this guest bathroom here, and see some more walls I smoothed to paint in my newly redesigned Indoor Patio Room!

Good luck with your own wall-smoothing project!

3 Responses

  1. Patricia Anderson

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I need to redo my bathroom as well but didn’t know quite how to get rid of the textured walls in there. This will be great to use as a reference.

  2. Marc

    Thanks. I kind of figured this out myself when I was debating what to do about a wall that was painted (not by me) with a 3/8″ nap roller instead of the foam roller I provided.
    I don’t like orange peel textured walls created with the usual nap roller. My first thought was to sand the wall down as best as I could, esp. to remove the lint left from the roller.
    Then I thought why not put a skim coat of joint compound before painting. The sanding is tedious but it’s only one wall and not that long, with a window and doorway too. The long and short of it, I’m doing both to make sure I get the look I want (yes, I will use primer first!).
    It was a lesson learned to listen to my gut and do the job myself!

    • Lauren Pezzullo

      We’re glad to hear that it worked out for you, Marc. Thanks for sharing!

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