Here are the tools that are worth the money—plus the gimmicks to avoid.

By Caylin Harris
May 08, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

When it comes to painting tools, if it sounds too good to be true, then it usually is. There’s really no substitute for quality painting tools, adequate preparation, and careful work. “One of the easiest things to remember about paint tools is that you get what you pay for,” says Lou Manfredini, home expert for Ace Hardware. “The biggest mistake I see homeowners make is that they buy cheap tools that don’t give them good results, or they buy cheap paint—then they end up with a poor finished product.” Here are some of his favorite must-have paint products for a flawless finish. We've broken it down into three categories: the 11 painting tools everyone should own, four that will help with necessary wall repairs, and the five painting products you can probably do without.

Must Have: Wall cleaner

You want to work with a clean surface, since a dirty wall could prevent the paint from adhering or cause the paint to bubble. “I like to use a classic cleaner, Spic and Span, with a little bit of water and a sponge to get any surface dirt off the walls before I paint,” says Manfredini.

Must Have: Painter’s tape

While purchasing a quality painter’s tape like 3M or Frogtape is important, it’s more about how you apply it. Once it’s on the wall, run a damp rag over the edge to create a seal. Pay attention to the release dates, or when the tape needs to come off by, it varies from 15 to 30 days.

Must Have: Brushes

A 2 1/2-inch angled brush was made for painting trim and cutting in. Look for quality brands like Wooster, Purdy, and Benjamin Moore.

Must Have: Rollers

A standard 9-inch roller with a synthetic core and 3/8-inch nap is a classic. “Test the core, take your thumb and index finger and push down on each side on the end of the roller. You shouldn’t be able to close that opening,” says Manfredini. “Ace and Shur-Line both make quality roller covers. Mini paint roller frames are also convenient for working around small spaces.”

Must Have: Cloth drop cloths

“Sure, it’s a little more expensive to buy canvas, but if you’re going to take on a painting job, you’ll have these for the rest of your life,” says Manfredini. “Get the 4-foot-wide runner length to use near the walls.”

Must Have: Paintbrush cleaner

It ensures that painting newbies get their quality brushes completely clean for future use.

Must Have: Clear plastic bucket

It’s easier to pour paint into these containers than to work from a quart or gallon.

Must Have: Roller trays

Instead of metal, buy a heavy-duty plastic tray. They’re rigid, but when you go to clean them, the latex paint doesn’t stick and comes right off.

Must Have: Roller extension pole

An extendable two-foot roller extension should work in most spaces, but keep the height of your ceiling in mind when shopping for supplies.

Must Have: Sturdy ladder

A standard six-foot aluminum or fiberglass ladder that fits your weight specifications (don’t forget that you need to add on approximately how much you’ll be carrying up it) is a good investment piece.

Must Have: Touch-up tool

For quick paint touch-ups around the house, invest in the Shur-Line Touch Up Painter, available at hardware stores. “If your walls take a lot of abuse, this little gadget holds extra paint for easy touch ups,” says Manfredini.

For wall repairs: Pre-mixed spackling

It works for most patching jobs and nail holes. Look for DAP Fast n’ Final or Drydex, since both dry quickly and are easy for novice painters to use. Drydex is especially cool, because it goes on pink and then turns white when it’s dry, so you never have to guess. You’ll also want caulk for filling in gaps between the walls and trim.

For wall repairs: Putty knife and taping knife

Skip the 7-in-1 tool. Instead, you’ll want a two-inch putty knife and a six-inch wide taping knife, both with flexible blades. They’ll help patch cracks and apply joint compound.

For wall repairs: Fiber mesh tape

Ideal for covering larger holes, look for versions from Hyde, Purdy, or Shur-Line.

For wall repairs: Flexible sanding sponges

A medium and fine grit sponge can handle most jobs. “If you don’t want to make a lot of dust by sanding, skip the sandpaper and smooth your spackle out with a damp sponge and warm water,” says Manfredini. “It will get the job done with zero dust.”

Skip it: Paint key

You don’t need a special tool to open your paint cans; a standard flat-head screwdriver works just fine.

Skip it: Plastic tube to cover a wet roller

If you’re done painting for the day but want to pick it back up tomorrow, cover the roller in plastic wrap, then throw it into a plastic bag with an air-tight seal.

Skip it: Plastic tray liners

These aren’t necessary if you get a quality hard plastic paint tray. Plus, it's less wasteful if you don't throw away a plastic liner each time you paint.

Skip it: Paint pads

Skip these, unless you’re using it to paint behind hard-to-reach areas like a toilet tank or radiator.

Skip it: Anything with paint in the handle

“Any gadget that sucks paint up into its handle is a nightmare to use and to clean. In the time it takes to refill it, you could already be painting,” says Manfredini.