Is a Paint Sprayer Worth It?

Using a paint sprayer is more involved than you might think. Here’s the lowdown.

You’ll need to prep for errant spray. Airless sprayers, in particular, tend to have a lot of what’s called overspray because of the velocity caused by the high pressure. Some paint will bounce off the surface you’re spraying and can land anywhere, from floor to ceiling to windows. So you’ll have to set aside time to mask/prep areas you likely wouldn’t need to if you were using a roller or brush. That includes windows, floors, and molding indoors, and trim details and hardscaping (brick patios, stone walls, wooden arbors, etc.) outdoors.

“Generally, it can take at least three times as much time to mask when you’re using a sprayer versus a brush or roller,” says Don Easton, a painter in Woodland, Calif. Keep in mind that masking may take less time with a brush and roller, but the actual painting will take a lot longer than it would if you used a sprayer.

The paint and maybe the sprayer itself need to be prepped. You can’t just stir the paint the way you can when you brush or roll. In less-powerful HVLP systems, a thicker paint, like paint-and-primer-in-one, usually needs to be thinned with water or an appropriate paint additive. Even powerful airless systems need the paint to be strained, a job you’ll need to do at home. 

“A lot of times people don’t strain the paint first,” says Trevor Hayward, a painter in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Then you get a paintball that will clog up your gun or your tip.” 

If you’re using one of the larger machines, you’ll also need to prime the sprayer, which means filling its hose with the paint or stain before you can start attacking the project.

Outdoor jobs may be impeded by wind. While all paint reacts to heat and humidity, wind can make a mess with a sprayer. A lot of pros will move parked cars and use drop cloths to protect things like a driveway or plantings when spraying the outside of a house with an airless sprayer. You should take similar precautions. Wind can pick up during a project and you don’t want to have to stop and rush to protect an area you just sprayed or didn’t plan on spraying.

Cleanup for most finishes can be easy. Like a quality roller or brush you hope to use again, all sprayers need to be properly cleaned after each use. If you’re using a water-based paint or stain, tidying the gun afterward is relatively simple. 

“You can clean these up a lot faster than you think,” says Jon Beaton, vice president of product management at Wagner. Provided it’s basically empty, “just dump it in the sink with hot, soapy water.” However, if you’re using an oil-based coating, you’ll have to spray a solvent—like mineral spirits—to remove any paint from a sprayer, and then run the tool again with water to remove the solvent.