If you have walls that are inundated with slight imperfections and cracks, and it seems like it would take forever to go through and address each tiny problem individually, then perhaps you’re considering skim coating.
At first glance, it might seem like an easy fix to all your wall-related issues and give you a fresh start. But skim coating has numerous downsides, which might make you reconsider.
So today, we’re going to share some alternative wall finishing methods you can use instead of skim coating, which may be easier, cheaper, and provide better results than traditional skim coating.
The best alternatives to skim coating walls
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Skim coating is the process of taking diluted joint compounds and applying a very thin layer to the entirety of the wall. This gives the appearance of a brand-new and fresh interior wall finish for you to paint over, often saving you a lot of labor time compared to trying to salvage the old plaster.
Sound perfect, right? Well, there are a few caveats to using this process. First of all, it can result in additional labor time as you need to repaint the whole wall, it also tends to have the imperfections of the old plaster wall show up underneath as time passes, and it generally requires a good degree of skill to get that nice even surface.
So let’s walk through the most common alternatives to this wall-finishing method.
1. Wall lining paper
Not to be confused with just regular wallpaper, wall lining paper is specifically designed to be an underlayer that you can then paint over. It gives you easy access to an almost perfect blank canvas you can work over.
But it goes deeper than that if you truly want a flawless finish. For example, even if you want to use regular wallpaper, a common issue is that the seams will try to pull apart (also known as seam splitting) and you can end up with bubbles forming.
Papering straight over drywall is tricky and leaves you at risk of being left with a less-than-ideal finish.
So before applying wallpaper, using a lining paper underneath it first enables excess moisture to pass off to the lining paper, which is already attached, considerably reducing the amount of expanding and shrinking that happens during the wallpapering process, resulting in a much more pristine finish and perfect seams.
Another benefit is lining paper provides a securely flat surface that skims coating can’t. Sometimes hairline cracks and small divots can form after skim coating that, when papered over, will still show through. This cannot happen with lining paper, making it a much more desirable choice for creating that smooth wall finish.
Another small benefit is that it’s generally more durable as paper and paint are less likely to peel off or chip when applied to lining paper than to a direct skim coat wall finish. It also provides a small amount of insulation.
2. Filling and sanding
Whether filling and sanding down the imperfections of your wall makes a better choice than skim coating ultimately comes down to the extent of the filling required to make your wall perfectly flat.
Skim coating is generally used as a comprehensive solution to refinish an entire interior wall, and with that comes a lot of drying time and the fact you will need to repaint everything.
So if possible, filling and sanding can often be a quicker and less labor-intensive option, providing the number of filings needed is not too substantial.
While skim coating is considered a type of plastering, it’s technically an umbrella term for multiple plastering techniques.
But specifically, when we refer to finishing walls, the main difference between a skim coat and plastering is that a skim coat provides a very thin layer, usually less than 5mm, and is used as a quick finishing coat to cover any slight blemishes.
Plastering, on the other hand, uses a much coarser mortar, which depending on how thickly you can provide a finish that’s anywhere from 5mm to 30mm thick.
Which one is most appropriate for your particular walls will ultimately come down to its current state. A simple skim coat can efficiently address tiny imperfections of minor hairline cracks.
But if you have any significant chips or holes the in the wall, using a much thicker plastering mortar can fill all those more significant gaps. Plastering does a much better job of hiding all the base wall imperfections.
So should I bother using plastering if a skim coat will suffice?
You can use a plaster wall even if the quality of the wall is already very good. You must be mindful that a plastered surface is quite a bit more coarse than a skimmed surface, so you will often need a sanding pass before it’s ready to paint.
If you’re not interested in dealing with all the mess and labor involved with something like plastering, plasterboard presents another great alternative.
It has many benefits over wet plastering or skim coating because you don’t need to mix any compounds or smooth anything down. You can purchase the boards you need, cut them down to size, and then attach them to the wall. Easy!
A plasterboard wall doesn’t necessarily provide as smooth a finish as skim coating, and sometimes getting the seams to blend can be tricky. But the speed and ease of use a plasterboard wall provide often outweigh these negatives.
This is often a much better option for those not as skilled in DIY, as you don’t need any technique or skill to smooth everything down. It’s already done for you!
5. Sand down your old walls
Generally, when thinking about repairing or restoring walls, we think of additive repair. That is to say, adding extra material to the pre-existing wall.
But another straightforward way to address this (providing you have the thickness available on the existing wall) is by using sanding as a subtractive finishing method.
This involves sanding the entire wall back, using a powered orbital sander with 100-120 grit sandpaper across the surface to reverse the wear.
But be aware that this only works with minor imperfections; if there are deep holes or gouges, these need to be filled first.
6. Dabbing and dotting
One of the big drawbacks to skim coating is that you are dealing with the entire wall. It’s a lot of real estate to cover, and it can take a lot of effort to get everything looking uniform.
This is where a technique called dabbing and dotting comes in. As the name might suggest, instead of dealing with the entire wall, we are just going to ‘dab and dot’ filler into the areas that need addressing and then sand or scrape those small parts flat.
Fundamentally it’s a similar idea to skim coating but provided you have a keen eye. You can spot all those nooks and crannies that need filling. You can save yourself some time, energy, and money by only fixing up the parts that need fixing.
7. Paint them
This is the ultimate option for those who don’t have time to address the issue.
Providing the imperfections in your wall are pretty small, you’d be surprised how often just giving the wall a fresh coat of paint can completely hide and make it appear like a brand new wall.
This is a straightforward approach and, while perhaps not as effective as a skim coat, is one that doesn’t require any special skills or tools to do.
The pros and cons of skim coating
Skim coating is one of the most popular ways to spruce up an older-looking wall quickly. You don’t need to overthink it; you blast the entire thing with a small layer of thin plaster, and you’re ready to go.
But there are also plenty of reasons you might want to opt for one of the alternatives we have mentioned. So let’s look at the pros and cons of skim coating so you can decide whether an alternative technique might be more appropriate for your needs.
- It’s one of the cheapest methods, you only use a minimal amount of material, and it’s almost always cheaper than removing or replacing a wall.
- It creates a far smoother surface than plastering; in many cases, you can paint directly over it without needing to sand it.
- It’s easy. There’s a good reason this is used as an easy fix solution: you don’t need any special skills, and you don’t need to be able to spot repair any damage as you are just skimming the entire wall in one go.
- It provides the ideal undercoat for direct painting, meaning if you don’t want to prime the walls with a base coat, that’s ok. Painting direct to a skim coat works wonderfully!
- Time-consuming. As easy as the skim coating is, you’re still refinishing the entire wall, which makes it take quite a bit more manual labor time compared to a technique like dabbing and dotting.
- It doesn’t always hide surface imperfections. Skim coating can be considered a mild solution as it will hide all those mild imperfections, such as hairline cracks and minor dings. But anything more substantial will still show through as the layer applied isn’t thick enough.
- It takes quite a long time to dry. You need to leave the entire wall alone for the best part of a day before you can do anything with it. This makes it much slower than plasterboard, where you can go and repaint as soon as it’s applied.
How to choose the best alternative to skim coating
So now that we’ve walked through all the alternative methods to skim coating, taken a look at how they differ and what applications they may be more or less appropriate for. How should you go about deciding which method is best for you?
If your walls have suffered significant wear and you fear skim coating might not be enough to cover it, then we recommend plastering as it provides a thick coat that will hide even the most egregious of damage.
If you’re not too confident in your smoothing skills and want to ensure you can get a reasonably good finish, then plasterboards may be worth considering, as the surface is already pre-made for you. You need to get it on the wall.
Finally, if you’re not up for putting in too much labor yet still have some significant issues, dabbing and dotting work great at addressing all those imperfections without requiring you to refinish the entire wall.