Step 6: Masking (Taping) the House and Placing Drop Cloths

Go on to Step 7: Brushing and Rolling or Spray Painting the House

Time required:

4-8 hours for an average size house, but it depends on whether you are spray painting or brushing and rolling.

Equipment list:


*Tape, paper, and plastic quantities are house-dependent and will vary.

Masking the house and arranging drop cloths, also known (by me at least) as “masking and dropping,” is the process of using tape, plastic, paper, and drop cloths to protect all surfaces on which you don’t want to get paint. This includes windows, doors, decks, driveways, rooflines . . . you want all these areas to be kept clean if you’re going to paint your house right!


When you “drop and mask” an area, you use a combination of tape, plastic, paper, and drop cloths to cover and protect every surface on which you don’t want to get paint. There are dozens of handy tricks and techniques to dropping and masking, but the main thing is to be thorough because it will pay off in the end with a more professional looking paint job and far less time spent cleaning dried paint off places you don’t want it (a contemptible task).

I recommend spending a little money on a professional-grade “hand masker” (and blade) at the paint store. A masker is a tool that dispenses paper and tape simultaneously, and it is one of the most essential pieces of equipment in a painter’s tool bucket. Have the employee at the store show you how to use it, and remember you need to buy paper and tape. I recommend using 9-inch masking paper and one-inch tape for most exterior masking. You should also purchase several rolls of 1.5-inch blue and white tape for all the miscellaneous taping you’ll need to do, and also a roll of duct tape for sealing off concrete, brick, roof shingles, and other hard-to-stick-to surfaces.

Good medium-grade white masking tape will do for most exterior purposes, but you’ll want to buy some of the expensive blue stuff if either of these situations exist: 1) You plan on leaving the tape on vinyl window and door frames for more than a few days (especially if it’s baking in the sun), or 2) You are taping the glass on your wood windows before painting them. Definitely use blue tape whenever you’re taping to glass.

Masking is kind of like wrapping presents: You just make sure everything is covered and taped shut. Use the masker to protect any small items adjoined to the siding: cable boxes, meters, light fixtures, etc. As you mask, keep a roll of 1-inch tape around your wrist like a bracelet because you’ll frequently need to peel off strips to seal up the gaps between pieces of paper. (I like to keep 6 or 7 short tabs stuck to my shirt for easy grabbing.) Also, carrying along a duster brush is a good idea so you can wipe away dust before taping.

When masking off windows and doors, your thoroughness will be influenced by whether you are spraying or brushing and rolling. If you’re spraying you need to completely seal them off, so use the 1.5-inch tape and a roll of lightweight .31 mil thick, 9-foot-tall “painters plastic” to tightly cover all the windows and doors (see video). If you are using the roller-and-brush method, you can probably get away with draping a piece of 12-inch paper across the top of each window and door frame like an awning to protect it from splatters raining down from above—but this will also cost you time later because you’ll have to carefully “cut in” around the window and door frames.

You also want to mask and drop any surfaces that abut the siding or are directly below where you’ll be painting, such as decks, concrete, rooflines, etc. After you mask for a while you will develop your own system of present-wrapping to make this all happen. Purchase a brand new neon-plastic razor knife (not a utility knife) at the paint store to slice pieces of plastic; the knife will cost you a couple bucks and it’s money well spent.

As for drop cloths, I suggest you buy several large, professional-grade canvas drop cloths (9′ x 12′ and 12′ x 15′ are good sizes, and a 4′ x 12′ “runner” drop cloth can also be helpful). Paint won’t leak through these easily, so use them on critical surfaces directly below wherever you are painting, like driveways, sidewalks, and decks (and it’s still a good idea to wipe up big drips to prevent any possibility of paint leaking through).

Supplement these bombproof “drops” with whatever random old sheets and blankets you can gather (paint will easily bleed through these, so only spread them on less-critical periphery items like bushes, drain pipes, etc.). You can also use those ubiquitous big blue plastic tarps from the hardware store to cover certain areas if you are spraying, but remember to never set an extension ladder on a plastic drop cloth because the feet might slip and you’ll go for a ride, maybe even crash through a window and land in the living room. That’s going to slow down the job.

Try to have enough drop cloths on hand to completely “drop off” at least one side of the house (and a little bit around each corner if you’re spraying). You’ll have to move the whole drop-cloth network along with you as you paint your way around the house. While this masking and dropping process takes time, it actually saves time in the end because it prevents you from having to think about anything except painting when you are painting, allowing you to really let the material fly.

Go back to Exterior Painting Videos 

Go on to Step 7: Painting the House with a Brush and Roller or Spray Painting the House