When painting a property for use by renters, you need a color palette that is as neutral as possible. Cream, ivory, and white are all good choices.

Because renters can be hard on the carpet, you’ll want a fairly saturated color on the floor.

If you have a warm color on the floor, put a warm color on the walls. If your carpet is a deep gray or anything close to blue, use white on the walls.

rental agent and tenant in a vacant apartment


Key takeaways

  • For rental properties, use a color palette that is neutral.
  • Cream, Ivory, and white are the best options.
  • For rooms that get a lot of direct light, warm colors are best.
  • Shades such as Alpine and Raw Sugar are great options for a warmer color palette.
  • For rooms with indirect light, cool colors are best.
  • Consider using the Zinsser Perma-White Semi-Gloss Paint as a cool color.
  • Avoid flat paints including eggshell.
  • Use paint that you can wash and aim for a satin finish.

Prepping For a Light Wall Color

You will want a washable paint on the walls. To get the best results, you will need to wash the walls as they are. Use a mild dish soap in a bucket of warm water and a large sponge to remove dirt and grease. Carry a pencil or a roll of masking tape.

woman washing a wall with sponge

As you notice holes or dings in the sheetrock, make a small mark beneath it on the painted baseboard or put down a dab of tape in the same spot so you can come back and patch.

Before you begin patching, rinse the walls. Using a new sponge and a fresh bucket of clean water, simply drag a damp sponge down the wall you just washed.

Flip the sponge along the way and rinse it thoroughly before you move to the next section. Washing and rinsing walls is not exciting, but it is a great way to review the condition of the walls overall and get a better cling out of your paint.

Once the walls have dried completely, review your ticks or tape markings to carefully patch holes. Even a tiny nail hole will stand out on a freshly painted wall; be thorough.

Joint compound or spackle will work, just let it dry and sand it with fine grit sheetrock sandpaper for a smooth finish before you prime the walls.

Cream and Ivory colors wall art above a sofa
Cream and Ivory colors are best for rental properties

Priming Is the Critical First Step

Putting up a light wall color without priming is often an exercise in frustration. If you choose not to prime the entire wall, do make sure that you prime all your patches with a small roller for an even finish under your topcoat.

There are many primers that can also serve as a topcoat, though they tend to be bright white tones and on the cool side.

Primer clings to pretty much everything. If you haven’t bought a plastic face shield and a good hat, do so now. Mask thoroughly and roll it on with 1/2″ nap rollers. Be prepared to discard these rollers.

painting a wall with primer using a roller

It may be possible to get paint out but primer will hang in there to the bitter end. Use a medium-quality brush along the edges and in the corners.

In my toolkit, once a brush has been used for primer it’s always a primer brush.

While you prime, study how light appears in the space. If the rooms get a lot of direct light, warm colors will likely be best.

If the majority of the light coming in is indirect, cooler colors may serve better. While many landlords like to put up some type of window treatment to increase security and privacy.

Try to study this step with the windows open and uncovered.

If you still need to purchase flooring and window treatments, study how the light looks against the existing flooring. Is the brown carpet warm in the sunlight, or does it just look dirty?

Most rental homes will look very nice when painted in a slightly warm color, but if the light in your area is cool, a bright white may be a better choice.

white color wall art above a desk
White is a great option for rental properties

Whenever possible, let your primer dry overnight at the least. As noted above, this paint is formulated to cling and even be a bit tacky.

If it hasn’t dried completely, you may end up pulling it off the wall with your topcoat roller, which will mean another patch.

Focus on Sheen

For your topcoat, avoid flat paint and be very careful with eggshell. A paint you can wash will serve you well in your rental house and that means at least a satin finish.

empty apartment with natural light

Use new 1/2″ rollers to apply this and try not to put a great deal of pressure on the roller as you work it across the wall. You can paint stripes into your finished project by leaving paint stripes squished out at the edge of the roller.

If you’re not sure, choose a mildew-resistant paint for the kitchen and bath and get the same tone in a satin finish for the rest of the house. Don’t share tools between these two finishes. If you’re painting the trim the same color, use a semi-gloss.

Satin finish paint and the mildew resistant paint both have a bit of shine to them. If you’re cutting in the edges with a brush, work in narrow columns to avoid leaving brush marks at the corner where the wall meets the ceiling or in the corners where walls come together.

If the bathrooms or kitchens you’re painting have very narrow wall sections, buy narrow rollers to get an even finish. It may be tempting to paint a bathroom just with a brush when you’re in a hurry, but you likely will not be happy with the end result when it dries.

Alpine is great for a warmer color palette

For cabinets, doors, and frames, as well as baseboards, use a tiny foam roller for the smoothest finish. Not only will these tiny rollers produce a very smooth finish, but they take very little paint to brighten up a door or a stretch of trim.

If at all possible, take doors and cabinet doors off the hinges and lay them across sawhorses so you can paint them flat for a beautiful finish.

If you’re waiting to put down new flooring until the painting is done, be prepared to touch up the baseboard trim when the carpet is laid. It’s almost impossible to put down new flooring without scarring up the trim in at least one spot.

girl pointing to beige, cream, ivory colors

Be the First to Put Holes in the Walls

Put up a basic curtain rod and hang simple sheers or tab curtains on it; cream canvas tab curtains can be found for very little money and will work well with almost any hanging hardware.

No, the tenant may not choose to use them. However, an overeager tenant in their first new apartment can make a terrible mess of your freshly painted walls as they try to hang their own window treatments.

Even if they choose to swap out the drapes, encourage them to use the same hardware to avoid unnecessary damage.

Color Name to Consider

For cool colors, consider the straight-up Zinsser Perma-White Semi-Gloss Paint. You can also get the same finish and product line in a tintable formula.

Shades such as Alpine and Raw Sugar would be a lovely option for a warmer color palette.

Final Tip: If you’re using just one color and finish from one producer, buy the big buckets and get a paint stirring tool you can chuck into a drill to keep the color consistent.

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