6 ways to smooth walls without plastering

Try these ways to smooth walls without plastering – the best ways to prep your walls without needed a skim coat

A living room with teal walls and white sofa
(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

Yes, there are ways to smooth walls without plastering. Whether you are redoing just one room in your house, or are undertaking a gigantic whole-house renovation project, plastering walls is one of those tasks that even experienced DIYers often dread. Why? Because it’s so, so easy to make a mistake with your plastering, which will result in a bumpy wall. We would go as far as to say that, unless you’ve had years of practice, plastering is one of those jobs that is best left to professionals.

Budget doesn't always allow to call in the pros though. Yet messy walls will ruin the look of all of your hardwork elsewhere. 

So, if your heart is set on DIY renovation, though, but you really don’t want to be looking at skim coating walls, these are the ways to smooth walls without plastering. We’ve asked expert home renovators to give their pro tips. Here are their top no-skim wall prep methods. 

Plastering vs skimming: what is the difference? 

First, though, let’s settle the plastering vs. skimming confusion once and for all. Basically, when you hear that someone is attempting to plaster their own walls, they are most likely talking about skimming. Skimming is a plastering technique that uses a very thin layer of plaster that is spread over an existing layer of plaster to make an old wall smooth. Skimming is the plastering technique used to renovate old walls that do not need replacing in full. 

Plastering however will be necessary if the plaster is blown or damage is deep. This is most common in old homes where plaster has been applied to brick or block. If your rooms are dry wall, skim is often all that is needed.

There are other techniques and forms of plastering, some of them only used in new home construction. In this article, we refer to ‘skim coat’ and ‘plaster’ interchangeably, because we’re only talking about that thin layer of plaster used on old walls. 

 Ways to smooth walls without plastering 

Below are a number of DIY methods that will fix uneven walls. They require varying DIY skills but are all great for hiding cracks and imperfections, ready for painting.

1. Use a joint compound instead of plaster

Mike Baldicana, a  home improvement specialist  at Trekroofing (opens in new tab), advises using a joint compound (available from Amazon) (opens in new tab) and applying it with a trowel or putty knife instead of skimming. Working with a joint compound is easier than with plaster, although it isn’t thick and gives a similar finish. Baldicana recommends the following process:  

  • Apply a thin layer of joint compound to the wall.  
  • Use a putty knife or trowel to spread the compound evenly across the wall.
  • Allow it to dry for about an hour before sanding it down with sandpaper.
  • Repeat these steps until you're satisfied with your work.

 2. Sand your walls down with sandpaper 

Yes, sandpaper can be effective for smoothing old walls if you don’t want to mess around with plaster or any adhesives whatsoever. Rick Berres, Owner of remodeling company Honey-Doers (opens in new tab), recommends using 100-120 grit sandpaper (opens in new tab) for this purpose. He cautions, though, that this method is only going to work ‘If the paint was applied with proper coating’ and if you are getting rid of minor imperfections. ‘ 

If you have any areas with larger holes or cracks, you should fill those with a filler, before sanding them down to sit flush with your wall. ‘ 

Guest bedroom with blue upholstered bed against blue geometric feature wallpaper, blue bedside chest of drawers and pink throw

(Image credit: Chris Snook © Future)

3.  Use wall lining paper 

Wall lining paper (opens in new tab), or insulation paper as it’s sometimes called, can be a great solution if you’re not comfortable skimming your walls. It is basically the same as hanging wallpaper. You will still need to use adhesive to apply it, but thankfully you don’t have to get the skimming action perfect because the lining paper will mask any imperfections. You can either apply adhesive directly to the paper, or, to make it even easier, apply it to the wall and stick the lining paper on top. 

Once the lining paper is dry, you can begin painting or wallpapering your wall. 

4.  Try the dabbing and dotting technique 

Corey Morgan, a painting expert at Home Painting Co. (opens in new tab) recommends this technique as an alternative to full-wall plastering. Just dab on the plaster in a thin layer where it’s needed, smoothing it out with a putty knife or scraping tool as you go along. It won’t be perfect, but it’s much better than leaving holes and cracks in your walls. 

Bedroom with pink wall panelling, oak bed and bedside tables, white and brown themed artwork, floral and botanical bedding, and houseplants

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

5. Add wall paneling

For a whole new look, why not consider wall paneling? There are so many wall paneling ideas and while it is often thought of as a more traditional finish there are striking modern looks that can be achieved too.

Be it beadboard or wainscoting, it can be applied over old walls to cover a multitude of sins. Then you can paint it however you like.

6. Just paint your walls as they are  

Berres admits this is ‘not always ideal’, but in some cases, ‘If you cannot sand your walls for your desired effect, you may just want to either paint a wall or apply wallpaper for a smoother finish.’ Only you have seen the state of your walls, and ‘if your walls are in pretty good shape to begin with’, you may just get away with painting or wallpapering over what’s already there. In old homes you can pass this off as patina!

 What is a good alternative to plaster?

There are many alternatives to plaster, such as drywall, wood, and metal. Baldicana explains that ‘while each of these materials has its own benefits and drawbacks, the decision ultimately comes down to your needs. For example, drywall is often cheaper than plaster but it does not provide insulation.’ If you have the budget for it, plastering is generally better, even if it comes down to calling in a professional.  

How can I smooth a wall without a sander?

There are many ways to smooth a wall without a sander. Using sandpaper wrapped round blocks of wood for a level surface is one. 

Or a good coat of paint can act to smooth minor imperfections. According to Baldicana, ‘one of the most popular methods is to use a paint roller. This is because it gives you the smoothest finish and can be done quickly. To make sure your paint roller doesn't leave any marks on the wall, you should use a thin layer of paint and roll in one direction only. 

Top tip: ‘You can also use an old t-shirt or towel to clean off any excess paint from the roller after each stroke.’

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.