Tutorial: Painting the Baseboards

Window and door casings, as well as crown molding, are just a few examples of interior trim that can be painted to give a room a new, modern look. And the same logic applies to baseboards. One of the most noticeable changes you can make to the look of a room is to paint the baseboards. You can't beat the way a freshly painted baseboard makes a room look.

You can paint baseboards with either latex or oil-based paint, but latex (water-based) paint is much more maintenance-friendly. Whether you're using latex or oil-based paint, you can choose from a variety of sheen levels, but a slightly glossy finish is recommended for baseboards because it's more scratch-resistant and easier to clean than a flat finish. Baseboards look best when painted in a semi- or high-gloss finish.

In most cases, baseboards are painted after they have been installed. When painting the baseboards, it is sometimes more convenient to remove them and do so in a different area.

For homes that are relatively new or have not been extensively remodeled over the years, removing the baseboards is as simple as prying them off with a thin pry bar and your fingers. In fact, baseboards are typically removed and replaced by professionals who sand wood floors as standard procedure. A lot of the time, it's not much more work and the end result is much more pleasing to the eye.

Always paint the baseboards before installing them if they haven't already been done. It's to be expected that the paint job will sustain some minor damage during installation. Installing the baseboards comes after most of the painting has been completed.

If the wall-to-baseboard joint in your older home has many layers of paint, removing the baseboards may cause damage to the wall that is difficult to repair. The wall paint and possibly the drywall paper or plaster above it will be ripped up with the baseboard paint as it is ripped. Scoring along the seams with a utility knife can reduce damage as you pry free old baseboards if you decide to remove them.

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The Spruce receives payment from the following partnerships for the offers listed in the table below.

  • TSP, or trisodium phosphate
  • Masking tape
  • As-needed masking film
  • Wood putty
  • The use of a sanding sponge or fine-grit sandpaper
  • Primer
  • Latex paint, either semi- or highly-glossy

Author(s): Margot Cavin.

  1. When painting over previously painted baseboards, it is especially important to clean the surfaces thoroughly (open-pore wood baseboards should not be cleaned with water). One of the dirtiest parts of a home is the area near the floor, where dirt and grime accumulate.

    Drop cloths should be laid out to shield the floor. Use a bucket to prepare a trisodium phosphate (TSP) solution as directed on the packaging. Scrub the baseboards with the cleaning solution and a sponge. Dust collects easily on flat surfaces, so wipe down the tops of the baseboards.

    TSP is an effective chemical cleaner and deglosser for a wide range of surfaces. Due to the slight etching action, glass, mirrors, and aluminum can all be damaged. Furthermore, it has the potential to dull high-gloss floor finishes. TSP is highly corrosive and can cause severe burns. When handling TSP, it's crucial to always wear protective gear like goggles, gloves, and long sleeves.

    An excerpt from Margot Cavin's The Spruce

  2. Apply wood filler with a putty knife to large dents and holes that have appeared over time before attempting to remove the paint. The depressions in your nails should be filled, but the tiny ones at the tips can be left alone. It may be simpler to simply paint over the tiny divots left by a brad nailer if the sink depth was properly calibrated. Wood filler should be used to conceal the holes left by finish nails if the baseboards were installed by hand.

    Author(s): Margot Cavin.

  3. Before priming, smooth any areas where wood putty or filler was used and any rough spots on older baseboards. In most cases, sanding by hand with a piece of sandpaper is adequate, though a flexible sanding sponge may also be used.

    With older baseboards that have likely seen multiple coats of paint, sanding is more of a necessity.

    Margot Cavin's The Spruce

  4. The lower edge of the wall right above the baseboards, as well as the transition between the floor and the baseboards, should be taped off with low-stick painter's tape. It takes time to mask off areas to be painted, but the end result is a job that is done more quickly and with fewer brush strokes. A single strip of painter's tape along the baseboard may be all that's necessary to prevent paint from seeping through if you're a careful painter. Because of the difficulty in removing the masking tape from the floor after the paint has dried, careful application of the paint is still required, even when using masking.

    Use masking film to prevent paint from seeping under the baseboard and onto the wall. Spread the film upward from the point where it meets the wall and baseboards using the masking tape edge as a guide. Static electricity will cause the film to adhere to the wall by itself.

    To avoid the use of masking tape, some painters prefer to "freehand" when painting baseboards. Painting baseboards using the cut-in method (without masking off surfaces) is much more challenging than painting easily accessible door and window trim. The horizontal plane of the wall makes masking off the baseboards a breeze.

    Summary of The Spruce by Margot Cavin

  5. If your baseboards did not come primed from the manufacturer or if the wood surface is not raw, you must prime them before painting. It is not always necessary to prime previously primed or painted baseboards if the cleaned surface is in good condition.

    To prepare the primer, combine its components thoroughly. Prime the baseboards using horizontal strokes after dipping the brush in the primer (but not too deeply, or you'll get drips and runs).

    Holding the brush between thumb and forefinger like a pen, and moving it in a horizontal motion with the tips of the bristles slightly depressed against the baseboard, is the most effective way to paint. Paint should cover about a third of the bristle length on the brush. It's best to paint with long, slow strokes. Keep a wet edge as you work your way along the baseboard, going back over freshly painted edges before they dry. With this, you can avoid lap marks.

    Please follow the manufacturer's instructions for drying the primer.

    "The Spruce" by Margot Cavin.

  6. You may want to take your paint can in for a good shaking if it has been sitting for more than a few days. Or, after you've opened the can, give it a good stir. Put the can's top in a safe location away from your desk.

    Similar to priming, avoid dipping the brush more than a third of the way into the paint. Use less paint than you think you'll need for the first coat. Paint the baseboards by dragging the brush in long strokes along their length. Keep a wet edge as you overlap the strokes to avoid lap marks.

    Wrap your paintbrush in plastic food wrap or an old plastic bag and secure it with a rubber band in between coats to keep it from drying out. The paintbrush should be kept in a cool, dark place or the refrigerator's isolated crisper drawer between coats.

    The baseboards need at least one full day to dry after the first coat. Apply another coat of paint once the first one has dried. Before applying a second coat of high-gloss paint, some artists prefer to give the surface a light scuff with fine sandpaper. This provides "tooth" to the smooth surface, allowing the second coat to better adhere.

    Put the painter's tape back on after it has dried as directed.

    Margot Cavin's The Spruce

  7. You should wash your paintbrushes, rollers, and storage containers with soap and water before you use them again. Take care of your brush and it will last you for years.

    Meg MacDonald, The Spruce

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