How to Paint Baseboards

Freshly painted baseboards can refresh the look of an entire room.

<p>Studio Light and Shade/Getty Images</p>

Studio Light and Shade/Getty Images

Baseboards can add architectural interest and charm to any room. And they can also protect your walls from potential damage caused by vacuuming and sweeping, as well as bumping chairs and tables up against the walls. However, all of this knocking about can eventually cause so much damage that merely cleaning the baseboards is not enough to remove the scuff marks. Or, you may be renovating your home and adding new baseboards that need to be painted. Whatever the reason, here’s everything you need to know about painting baseboards.

Related: How to Paint a Wall Like a Pro

Considerations Before You Get Started

Keeping these tips in mind can result in a professional-looking paint job. Krystal Mindeck, director of product marketing at HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams, recommends using a high-quality paint that’s built for durability. “Higher sheens like satin, semi, or high-gloss paints are typically a better choice in durability for high traffic areas like baseboards that may be susceptible to scuffs or dust build up,” she tells me.

Also, make sure you have enough time to devote to the paint projects. It may be tempting to just rush through it, but Mindeck recommends allowing each coat of primer or paint to dry completely before you apply a second coat. “If you aren’t sure how much time to allow in between each application, check the manufacturer’s instructions that correspond to the product you are using,” she says.

In fact, you shouldn’t rush through any of the steps, according to Craig Thomas, virtual handyperson expert at Frontdoor, and this includes cleaning or prepping the area, as well as fixing any damaged areas. “Painter’s tape is there to protect your home and belongings from drips, as well as to keep paint contained where you want it to be – so don’t think of the tape as an overlap area to paint on,” he explains. So, you should stay within the lines and avoid painting over the baseboard onto the tape.

Finally, Thomas recommends painting one room at a time, rather than all at one time.

What You’ll Need

  • Paint/primer/top coat

  • Painter’s tape

  • Drop cloth/masking paper/plastic tarp

  • Paint brushes, small brush rollers

  • Vacuum with wand attachment

  • Wood filler/spackling compound/caulk

  • Sanding paper

  • Sponge and warm water

  • Vinegar

  • Flat edge scraper/small squeegee/utility blade


Step 1: Prep the Area

The first step in painting your baseboards is to prep that area. “Lay down a drop cloth, plastic sheeting, or other material to protect hard flooring or carpeting from spills and drips, and run a line of tape where the baseboard and the flooring meet to hold in place,” says Gregory Pittman, director of commercial painting services at Five Star Painting. He also recommends keeping a damp cloth nearby to immediately clean up any messes.

Step 2: Clean the Baseboards

Before you whip out the paint brush, take a giant step back and clean the baseboards. “Start by vacuuming them with a wand attachment to remove dirt and debris,” Thomas says. This should be followed by wiping them down with a solution of warm water and vinegar.

Step 3: Inspect the Baseboards

The next step is to closely inspect the baseboards to see if they’re damaged. Thomas says you can use a wood filler to fill any dings or scratches. However, he warns against overfilling the holes, as you’ll need to sand more. (Mindeck says you can use a lightweight spackling compound to fill holes, dents, and cracks.)

Step 4: Sand the Baseboards

After filling the cracks and dings in the baseboard, let the wood filter or compound dry, and then sand the surface and then wipe it clean again. “This will create a smooth starting surface,” Mindeck says.

Step 5: Check the Caulk

Also, check the condition of the caulk. If it’s not in good condition, Thomas recommends applying caulk where needed and allowing it to dry before painting. If the baseboard has not been caulked between the bottom of the baseboard and floor, you will want to leave a 1/8” gap between the tape and the baseboard,” he says. Thomas says you’ll want to fill that gap with caulk before painting on non-carpeted floors. “Acrylic latex-based caulk works best on baseboards,” he says.

Step 6: Apply Painter’s Tape

To protect your floors, Thomas recommends 2” wide painter’s tape to be placed on the floor along the bottom of the baseboard trim, and says you should secure it every couple of feet before continuing onto the next section. “Use a flat edge scraper or small squeegee to firmly press the tape down to the surface.” And if you’re using a different paint color for the wall versus the baseboard, he says you should also place tape above the baseboard.

Mindeck stresses that you should use longer—rather than shorter—pieces of tape to minimize gaps and reduce the chance of paint sneaking through.

Step 7: Apply Primer or Paint

If the trim is made of fresh or previously stained wood, Mindeck recommends applying a primer, like HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams Door & Trim Acrylic Urethane Enamel.Start applying the topcoat by using an angled brush to cut in along the top and bottom of the baseboard with a thin layer of paint,” she says. “Then use a small roller or brush to apply the coating to the remaining baseboard surface, allowing the paint to fully dry.”

Pittman recommends using a high-quality, angled paint brush. “Begin by loading the brush with paint approximately two-thirds of the way up the brush and dab against the container to remove any excess,” he advises.

Depending on the size of the baseboard, Thomas says you can use a 1 ½” angled paint brush for trim up to 2” with intricate details. “You’ll want to use the angled brush for this application—for most trim, a 2” to 2 ½” angled brush works well,” he explains.

Regarding technique, Thomas recommends using long, overlapping strokes. “Don’t over dip the brush in paint, as this causes runs and a messier finish.” He says you can also purchase a small roller and roller pad to go along with the brush.

Pittman agrees that you should use long strokes, adding that you should work in small sections and avoid going back and forth over the same area. “Allow the first coat to dry thoroughly before determining if a second one is needed,” he says.

Step 8: Remove the Painter’s Tape

After you’ve finished painting, and the painter’s tape has dried, you can remove it. “You may have to use a utility blade or straightedge to carefully cut the dried paint and remove the tape,” Thomas says.  “If you’re removing painter’s tape from carpet, take a straight edge and run it along the bottom of the baseboard to free the tape from the baseboard,” he explains.

Painting Baseboards on Carpet vs. Hard Floors

So, what’s different when you’re painting the baseboards if you have carpet versus hard floors? According to Mindeck, the biggest difference is the level of protection and preparation needed to ensure the paint doesn’t drip or spill onto the flooring. “If possible, remove baseboards from the carpeted surfaces and paint baseboards on sawhorses to ensure the carpeted surfaces stay clean,” she advises. “If the baseboards have to stay in place on a carpeted floor or if working over hardwood, carefully apply a floor protector to help keep any drips or spills off the floor.”

Thomas agrees that the big difference is in prep. “For carpet, it is best to use a drop cloth or plastic, as you can slide the cloth or plastic under the baseboard between it and the carpet.” If you don’t have a cloth, he says you can use 2-3” wide painter’s tape along the floor. “When applying the tape, overlap 1” up onto the baseboard then take that extra 1” and push it under the baseboard with a flat edge.” This will protect the carpet from any drips or paint runs.

With hardwood floors, Thomas says you want to ensure that the baseboard has been caulked between the baseboard and the floor. “If it has not been caulked, then leave a 1/8” gap between the tape on the floor and the baseboard; fill that area with caulk and allow it to dry,” he says.

Pittman adds that when painting baseboards over carpet, you can use the painter’s tape and plastic sheeting or a guard to prevent paint from staining the carpet. “For hard floors, you can use painter's tape or a drop cloth for protection without worrying about the paint seeping into fibers.”

A Note on Painter’s Tape

While painter’s tape can help you achieve clean lines, Pittman admits that it can be tricky to apply and even trickier to remove. “To successfully paint trim without tape, load your angled brush with paint and rest it near, but not touching, the edge of your trim,” he says.

Then, Pittman recommends applying gentle pressure to push the paint as close to the edge as possible—without going over—and then glide the brush along the surface. “Pull it in a perpendicular motion away from the edge to finish the stroke, reload the brush, and continue,” he adds.

Now, if some of the trim color ends up where it shouldn’t be, don’t panic. “If a quick dab or wipe with a damp cloth doesn't resolve the situation, allow the paint to dry thoroughly,” he advises. Then, lightly sand the affected area and remove the dust with a cloth or vacuum.

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