Wainscoting dates to the 1300s, when homeowners would place wood paneling on the bottom portions of their walls to protect against chairs, boots and other items that might damage walls. In today’s design world, wainscoting still functions as a protectant from grime, dirty little hands, crayon marks and scuffs, but it also adds beauty to your walls and Old World charm to your design. Wainscoting typically comes in white or wood grain, but you can paint the wall covering in a different color to disguise the everyday dirt that your kids bring home.
Put on a pair of goggles, gloves and a mask to protect your eyes, skin and respiratory system while you work. Dampen a rag with acetone and wipe down the wainscoting to remove dirt, grime and buildup. Allow the acetone to evaporate and dry. Work on this project on a day that your children are at school or with friends to avoid exposing them to the fumes of the paint and acetone.
Sand the wainscoting with 320-grit sandpaper to rough up the surface slightly, helping the primer adhere. Wipe away the remaining dust with a damp rag.
Place painter’s tape on the baseboards, floor, wall joints and above the wainscoting to prevent paint from coming in contact with the areas you do not want to paint. Put dropcloths on the floor and surrounding furniture.
Paint the wainscoting with a coat of primer using a foam roller and paintbrush; allow to dry. If you missed spots on your first coat or if the wainscoting is wood-grained paneling, you may need to apply a second coat of primer.
Wash out the roller and paintbrush while you wait for the primer to dry. Paint the wainscoting in the semi-gloss paint color of your choice with a foam roller and paintbrush. When choosing a color for your wainscoting, choose a hue that is complementary to the wall color and design palette of your room and is "kid-friendly." If possible, close off the room or area during drying time to prevent curious little hands from marring the paint.
Paint a second coat of semi-gloss if the first coat is not as uniform as you would like. Wash out the roller and paintbrush. Remove the dropcloth and painter’s tape after the wainscoting dries.