Color selection and design are key when painting floorboards.

How to Paint Wooden Floorboards

by Matt Smolsky

Painting wooden floorboards gives a room a unique look and at the same time covers flaws in the floorboards. This decorating method is at home in everything from shabby chic to urban contemporary and works in both formal and informal settings. However, painting a floor is not as simple as painting a wall. You must be cautious while preparing and sanding the surface, then apply thin, multiple coats of paint, allowing 24 hours of drying time between coats. This is a job that will likely take nearly a week to finish.

Surface Preparation

Remove baseboards and quarter round, unless you plan on painting them the same color. If so, mask the walls above the baseboards with painter's tape. Remove all furniture, floor and wall vents and outlet covers that are on the floor. Vacuum the floor with a shop vac, wash it with a commercial floor cleaner or soap and water, then rinse it. Fill holes and cracks, using wood filler. Allow the floor and wood filler to dry 24 hours.


Sand the floor with a floor-sanding machine if it's a large room or a handheld orbital power sander if it's a small room. Use 150-grit sandpaper for both methods. Put on a respirator mask and begin sanding, following the woodgrain as you proceed. Ensure to sand all the way to the edges. When finished, vacuum the dust with a shop vac, then wipe the floor with a tack cloth. You may have to wipe it several times to get all the dust. Wash the floor to ensure all dust is removed. Let the floor dry at least 48 hours. Any moisture in the wood when you paint it will cause the paint to bubble, so you want the floor completely dry.


When painting floors, you have a multitude of decorating options, perhaps even more so than when painting walls. You can mimic tile patterns or come up with creative designs of your own. The floor sets the tone for the room. Rich colors such as deep blues or burgundies will add coziness; black will create a formal atmosphere; lighter beige, green or white will make a room feel light and airy. Before selecting a paint color, determine the overall decor of the room. If you're planning on a design, sketch it on a piece of graph paper that's as close to scale as possible.

Paint Selection

The type of paint you select will depend on how the room will be used. You'll find paints labeled as "floor paints," though they are sometimes also used as exterior paints. Exterior paint is preferred for painting floors, even indoors, because it takes wear and tear better and doesn't need to be sealed. The decision between water-based or oil-based paint isn't as simple. Both have their advantages although oil-based paint offers a more durable surface, doesn't need to be sealed and covers damaged wood better. Water-based floor paint also has a tough finish and has the added advantage of allowing the surface to breathe. It will require a sealer, however. Regardless of which you choose, you'll need one coat of primer, preferably tinted to the same color as your final topcoat.

Primer Coat & Sanding

Cover the entire floor with a coat of primer using a 1/4-inch nap roller. Cut in the edges with an angled, 2-inch brush. Use the same type of primer as your final topcoat, either oil- or water-based. Allow the primer to dry 24 hours, then sand it with a handheld orbital power sander and 220-grit sandpaper. Clean up all the dust with a shop vac and tack cloth.


Apply the base coat with a 1/4-inch nap roller and allow it to dry 24 hours. When the base coat is dry, mask off your design, using painter's tape. Paint your design, allowing 24 hours between coats. Apply thin coats each time you paint. Don't be tempted to glop on thick coats of paint. While it's ideal to pull up painter's tape while the paint is still slightly wet, this won't be possible when painting a floor. You'll need to carefully pull up the tape when the floor is dry.


Apply an oil-based polyurethane sealer if you used oil-based paint, or a water-based sealer if you used water-based paint. Apply the sealer according to the manufacturer's instructions. Depending on the type of paint you use, you may be able to forgo the sealing process. Check the manufacturer's recommendations. Reattach baseboards and quarter rounds when the sealer is thoroughly dry.

About the Author

Matt Smolsky has been writing for more than 25 years. He wrote news, sports and feature stories for the "Omaha World-Herald" and other publications and has continued on in direct marketing and general advertising. He now writes for the web as well. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and journalism from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Photo Credits

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