Should You Paint Hardwood Floors? What to Consider

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Remove all the furnishings in the room, and use plastic drop cloths to seal off doors and windows. Tape over any cold air return vents or heat vents in the room. Sanding a floor is dirty work, and your whole house may end up covered in dust.

2. The best paint might be at the marine supply store

You don’t want to have to tiptoe across your painted floors, lest they chip or show wear; the whole appeal is that they’re hardwearing and practical. To get this effect, use at least a semigloss paint from the paint aisle, perhaps coated with some polyurethane if you’re worried about wear. But it might pay to look beyond standard interior paints. Seek out latex enamel-based marine, boat, or porch paint, all of which is hardwearing and built to wear. (You could also use trim enamel matched to a shade you like.) Note that oil-based paints will be hardy, but will also be high in VOCs; read more about that in Remodeling 101: All You Need to Know About VOCs in Paint.

 Above: Oak floors painted in Benjamin Moore’s Pla
Above: Oak floors painted in Benjamin Moore’s Platinum Gray enamel, with modern effect. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista, from Nordic Beauty: A Brooklyn Townhouse Reinvented with Style—and Restraint.

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What Type of Wood Paint Is Best For Your Floors?

Traditional oil-based enamel wood paint New latex based enamel wood paint It can withstand regular foot traffic without fading.It is highly scratch and stain resistant.It usually lasts longer than other forms of paint. Requires solvents to clean up during application.Interior use is banned in some states due to emissions.Takes a fairly long time to dry. Fairly eco-friendly due to minimal fumesYou can use water and soap instead of solventsDries a heck of a lot quicker Not as durable as oil-based paint (rugs or mats can help with this)Sometimes produces dull colors (although this does depend on the quality)It’s chemical formation is fairly new and time will show its effectiveness

I personally prefer oil based paints for my wood flooring projects, mainly due to its durability. Of course, if the U.S state prohibits the use of it (due to high VOC emissions), then I will use the second option. However, please don’t think that you have to copy me. Both have their pros and cons and it’s really your decision. When you are applying oil based wood paint, just ensure that you have plenty ventilation, wear a fume mask and let it dry sufficiently.

PRO TIP #1PRO TIP #1 Try get a paint that contains polyurethane. This chemical adds strength and is great for slightly humid environments. If you can’t find one, you can always apply a coat of polyurethane afterwards so don’t worry about it.

PRO TIP #2 Be careful of purchasing paint that’s not meant for floors (especially when choosing latex paint). If it says “acrylic” on the tin, it’s not a suitable choice for floors. To eliminate guesswork, choose your color and then just tell your local retailer that you plan to have painted wood floors. They are usually able to assist with specific products that work well.PRO TIP #3 It’s important to buy quality paint. The cheaper paint might look attractive, but it often compromises on the raw materials used in its formulation. Quality paint contains many activators and solids (unlike cheaper options) and will last longer. Always look for a good deal but be careful when the price is super low.

Safety Tips

If you are going to attempt this project on your o

If you are going to attempt this project on your own, safety is the number one priority. First, when sanding, you need to wear a particulate mask to avoid breathing in wood dust. Next, you will need to make sure you properly ventilate your home when working with the stain and polyurethane. The fumes from the products used are dangerous to breathe in. Lastly, you may want to wear safety goggles and gloves to further protect your eyes and hands.

Shades of Gray

Pairing a gray floor with other gray wood is possible, but it is tricky. It’s not going to be enough to just stain different pieces of wooden furniture with the same gray stain. Every type of wood holds stain differently. So, if you stain an oak floor and a hickory cabinet with the same stain, they will look different. More importantly, they’ll look only slightly different, which will make it look more like a mistake. If you want to match your gray floor with other muted colors, you need to make sure they’re very different.  For example, you could pair a gray floor with black cabinets. Alternately, you could pair a gray floor with beige furniture. The goal is for all of your choices to look intentional. To do that, they need to be striking contrasts. Contrast is what makes photos look great and rooms look exciting. If you think along those lines, you should match your flooring nicely.

Hardwood floor painting FAQs

Sanding before you start will help the paint adhere more evenly.
krisanapong detraphiphat/Getty Images

If you’ve decided you’re willing to dedicate the time, dedication, and commitment needed to paint hardwood floors, then there are some things to keep in mind as you go forth into your project. 

Will I need to sand the floors?

Some floors might have a finish meant to help protect from scratches, scuffs, spills, and water damage. If the floors have a wax or peeling finish, which helps make wood floors more durable, Varano says you’ll need to at least do a light sand to remove it before you begin painting. Micetich and Varano recommend renting a mechanical sander (along with a few different grit papers for the sander) to get the job done quicker and more efficiently.

Once you’ve finished, vacuum the dust and thoroughly clean the area before painting. Varano recommends using a professional-grade hardwood floor cleaner and a buffer with a maroon pad that will also help strip the floors, and remove any dirt, grease, and films on the floor.

What materials should I use?

Generally, you’ll want to have on hand a large paint roller, a cutting brush to get any edges or corners of the floor, primer, plenty of paint in your desired color, a finish, and an anti-slip topcoat. 

When it comes to the primer, which will help fill in any especially raw areas of the floor before you start painting, Varano says you should tint it to the color of the paint you’ve chosen (which can easily be done by the paint store). 

Varano typically recommends water-based paint, which contains fewer chemicals than oil-based paint and is the paint more standard for indoor projects.  

Layering on an anti-slip polyurethane as the final coat will also help to ensure safety and a bit more longevity.

How many coats will I need?

The final amount of coats you apply will depend on the starting color of your floors and the paint color you’ve chosen — the darker the wood, the more paint you’ll need to apply, especially if you’re using a lighter color paint. Micetich says to use at least three to five coats.

What’s the long-term maintenance?

No matter how many coats of paint you apply, the finish you use, or if you add an anti-slip coating, painted floors will still pick up a fair bit of wear and tear over time and you’ll begin to notice imperfections. Micetich says you should retouch painted hardwood floors at least once a year and possibly more if the paint chips very easily.

Instructions

  1. Repair and secure damaged wood floor boards.
  2. Remove tack strips, nails and staples from wood floor.
  3. Clean the wood floor before painting.
  4. Prime bare wood floors before painting.
  5. Apply two coats of paint to the wood floor allowing each one to dry in between. 

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Protect the floor. Even though your floors now look weathered, you don’t want them to age before their time. Apply an oil- or water-based polyurethane to the flooring, and let it dry. Sand in between coats. Use at least two coats to protect the flooring. Use a fresh stain applicator pad to apply the poly coat.

A stain catastrophe?

Our website is like a lightning rod for citizens all around the country with flooring problems. Unfortunately, most people come to us after the catastrophe has happened.

Ray from Pittsburgh, who very generously allowed us to use this photo, wrote to ask advice about his staining “disaster” (his word, not ours). His photo illustrates why we have such disdain for stain manufacturers who make it sound easy to stain wood floors.

This is a vivid illustration of how important it is that the texture of your wood floor be absolutely uniform and consistent before you apply your stain

This floor was sanded correctly, but was aggressively mopped with water against the grain, probably in an attempt to remove all the dust.

The scrubbing motion, combined with the water, left irregular lap lines that trapped stain in that same irregular pattern. The takeaway here is to never use liquids to remove dust from a freshly sanded raw floor! Vacuum, then use a dry microfiber cloth to wipe up the dust the vacuum couldn’t get. Yes, it will take a little longer, but you won’t risk problems like the one poor Ray had.

Side note: If you are deliberately wetting your floor to water-pop it prior to stain or Rubio to intensify your color (read our water-popping philosophy) make sure you wipe with the grain.

Or better still, use a pesticide sprayer to mist the water evenly and uniformly over the floor.

Should You Use a Primer On Your Wooden Floors Before Painting?

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to applying a “primer” to wood floors, especially when you are using paint. Let me help you understand this clearly and hopefully you can share this with your friends.

Simply put, if your floor still has its previous coating and there is no bare wood exposed, you don’t need to use a primer. On the flip side, if wear and tear that has stripped away parts of the previous finish, you need to apply the primer to these areas. This might mean that you need to prime the entire floor but don’t do it unnecessarily.

PRO TIP #7 There are two main types of primer that you should use on hardwood floors – oil-based primer and latex primer. You should always match the type of primer with the type of paint you are using. Also, try matching the primer color with the finishing color that you will use. Doing this (when possible) can potentially save you the time of applying a second or third coat of paint in the end.

How do you paint hardwood floors?

Painting the floor is a similar process to staining, but it is much cheaper and faster. Before you paint, you will need to sand. The best thing to do is to strip off the old topcoat entirely before painting. However, at the very least, you can scruff the coating without removing it completely. Always do a tester section to determine what the best option is for your floors. 

Once you have settled on the best sanding option f

Once you have settled on the best sanding option for you, you can paint the first coat. After the first coat dries, you will lightly sand the surface, sweep away dust, and paint on the second coat.

If your paint contains polyurethane, then you can sit back and wait for the second coat to dry and cure. If not, you can opt to seal the floor yourself or leave the finish as-is, and it will fully cure in a few days.

9. Painting floors is budget friendly

Compared to the cost of laying all-new flooring, painting tired floors is incredibly budget friendly: all you’ll need is a gallon (or a few) of paint, plus primer and supplies. Just be aware that, once you paint, it’ll be hard, if not impossible, to revert your floors back to the way they were. Read more about the wallet-friendly merits of painting in Expert Advice: 4 Affordable Floor Finishes from Dirty Girl Construction.

 Above: Marine blue floors at Kin Kao Thai Kitchen
Above: Marine blue floors at Kin Kao Thai Kitchen in Toronto, designed by Scott & Scott Architects.

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