This Easy Paint Project Will Make Your Home Look Instantly Cleaner

published Apr 3, 2020
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Credit: Minette Hand

How do you like your trim? Traditionally, wood trim always took the cake, but over time, clean, white-painted trim became the default in many homes. Now homebuyers are getting creative and even using their baseboards, window casings, door frames, and more as an unconventional way to add a pop of color either by painting the trim an accent color, or by minimizing it with a basic white and then accenting the door with a bold color (psst: you can find our guide for how to paint a door here).

Regardless of what you’re looking for in the end product—classic white, dramatic black, or punchy yellow or pink—a fresh coat of paint on your trim is an instant refresher for your space. Even if you’re swapping one white for another, you’d be surprised how much impact a re-paint can make. Here’s our guide for how to do it right.

Supplies and materials you’ll need to paint trim

  • Protective gear for yourself (mask, eye goggles, latex gloves, old clothing)
  • Protective gear for the area (painter’s tape and a drop cloth). Professional painters will just use a brush, but there’s no need to be a hero. Painter’s tape is very affordable.
  • Angled brush (Our pros love Purdy and Corona brushes. If you’re using oil-based paint, you’ll need a paint brush made for oil-based paint.)
  • Cleaning supplies (bucket, old t-shirt or tack cloth, soap)
  • Mineral spirits or denatured alcohol if you’re using oil-based or BIN primer, respectively
  • Primer
  • Paint

Optional supplies, depending on the current state of the trim:

Before beginning, assess the current state of your trim

If you live in an older home, there’s a chance your wall trim could be stained with a polyurethane coat or it could be painted with oil-based paint. If it has been painted with an older oil-based paint, it could possibly even contain lead.

To see if your trim is covered in oil-based paint, take a rag with a little mineral spirits on it and if it wipes off the paint, the paint is oil-based. If you suspect your trim might have lead in it, you can do a quick swab test. If it contains lead, do not do the next step (sanding)—this could create dangerous lead dust. Instead, move straight to cleaning, taping off, and prime it with a strong primer that will seal it off.

If you live in a newer home, your trim could have latex paint on it. Latex paint tends to crackle in your hand. Is your latex painted trim in good condition, or is it currently peeling and roughed up? The answers to those questions will determine how you move forward.

If your trim is in good condition and you just want to do a quick change to the color, you can simply clean it, tape it off, and paint based on what’s already on the trim (oil-based over oil-based, latex over latex). “Be confident and take your time,” advises Jamie Sbisa, professional painter of over 20 years in Slidell, Louisiana. “Don’t be scared, it’s nothing you can’t fix.”

With that in mind, if your trim has lived a hard life and needs a full upgrade, then you’re going to want to do the following steps.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Sand your trim

Use 220 grit sandpaper to rough up the trim a little bit. “It’s just a light sand. If you rough up a coat a little bit, it gives the primer something to grab onto so it doesn’t streak,” says Ian Snyder, professional painting contractor of The Happy Brush Woodstock, New York for more than 17 years.

2. Clean your trim

You could do this as the first step, but you’ll also have to do it again after you sand, so why not save time and just do a thorough cleaning post-sanding? Wipe up any sand grit with a tack cloth, and use a tiny bit of soap and water to thoroughly clean all baseboards, windowsills, door frames, etc. with a damp rag. Allow time to fully dry.

3. Tape off the edges of your trim, and lay down a drop cloth

Use painter’s tape to tape off all edges—including the inside of the window, if you’re painting window trim—to make your life a little easier during application. You can skip this step if you are a skilled painter and have a steady hand; otherwise, the pros recommend it. Lay down a drop cloth, too, to avoid getting paint on floors; if you forget, you’ll often be able to remove dried paint from wood but it’s easier—and safer—to prevent paint spills in the first place.

Credit: Shutterstock/stockphoto-graf

4. Prime your trim

Time to prime. If you’re painting over stained or polyurethane coated trim, Sbisa recommends priming with Kilz primer, as it will prevent the stain from bleeding through. If you’re painting over oil-based paint, Snyder recommends BIN primer, but warns that it’s very runny, so be careful to not make a mess. However, if you do make a mess, clean it up with denatured alcohol. Either way, you’re going to want to use an angled brush.

“The best thing is to use an angled brush to be able to get into corners and cut in the lines,” says Sbisa. He adds that another important thing is to make sure you have the right amount of paint on your brush.

Snyder says he likes to use the dab technique to ensure equal coverage. To use this technique, dip the brush, wipe off one side and then dab—1, 2, 3, 4—along the trim before brushing back and forth. Allow primer to dry before moving onto the next step.

5. Repair any holes or cracks in your trim

You could also do this after you clean your trim if cracks or holes are obvious, but if you’re working with stained wood, those flaws won’t be easily visible until after you apply a white primer. Then you’ll be able to quickly catch any holes or cracks that need filling. Fill any small holes with spackling compound and a putty knife, and caulk any cracks; cut the caulk at a 45 degree angle for more precise application. If the trim contains any wood knots, you can fill them with BIN primer.

Credit: pidjoe/Getty Images

6. Paint your trim

Use your angled brush and your perfected technique of choice to paint away! Most prefer to use paint with a satin or semi-gloss finish for trim.

Don’t start a second coat once the paint has started to harden or you’ll get strange brush strokes. Let the first coat dry completely. “Anything oil-based is going to take several hours to dry, but a water-based latex paint will dry in minutes,” says Sbisa. “With latex, if your environment doesn’t have a lot of humidity and if it’s a pretty good sized room, you can paint it and then paint it again.”

To buy yourself a little extra time the first time around, Snyder suggests adding a little bit of water to your latex paint (½ cup for every gallon of paint) to keep it from getting a gummy consistency as you work your way around the room.

If you’re painting a lot of trim, you might also want to clean your brush every so often to keep the application smooth. Also, if it’s especially humid on your paint day or if you live in a place with high humidity, it might be a good idea to have a fan running or a dehumidifier in place.

7. Remove the tape from the edges of your trim

Before your second coat dries, carefully remove the painter’s tape at a 45 degree angle. This is best done while the paint is still wet to avoid peeling any dried paint off with the tape. If you’ve waited too long, or want to be extra careful, you can use a utility knife to score against the wall as you remove the tape to make sure you keep a clean edge.

8. Enjoy your work

You did it! Relish your dash of drama, your pop of color, or your clean, white trim.