How to paint floorboards – advice for sanding, painting and stencilling

What Types of Hardwood Floors Can Be Painted?

Most wood floors can be painted (yes, even expensive teak flooring, if you dare). However, you shouldn’t never paint directly onto a glossy finish as this usually comes out looking bad.

Your best bet is to test the wood that you wish to paint. This can be broken into three easy steps (each outlined later in more details). First, prepare a small area of the wood floor (in the corner or under a couch). Secondly, apply a small amount of paint to the wood and let it dry properly and finally, check the results (within 24 hours) and look for any cracking, peeling, streaking or bubbling. If it looks good, then you can proceed with confidence. If you do experience issues, I invite you to leave a comment at the end of this article and I will help you myself.


1. Prepare the floorboards

(Image credit: Rust-Oleum)

To start, give the boards a light sanding, remembering to get tight into corners with an angled sanding pad. Next, vacuum off the loose sawdust. And then, using a damp cloth (and sugar soap, if you prefer), wash off the finer particles. Leave to dry, then move on to step 2.

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.

Roll on the primer

Use an extension pole to help you to roll the pr

Use an extension pole to help you to roll the primer on the floor. The pole will speed up the job and save your back. Work in 4-foot-square areas. Let the floor dry thoroughly. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for time — anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours.

6. They’re endlessly customizable

Then again, painted floors needn’t be solid. Use painter’s tape to create checkerboards, patterns, borders, or painted “rugs.” You can also delineate space by painting areas in different hues. Have a long, narrow space? Make it seem wider by painting horizontal stripes. You get the idea: you can customize your floors completely.

 Above: Photograph from DIY: New England Spatter-P
Above: Photograph from DIY: New England Spatter-Painted Floors.

3. Save your back by using a floor buffer

If it’s finished wood floors you’re painting, you’ll need to sand and prime. It can be backbreaking work if you’re on your hands and knees with sandpaper—or even an orbital sander. Save your back and rent a floor buffer from the hardware store.

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.

Tools Materials

  • Sanding sponge

    Sanding sponge

  • Paint tray

    Paint tray

  • Paint roller with extension

    Paint roller with extension

  • Ruler or yardstick

    Ruler or yardstick

  • Framing square

    Framing square

  • Putty knife

    Putty knife

  • Mini roller frame

    Mini roller frame

  • Polyester paint brush - 2 1/2-inch

    Polyester paint brush – 2 1/2-inch


If there are bare spots (areas where there is no finish due to wear), brush or roll them with primer. This is called spot priming. Don’t worry about getting some primer on previously finished areas. In places where the old coating is secure, it’s as good as primer (as long as it has been lightly sanded). If the floor was never finished (in an attic, for example), apply a coat of primer over the entire surface.

You may save yourself from having to apply a second top coat by asking the paint supplier to tint your primer to a tone that matches the top coat. My preferred primer for just about everything is Zinssers’ BIN (view on Amazon), an alcohol-based, pigmented shellac primer-sealer (doesn’t stink, dries fast, and sticks to everything), but you should check with the manufacturer of the top-coat paint you’ll be using for its priming recommendations.

7. Repeat to cover the whole floor

(Image credit: Rust-Oleum)

And there you have it – perfectly painted floorboards with a stunning stencil pattern. And all achievable in a weekend.

Why not tackle the stairs next? See how to paint a staircase to transform your hallway.

Happy decorating!


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