How to Paint Baseboards

White baseboard along hardwood floor
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Quick, what are the two top remodeling projects you can do to a room that takes about 2 hours and will freshen it up like nothing else?

One is to paint the interior trim.  Continuing the theme, the other way is to paint the baseboards.

Look at the general category of trim as the outline of your room, with baseboards representing the widest, longest lines.  Baseboards get the most abuse and scuffing of all trim, so it makes complete sense to give them a little love every now and then.

Always, Always Clean Before Painting

Nowhere is it more critical to clean the surface prior to painting than when it comes to baseboards. Remember, dirt and grime collect at the bottom of walls. Wipe down with TSP and water with a soft rag.

Especially be sure to clean the top of the baseboards, as dust naturally collects on horizontal surfaces.

I am cleaning-averse when it comes to remodeling.  If I can avoid cleaning walls prior to painting, I will.  But I will not avoid cleaning the bases, due to the huge amount of junk that accumulates on them.

Remove Baseboards...Or Not?

It is tempting to dispense with all of the taping and masking and oh-so-careful painting, and just remove the baseboards so that you can paint them on a couple of sawhorses outside.

This one is a judgment call.  In cases of older homes that have many layers of paint bridging that wall/baseboard juncture, you will end up damaging the wall.

With newer homes, or homes that haven't been fixed up much over the years, it can be as easy as prying the bases off with a thin prybar and your fingers.

Remember, too, that you will have to nail them back on, damaging your new paint job.

Unless You're the Michelangelo of Baseboard Painting, Forget About Cutting In

The "cut in" painting technique (painting without masking off surfaces) is difficult enough on accessible door and window trim, but far more difficult on baseboards because of their location.

It is so incredibly easy to mask off baseboards because of that top horizontal surface.  No matter how thin or cheap the baseboard, the top will always be wide enough to hold painter's tape.

Mask Off Wall and Floor

Use low-stick painter's tape to mask the lower edge of the wall, right above the baseboard.

Even though masking off the wall and floor is a pain, it will result in a faster and cleaner paint job.

You'll be glad you did it. But still be careful with your paint, because excessive paint slop on the floor masking tape will make the tape difficult to remove.

Spend a few extra bucks and buy masking film.  It's long, narrow runs of plastic film with the masking tape already attached.

Video: How to Mask a Room

Patch Problem Areas. But What About Those Nail Depressions?

Before you pull out the paint, be sure to patch and fill those big dings and holes that developed over time.

Nail depressions can go either way.  If a brad nailer was used and "sink depth" was well-calibrated, you'll find it easier just to paint over them. If the baseboards are hand-nailed with finish nails, you'll want to fill those holes.

Paint Baseboard First or Wall?

This point is debatable, but if you're doing this project in conjunction with wall-painting, I recommend painting the baseboard first.

Baseboards are typically white, which is easily coverable with the wall paint color. So, if you happen to slop white baseboard paint on the wall, you can paint over it.

Let's say you have white baseboards and walls that will later be painted a darker color such as gray. Why even both masking the baseboards in the first place? Why not just slap on baseboard paint, and let the white slop over onto the walls? As noted above, it will get covered up, right?

Yes, but we're just talking about accidental messes of the minor kind. When you have a long, continuous line of white slop along the top of a baseboard, it can be difficult to 100% cover that white with the wall paint: some may show through.