Using Trim Paint on Windows, Doors, and Baseboards

painting window trim

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault 

Even though interior trim doesn't cover much space compared to walls or ceilings, it's a small thing that calls big attention to itself. It's usually close-up and closely examined, and that's just the visual aspect of it. It also has to protect edges from impact and be moisture-resistant. That's why trim paint is ideal for these surfaces.

Trim Paint

Trim paint is a category of interior paint that has a satin, semi-gloss, gloss, or high gloss sheen. The paint is suitable for trim, cabinets, doors, furniture, and windows. Trim paint usually comes pre-tinted in bright white and in base colors that can be custom-tinted.

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    Trim Paint's Main Features

    Self-Leveling

    Nobody likes seeing brush marks on their trim. By its very nature, oil-based paint helps to level out brush strokes (its longer drying times help the paint settle).

    Acrylic-latex paints do show brush marks. So, additives to acrylic-latex paint help to smooth it out. The flatter the sheen, the less visible the brush marks will be.

    Higher Gloss

    Gloss is an important feature in trim paint. Glossier paints have a tighter molecular structure, meaning smaller pores for dirt and other debris to work into it.

    Trim paint finish glosses are satin, semi-gloss, gloss, and high gloss.

    Sag Resistance

    Brush-painting—the typical method of paint application for trim—means that big globs of paint may develop and sag before drying. Thicker consistencies of paint help prevent sagging.

    Non-Yellowing Properties

    Most trim gets painted white. Window trim, in particular, gets blasted by the sun on a daily basis, and UV rays can quickly yellow the paint.

    That's why some paint companies advertise non-yellowing properties with their pre-tinted white paint. Without this feature, different window trims will yellow at different rates. Even different sections within the same window will yellow differently.

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    Types of Trim Paint

    Trim paint comes in two main varieties, oil-based and acrylic-latex:

    Alkyd/Oil Based

    Oil-based paint is the classic trim paint. If you have a house that is at least a few decades old, chances are good that the trim was painted with oil-based paint.

    Oil-based trim paint results in superior, glass-like finishes, with minimal to zero brush marks. But this does come at the cost of slow drying times, fumes, and solvent-based clean-up requirements.

    Because of its thick consistency, oil-based paint is good at filling in minor holes. Due to laws beginning to be passed in the very late 1990s and in early 2000, many localities now ban oil-based paints in sizes above quarts. Only use a paintbrush with natural bristles, as the oil formula will affect synthetic bristles.

    Oil-based paint can be difficult to use, especially since you must use mineral spirits or paint thinner to clean up afterward.

    Acrylic Latex or Enamel

    Water-based paint can produce a good finish and minimal brush marks, but not nearly as good as oil-based paint's properties. Brush marks will be visible. The surface will not have the rock-hard shell texture of oil-based paints.

    Water-based trim paints afford easy clean-up with soap and water. Fumes are minimal or non-existent. Synthetic brushes are recommended for latex paint. Use a paint comb to aid in cleaning up the brushes.

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    Trim Paint Brands

    • Behr: Ultra Interior Semi-Gloss Enamel; soap and water clean-up
    • Benjamin Moore: Regal Classic Premium Interior Paint, Semi-Gloss Finish; 100-percent acrylic resin; soap and water clean-up
    • Dutch Boy: DuraClean Cabinet, Door & Trim Interior/Exterior Paint + Primer; gloss enamel finish
    • Glidden: Trim, Door & Furniture paint in high-gloss; oil-based; solvent clean-up
    • Olympic: Interior/Exterior Paint + Primer in high-gloss; soap and water clean-up
    • Sherwin-Williams: ProClassic Waterborne Interior Acrylic Enamel; soap and water clean-up
    • Valspar: Ultra Interior Paint + Primer; soap and water clean-up
    FAQ
    • Is it best to use water-based or oil-based paints?

      If you want a paint that's easy to use and simple to clean up, water-based paints are the way to go. So, if you have any aversion at all to painting, water-based trim paint might be best for you. When you want the absolutely best-looking finish, even at the cost of time and your convenience, go with oil-based paints.

    • How much trim paint should you buy?

      While it depends on whether you're painting just a room's worth of trim or the whole house, it's likely less than you think. Most people buy just a quart or a gallon of trim paint, rather than the multiple gallons required when painting room walls. One quart will cover two doors, 150 linear feet of long/narrow trim such as crown molding or baseboards, or 50 feet of stair railings.

    • Which type of trim paint gloss to buy?

      Many homeowners are averse to the idea of glossy items in their homes, and understandably so. Glossy paint on walls and ceilings highlights flaws and produces uncomfortable reflected light. Yet trim is one area where you might want to compromise and instead go with semi-gloss trim paint. At the least, use satin gloss on trim.

    • Can you use flat or matte paint on trim?

      Because flat sheen paints have far fewer resins than the glossy types, they are not as good at resisting dirt and stains. Along with this, they are hard to clean. Dust and dirt tend to stick to flat paints. Not just that but flat or matte trim paint chips more readily than glossier paint. If you do decide to paint trim flat, know its limitations and be ready to deal with them. For example, rather than trying to clean flat trim paint you may want to have a spare can ready so that you can touch up scuffs.

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  1. Detailed Fact Sheet: Architectural Coating Rule for Volatile Organic Compounds. Environmental Protection Agency.