how-to

Priming and Painting Baseboards - 3 Questions to Answer Before You Start

Stuart Hodgson

Man stares at the yellow wall where paint is in progress determing to paint baseboards or wall first. Bend Tool Co.

Not all choices are easy when it comes to painting baseboards. Your process can often determine what is best, but not always.

DO YOU PAINT BASEBOARDS OR WALLS FIRST?

Is it better to paint the walls before or after installing baseboard? If you ask around, you will encounter different answers. Most professionals will recommend you paint the walls (and ceilings) before you install baseboards. However, it can be done either way and may vary based on your project.

If the baseboard is already installed:
Answer: Paint the baseboards first.
Paint all of your coats on all of your baseboards at once, and then move on to the wall. Stopping and starting the baseboard painting lends itself to risking a quality job. You also gain some efficiency by only needing to tape the wall to the baseboards once – or not tape at all. If you can commit to painting the trim all at once, you can forget taping and live with a little paint on the wall until it is covered up.
If baseboards are not installed:
Answer: Paint the walls before installing trim.
This also minimizes the amount of prep and taping you need to do. If you are using a colored (e.g., white) caulking after installation, you may need to circle back and touch up paint – in some cases; this is unavoidable.


Other things to consider:

Who is doing the painting? There is a level of skill involved for painting, despite it being one of the easiest (and the most fun?) DIY projects. Who you have help from may determine if you paint trim or walls first. Caulking, taping, and getting the lines right may require the work of a professional – or your best assistant.

Your color combination: Yes, it is more efficient to compartmentalize painting and paint trim and the walls separately. However, it is a good idea to stop and check your work and look at a sample of your finished product from time to time. Try painting a section of the wall or using a fully painted piece of scrap trim.

What type of paint: Oil-based paints let off VOCs known to be harmful to the body, some states restrict their use. If you have children or are sensitive to this, painting baseboards outside might be the best option. We discussed paint brush strokes and oil-based paint before on this blog.

You may be able to skip priming before painting when it comes to baseboards, but you may appreciate the look when adding the extra step. Remember, you will only paint and install your baseboards once, but they will stay on your wall for a very long time.

DO I NEED TO PRIME BASEBOARDS BEFORE PAINTING?

Painted baseboards lead to a nice, clean look, improving the style and feel of any space. Compared to other paint jobs (e.g., walls and ceilings), baseboards are relatively easy to paint. The issue of priming baseboards is often up for debate because they are located near the floor, not at eye level and as easy to see, and at risk for damage, meaning they will need to be repainted anyway. However, the primary drivers for priming are cost and time.

What happens if I don’t prime my baseboards?

In the long term, probably not much.

If you are going with MDF baseboard, they come pre-primed as the standard option, allowing you to skip straight to painting your finishing coats.
If you are painting wood baseboard, you may end up needing to apply extra coats of paint to get the desired look. Priming first allows the less-expensive primer to penetrate the pores of the wood, soaking it up. When the paint is applied, it does not require nearly as much.

Benefits of priming:

Even though you can get away without priming in the majority of situations, it is generally recommended to consider it. Benefits include:

  1. More likely to get the best looking results.
  2. The paint will look closer to your intended look.
  3. The layer of paint will be more durable, with the benefits of a primer to stabilize it on the baseboard.
  4. Helps even out the color and texture of the paint on the baseboard.

Will I save time, not priming my baseboards?

In our experience, including priming in your paint process takes the same amount of time, sometimes less, as it would to only paint your baseboards.

Will I save money, not priming my baseboards?

Assuming you use all your paint, priming can end up cheaper. Primer is less expensive than paint. Using a primer for the first coat or two means you will use less paint.

Priming is part of the process professionals use. However, at the end of the day, the decision to prime your baseboards before painting is up to you, and the results are subjective based on your preference. 

DO YOU HAVE TO PAINT PRIMED BASEBOARDS?

The short answer is no; you do not need to paint primed baseboards. You don’t need to paint your baseboards at all. If you primed the baseboards yourself, you may like the look and choose to leave it as is. If the baseboards came primed (all MDF baseboards come primed), you might like the look, but odds are you don’t. Most home centers (e.g., Home Depot, Lowes) do not sell pre-painted baseboards, and you need to plan on adding paint top coats.

Many reasons exist, but here are a few obvious reasons to paint when installing baseboards:

Paint Quality: Color is the most obvious consideration for finish paint, but you may want to consider others. Some paints are more durable than others. If your baseboards are kicked or scuffed, high-quality paint will protect them better than the factory primer.
Damaged: What home improvement project doesn't have surprises? Not all baseboards come from the point of purchase to your home in pristine shape. Marked or scuffed baseboards are a common issue with MDF baseboards. Wood baseboards can be damaged too. This is why most DIY’ers elect to paint their pre-primed trim.
Dull or Plain Look: Most interior trim primers are not designed to act like paint, and you need to consider painting pre primed wood or MDF trim. The job of MDF or wood trim primer is to adhere to the surface and fill up the pores with that first so that the paint can do its job. Pre-primed baseboard moulding has a flat, or matte look that could clash with your wall and floors. Paints have sheens and gloss (e.g., semi-gloss) to create a professional look with your finish coats.
Consistent Look: Unless you’re applying numerous coats of primer, it is unlikely you will have a consistent look on your baseboards throughout the home without applying paint. Primer helps prepare the surface, and in some cases, seals the surface so the paint will not absorb. This can create different looks throughout the baseboard.

 

 

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