Every Spring I remember my mother painting the inside of the house. She said it just made everything bright, fresh, clean and brand new just like the season. She made painting a house looks easy so I of course had no qualms the first time I decided to paint my own. Needless to say, the results were not quite what I was looking for! I was young and impatient with the idea I could breeze my way through. While we all know any human can pick up a paintbrush and slap paint onto a surface, making it look good is a different story. My first disaster would have made a kindergartner proud but that is about all I can say for it. Thankfully, through the years I learned proper methods of painting and even worked as a painter in Aspen, where I spent much of my day cleaning up after other novice painters. Karma I suppose.
A painter’s worst nightmare is a project where non professionals have been the previous painters. It takes a lot more work to correct a bad paint job than it does to actually do the job right to begin with. When it comes to painting a house, while many people may successfully manage to roll a smooth finish onto their wall, they fall short when they get to the trim. Your trim can make or break the final beauty of your project. Trim is often the focal point in a home and breaks up or ties a room together depending on the decorator’s choice in design. Ill painted trim can ruin the entire look of a new paint job and no amount of decorating or attempts at disguise will hide it. Trim is everywhere, around the doors, the base of the walls, stairways, and windows – visible in almost every area of your house. This is why it is important to know how to paint your trim.
Understanding your surface, the current coating on the surface, and the nature of the paint you choose is vital to a smooth, long lasting covering of color. If you don’t take the time to know what you are working with, you or someone else will spend hours correcting some wonderful disasters. One of the biggest mistakes I see made is attempting to paint over an oil base paint with water based paint. Each painter has their preference in paint and many professional painters use oil based paint on trim, especially base boards as they get more damage. A slow dryer, oil based paints dry harder on the surface – although they remain somewhat pliable and can expand and constrict depending on the humidity and temperature – and are sleeker in appearance, but clean up is more difficult, requiring paint thinners. Latex, or water based paint will dry faster and you can clean up with water, which is great for people like me who never seem to cover surrounding areas enough (just like I always miss my apron, I always miss the drop cloth!). Over the years latex has improved and is a viable choice for all your trim available in high glosses or in satin. I try to use latex for all my painting projects simply because I need the easy clean up, the smell is less potent, and it is always easy to cover when I change my mind on color (which I do often).
Ideally, we would all like to start fresh with unpainted, new wood. New baseboard gives you options. After sanding, you choose your primer and your paint, oil or water. Bare wood must always be primed and primer is always the recommended for any good paint job. Primer stops stains, gives a smooth surface to paint over, covers imperfections and seals the wood so it doesn’t just suck up your paint (even cosmetic companies make primer for our faces for exactly the same reasons!).
If your trim is already painted your first step is to clean it, knock off any imperfections and determine what type of paint was previously used. Oil based paint can be covered with latex or acrylic if properly primed first, but you still need to know. A good test is to take a soft rag, dip it in denatured alcohol, and rub gently on the surface. If the paint comes off or is softened and color is on the rag it is latex or acrylic. If there is no color on your rag and the paint on the trim is unaffected by the alcohol, other than appearing brighter and dirt free, then the trim is done in oil based paint.
Sanding already painted trim can become a nasty, sticky, seemingly endless…mess. The best rule of thumb is to sand lightly just to remove the sheen, use a scraper to remove old drips and clumps and smooth with sandpaper. Painting over drips is not only unsightly, but the drip can often be pulled off by a shoe or piece of furniture successfully removing all layers of paint leaving a blotched trim.
Before painting you will want to caulk where the baseboard meets the wall, in all the corners of baseboard, doors and windows, and around all window and door trim, sealing off any cracks. Run a thin bead of the caulk along your seam, using your finger to smooth. You can either wrap your finger in a damp cloth or as I do keep the damp cloth in your hand and consistently smooth the caulk then wipe your finger off on the cloth before smoothing again. Then run the cloth in a smooth motion lightly over the caulk line to remove all excess.
Run thick blue masking/painters tape along the floor up to the lower edge of your trim and along the top edge to protect your walls so you can paint without worry. Picking a good paintbrush is a must. I never scrimp when it comes to my brushes. I use a 1.5 in or a 2.0 in angle brush, choosing my bristle by what type of paint I am using. Brush covers tell which paint they are for. A good quality nylon/poly blend brush or a black China bristle brush are good to keep around the house for full paint jobs and touch ups. I always clean my brushes with my favorite soap, good old Dawn dishwashing liquid, warm water and an old toothbrush to pull the paint away from the wood and out of the bristles. I then shake it dry, reform and place it back in the original cover.
When applying the paint to the trim, start with the ceiling trim first, then doors and windows and last the baseboard. Dip your brush approximately halfway into the paint making sure to get a decent amount of paint in the bristles. Wipe one side of the brush off on the edge of the can or pan then first cut in the edges before applying to middle of trim in long, wide, even strokes. Lack of confidence makes people use short little dabbing strokes that end up looking like someone finger painted on your woodwork, so force yourself to pull the stroke out as far as you can. Make sure the paint is not running and wipe off any excess with brush. Glide your next stroke in slightly over the top of the last one. The length of the stroke will determine the smoothness of the finished product. Keep a light touch on your brush and let it glide along the trim. Oil based paint will show less brush strokes than latex but if you have any unevenness in the paint you will see it when the first coat dries. A light second coat blends everything together and now you will never need to think about where to set the furniture to best hide the trim.
Now….CLEAN YOUR BRUSH! And enjoy your fresh, new room.