How to paint floorboards: tips and ideas

Looking to transform a room on a budget? You can make a big impact by simply painting floorboards – for just the cost of a little preparation and a pot or two of paint. Here's how to paint floorboards

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Painting floorboards is a great way to update a room on a budget – especially if you have the time to tackle the job as a DIY project. Ideally, you should use floor paints for a long-lasting finish, but most good quality paints suitable for woodwork will give you a surprisingly tough floor. How long will the job take? Preparation is key, so be ready to spend time getting this stage right; the painting itself is relatively fast, but you will be held up by drying times. Use this guide to find out how to paint floorboards – and scroll down for design advice and inspiration.

Find out more about what you can do with flooring and paint in your rooms. Discover tips and inspiration for painting stairs, too.

Green bathroom in traditional Georgian home

Painted in Electric Green by Dulux to match the antique mirror, this bathtub from UK Bathroom Warehouse stands out in style. The same paint was used for the chequerboard floor. The blind fabric is Zagazoo by Osborne & Little

1. Prepare your floorboards for painting

Start by repairing any loose or broken floorboards, filling dents and scratches as you go. If the floors have already been painted many times, you may want to strip them back first for a very neat finish. Use paint stripper, a heat gun or sanding – but take care as old paint may be lead-based, so you'll need a mask. Use our guide to repairing floorboards for more tips. 

Floor draughty? Use our guide to fixing draughty floorboards to make sure your room feels toasty as well as looking smart.

For bare boards, use a 150-grit sandpaper, then wash the floors to remove dust and dirt. Allow the floor to dry overnight. Use our guide to sanding floorboards to ensure you tackle the job correctly.

Fireplace with painted floorboards in front by Farrow & Ball

(Image: © Farrow & Ball)

2. Apply the primer or first coat

Apply a primer (if needed – check the manufacturer's instructions), then allow to dry overnight.

As mentioned above, any wood paint will do the job, but those designed for floors are more durable and less slippery – if more limited in colour choices. Whichever you choose, pick a satin finish over a gloss or matt finish – it will give you the right balance between good looks and durability.

3. Lightly sand the floor (again)

Lightly sand the first coat of paint with a 220-grit sandpaper, then wipe the floor over with a damp cloth. 

Painted floorboards in a living room by Farrow & Ball

(Image: © Farrow & Ball)

4. Apply the next coat of paint

Apply a thin coat of paint with a roller or natural bristle paint brush. The brush will create a smoother finish; the roller a more stippled look. Allow to dry thoroughly before applying two more thin coats, with drying time between the two.

Choosing your floor paint colour

Which colour to choose? Treat your pick of floor paint colour just as you would when choosing any other flooring, bearing these design considerations in mind:

  • Light colours reflect more light and will make a room feel larger.
  • Dark colours will make a room feel more formal but cosier.
  • A distressed finish, achieved by sanding back the top coat, will give your room a laid-back look that's perfect for a rustic feel.
  • A limed finish, achieved with a special limewash and, typically, a top coat of yacht varnish, will give you a Scandi appeal that suits both contemporary and traditional homes.

Adding pattern with paint

Of course, you can add extra detailing by using a contrasting paint colour and a stencil to create a patterned effect on your floorboards. We love this bold pink for a bathroom or cloakroom; more neutral shades will suit larger rooms, such as living spaces and bedrooms.

More tips on painting: