Painting floorboards: how to get a stylish, rustic look

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

 Painting floorboards: tips and ideas to get a stylish, rustic look
(Image credit: Annie Sloan)

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.

You will need:

Step one: 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 (see our guide to find the best), 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. 

Boho style kitchen and dining area with white painted floorboards

(Image credit: China Cooper)

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

For painting bare floorboards, first 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 credit: Farrow & Ball)

Step two: apply the primer or first coat

You are now ready to paint the floorboards. Start by applying a primer (if needed – check the manufacturer's instructions), then allow to dry overnight.

As mentioned above, any wood paint (check out our buying guide for the best you can buy) 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.

Step three: 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 credit: Farrow & Ball)

Step four: apply the next coat of paint

Apply a thin coat of paint to the floorboards 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.

How to choose the best 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.

Hallway floor boards painted in Farrow & Ball Lulworth Blue

Hallway floor painted in Farrow & Ball Lulworth Blue

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

How to add pattern with paint

Annie Sloan painted floors

(Image credit: Annie Sloan)

If you want your floor to add more interest to your room you can quite easily create a classic checkered effect. You can do this over bare, sealed floorboards to create the look above or you could do two colours like the one below. 

Either way, start by mapping out your grid. We have seen it done with masking tape, but honestly, there looks to be a lot of maths involved with getting all the squares the same shape and at the right angle. So we thought the easiest way to create the effect would be to make the pattern using cheap square self-adhesive vinyl tiles. Just stick them to the floor in a checkered pattern and then paint all the sections of the floor that aren't covered in vinyl, then leave to dry. Apply a second coat. 

Once the second coat is totally dry, peel up the vinyl squares to reveal the bare floorboards below. 

bathroom with painted floor

(Image credit: Future)

More tips on painting: