A guide to painting baseboards – how to DIY on carpet and more decorating tips

Painting baseboards – old or new – is an easy DIY job with our guide. From paint choices to priming and painting yours with carpet down – here's how to get a pro finish.

White baseboards with hardwood floors
(Image credit: Skirting boards)

Painting baseboards in a carpeted or hardwood floored room can breathe new life into a tired looking space. If yours are looking lacklustre and in need of a fresh coat of classic white, grey or another colored paint, you can rest assured that this is a simple DIY job that's not as messy or as awkward as you might think...

A surefire way of polishing them up when a regular clean won't get rid of dirty marks and chipped paint, do this decorating task at least every couple of years to keep your home looking smart – more especially if you are thinking of selling your house.

Should you paint baseboards or walls first? 

The correct order of painting a room like a pro, is to paint baseboards after you've tackled the ceiling and the walls. Whether you're freshening up a dated room or, painting new baseboards to help them blend in with your decor scheme,  this is how to get a professional finish.

Kids bedroom with green walls, fireplace and white baseboards

(Image credit: Mylands)

1. Select your color and gather tools

The color you choose when painting baseboards will be dependent on your taste of course, however, for a cohesive look throughout your home, try and choose a hue that's in-keeping with the color you have on the walls. Many people will go for white for a clean finish or gray for a neutral look. Darker colors will give a room more character but if you want a space that feels brighter and larger, go for a lighter shade.

Remember to consider the different types of paint finishes available also. When painting baseboards, you'll want to use high gloss for better light reflection as they add depth and are easier to clean, unlike if you choose a matt paint.

The complete list of tools you will need:

  • 2” (5cm) paint brush (make it synthetic if using a water-based paint)
  • Cleaning solution and sponge
  • Sandpaper
  • Primer
  • Low tack masking tape
  • Baseboard paint of choice
  • Dust sheet/cardboard

2. Protect your floors

If you're painting baseboards with carpet down, there is a risk of spills or marks where the fibers meet the wood. Your best option is to pull up the carpet at the edges before you start and to fold it back so it is out of the way of the paintbrush. It’s not the simplest, but it is the most effective.

You can of course use masking tape if this isn't an option. In which case you should vacuum the carpet so there’s no dust or debris on it, use wide-set masking tape and apply it along the carpet‘s edge. 

You can do the same with a dust sheet, fitting it as close to the baseboard as you can. Alternatively, slide a thin piece of cardboard under the baseboard and secure it with tape.

3. Sand down your baseboards

Some will skip this rule when painting baseboards but sanding before painting makes for more professional looking results. Rub down the existing paintwork, using sandpaper along the grain of the wood, most of the time this means sanding in a horizontal direction. You'll then want to fill any holes or cracks, then allow them to dry before sanding them back so that the filler is level with the baseboard.

4. Clean your baseboards thoroughly

Vacuum thoroughly then use a damp cloth to remove every spec of sanding dust or dirt you can. A sugar soap solution makes this easy.

5. Straighten your edges

Run more low tack tape along the base of the wall where it meets the baseboard for a crisp line and to prevent the paint you are using going onto the wall or wallpaper.

6. Paint on the primer

Again, some skip this step but we think it's crucial to a professional finish if you're painting baseboards yourself. Without overloading your brush, paint the top half of the baseboard in the direction of the grain. Start at the door and make your way round the room, then repeat this to paint the remaining bottom half of your baseboards and the center. Let this dry thoroughly. before you move on to the next step. 

7. Start painting your baseboards

Paint the baseboard in the same direction you sanded it so that any paintbrush lines go in the direction of the wood grain. This will give you a neater, more professional looking finish. Allow to dry and add another coat if needed.

8. Let it dry

This might take a few hours but it's really important to keep your masking tape in place until the paint is entirely dry, to ensure clean lines when you come to remove it.

9. Remove the tape

When you have finished and the paint is completely dry, gently remove the tape from the carpet and walls. Or fold back the carpet, press down and tack it back into place.

10. Tidy up

Pile dust sheets in the washer, close and store any half empty paint tins and ensure you clean your paintbrushes straight away to increase their longevity and help them last until the next time.

An open plan ground floor with wooden flooring and white baseboards

(Image credit: Getty)

Perfectly polished.

Alison is Assistant Editor on Real Homes magazine. She previously worked on national newspapers, in later years as a film critic and has also written on property, fashion and lifestyle. Having recently purchased a Victorian property in severe need of some updating, much of her time is spent solving the usual issues renovators encounter.