Trim it up

Visiting from Pinterest?  Welcome!  I’ve received many comments on this post asking us why we didn’t paint the trim before installation, which would have been an obvious fix.  Our contractor installed this trim before we knew it wasn’t painted, so we didn’t have this option.  Plus, I thought this would be a helpful tip for the many people who are repainting or touching up existing trim.  Enjoy!

The last project of our second floor construction project has been painting the trim and crown molding.  It is taking longer than we thought.

Note to self: If you are painting the trim white, always, always go with the pre-primed trim.

It’s not that we have anything against priming the trim ourselves.  It just takes a lot of patience, careful work…and time.

After trying a few tactics, muttering a few expletives and wiping our share of white paint off the walls, we came up with a plan.  Chris and I both set out with a large spackle knife and used the sharp thin edges to protect our walls and carpet.  It worked particularly well on the floor where we could push the carpet all the way down and get right to the bottom of the trim…

And it worked on the wall side, too.  For the floor boards we were able to wedge the blade in between the wall and board (without harming anything) and protect the wall from paint.  It was a bit more difficult on the window trim and crown molding, but keeping the knife at an angle really helps keep the paint in.

We were awfully whiny as we recalled how quick the pre-primed trim was when we used it in other rooms.  One coat of slick satin paint was all we needed compared to the two plus coats that we did this time.  But, it does look good!

I know I should have asked before we took this project on, but do you have any trim painting advice?

95 comments

  1. I do! If you are installing new trim, slide a piece of wax paper between the trim and the wall before you nail it on, leave most of the excess on the wall side. Paint away then remove the paper when you’re all done! If the wax paper and paint stick together, run a razor blade down the seam before you pull – happy trimming!

    • Erin says:

      We hired the best contractor! The work is impeccable. I just need to be more demanding…or have more patience in painting! :)

  2. OMG, this looks so tedious! I admire your patience. Our whole house, with the exception of the nursery, has off-white trim. The previous owners put pure-white trim in the nursery. When we moved in I thought for sure we’d paint all of the trim white…until I realized just how time consuming (or expensive) that would be. So off-white it is! If it was our forever home we’d probably tackle it room by room over a looong period of time.

  3. Donna says:

    I love your idea with the large spackle blade. I have been tackling slowly repainting my white trim. I have been holding out on the carpeted areas worried I would get it all over the carpet. I am definately going to try this out.

    Thanks so much

    • William says:

      You might want to try shoving poster board between the bottom of the trim and carpet . Just push it against the carpet and slide under the trim .Let the paint dry enough that it’s safe to handle then pull the poster board out. If it sticks a little just run a razor knife across. When the carpet rises back up it should look perfect.

  4. Felicity says:

    My father in law showed me the same trick. Our problem is that with so many layers on paint already on the trim after 70+ years, another coat seems like it’s just going to be too much. It’s so thick. Ugh. My mom and I stripped 200+ years of paint off trim in my childhood room years ago and I swore I’d never do it again!

    • Eloise says:

      Thick paint build-up on trim! Ugh! I once cleaned off some tile “baseboard” in a bathroom with a heat gun. I kept burning my hand with the gun, but it did a terrific job. It was tedious, but the paint came right off and there was something satisfying about it. In fact, I then cleaned off a windowsill, and one exposed wall of baseboard. Didn’t burn any wood . The result was pretty impressive, but I haven’t done any more since that one orgy.

    • Claudia says:

      Totally agree…though this is a good idea for reprinting, but for new moulding def paint before it goes up. It’s the only way that makes sense.

    • Anne says:

      She said at the very top of this web page that the trim was put up by the contractor before she could paint it! This page is about how to paint trim AFTER it’s on the wall.

  5. Jackie says:

    I have used old blinds for this! I had some wide mini blinds that were being replaced, separated them and slid them under the tri to protect the carpet, did this to the whole room before starting and then used the large spackle blade for the wall part. Took no time at all! Thanks for the tips everyone!

    • Nancy says:

      That is a great idea! In the past I used cardboard from boxes that I had. I knew that I would have to apply a second or third coat and I could leave the cardboard in place until I was finished and then remove them and throw them away. If I removed the cardboard before the paint was dry, the paint would still get on my carpet.

      • Gracy says:

        My husband and I have tried to hire a contractor to paint the house, the trims, baseboards and crown molding, but their estimate is too pricey for our budget, so we decided to DIY. I love the idea of using cardboard since we have lots of packing boxes around the house . Thanks for the tip!

    • Joan says:

      What a GREAT IDEA! I’m repainting a room now and will be starting on the trim tomorrow. I have some blind sections from some that were too long. Perfect use for them! Thank you for this!

  6. Carolyn says:

    If it was new why not paint first then touch it up? If it was already there then this is the way to go though you can buy a proper tool that is much longer than this.

  7. Becky says:

    Love this tool! Painting trim sucks but the finished product looks OH so pretty. :) And that wax paper suggestion is THE BOMB. Doing that next time we put up new trim. I’m sure your hard work was worth it.

  8. Jeanne says:

    I have tried this earlier in my years. I never had much luck with it as every time I moved the flat tool wet paint came with it and got onto places I didn’t want it. I too paint before I apply the trim to the wall.

  9. Sarah says:

    Yes, I guess I’m not sure why you didn’t paint it before putting it up either? We did our whole house in white painted trim and I painted it all before it was nailed..then all you have to do is a tiny bit of nail filling (which you had to do anyway I’m assuming) and then paint those. BUT it’s a great idea if need to repaint or don’t want to pull the original trim off!

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I always tape off the carpet with painters tape and place the tape so that I can shove some of it (about .5″-1″) up under the baseboard with a putty knife. As for the top, I always free hand it because I’m no good with a putty knife! But at least that way I don’t have to worry about the bottom. I just rip up the tape after 24 hours or so.

  11. carissa k says:

    This is a great tip, thanks! I want to paint the trim in our house and for some reason (let’s call it laziness) my husband won’t remove the trim for me so I can paint then put it back on. I have been so frustrated trying to find a way to do this w/o getting paint everywhere. What is also frustrating is reading how many comments start with “not sure why you didn’t paint first then install” seeing as you explained why in the article… any who, thanks again!

    • K. Lovelady says:

      I wouldn’t call it being lazy, we just replaced our flooring and it was so hard to take off the trim without it breaking, plus you’ll be filling in twice as many holes cuz you really need to put the new nails in new areas so you don’t have any loose areas.

    • Darren says:

      Erm, who in their right mind would suggest ripping the trim off the wall in order to paint it and then put it back on. Just get some good painters tape (frog tape) and take it off just before the paint dries. At least you’ll avoid potential damage to the walls by ripping the trim off.

  12. Tracy says:

    Another tip…b/c moving a spackle knife would take a while (especially for both the bottom and top fo the trim), we used a piece of poster board for the bottom….it’s thin enough that you can usually slip it under the trim (like between the carpet and the trim)…and then when you’re done with that section, you can just keep moving the poster board. Cheap too!! Cheaper than all that painters tape!

    • Anne says:

      Great idea Tracy with the poster board. I’m going to be doing the trim in our bedroom which has carpet and I’ve been dreading painting the trim but I will try the poster board and see how that goes. Thanks

  13. K. Lovelady says:

    I find the final look to be more seamless waiting to paint once they are installed. It may take a bit more effort and patience but in the end you don’t have small patches that gleam differently or have a different texture or anything. You just have one layer of smooth white paint to give your trim a quality appearance.

    I painted the first boards we installed then when I started painting over the touch ups I was not satisfied, so then we just waited to paint afterward.

    Also, it’s standard in my area to caulk the top, so we just placed painters tape on the wall, caulked, painted, and removed the tape the caulk doesn’t let the paint seep through

  14. K. Lovelady says:

    Just thought of another pin I saw, when working with painters tape, if you have the paint color from your walls, place your tape and paint the edge of the tape with your wall color and let dry completely then go ahead and paint your white. That way if any paint leaks under the tape, it’s your wall color and then you have a seal on your tape and the new color will not be left on the other. I couldn’t find the source, sorry :(

    **** if your wall color is dark or a red, I’d recommend testing to see if your desired trim paint will cover over the other paint before doing the whole house. The last thing you want is to have it bleed through on the trim.

  15. S. Thomas says:

    I love the wax paper idea…..but seriously…the best best thing you can do is DON’T SKIMP on your paintbrush!!!! Those $20 brushes make an enormous difference!

  16. Andi says:

    Another good trick for painting trim in a carpeted room is to purchase the cheap blinds from Walmart cut the strings and pull all the blinds apart. Slide the blinds between the carpet and bottom of the baseboard. The blind creates a nice pocket for you to run your trim paint across! Slightly thinning your paint as you go with water (if water base) helps too. The longer your paint is exposed to air the thicker it gets due to drying.

    • Erin says:

      Hi Joey,

      This was pretty low pile carpet so it was less about pushing it down and more about just covering it up. That and we used thin coats of paint so no dripping. Worked like a charm!

      Hope it helps!

  17. Megan says:

    Our entire ’70’s house had dark stained wood trim, and I’ve been slowly painting the walls and trim throughout. Talk about a pain! Some places take 4 or 5 coats including the primer, especially doors, so I feel your pain. Luckily I’m painting walls too, so I have been just painting trim first so I can be messy on the wall side of the trim ;). My mom gave me a tool to push down the carpet – I don’t know if that’s what it’s meant for or not – but it looks like a HUGE spackle knife (like 2 1/2 feet wide), so you can do larger sections in one swoop! Low carpet pile also really helps when painting trim over carpet :) Happy painting!

  18. Steve says:

    Yes, I’ve done something similar and it works OK until you get paint on the edge or reverse side of the blade. :(

  19. Barbara Clark says:

    I also found that using the primed trim was easier – also I prepainted all the trim before putting it up. That meant I only had to touch up where it was joined. Made the job a whole lot faster. I like your idea about the spackle knife and will remember to use it when retouching where I joined the trim.

  20. Jimmie C says:

    Great idea, Will be painting old trim soon so finding this on Pinterest was perfect timing. Thanks for the tip and pictures. I would have gotten the angle all wrong.

  21. JUDY IN TEXAS says:

    I have tried using the large spackle knife when painting the trim; however, paint did escape under the edge of the spackle knife and get onto the walls or carpeting. How did you prevent that from happening?

  22. Gwen says:

    My Dad was an electrician and he installed furnaces so he had lots of equipment for making the heat ducts in and they are made out of tin, which is excellent for sticking under your trims board in the same manner painting. we used long pieces to go under and above the trim work, and they worked like a darn!

  23. Kelly says:

    There are 36 inch long plastic things called carpet shields that you slide between the carpet and baseboards…..you leave it in place until you are completely done painting that section and then reuse them in the next section. If your baseboards are not painted, you can use them between the wall and baseboard as well. Much easier than most of these ideas…. however poster board but in strips could be used and the wax paper idea would be a great idea in small areas.

    • Kelly says:

      I meant if your baseboards are not chalked you can use them between the wall and base as well….. these usually come in a pack of 6-36inch long (18 feet total) pieces… I painted apartments after move outs for years…let me tell you, there is nothing easier!

  24. Debbie says:

    I always use sturdy note cards when painting installed trim. I don’t have to worry about cleaning the edge of something to keep from smearing paint – just toss the card and pick up a clean one. Usually, the card will slip behind the trim, and it will hold the carpet back while painting next to the floor.

  25. pat says:

    I have tried this trick several times over the years and my paint always seems to bleed through! I can’t seem to master this trick. LOL

  26. Nichole says:

    Don’t u have to wait till it dries before moving on when you are on the side by the floor/carpet? We have really plush carpet and I’m afraid it will pop back up and get covered in paint.

  27. jackie says:

    i did this and it didn,t work the paint would stay on the trowel and when you moved it down to paint more trim it got no the wall and the carpet

  28. Alitalia says:

    if putting up a new trim paint it before you put it up, then it only needs nail holes & corners touched up.

  29. I would no bother I tried this years ago. the trouble is when you get paint at the end of the guard
    it can run down and it can also smudge all over. DONT BOTHER WITH IT TAPE IS BEST

  30. Elizabeth R says:

    Thank you – this is a great idea because you can keep it with the other painting tools to use time & time again. I love the pictures of the other rooms & projects too. The closest I’ve come to this is using sheets of newspaper (straight edges) under the trim, or anywhere that I need a straight edge, then putting A4 paper (folded firmly then torn in half lengthways) between the trim and the wall – it just slotted in then came out easily afterwards, removing before the paint had dried. I don’t have a steady hand, but sometimes a child’s paintbrush is useful for touching up small mistakes or trying not to paint over the edge.

  31. Jules says:

    after reading all the comments, one thing I’ll offer is a trick I learned for dealing with plush carpets because yes, the carpet will get into your wet paint when you move on to the next section to paint: so, what I do is to actually use packing tape. I simply tape the carpet down away from the baseboard and then pull it only after I’m finished with all coats and the paint is dry. Works great! :)

    • Kris says:

      I have used every tip listed except the waxed paper. All of them work just fine. However, if you get paint smeared, you are either using way to much paint, are in a hurry or a bad brush. Go for a expensive brush and let it do the work, keep the wet rag handy and clean the wet edge before moving on, and the carpet tape along the carpet edge is the best. I forgot about the caulk, but I’m not a good caulk-er,and would make more of a mess. I’m looking at doing a whole house of trim and just can’t seem to get motivated until now! Thanks for all the tips I had forgotten!

  32. JoAnn Meunier says:

    Beware – I’ve used this trick. I had to wipe the paint off of the blade after every stroke of the brush. It made the whole painting process take twice as long as taping.

  33. Skyval says:

    You can buy long metal paint edgers that are much longer than the spackle blade for this exact purpose , they are faster too .

  34. Jeannette says:

    Great idea. I’m thinking on replacing the baseboards in my house but was thinking on painting them first before I replace them.

  35. Joe M. says:

    For painting around trim where there is a carpeted floor, I recently used a similar idea that worked just great. I had an old set of vertical Venetian vinyl blinds, and I took them apart so I had a stack of 6′ long flexible slats. As they are very thin, I tucked the edges under the baseboard and painted away. At 6′ per slat, I had enough slats to go most of the way around a very large 700 sqft room. The paint, as it dries, wipes off very easily from the vinyl so I could the earliest used ones to the end of the line and just keep going. I washed them all after the job and kept them for future paint jobs. (BTW, I did use green painters tape on the tops of the baseboards, it’s still the very best way to do it). Regards, Joe M.

  36. Ron Wood says:

    Pro painters always tape, clear acrylic caulk, use a small putty knife to remove excess and paint.
    If you can remove the tape promptly and carefully, you have a perfect top line. With carpet, use
    the blind technique. Oh, and a good angled brush! Fun!

  37. P such says:

    Whenever u paint anything, go to Lowes site or Home Depot’s sight and look up “What to add to paint” to make it glide on easily. I forget the name but there is something that u can put into your semi gloss or gloss paint that makes it glide on without any streaks. I find this makes it easier to paint baseboards, doors, rd.

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