Painted wood floors are something of a divisive issue among interior designers. Some see painting as a practical way to freshen up a heavily damaged floor, while others view it as virtual sacrilege against the natural beauty of wood.
While there are times when painting a wood floor makes good sense, the potential downsides mean this isn’t a project to undertake lightly.
The Pros: Affordability and Creative Free Reign
If you need to refurbish a heavily damaged floor on a budget or you want to let your creativity shine, painting might be the way to go.
It’s a Budget-Friendly Upgrade Option
When a wood floor starts showing signs of wear, such as scratches, dings and fading, refinishing is the most common approach to restoring it. This involves stripping, sanding, and repairing the floor, then applying a finish and sealer. It’s a labor-intensive job that takes skill and the proper equipment to do right, so it’s hard for a DIYer to get good results. If you want a professional finish, you’ll need to pay for labor as well as materials.
Painting a wood floor also takes time and effort, but it’s overall cheaper and easier than refinishing. Most homeowners can do the job well themselves, so if you go this route, you’ll save money on labor.
Painting is even more practical when your floor is heavily damaged. An old floor might be so far gone that restoring it to an attractive state might be prohibitively expensive or practically impossible. By painting, you’ll get a floor that looks up-to-date and good as new.
If you already have a painted wood floor and you’re debating whether to re-paint it or strip it and stain it, make sure you know what you’re dealing with first. If the floor was painted when you bought the house, there’s probably a reason for that. Chances are the wood is low quality or it’s old and irreparably damaged, meaning stripping and staining probably won’t give you good results.
You’ll Enjoy Total Design Freedom
Paint gives you almost limitless possibilities for designing your floor, far beyond what stain, tile, vinyl flooring, and carpet allow.
You can stick with a solid color, create traditional patterns such as checks or chevrons or go bold with big geometric designs. With flooring stencils, you can recreate the look of tile. For a touch of personality, paint a border around the room or a rug in the center. Painted accents like this work just as well on stained wood floors as on fully painted ones. If you want something splashier, flowers, cow spots, and abstract designs can all be done with paint.
Painting lets you change the whole look and feel of a room. In a room that gets little natural light, even a medium-toned wood floor can make the place feel dark. A floor painted a brilliant white will brighten the whole space.
The Cons: Less Durability and Greater Risk of Regret
Paint shows wear sooner than stain, and if you decide your painted floor doesn’t look so good after all, it won’t be easy to go back.
Paint Doesn’t Always Age Well
Stained wood floors stay looking good for 10 years or longer. Because stain soaks into the wood’s surface, it wears gradually with relatively little color change.
Paint, however, sits on the surface of the floor, so it wears away faster. Oil-based paints are more durable than latex enamel varieties, but some states have banned interior use of oil-based paints due to the harmful fumes it emits.
Depending on the type of paint used and the amount of foot traffic through the room, a painted wood floor can begin to peel, crack or chip in just a few years. You could end up with patches of bare wood showing through in a completely different color from the paint. Repairing this damage isn’t hard, but it can become a real nuisance.
Painted Floors Don’t Suit Every Home
Painted wood floors create a folksy, country cottage feel that might be just the thing you’re looking for in a small, cozy home. On the other hand, in a spacious Georgian Colonial, a painted floor can look out of place and cheapen the home’s grandeur. If you live in an older home and want to maintain its original character, get to know the style of the period to find out whether or not a painted floor will fit in.
There’s Still Work Involved
A professional can have your floors refinished in three to four days, including drying time. Painting can take even longer whether you hire a pro or not. First, you’ll need to sand the floor and wash it to remove the finish. Glossy finish will make your paint adhere unevenly.
Wait a day or two for the floor to dry, then apply a primer. When the primer is dry, lightly sand it to help the paint stick and then clean the floor with mineral spirits. You can then paint the floor, allowing 24 hours drying time between each coat, and finish with a coat of urethane seal.
A Change of Heart Will Cost You
If you ever want to restore the original wood of your floor, it will be much harder and more expensive than restaining a floor. The floor will have to be carefully sanded and, most likely, cleaned with a floor stripper and hand scraper to completely remove the paint before staining is possible.
If you’re planning on selling your home, many of your potential buyers are going to view the paint on your floor as damage that will cost them to repair. That could reduce your selling price.
A painted wood floor can change the whole ambiance of a room and give you exactly the look you want. Painting is also a practical way to refurbish an irreparably damaged wood floor when you’re on a tight budget.
Paint shows wear faster than stain, though, and if you change your mind, restoring the original wood will be a challenge. If you’re thinking of painting your wood floor, take the time to thoroughly consider whether it’s the right choice for your home and lifestyle.