Have a lot of trim and interior door painting to do? This guide will walk you step-by-step through the entire process for how to paint trim and doors. We’ll cover what kind of paint to use on trim and doors, the tools you’ll need and what to tackle first.
Some painting questions I’ve been asked more recently pertain to painting trim and doors – what kind of paint to use on them, how to patch holes, etc.
In the past 13 years, I have painted more trim and doors than I want to think about. Like three full houses of trim and doors worth. It makes me a little sick just thinking about it. In my early days of painting trim, I actually thought that just slapping the paint on there would magically fill any nail holes in the trim.
I was an idiot.
Needless to say, paint does not magically fill those nail holes.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about painting trim and doors. Hopefully, you can learn from my stupidity and save yourselves a few tired arms.
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Best Paint for Trim and Doors and Tools
Interior Door and Trim Paint
First off, let’s talk about what kind of paint to use on trim and doors. Do not, I repeat, do not use flat or eggshell paint on trim or doors. Especially not flat. Guess who made another idiotic move in her early days of painting and used flat on trim. This girl right here. Big mistake. Flat and eggshell paints don’t clean up as easily as semi-gloss and gloss sheens do. If you get dirt and grime on flat paint, you might as well go on and get your paint brush out to paint over it. With semi-gloss and gloss sheens, you can grab a wet cloth and usually wipe away any dirt or grime.
I’ve used four different colors on doors and trim: Behr’s standard semi-gloss white that you just pick up right off the shelf, Behr’s Bit of Sugar (a white-white), Behr’s Limousine Leather (black) and Crumb Cookie by Valspar (more of a creamy white). The Bit of Sugar and Limousine Leather were used in various places throughout the 70’s Landing Pad and the Crumb Cookie was used in the Beloved Foreclosure, if you want to see those colors in action.
Brushes and Rollers
When it comes to painting tools, such as brushes and rollers, this is not the time to buy the cheapest one you can find. You don’t want to end up with trim and doors that sport fuzz from the roller and hairs from the brush. If you buy the cheap ones, that is exactly what you will get.
During all the painting of the 70’s Landing Pad, I found that my favorite brush for painting trim and edging in along walls as well was an angled 2″ Wooster paintbrush. Purdy is another good paintbrush brand as well.
As far as your paint roller covers go, you’re probably going to want a smaller sized roller for painting doors (I’ve found that for the most part using a brush is easier than using a roller on trim). My personal pick for those smaller sized roller covers are the Purdy brand ones. As far as the actual roller frame, just about any of those will work no matter the brand. Just choose one that feels good in your hand and fits the size of your roller cover.
Paint Trays and Pails
A paint tray is a paint tray. Unless you just have a certain preference, this is where you can usually buy the cheapest one. One little gem that I have found very helpful when painting trim though is the Handy Paint Pail. It has a nice little handle that easily fits over your hand and also a magnet inside the pail so that you don’t lose your brush.
Wood Filler and/or Spackling
If you have any holes to fill in your trim or doors, you will want to fill those before painting. I’ll go over how to do that in just a minute, but in terms of what to buy, you can either go with a wood filler or spackling. Now, I used to be a wood filler girl for any holes in woodwork that needed to be filled. However, a contractor who did some work for us suggested I try using spackling instead, which is used to fill holes in drywall.
I tried spackling once and was sold. It’s much easier to use than wood filler and often doesn’t even require sanding.
P.S. Isn’t spackling like a super funny word? Who came up with that one?
If you have any gaps between the wall and trim, you’ll want to fill those gaps with caulk to get a finished look. For this you’ll need caulk and a caulk gun. For caulk, I like to use DAP’s Premium Molding and Trim Sealant. You can use a regular caulk as well, but it will be more likely to crack over time. A basic caulk gun will be just fine.
Tape and Dropcloths
Once more, don’t buy just cheap masking tape to tape off the walls and floor alongside your doors and trim. There really is a difference in tape. Masking tape isn’t made to seal out paint, therefore you are bound to get some paint bleed. Some tapes may also not be made to go on walls, therefore you could risk pulling paint off your walls. Always use an actual painter’s tape.
I use FrogTape for all my taping off on walls and floors. I also use it to tape off trim when I’m painting walls. If you are applying tape to a freshly painted wall, then use their Delicate Surface version which is made specifically for newly painted surfaces. Use their Multi-Surface tape for cured painted surfaces and if you have textured walls, they have a textured surface tape you can use for that.
Make sure you also pick up a drop cloth to put over the floor in the area you will be painting as well.
How to Paint Trim and Doors
Do I paint trim or walls first?
If both your trim and walls need to be painted, then you might be wondering what you should paint first – the trim or the walls. For me personally, I find it best to paint the trim first, then the walls. Most people prefer to paint their trim white and oftentimes, your wall color is not white and usually darker than white. So, if you accidentally get your wall color on your trim, it’s going to take more coats of white trim paint to cover it. For this reason, I paint my trim first, let it fully cure for at least 24 hours, tape it off, then paint my walls.
Before you can actually paint your trim and doors, you’ll need to prep it.
The first thing you will want to do is fill holes with either the wood putty I noted above or the spackling. My personal preference is the spackling.
To fill the holes, just take a bit of spackling on your index finger, gently push it into the hole, then rub your finger back and forth gently over the hole to smooth out the spackling. If you smooth it out enough with your finger, you most likely won’t have to sand any of the spackling after it dries. Let the spackling dry (it’ll take less than an hour probably unless you had some big holes to fill), then look at it to determine if you need to sand any to make it smooth or if you need another coat of spackling. Most smaller holes only require one coat of spackling. If you need another coat, just repeat the steps above. If you have to sand it smooth, use a fine grit sandpaper.
If you have any gaps between the wall and your trim, then caulk those gaps with your caulk and caulk gun. Apply a small, but even amount of pressure on the gun and then use your finger to smooth the caulk out.
After the caulk has dried, tape off around any walls or flooring that the trim is attached to. Be sure to run your finger or fingernail firmly along the edges of the tape to seal it and prevent paint bleed.
Finally, lay a drop cloth down in the area where you will be painting.
Painting Interior Doors and Trim
Anytime you’re painting something, a general rule of thumb is to brush all the places that need to be painted with the paintbrush first, rather than rolling first.
I’ve found that trim such as baseboards and molding around doors usually just need to be brushed anyway and not rolled. Don’t go back and forth with your brush, make long strokes and as soon as you see your brush is running out of paint, get more on it. By making long strokes rather than going back and forth, you will hopefully only have to do 1-2 coats.
If you are painting doors that are not flat, then brush the detailed places on the door first, then come back with the roller for the flat places.
With my front door, I used a paintbrush on all the trim/detail work on the door and then used a roller on the flat parts.
After using the paint and paintbrush as needed, go back over the flat or smooth areas of your trim or doors with the roller. Once more, as soon as you see your roller starting to run out of paint, load it back up.
All the interior bathroom, bedroom and closet doors in our house are flat, so I was able to completely roll them, with the exception of using the brush around the doorknobs and hinges.
Remove the tape.
As soon as you have rolled or brushed on your final coat of paint, remove the painter’s tape. Pull it off slowly at a 45 degree angle. If you let the paint dry before removing the tape, you have two options:
- Go back over the spots right where the tape is with a little more paint and the paintbrush, then remove the tape immediately.
- Use a utility knife to score along the tape and paint, then pull the tape up.
Whew, that was a lot! I don’t think I realized how much actually goes into painting trim and doors. I’m off to drink a cheap beer – leave your tips and questions in the comments and I’ll be sure to answer them!
You might find these other painting tips helpful too:
Types of Paint to Use on Cabinets – I’ve painted cabinets five different times and this is what I’ve learned.
What kind of paint do I use on that? – A guide to what kind of paint you can use on various types of surfaces.
Topcoats and When to Use Them – Every kind of topcoat and when you need to use them.
My Best Tips and Tricks for Painting Furniture – All my tips in one place.
Want to remember these painting tips for later? Just pin the image below:
I am completely repainting the interior of my house. All of the knobs on my doors are gold. I want them silver/pewter. better to take them out and paint them, or buy new?
Jenna @ Rain on a Tin Roof says
Personally, I would take them off and buy new ones. That being said though, I have seen where some people spray paint their knobs. My only concern there is that over time, the paint is going to wear off because doorknobs see so much action.
Question: no top coat? I’m doing my house and omg is so much work just on the trimming
As long as you use either semi-gloss or a hi-gloss finish, you don’t need a topcoat.
What do you mean by “top coat?l
A top coat is a clear coat you put on top of some painted pieces to add more protection to them.
All great tips Jenna, like you I have painted so many houses in my time, I really don’t mind the painting it’s the prepping before you can even start, but if you want a good paint job that prep work is just as important as the paint.
I’m getting ready to try something I have never done, I don’t know how it will turn out,but I’m using spackling for texture, supposedly you apply a little sand very lightly apply more sand lightly apply more, then you knock off any sharp edges with sandpaper. Then paint, This method is for very small areas not for whole walls. I’m going to try it on a small area in my outside storage room and if it will hold up there it will hold up in the house.
Jenna @ Rain on a Tin Roof says
Oooo, let me know how it works out Patty! I haven’t heard of that before!
Pinned! I finished walls this last weekend and next weekend is doors and trim. I really don’t like doing trim, but I want to take my time and do it right.
Thanks for the tips!
Jenna @ Rain on a Tin Roof says
I hate painting trim as well, Randi – it is such a pain, but better to do it right the first time than have to go back and redo it!
Jenna, I have a question: what should be used on a wall or ceiling when the house has settled and there is a faint crack all along the ceiling?
Jenna @ Rain on a Tin Roof says
To patch the crack, use spackling or caulk. Just make sure you smooth the caulk out as much as possible before it dries, as it is harder to sand than spackling. Then on a ceiling follow up with a matte/flat paint. For wall paint, just touchup with whatever paint you used before. 🙂
My interior window trims are dark green and I want to go white. Can I make this happen without green showing through?
Jenna @ Rain on a Tin Roof says
Hi Ginny! Yes, I would prime it first, then paint.
Lorry Norton says
Use Kilz! It will prevent thr dark color from bleeding through.
So we have a 70’s landing pad too that I am slowly starting to re-paint. I don’t see that you used primer. Can you tell me how durable the paint is without it? All our woodwork is that cheap dark brown, but I don’t want to have to prime it and then paint it all. Thanks in advance!
Hi Mary! No, I didn’t use primer on our doors and trim, but ours were already an off-white color to begin with. In your situation, I would suggest buying a quart or sample size of good paint that already has a primer built-in or that is one coat coverage. My personal favorite is Behr Marquee. Use that over a piece of trim or door and see how it responds. My bet is that even without a primer, you’ll still have to give it two coats. The biggest thing to check for is that after you paint it, and it’s been there for a couple of weeks, make sure the old color isn’t bleeding through. Hope that helps!
Beth Novak says
Hi Jenna, the wooden baseboards in our house either need to be replaced or painted. What do you recommend? The baseboards are the original builder, maple-stained.
Well, you could go either way, Beth. If they are in good condition, I would keep them and paint them. Prime them first since they are stained, then paint them. If they aren’t in the best of shape or you don’t like the style, then replace them. 🙂 Hope that helps!
Awesome post! Question about primer… what if it’s generic 90’s oak? Do I need to prime first for it to stick?
Yes, I would definitely prime it first.
We just bought a house and the previous owners “spot” painted the doors. The areas they painted are much whiter than the other areas, and there are areas where the paint was dripping and dried that way. They look terrible! Should I sand them down before I paint them? Thank you!
I would just sand the drips off and then paint the entire door with your new color.
Many of our white doors and door frames were scratched down to bare wood by a dog. How do I repair and repaint? I’ve got no clue as to the color and brand of paint originally used. Can tell me how to go about this job? Thanks.
You would probably want to sand them lightly to even out the scratches, then paint the entire trim work with new paint.
Great tips, I am always painting and diy-ing 🙂 Thanks for linking up to Creative Mondays. Hope you can join me for The Wednesday blog hop later this week.
Caitlin Fine says
Just to triple check before I start…I don’t need self leveling paint? I have the Behr paint + primer in semi gloss in white already and don’t want to buy anything else if I don’t need it!
You should be good!
Loved this! We just bought our first home and it has that 90s yellow oak throughout. I am eager to get it all updated and painted white. That being said how would you do the front door? It is the oak wood inside and outside…without having to change the entire door, would you paint both sides? (Does that make sense lol) Our outside is painted more neutral and dark browns…white may look weird on the outside. Thoughts?
Hi Kerry! If you want to get rid of the oak, then yes, I would say paint both sides. You’ll probably want to prime first. You could always do white on the inside if that’s what the rest of your interior doors are and then do a color on the outside – maybe a classic navy to go with the neutral and dark browns outside?
Kerry Chester says
Thanks for the help Jenna! That’s a great idea…navy would be pretty. We have a lot of oak to tackle! 🙂
You can never go wrong with navy! 🙂 Good luck with everything!
Have you painted trim with carpet? Do you just lay a drop cloth and push it under the trim?
I have. I try to push tape up and under the trim first and then lay out a drop cloth as well.
I painted my interior doors with semi gloss, and they stick in places. I let them dry for a few days before closing them/using them normally. What did I do wrong?
Hmmm, that’s odd Jennie. I do know that sometimes it can just take a much longer time than usual for paint to fully cure. Especially so if you live in more humid areas. Maybe leave them cracked and not fully closed for a full week or so and see if that helps.
Richter Dennis says
What was the type of finish that was on the doors before you painted them? And what type of paint did you use? Because sometimes the two might not “like” each other!
I was curious if you sand and prime before painting the trim? If so, what kind of primer do you use?
I don’t usually sand and prime before painting trim. The only time I would prime trim would be if it were stained and I was painting over it. I would probably use Kilz2 as a primer in that case.
Barbara West says
I enjoyed reading your post. I have a couple of questions I would appreciate your advice on. We are painting our walls natural linen and our trim black. My question is; do we paint the caulk line or leave it white? If we do paint it; should it be natural linen or black?
Good question! For the most part, I usually end up painting the caulk line the wall color.
I have painted doors and trim, white semigloss. Now the doors are sticking like crazy. And loud when opening and closing. Any tips? HELP!
Leave them open a little bit for a few weeks to fully cure. Sometimes, it takes semigloss paints longer to cure and especially in the summer.
I plan to paint our 80’s trim white and plan to use a primer first. I’ve seen other posts that say to caulk after painting the trim if you going white. Your posts seems to recommend caulking BEFORE painting, what’s the benefit to before vs after?
I think you can go either way. I caulk before because some whites that you paint on trims aren’t as white as caulk or vice versa. I like for the caulk and trim paint to match as much as possible.
So I’m staining my exterior front door. The interior is painted white. I don’t know what color to put on the door frame edges (all around where the door shuts). white or brown stain? Is there a general rule of thumb? My painter left it blank when he painted the interior white so I’m thinking it’s supposed to be stained like the outside. But I just don’t know. Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks
No general rule of thumb that I know of, Talia! I think you could go either way!
Diane Vitale says
I’ve read all the questions and answers, but I just want to clarify one thing. I have dark stained pine trim with a varnish or some kind of clear coat over it. Do I need to sand, or just prime it with Kilz 2? Thanks for all the great information.
If the clear coat doesn’t seem too “thick”, then I would test out just priming it first, then painting. Do it in a small spot and see how it goes. If that doesn’t work well, then I would use a liquid deglosser on it, then primer, then paint. I wouldn’t want to sand all that trim with it’s grooves and stuff.
What about painting closet doors? Would you take them down and paint both sides? It seems like I should.
Personally, I wouldn’t, unless it’s like a walk in closet. But if it’s the back of a closet door that you never really see, I wouldn’t worry with painting the back of it.
I want to paint over stained interior doors and am having a difficult deciding on the trim for white doors. Should the trim and doors be the same white or is there a rule of thumb
Generally, I do the same white color for both the doors and trim.
I’m about to paint all the trim and doors in our house… why do you suggest pulling the tape off while it’s still wet, or putting on some wet paint right before? Would it not be okay if I just let the paint dry first? Thanks!
If you let the paint dry while the tape is still on, you risk pulling the dried paint off the trim and doors.
Our doors are painted with oil based paint. Can we paint over them with water based paint? Thank you!
Based from my experience, I wouldn’t do it. I’ve tried this before and it has just never ended well. I’ve heard of some people having success with sanding the finish, priming it, then going over it with latex-based, but I’ve never had much success with it. If you really want to try it, I would suggest doing it in a small spot first and seeing how that goes.
So my trim and doors are off white and I am thinking of painting them white. It seems like such a big job to tackle but I feel it would update our home. I have painted many rooms aver the years but never the trim and doors. Is it worth it?
I think it’s worth it, Tracey. Those things can make a huge difference in the space!
Tori Woessner says
My interior door are pretty beat up and dirty….kids are dirty. Before I paint the doors should I clean them?
Yes, definitely clean first.
I currently have carpet, but am getting new LVP flooring next month. New, white shoe molding will be installed, too. I’ve replaced brass knobs and hinges with brushed nickel levers. I freshly painted our walls a nice grey last year that is in good shape and I’ll be keeping. I have white trim and doors That I haven’t touched in the 14 years we’ve been in our house. I’m debating repainting the doors and trim. Should I wait to paint until after installation? I’m wondering if the new molding and associated holes will stick out if I do it before, but don’t want paint on my new flooring.
You could always before installation to avoid getting paint on your new flooring, then come back and touch up the areas as needed after it’s installed.
Do you sand everything before painting the trim and doors?
No – didn’t sand.
Hello, thanks for the info. Our trim is currently painted probably with a semi-gloss white, however needs a refresh. We don’t know if it was previously painted with oil based or latex paint. We are thinking of doing the Behr Bit of Sugar semi gloss – should we try to get paint and primer in one? Do we even need primer?
My baseboards and trim are painted white by previous owner. There are many bumps and imperfections, likely due to it being painted without cleaning the baseboards and trim beforehand. Do you recommend we sand down the painted wood before we begin re-painting to have a smooth surface? What steps would you take in this case?
Ayana O. says
This was SO helpful!!! I did. It read before painting my room but I’m in the process of touch ups and doing the doors and trim and realize the mistakes I’ve made. Your tips make so much sense. Can’t believe I let my paint dry before removing tape. Never again!