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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How to Paint Trim and Doors
Best Paint for Trim and Doors
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.
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!