How to Paint a Room

How to Paint Trim, Baseboards, Wainscoting, Windows, and Doors

©2006 Publications International, Ltd Paint double-hung windows in the sequence shown, moving the top and bottom sashes for access to all surfaces.

Even when the walls and ceilings -- the largest painting surfaces in a room -- are coated, the job isn't nearly done. Painting the trim, baseboards, wainscoting, windows, and doors can take as much time, if not more, than the walls and ceilings. Here's how you should approach these intricate tasks:

Trim, Baseboards, and Wainscoting


If you're using only one color and one finish on all surfaces, you may want to paint the trim as you come to it in the process of painting the walls. Of course, you'll have to keep alternating between brush and roller if you use this technique, but this shouldn't be difficult in rooms that have only a couple of windows and a single door. If you decide to paint the trim first, mask it off with masking tape or painter's tape when you paint the ceiling and walls.

To paint the top of a baseboard, paint down from the top for five or six short strokes, then smooth over them with a single, long, smooth stroke. Then, using a painting shield or a thin piece of cardboard as a movable masker, cut in along the floor. After that, you can fill the unpainted space between with long brush strokes. Paint only 2 or 3 feet of baseboard at a time. Examine the surface for drips, spatters, and overlapped edges, and clean them up immediately. Do not wait until the entire baseboard is painted or the paint flaws will have already set.

Painting wainscoting or paneling requires a similar approach. Cut in along the top and bottom edges where the wainscoting meets the wall and the floor, just as you did with the baseboard. Next, paint the indented panels and the molding around them. Paint tends to collect in the corners of these panels, so your brush strokes should be toward the center of the panel. On the raised surfaces around and between panels, work from the top down, and use up-and-down strokes on the verticals, back-and-forth strokes on the horizontals.

Windows and Doors

Flush doors -- those with smooth, flat surfaces -- are easy to paint with either a brush or a roller, but doors with inset panels can be tricky. No matter what type of door you're dealing with, paint the entire door without stopping. Otherwise the lap marks may show. Before you start, remove the doorknobs, the plates behind them, and the latch plate on the edge of the door.

On ornate doors, start by painting the inset panels at the top of the door. As with wainscoting, paint all the panels and the molding around them. Then work your way down from the top to the bottom, painting the top rail, middle rail, and bottom rail (the horizontals) with back-and-forth strokes. Next, paint the vertical stiles (the sides) with up-and-down strokes. If you're painting both sides of the door, repeat this procedure. If you're painting only one side, paint the top edge of the door with a light coat. Over time, paint can build up on the top edge and cause the door to stick. Finally , paint the door's hinge edge and latch edge.

The job of painting windows will go faster if you purchase a 2-or 2-1/2-inch sash trim brush, angled slightly across the bottom to make it easier to get into 90 corners and tight spaces.

To paint wood-frame windows, first raise the bottom sash more than halfway up and lower the top sash until its bottom rail is several inches below the bottom sash. Paint the bottom rail of the top sash and up the stiles as far as you can go. Paint all the surfaces of the bottom sash except the top edge. Reverse the position of the sashes: top sash up to within an inch of the window frame, bottom sash down to within an inch of the windowsill. Then, paint the formerly obstructed surfaces of the top sash and the top edges of both sashes.

Don't paint the wood jambs in which the sashes move up and down yet. Instead, paint the window frame, working from top to bottom, including the sill. When the paint on the sashes is dry to the touch, move them both down as far as they will go. Paint the exposed jambs. Let the paint dry, raise both sashes all the way, and paint the lower jambs. To keep the sashes from sticking in the jambs, put on only as much paint as is necessary to cover the old coat. Wait for the paint to dry, then lubricate the channels with paraffin or a silicone spray.

Only two more parts of the room need to be painted: the cabinets and floor. We'll tackle that task in the following section.