Pro Tips: Decorative Floor Painting

Painted floors can create a homey, warm atmosphere or make a bold graphic statement. Here are some helpful tips on how you can enhance any wood floor with a decorative pattern.

By Marie Proeller Hueston | Updated Apr 23, 2014 2:56 PM

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Painted Floors


You can’t deny the decorative appeal of painted floors, whether they’re patterned in checkerboard, stripes, or some other graphic design. “Painted floors allow your unique creative expression to flourish,” says decorative painter Elise C. Kinkead, author of 50 Ways to Paint Ceilings and Floors. “Painted floors are also an inexpensive way to nudge a well-worn floor into a few more years of service.” But where to begin? Kinkead offers the following advice to guide do-it-yourselfers in the process.

Browse magazines or search the Web in order to find a pattern that you love. Then lay out a paper version of the design, securing your “test run” to the floor by means of low-tack tape. Experiment with different positions around the room before deciding which looks the best. If the room in question has a focal point, such as a fireplace or bay window, consider orienting your floor pattern in such a way that it draws the eye toward that striking main feature of the space.

With the exception of laminates, whose damage-resistant finish does not accept paint well, most any wood floor can be painted successfully. As in other painting projects, it’s essential that you do a good job of preparing the surface. In the case of painted floors, proper preparation involves three steps. The very first step is to remove any waxy residue from the floor surface. Commercial wax removers are commonly available; inquire at your local hardware store.

After cleaning the floor thoroughly and allowing it to dry out completely overnight, continue on to the next step: sanding. Lightly abrade the floor with 120-grit sandpaper secured to the end of a sanding pole (alternatively, rent a floor sander for the day). Once you’re finished, vacuum the sawdust and then wipe away any lingering grit with a slightly damp cloth. Again, allow the wood to dry completely.

Now complete the final step, which is to repair any cracks or gouges by means of wood filler. Of course, if you appreciate and prefer the look of a time-worn surface, then skip this step. Imperfections in the floor won’t compromise, and may even enhance, the project.

Clean, sanded, and dry, the floor is now ready to be primed. Opt for an oil-based primer if you wish, but Kinkead prefers water-based products, both for their low odor and fast-drying characteristics. The primer coat goes on mainly with a roller; along edges or in corners, cut in with a paintbrush. Note that if you are painting the floor in a single hue, you can use a primer tinted to your chosen color to cut down on the need for multiple top coats. Remember also that primer may serve as one of the colors in a multicolor design. The point is that there are ultimately strategic, timesaving advantages to choosing a primer carefully.

Painted Floors - Taped


Having given the primer ample opportunity to dry completely, proceed to outline your pattern on the floor. Do so with chalk or a carpenter’s pencil, making the faintest mark possible that’s still visible over the primer. Lay tape just to the edge of the marks, pressing down on the tape edges with a dull putty knife for optimal adhesion. At this point, wipe away all chalk or pencil with a damp cloth. And before you start to paint, check again to be certain the floor surface is still dry.

Believe it or not, there are paints formulated especially for application on floors, and the range of available colors has only expanded over the years. Regular latex wall paint is fine to use, too, provided you finish it with a sealer. In applying the top coat, as you did with the primer, use a roller wherever possible and a paintbrush in those areas where a roller just won’t do. Allow each coat to dry before painting on the next one. For solid coverage, two coats ought to be enough. Remove the tape very carefully, at a 45-degree angle, only after the paint has dried.

Plan on sealing your paint job with two coats of either oil- or water-based polyurethane (unless you’ve painted with an oil-based product, in which case you must use an oil-based poly sealer). Generally, a pad is the recommended applicator for sealers of this type, but manufacturers’ instructions vary. Read the label on the can of sealer you plan to purchase before committing to any specific tools for this final stage of the project.

For a slightly worn appearance, leave the floor unsealed for a period of time, or hand-distress the surface with sandpaper. Once it has developed the patina you want, proceed to add the sealer. How long does it take before you can bring furniture back into the room? That depends on the sealer. Again, read the label. Usually, you need to wait no more than 24 hours.