How to Paint Wood Trim

Painting wood trim white is a great way to update the look of your home. Find out step-by-step how to paint stained wood trim.

woman painting wood trim white | Maison de Pax

If you’ve been following for any length of time, you know I love paint. And I love white paint. So it’s no surprise that painting wood trim white would be an eventual project for me.

I recently painted white all the wood paneling at our ranch house, and the result was that some of the wood trim needed a makeover, as well. Today I’m going to share what we did step-by-step as well as all the tips and tricks that will help you to paint wood trim the right way.

Painting Wood Trim FAQs

Before we dive into the tutorial, I thought I should address a few FAQs regarding painting trim.

Can you paint over wood trim?

Absolutely! No need to replace wood trim if you like the profile. You can definitely paint it any color you like, as long as you follow the proper technique.

Should I paint my wood trim white?

This is a tougher question to answer… I firmly believe that you can have beautiful stained wood trim. But wood trim can also look dated, especially if it has a particularly orange-ish oak trim hue. We actually opted to keep the majority of our wood trim and doors at the ranch house, and I love it!

wood beams and wood trim in white kitchen

But in some spaces at the ranch, the trim was more orange than others or the wood trim left the room feeling too busy. So in those spaces, I opted to paint the trim white: baseboards, doors, windows, crown molding along the ceilings… all of it.

wood paneling painted white with black door and pot belly stove | Maison de Pax

I think all design choices are personal, but this one especially has great options either way. 🙂

Can you paint wood trim without sanding?

Yes! I’m sharing all the details and products below, but suffice it to say that a good cleaning and a deglosser can help you prepare the wood trim without the mess of sanding dust.

What kind of paint do you use for trim?

There are several factors when choosing paint in general: brand, type, sheen, and color.

The best sheen for trim paint

The most important factor in choosing trim paint is probably choosing the right sheen. The shinier the paint, the more durable (and wipeable!) it is… so you can see why this is important.

For trim and doors, the best option is generally semi-gloss finish. This will be wipeable and classic.

Another good option, though, is satin finish paint. For a slightly more contemporary look, satin trim paint is still fairly durable and wipeable, but it is more matte than semi gloss paint.

The best trim paint

What is the best paint for interior trim? In my humble opinion, many brands make excellent trim paint. Some even have lines referred to specifically as “trim and door paint,” and these are usually great options.

The question of oil-based paint vs latex paint is common, too. The truth is that oil-based paint is typically the strongest, most durable paint… BUT it’s smelly, hard to clean up, and dries very slowly. The slow-drying nature of oil paint is the trick of how to paint trim without brush marks, since it self levels as it slowly dries.

However, water-based paints have come a long way in recent years… and they are a great option, too! If you want to avoid the fumes of oil paint and enjoy easy clean up, water-based trim paints are great. You can see how I used a water-based trim paint for cabinets with great success here if you’d like.

One important piece of information: If your trim was previously painted in oil, you cannot simply paint over with water-based paint. It will peel unless it is prepped and primed properly! Be sure to take that into consideration when choosing your trim paint.

The best white for trim

I am often asked, “What color white is best for trim?” Unfortunately, the answer can depend on a lot of factors: your wall color and the lighting in your home, especially.

Fortunately, untinted white (straight off the shelf without any added color) is almost always a safe trim paint color! It is what we have in both our main home and the ranch house, and I have been so pleased with it.

In our main home, we used Sherwin Williams ProClassic interior oil based (which is what was already on the trim from the previous owners) for trim, doors, cabinetry, and molding, including our fireplace in the living room. Sherwin Williams untinted white is SW 7006 Extra White (see more on this color here). They also have a water-based enamel version if you prefer easier clean up.

brick fireplace with white wood molding | Maison de Pax

At our ranch house, though, we wanted to try some water-based trim paint for the wainscoting and baseboards (since the original wood ones couldn’t be salvaged). Again, we chose an untinted white trim paint. This time we used Magnolia Kilz Trim & Cabinetry paint, and we were super happy with it, too.

navy laundry room with wood shelves under stairs and untinted white trim paint on wainscoting | Maison de Pax

In short, I think you have a lot of good options for painting trim any shade of white trim colors with oil or water-based, high-quality trim paints!

How to Paint Wood Trim

Now with all those details out of the way, here is a step-by-step tutorial for painting trim white without sanding!

And if you still have questions, be sure to watch the video below where I chat a bit more about the process and the various options you have.

Materials needed to paint wood trim white:

  • liquid deglosser and rag (this is the one I’ve used, but I’ve heard great things about this one, as well)
  • all-purpose cleaner and rag
  • 2″ angle sash brush (this one is actually my favorite, and it’s super affordable!), cup or paint tray
  • primer (be sure it is one that is compatible with your trim paint – oil or water-based)
  • wood filler, caulk and caulk gun, and damp rags or paper towels
  • high-quality oil or water-based trim paint in satin or semigloss

How to paint stained wood trim

How to paint wood trim white without sanding

  1. Degloss the trim (optional)

    If your wood trim has any kind of sheen to it, you will want to degloss it in order to ensure that the primer and paint will adhere. If your trim is not glossy, then you may be able to skip this step.
    To degloss, simply apply the deglosser with a lint-free rag according to the directions on the product. Be sure to use proper precautions and ventilation when using a chemical deglosser.

  2. Clean the trim

    Whether or not you degloss, it’s important to make sure the trim is clean and free of oils and dirt so that the paint can adhere. I like to use an all-purpose cleaner like Simple Green or Seventh Gen Free & Clear and a terry cloth rag to scrub the baseboards and trim clean.

  3. Prep (optional)

    If desired, tape off the edges of the trim with high-quality painter’s tape to prevent getting trim paint on the walls or floors. Alternatively, you can use a shield like this while painting or simply free hand the line if you’re feeling confident.

  4. Prime

    If your trim is stained especially dark, then you may want to consider an oil-based primer like this for better coverage, but in most instances, an all-purpose water-based primer like this will work (and is easier for clean up, etc.).
    Using your 2″ angled paint brush, carefully prime the trim with long, smooth strokes.
    If too much wood is still showing through the primer after one coat, you may want a second coat of primer (this may save you having to do multiple coats of paint later).

  5. Fill holes

    I like to fill holes and caulk cracks after priming because the holes are easier to spot once the trim is white rather than wood color… but you could do this step before priming if you prefer. Use a dab of wood filler (not spackling, as that can contract when drying) to fill nail holes and a bead of caulk to fill cracks.
    Then wipe the filler or caulk with a damp rag to remove excess. Allow each to dry according to the package directions.

  6. Paint

    After the primer, filler, and caulk have dried, paint your trim. Be sure to use a high-quality trim paint in satin or semigloss, your 2″ angled brush, and long smooth strokes to avoid drips.
    If needed, do a second coat of paint.
    Be sure to let the paint cure according to package directions… most take at least 24 hours before heavy use!

It’s a slow process, to be sure, but the result can be so worth it: crisp, clean white trim that will last!

white molding around fireplace, mantel, and bookcase with untinted SW Proclassic paint | Maison de Pax

For more details and thoughts on painting trim, don’t miss the video below where I talk you through the process.

And be sure to pin this project for later!

doorway with overlay: the best tips for painting wood trim | Maison de Pax

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  1. I am so happy I found this! I am painting a room with all different types of trim and everywhere- doors, floors and, windows! Your post will be super helpful in the upcoming week!

    1. Thanks for sharing Rachel. I would like to paint a waxed cabinet. Can I follow the same process? Also can I substitute trim paint with semi gloss interior paint? Thanks!

      1. You can definitely use semi-gloss paint! I’m not sure about the waxed cabinet. It might need to be sanded first to give grip to the paint.

  2. Oh. my favorite is Sherwin williams Proclassic oil in Satin….I just caulked, taped and painted 3 coats….no primer in White with 2 drops of yellow b/c I wanted it a little warmer….I did all my trim, wood double hung windows wainscoting and lower part of dining room, all cabinets (kitchen, bathroom and pantry)….I left the doors natural…it dries so hard and never chips and Satin in oil is a little shinier than latex. I did that many yrs. ago and still looks nice.

  3. I FINALLY had my family room’s knotty pine painted but I told the painters to leave the trim of the two closets and doorway the original trim color (dark brown) A year later ‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell them to paint that as well ( the doors were painted as well. My next project will be to paint the trim. Should I paint it the same white as the knotty pine? ( SW Dover White) or regular white trim paint? Your directions are excellent, can’t wait to start painting!

    1. I think using the same trim color is best so you don’t notice the yellow or blue tones of the other white.

  4. I wish you had a YouTube channel. I prefer to listen and watch opposed to reading a s looking at pic

  5. The article was really very useful but just one query to ask that my room’s door paint is of olive color then which color can I use for its door trim?
    Waiting for your response!!!

  6. The article was really very useful but just one query to ask that my room’s door paint is of olive color then which color can I use for its door trim?
    Sending My Support !!!
    Waiting for your response!!!

    1. You can use any color you want, but warm white is probably your best choice since olive tends to be warm color too.

    1. I think it’s preferable to stick with two forms of latex. The other option is to choose oil based primer and then water based paint.

  7. Thank you for this great post! I have a question. I’m wondering what you think about this entry hallway I have full of built-in cabnets. I was planning to whitewash the walls and paint the trim white, but I’m not sure if I should whitewash the doors, or paint them white….Would love your thoughts!! Happy to send a picture if you tell me where.

    1. The question of whether to whitewash or paint is such a tough one! I struggled with it in this room for a couple of years. Lol. If it helps, here is a link to a room where we chose to whitewash instead of paint. I even whitewashed the door in there. Remember that whitewash will go on very differently depending on the type of wood, etc. But maybe that will help you decide?

  8. Did you have any issues with bleed through? I was told that using a latex primer, I may have some bleed through vs. using an oil based primer. But I was told using oil you need to sand a ton and using latex you don’t.

    1. You can sometimes have a tannin bleed through the trim. If you are worried about that, I like a shellac based primer called BIN.

  9. Hi, love the tips! May I ask what color you have your walls painted as it seems as if all the walls are white along with the trim?

  10. So today is day 1 and I went to Sherwin Williams to buy the un-tinted white Pro Classic Water-based you mentioned. They carry also a water-based de-glosser and cleaner combined which I just used on two windows. No smell which is nice. Will let you know how the project turns out but they said it should take one coat of the water-based primer and two coats of paint going this with the water-based de-glosser. So we will see.

  11. Hello!!! Can you recommend how to repaint wooden trim that was painted white but is now chipping? The prior owner of our house painted the trim white but it is now all chipped up and looks bad. I want to repaint it and do it right so if lasts. Any recommendations would be appreciated!

    1. It’s likely that they painted a latex over an oil based paint. Older homes tended to use oil paint. I’m afraid your option is either to sand the top coat off until there is no loose paint, or you can use a ‘stripping’ type product if you are concerned about paint dust.

  12. This is so wrong. Painting trim white interferes with the natural beauty of the wood that should come through.

  13. This was very helpful. I have been debating painting my baseboards white for a long time. My hang up is whether or not to paint the window trim or to leave it the natural wood. I am also considering leaving the doors wood stain but painting the trim around them white. We live in a 1960’s ranch and I would like to keep some of the charm of the original house. Do you have any thoughts about mixing wood stain and white trim in the same room? Also would love to see some before and after pictures. Thanks.

    1. I’d say it depends on the doors. Sometimes leaving the wood in its natural state can look good if it has molding. Look at the interiors of the White House. They often have wood doors with white trim. If it is a plain door, then I would recommend painting it.

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