Tips for Painting Wainscoting

These tips for painting wainscoting can help you create a beautiful, professional finish in your home!

When every toy in the house is on the floor and my children look at me with anguish and say, “It’s too much to do!” My answer – as trite as it may sound – is always the same:

I love this warm gray bead board! Tips for painting wainscoting |

Take it one step at a time.

And I feel like I have to tell myself the same thing as I approach the myriad of projects in this new house.

I love this warm gray bead board! Tips for painting wainscoting |

I may or may not have already refinished a dresser, primed the fireplace, rearranged four eighteen times, painted the dining room, set up a home office, dreamed, and planned… But for the most part, I’m taking my own advice.

And starting with the powder room.

I love this warm gray bead board! Tips for painting wainscoting |

Step one? Paint.

I love this warm gray bead board! Tips for painting wainscoting |

And since the entire room (beadboard wainscoting, walls, and cabinet) were a cream with a brown glaze…

Need to paint some wainscoting? Tips for how to do it well...

I have had a lot of practice lately. 😉  And I’m happy to share my tips for success with you:

I love this warm gray bead board! Tips for painting wainscoting |

Tips for painting wainscoting:

Here is what you’ll need:

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

1. Consider something other than white.

I know that white is the traditional color for trim work and molding, but I have found myself pinning several images lately with dark color scheme trim. I was first inspired by the architecture of our apartment when we lived in Paris that had gray trim, and I carried that over into our master bedroom at the last house. In this case, I went even more extreme by painting the entire wainscoting gray.

I love the warmth it brings as the gray grounds the space and makes the room feel taller with the white above. Plus, the gray is a bit more forgiving of grubby little hands and scuff marks.

2. Use painter’s tape above and below.

I used some delicate Frog Tape (leftover from this project) because I painted the walls white just the night before. I often just use a paint shield and am hesitant to mess with painter’s tape because it takes so long to apply, but this is quick: one strip along the top and one along the bottom.

Because you are working with the nooks and crannies of the chair rail, its especially helpful to have it along the top to protect your wall from stray brush strokes. Plus, if you are doing a color that contrasts significantly to your wall, you’ll need that crisp, clean line.

3. Use a paint and primer in one.

Generally trim is done in semi-gloss paint, or at least satin, making it more difficult to paint over. Save yourself the extra steps of sanding and priming by getting a paint and primer in one. I used Behr Marquee, and while it still took two coats (as I mentioned, I was covering a heavily glazed semi-gloss off white), I could see the advantage of the primer’s adhesion to the slick semi-gloss paint.

4. Have a heavy duty primer on hand for certain areas.

There were a couple of spots after the first coat where the paint didn’t seem to adhere as well (especially below where the pipes attached to the wall; I’m guessing there was some grease or sealant from the plumbing connections). A touch of Zinsser BIN primer did the trick. This can be especially helpful in places with lots of moisture, like bathrooms and laundry rooms.

5. Work in sections to achieve the right brushstrokes.

Whether you’re painting simple board and batten, tongue and groove planks, or bead board like me, you’ll have the top piece and baseboards that go horizontally and the panel piece that goes vertically.

Rather than painting all the horizontal and then all the vertical, work in two foot sections: paint your horizontal rails, using short strokes to get into the creases and seams. Then immediately paint the vertical grooves with long brush strokes so you can smooth out the encroaching horizontal strokes. Then move on to the next section. This gets all the brush strokes going the right direction, avoids visible drips, and leaves you with gorgeous, professional looking wainscoting.

FAQs for Painting Wainscoting:

What if my beadboard covers the entire wall?
The process is similar, but there are a few differences. I have a full tutorial for you here!

What type of paint is best for wainscoting?
I recommend a paint + primer combo (see above).

I’ll tell you what, this is “one step” that was incredibly rewarding. Don’t you love projects like that?

What’s your next one step?

-walls and cabinet: Cameo White (in eggshell latex paint) by Behr Marquee
-wainscoting: Iron Gate (in semi-gloss) by Behr Marquee
-mirror: diy (tutorial here)

I love this warm gray bead board! Tips for painting wainscoting |

 Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Behr, but all opinions are 100% my own. You can read my full disclosure policy here.

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  1. You did a fab job on the painting in that bathroom girly:) I was just getting ready to ask you how you did your mirror, and then noticed the post! lol! I can’t believe that rub n’ buff did that! I’ve used it before, and liked the results, but your mirror looks fabulous with it:) Hope your having fun!

  2. When i first put it up in my bathroom it stained and varnished it but ten yrs. later and it is wearing off so i was thinking of painting it. Now you have really got my rocks to rolling,or at least that is what my sons say i have in my head lol. Gray, i will have to see what colors they have in gray, thanks.

  3. I love the contrast of the gray against the white, and what a transformation from the previously over-glazed bathroom!

  4. This is lovely! You may have convinced me to paint some trim in something other than white. Because this is just so chic. I tend to be too matchy-matchy, thinking all trim must be the same. But you only live once, am I right? Thanks for the inspiration. Pinning!

  5. Hello Rachel
    I have a 1/2 wall of white boxed wainscoting and want to add more boxes for the full height of the wall. My existing wainscoting is painted in semi gloss. Does the top portion need to be the same?

    1. Hi Deborah, I think it depends on the division between the bottom wainscoting and the new top trim. I assume the wainscoting has a clear line of division? If so, and the bottom is a white semigloss, you have options for the top. If you intend to go white, you may want the whole wall to have the paneled look, in which case you’ll want the same paint as the bottom. But if you intend to have color above (which a clear line at the top of the wainscoting), then I think you can choose whatever sheen you want. Does that make sense?

  6. I just finished my bathroom using the same paint and technique from your tutorial and I love love love the way it came out. Just so wonderfully crisp and clean looking. Great job! I only made two tiny changes, first I did use Killz as a primer, which I was glad. My wainscotting is old and has some substantial film or something one it. The one coat of Killz and then two coats of paint were perfect for my situation. The second was I used the exact same colors you suggested, just with satin on the walls instead of eggshell. I absolutely agree with you on the wainscotting painting technique – to paint in two foot sections at a time. That was the most rewarding part of the entire project. I was so excited about it that I painted the wainscotting first and walls second. I wouldn’t suggest that at all. Get your walls done first and then have fun with the wainscotting! Thank you so much for the great tutorial!!!

    1. Dev—wonderful! I’m so glad it was helpful. Thanks for the tip about painting the wall first!

  7. What would you do with a room that has floor to ceiling weinscoting…like the type that looks like there huge picture frames framing out a wall… would you paint the weinscoting molding and the wall in the same finish or would the wall be in eggshells and the weinscoting in semigloss?
    I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find any tips on how to paint a wall that has weinscoting
    Thanks for any advice you can give 🙂

    1. I think generally wainscoating is painted in either satin or semi-gloss, and paint the whole area the same finish.

      1. I am preparing to paint my greatroom. My kitchen and hallway has already been painted with SW Alabaster. My issue is that i don’t want the wainscoting white(Alabaster). The greatroom is adjacent rooms have the white trim.
        I want to paint my greatroom SW Accessible Beige (wall) and Balanced Beige (wainscotting). Doors and trim Balanced beige

        1. Whatever you decided to do, I would lean towards having more than two colors for trim and wall paint.

  8. Hi! My dining room has wainscoting on the bottom, oh, 1/3 or so, then a chair rail, regular smooth drywall and heavy crown molding. I want to do it all in one color (currently pondering BM Stonington Gray or possibly darkening BM Gray Owl by 25-50%). I’m trying to decide if I should paint the walls in eggshell or matte and the wainscoting and trim in satin or if I should paint everything in satin? I want a modern, elegant look, but not too formal (if that makes sense). I’ve considered adding matching molding to the top of the wall, but not there yet 🙂 THANK YOU!

    1. Hi Ashley! So many choices. I love the idea of doing them all in the same color, and I’d consider doing them all in the same finish too. Matte can have a modern look, but I worry about wear and tear. I think satin would be reasonable if your drywall finish is good. Eggshell would be appropriate too.

  9. Hello. I’m hoping you are still responding to questions!
    I have honey oak paneling/wainscoting 1/3 of the way up the wall. I want to paint it. It is shiny. I’m being told I have to degloss it first but after reading about your project it seems I may not have too.
    Your bathroom is amazing . Did you need to degloss your paneling? Thank you!

    1. You caught me answering comments at this very moment! 🙂 I would recommend reading over this post. It sounds like your wainscoting may be more similar to that than it is to my wainscoting. Since mine was already painted, a paint and primer in one did the trick, but it’s probably wise to degloss stained/sealed wood wainscoting. I hope this helps!

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