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5 Baseboard Painting Hacks for Straight Lines and No Mess

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Matt is a professional painter who owns and operates his own painting business, specializing in interior and exterior house painting.


Baseboard Painting Tips for a Perfect Finish

Crawling on your hands and knees to tape floors and paint baseboards is a slow and tedious process if you have miles of trim to paint, but my tips in this article will help you finish faster with sharper lines. If you're painting baseboard in multiple rooms, I recommend using a paint sprayer to spray the trim instead of using a brush, but if you're only painting trim in one or two small rooms, brushing is usually the better option.

Before you paint your baseboards, vacuum the floor where it meets the wood, especially carpeting. Pet hair and debris collect there and ends up on the paint brush. Another tip is to use a high quality brush that lays the paint on smoother with the least amount of brush strokes as possible. Some of my favorite paint brushes for cutting-in are Purdy brushes. An angled trim brush 2 to 2 1/2-inches wide works best.

I also strongly recommend going with trim enamel that self-levels to help level out your brush strokes even more as you paint. Three self-leveling paints I've used many times for trim include Pro Classic, Emerald Urethane enamel and the Pro Industrial water-based alkyd urethane enamel. All three are from Sherwin Williams.

In this article I cover five baseboard painting hacks and tips that will make your project go faster with pro results.

Drywall taping knives make great paint edgers for baseboard.

Drywall taping knives make great paint edgers for baseboard.

1. Skip the Painter's Tape

One of the best baseboard painting hacks is to insert a taping knife, or even a piece of cardboard, into the space between the baseboard and the floor so you can cut-in easily without making a mess on the floor.

Simply move the taping knife along the bottom of the baseboard as you paint. This doesn't always work if the baseboard is tight to the floor, but sometimes there's a gap between the two. A larger, 18-inch taping knife works best for this trick.

This painting hack bypasses having to tape the floors and works great if you're using a brush, not a sprayer. Painters' tape can get pricey if you need to buy several rolls to paint all of the trim in the house, not to mention the annoying task of applying the tape.

2. Press Down the Painters' Tape

If you're unable to do the first hack, you'll have to tape the floor and wall. When using painter's tape to paint baseboard, a simple trick for a better seal is to press down the edge of the tape with a 5-in-1 tool or the corner edge of a taping knife.

Painters' tape usually won't lay down flat from your finger alone, and small voids between the loose tape edge and surface allow paint to leak through. Pressing down your tape really helps reduce paint leakage for sharper lines.

I also strongly recommend using high quality masking tape too to prevent leaks when painting. Frog tape is my personal favorite for masking. The cost is only a few more dollars per roll and it saves a lot of time. The tape is designed for the purpose of preventing paint leakage.

I love my 3M hand masker for trim, walls and windows.

I love my 3M hand masker for trim, walls and windows.

3. Use a Hand Masker with Frog Tape

Masking floors and walls is a must if you're spraying your baseboard, but even for brushing, covering the floor with tape and paper adds another layer of protection from drips and sprinkles. If you're painting the walls after the trim, masking paper protects the floor in case the drop cloth slides away from the baseboard when rolling.

The most efficient way to mask floors and walls is with the 3M hand masker. Masking truly sucks without this tool. The masker holds your tape and plastic and allows you to stick both of them to the surface at the same time. With a hand masker, you can apply masking paper and tape much faster than tearing off separate pieces of paper and taping them down.

Rolls of 9-inch masking paper cost only a few dollars each and save a lot of time. Combine the masker with a roll of Frog tape and your paint lines will be sharper. My article What's the Best Masking Tape for Painting? will help you choose the right tape for your project.

Re-caulk those gaps with flexible caulk.

Re-caulk those gaps with flexible caulk.

4. Re-Caulk Baseboard Edges

In order to get perfectly straight lines along baseboard edges, the caulk must be flat, not lumpy. Over time, old caulk separates from the crack it once filled. This is caused by wood expansion, bad caulk, or both. Taping over a sloppy or defective caulk job results in uneven paint lines. If you're painting quarter round too, caulk the gap between that and the baseboard.

One of the most important baseboard painting tips is to use quality caulk that's flexible and paintable. Make sure the caulk is totally dry before you paint over it too. The cheap tubes of caulk at the paint store are less flexible and crack sooner than premium caulk.

The caulk I use the most is from Sherwin Williams. I've had success with their Shermax elastomeric caulk and their Quick Dry caulk in the light green tube.

5. Score Your Tape with a Razor Knife

The way you remove your painters' tape is just as important as how you put it on. As trim paint dries it bridges to the taped wall and floor. When you peel off the tape it can peel off the baseboard paint too unless you score it first with a razor. The same thing can happen when peeling tape from a freshly painted wall.

Paint peeling off during tape removal happens more with cheaper paints and less with premium paints. I remember when I used Promar 200 paint I would have to score the tape on every job to prevent peeling during clean up.

The last thing you want to do is ruin your hard work during clean up. To avoid this problem, simply remove the tape while the paint's still very wet, or carefully score the painted tape edge with a utility knife before peeling it off when dry. This separates the bridged paint so it doesn't peel off.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Matt G.