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Tips for Painting Crown Molding White

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


Painting Stained Crown Molding White

Painting decorative crown molding with a smooth coat of white enamel can really brighten up a room and accentuate the style of your trim. The sharp angles and contours of crown painted white, paired with a medium gray on the walls, is a great color scheme you can't go wrong with.

Using a painting company, painting crown molding throughout a home isn't cheap, especially stained molding that's never been painted. Painting decorative trim is tedious, but if you prefer taking the DIY route over hiring a professional, it's actually easy.

The Best Way to Paint Crown Molding

You can either paint your crown molding by hand, using a high-quality brush, or use an airless sprayer with a spray gun extension. Spraying has obvious advantages over brushing, mostly the time and energy saved from not having to climb up and down a ladder all day with a paint brush.

Brushing brown crown with primer and paint is a bigger time investment than using a good sprayer. With a sprayer, you can apply a thicker and more even coating from the beginning to get optimal coverage in half the time.

Painting Crown Molding Before Installation

For the best finish, crown should be painted after installation, not before. Sure, it's easier to prime and paint before install, but you still have to caulk the molding to the drywall and patch all of the nail holes, which means touch-ups, and touch-ups in the middle of semi-gloss paint leave blemishes in the finish.

Trim enamel is best applied from corner to corner, in one direction, to get a smooth and blemish-free finish. Caulking and nail hole patches underneath primer and paint blend in better too without flash marks.

Should You Paint Crown Before the Ceiling?

Paint your ceiling first, the molding second, and the walls last. If you were to paint the ceiling after the molding, you might sling ceiling paint onto your freshly painted trim. You would also have to cut-in the ceiling paint to the molding upside down, which is more difficult than cutting-in the molding paint to the ceiling.

One of the easiest and fastest ways to paint a ceiling without having to climb up and down a ladder is using the Gooseneck extendable and bendable paint brush, my favorite tool for painting ceilings. This adapter-free brush screws right onto your painting pole. The soft and flexible bristles cut-in paint along molding and ceiling corners really well. I highly recommend it for ceiling painting.

Prepping Crown Molding for Paint

Unless your crown molding is brand new and already white from a factory pre-prime, there's more prep work involved in painting older brown molding a light color. The prep work begins with a good cleaning. Always clean the surface before sanding. Sanding before cleaning can spread contaminants over the surface and push them into the pores of the wood.

Paint Prep Cleaner:

  • Dirtex (powder)
  • Krud Kutter (one of my favorites)
  • TSP
  • Krud Kutter
  • Dawn dish soap

I've used all of the cleaners above, but the two I really like the most are Krud Kutter and Dirtex powder cleaner because both clean well without leaving problematic residue on the surface, unlike TSP, a cleaner that needs careful rinsing to prevent fish-eye. You should always rinse the surface with clean water anyway, but I find the Dirtex cleaner to be the least streaky.

The Best Sandpaper Grit

Knowing the type of wood is important when deciding what grit to use, but generally, a finer sandpaper grit of 220 or 180 is best for the first sanding. Two common woods used for interior house trim are pine and oak. Pine is soft and damages easily from overly coarse sandpaper and aggressive sanding, whereas oak is harder and stronger.

Sanding down to bare wood is unnecessary and can actually end up creating more work. For example, sanding too deep into the grain of oak exposes more of the grain underneath, leading to more filling later. Sand the surface only to dull the existing gloss of the varnish or paint.

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Caulking and Patching Nail Holes

Crown molding has many intricate corners and edges that need to be caulked so you don't see cracks everywhere when it's painted white. Use a high quality acrylic caulk that's paintable. Be sure to give fresh caulk in deeper cracks extra time to fully dry.

Patching Material Options for Interior Trim:

Bondo wood filler is the hardest and most durable patching product to use for patching larger holes in wood, but you have to be careful not to apply a thick layer over the hole. Otherwise, it will be difficult to sand. I really like Crawford's spackle in the green can and regular joint compound powder in the bag. Both products sand very easily and level off nail holes well.

Durham's wood putty dries harder than spackle and works well too for nail holes, but like Bondo, the putty is hard to sand when over-applied. If you don't want to deal with having to sand nail hole patches, buy an orange can of Crawford's painter's putty. Push the putty into the nail holes with a putty knife to level them off with the surface.


Priming and Painting Crown Molding

Factory primed crown doesn't have to be primed again before painting. After the trim is caulked and patched, paint two coats and you're done. But painting brown molding is another story. Stained wood needs a prime coat or two after cleaning and sanding.

Primer for Crown Molding:

  • Latex Bonding Primer
  • Oil-based primer
  • White shellac-based primer

Use either oil-based primer, or shellac-based primer, for brown stained molding. The two best products I've used for many years are Cover Stain and BIN, both by Zinsser. Kilz Original oil primer is good too. Cover Stain is oil-based and BIN is a white pigmented shellac primer. Any of these products work great as a surface sealer and bond coat for painting trim and molding.

What About Latex Primer?

Latex primer is fine for molding that's already been painted. After cleaning, dull the gloss of the existing paint with a light sanding and prime. Don't use latex primer on unpainted crown, especially on raw pine and oak, otherwise you'll end up with tannin bleed, a yellowy film. The best latex primer to use on previously painted crown molding is a bonding primer.

Two Coats Each of Primer and Paint

On unpainted crown, two coats each of primer and paint helps with coverage and durability. For the sake of time and coverage, I always recommend spraying over brushing. An airless sprayer like the Titan 440 Impact is awesome for spraying trim and walls.

With an airless sprayer, you won't have to thin your paint like you would an HVLP. You can get the job done a lot faster using a spray gun extension with your spray gun too. A spray gun extension allows you to spray crown molding without having to use a ladder.

Best Spray Tip Sizes:

  • 210 (4-inch spray fan)
  • 310 (6-inch spray fan)
  • 410 (8-inch spray fan)

The spray tip size to choose depends on how wide your crown molding is. Wider crown calls for a tip with a wider fan so you're not overlapping too much to cover the surface. Refer to the three tip sizes above. The green RAC-X FFLP (fine finish, low pressure) spray tips by Graco are great for trim and doors. I use FFLP tips for most of my airless spray work.

For those who prefer brushing everything, don't use a cheap paint brush, or cheap paint. I really like Purdy XL paint brushes. The bristles are soft and lay the paint off on smoother with less brush marks. I've used Corona brushes many times too with good results.

Best Paint Brush Brands:

  • Purdy
  • Wooster
  • Corona

Whether you're brushing or spraying your molding, use self-leveling enamel, not wall paint. Acrylic trim enamel in a semi-gloss finish is fine. There are many options to choose from, depending on your location. In the United States, in my area, Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore paint are the two big ones.

For trim, I've used Sherwin Williams Pro Classic acrylic for a long time without any callbacks from clients. In the past, I've also used Emerald urethane enamel.

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.

© 2020 Matt G.


Matt G. (author) from United States on August 29, 2020:

Semi-gloss on the crown would just make it more glossy than the satin on the doors. Unless you plan to clean the crown molding a lot, satin on the crown would be fine to match the doors. But if you used semi-gloss on the crown I don't think the difference would be super noticeable.

Matt G. (author) from United States on August 29, 2020:

Use quality trim enamel. Semi-gloss is more glossy than satin for easier cleaning. It could be satin from what you're describing.

joe on August 29, 2020:

sorry - for the crown? should they match the doors if the doors are satin, or can they be semi gloss?

joe on August 29, 2020:

what paint to use? semigloss or satin - our door frames arent as shiny as semi so I wonder if they were painted with satin. thoughts?

Matt G. (author) from United States on May 15, 2020:

You have to cover the ceiling where it meets the crown molding with masking paper. The easiest way to cover the ceiling is using the 3M hand masker I recommend, equipped with your tape of choice. I use Frog tape.

The article explains the process, but you can use a spray gun extension pole, or climb a ladder and use the spray gun alone. You can spray the crown vertically in overlapping sections, spraying from the bottom of it over the top edge onto the masked off ceiling, or you can spray it horizontally, spraying sideways in one direction all the way around the room back to where you started.

I usually spray crown vertically, starting in a corner. I find that spraying crown this way is easier than spraying sideways. Spraying up and down vertically like this also avoids blasting paint spits onto the crown because you're releasing the trigger onto the masking paper. Spraying sideways you're more likely to release the trigger over the crown if you're not careful.

Josh on May 14, 2020:

How do you go about spraying the crown? You mentioned painting ceiling first and then the crown. My question is how do you spray the crown without getting it on the ceiling?

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