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Trim & Molding: Is Wood or Plastic Better?

I had to replace the baseboards, trim, and molding in my home, and considered using plastic. This is what I learned.

Should I use plastic or wood molding?

Should I use plastic or wood molding?

Which Is Better: Wood or Plastic Trim and Baseboard?

Lately, there is a proliferation of plastic trim to finish your walls. Is plastic better than wood? Why or why not? How do they compare?

A few years ago, we remodeled a bathroom due to a broken pipe. My ex-husband thought it was smart to buy plastic molding for those corners where the ceiling and floor meets the walls. We also thought that plastic would be better in the bathroom since it wouldn't rot or mildew. Plastic was certainly a little less expensive.

But is it any better? Read on.

Quick Answer: Wood Is Better

Long answer: In my experience, while plastic may be cheaper, wood is much better in the long run.

The Pros and Cons of Using Wood Trim and Molding

  • For one thing, wood is a renewable resource, while plastic is made from petroleum and other chemicals which are in shorter supply than ever and causes a lot of pollution in their manufacturing.
  • Wood trim is nicely flexible so you can cut it to the exact size you need, then slide it into place.
  • Wood takes to paint and caulking like a duck to water, enabling you to have a nice, smooth finish.
  • With wood, you need to be more careful about water. Yes, if it is constantly wet it can rot and mold, but a good coat of waterproof paint goes a long way to controlling this. Besides, if the wood in your bathroom is constantly wet, you have a bigger issue at hand.
  • While it is smart to pre-drill your nail holes just to ensure a thin small board does not crack when you nail it in, you can often nail down your wooden trim with thin finishing nails without pre-drilling.
  • Wood trim is fairly easy to remove, if necessary. You just slide something thin and flat (like a knife or screwdriver tip) under it near a nail, and pry up gently. Once you have a gap, slide your cats paw or nail puller under for more leverage. Gently work you way along the length of the trim board, raising it up a bit at a time. Usually you can get a full 8 or 10 foot piece out without cracking or breaking it. Pull the nails out and reuse it.
  • While wood trim will cost you a little more, it's ease of use and reuse makes it a winner in my book.

The Pros and Cons of Using Plastic Trim and Molding

  • Plastic is definitely cheaper than wood.
  • While plastic molding won't rot or mildew, it is very brittle and not very forgiving. You'll waste more in installation due to breakage.
  • You have to pre-drill every nail hole because even thin finishing nails driven directly into it will cause it to break.
  • It has almost no flexibility, so if the area you are nailing it to is a smidge crooked, it is very hard to force it to follow the wall without breaking.
  • I recently had to remove some of it to replace a floor board. Because it is brittle, there was no way to just ease it up a little at a time and save it. It snapped at every nail when I tried to pry it up.
  • Another drawback was that its slick surface did not take latex paint very well. The paint beaded up and left brush marks and drips.
  • Most plastics don't biodegrade and are therefore not great for the environment. Also, many plastics are made with chemicals that are unsafe for humans. If off-gassing bothers you, don't use plastic.

Readers' Answers

anonymous 5 years ago
I'd rather avoid plastics and go for wood!

Chazz 5 years ago from New York
Wood. You can stain it and never have to re-paint. Also, in my book, has more character than plastic. I used 100+ year old salvaged molding in my parlor and it looks great. They really don't make 'em like they used to, but then I'm an old soul who was born about a century too late.

Country1969 5 years ago
Wood is better. You also can paint or stain it to the color of your choice. I use a nail brad gun to attach the trim. So easy to install.

Cinnamonbite 5 years ago
Never knew plastic was an option until we bought this house. After years of making my own baseboards, painting trim, cleaning it...OMG! Plastic is a billion times better! It cleans up easier, it's smoother, it looks better! Plastic for the win!

What Do You Think?

Dean on October 08, 2018:

Really biased writeup. Not objective, so not helpful.

concerned_reader on October 15, 2017:

What a poorly written article. Pros and cons of plastic and wood? More like pros of wood and cons of plastic. Too one sided. Not helpful as the writer clearly has a bias.

hysongdesigns (author) on June 07, 2011:

@marckq: LoL; be warned, there are many more rolling around in the back of my mind; I just don't have enough hours in a day at the moment!

hysongdesigns (author) on June 07, 2011:

@Country1969: thanks country; it will take a bit for me to get to it, but I have many more in mind; especially repairs and recycling and some do it your self projects.

marckq on June 05, 2011:

Now I don't know which of your lenses I like most. :)

Country1969 on June 04, 2011:

Love these helpful lens than gives us an option or insight on a variety of ways of improvements to our houses.

hysongdesigns (author) on June 01, 2011:

@I-sparkle: Thanks I-sparkle for your comment and participating in the poll. I think you can tell I agree that wood is a winner!

I-sparkle on June 01, 2011:

This was a great lens. The content was very comprehensive and interesting. I really like the idea of realizing that wood is a better choice because it is recyclable. I definitely find it more decorative, even though it may cause more work.