How to Paint Skirting Boards

Man painting a skirting board

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You’ll be pleased to know painting skirting boards isn’t a difficult job. However, it’s one of those jobs most people don’t enjoy. Mostly because it involves lots of crouching and crawling around the floor.

There’s more to this everyday DIY job than applying paint, so let’s start by looking at the prep work and what you have to do to protect your carpet and flooring.

Preparing the room and skirting boards

Assuming you’re working in an occupied and carpeted property, the first thing you want to do is move all the furniture away from the skirting board(s). If the room’s big enough, move it to the centre of the room. If it’s not, move the furniture out of the room.

You need plenty of space to move around, so an empty room is the best option.

The next step you want to take is deciding what to do with the carpet. Lifting it up and removing it from the room would be ideal but a no-go in most situations. 

The next best option is to pull it back from the skirting board so you have enough room to work. You must be careful here as pulled-back carpet can easily slip and fall back into place, sending dust and bits of dirt all over your newly painted surfaces. So weigh it down with something to keep it in place.

If you don’t want want to risk it, and I wouldn’t blame you, leave the carpet in place and read the next section on how to protect your carpet when painting skirting boards.

How to paint skirting boards with the carpet down

You really don’t want to get paint on your carpet. It’s not a good look. If you must paint skirting boards with the carpet down, use masking tape for protection.

Masking tape comes in various widths. For protecting your carpet when painting skirting boards, use 2″ (50mm) masking tape.

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You also need a dust sheet to cover and protect the rest of the carpet. You can either a) lay the dust sheet on the carpet next to the skirting board and apply the masking tape to it, or b) lay the dush sheet on the floor after you’ve applied the masking tape making sure there’s no gap between the tape and dust sheet. Try both methods to see what works best for you.

How to use masking tape when painting a skirting board with carpet down

  • Vacuum the carpet next to the skirting boards to get rid of dust.
  • Use a pair of scissors to cut across the masking tape so you have a straight edge.
  • Place the straight edge in one corner of the room with the cut straight edge up against the skirting board of one wall, and the roll next to the skirting board of the adjacent wall.
  • Now run the masking tape along the carpet as tight as you can to the skirting board. When you reach the other corner, mark and cut the masking tape so you have a another nice, straight edge. If you have very long walls, do this step in manageable stages of about four to six feet or so.
  • Check the masking tape is straight and protecting all of your carpet.
  • Now, use a straight edge (a scraper/putty knife will do) to tuck the masking tape into the gap between the carpet and skirting board. Do this by using a downward push to force the masking tap into the gap between carpet and skirting. Your aim here is to protect the carpet and to make sure the masking tape doesn’t stick to the skiring board. Work your way along the skirting until you’re done. This is the most important step during this part of the process, so take your time.
  • Once you’ve finished one wall, you can do the rest (assuming you’re working a room and not just one wall).
  • Remove the masking tape BEFORE the paint dries completely.

You should also follow this method if you have tiled, wooden or laminate flooring.

You might like: How to Lay Laminate Flooring

How to paint skirting boards without getting paint on the walls

If you’re confident and have a steady hand, you could attack this part of the job with no protection. I always prefer to err on the side of caution!

There are two options here. The first is to mask the wall using good quality painter’s tape (masking tape will do the job, but painter’s tape is better*) or use a tool called a paint shield.

Paint shields are handy tools that let you place a surface between your brush and the wall while you paint the skirting board. I’ve never tried one of these and I consider myself to have a steady hand, so I use painter’s tape or take the risk.

*What’s the difference between masking tape and painter’s tape? The main difference between the two is what happens when you remove them from the surface you’re protecting. Painter’s tape is aimed at professionals who want a top-notch finish to their work. As long as it’s removed within a certain timeframe, painter’s tape, unlike masking tape, shouldn’t leave any residue behind or damage the wall when it’s removed.

Sanding the skirting board

For this stage, use a sanding block or folded-over sandpaper. You won’t create a huge amount of dust if you’re just roughing up the top surface so you might not need a dust mask. But consider your situation and wear one if you think you should.

Grab some medium to fine-grade sandpaper (P120 (UK) is good) and start sanding along the skirting board. Go with the grain, not against it. The goal is to remove the top layer of paint. You don’t want to remove the whole layer. You want to make the skirting board smooth to the touch and ‘scratched’ and dull to the eye.

The new layer of paint needs a surface to ‘key’ to.

If you can see bare wood on a previously painted skirting board, you’ve gone too far.

Depending upon the size of your room and the condition of your skirting, this job can take a while. You might need knee pads or a cushion to lean on. Watch out for bits or tools on the floor – kneeling on one of those can hurt!

Sand down the entire length of the skirting. When you’re finished, vacuum the skirting boards to get rid of the dust, then wash the skirting board with sugar soap. Doing this helps remove grease and grime and improves adhesion when applying the new paint.

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Painting the skirting board

Now you’ve completed the prep work, it’s time to crack on with some painting (a lot of DIY jobs involve loads of prep work!).

If you’re repainting an existing skirting board, you’ll need at least two coats of paint. If you’re painting new skirting, you’ll need to apply primer first, then two coats of paint in the colour of your choice.

Click the following link if you’ve never prepared new wood for painting for some handy tips.

Traditionally, we’ve used gloss paint for skirting boards. This gives a shiny, hard-wearing finish. If you’d like something more subtle, with a mid-sheen finish, try satinwood instead.

Use a good quality 2” brush for this job (or a roller if the skirting board is tall enough).

Start by dipping your brush into the paint to pick up a decent amount of paint. If you collect too much paint, remove the excess by scraping the brush against the edge of the paint container. You want a good amount of paint on the brush but you don’t want too much.

You want to avoid drips and runs.

When painting skirting boards, long, confident brush strokes are best. I always start by cutting in at the top of the skirting board (where it meets the wall), a few centimetres from the corner.

After doing that, I’ll go back and use smaller brush strokes to paint the corner before working my way across the skirting board in sections about the length of my brush stroke. Once one section is complete, it’s just a matter of repeating the process until you’re finished.

As you’re painting, keep an eye out for drips and runs and use your brush to remove them.

Apply the second coat of paint

Allow plenty of time for the paint to dry before applying the second coat. The time you need to allow should be printed on the paint container.

Before you start applying the second coat, lightly sand down the skirting board. Look out for the slight lumps and bumps that occurred when you applied the first coat. It’s worth taking a few minutes to do this as it helps achieve a more professional and cleaner finish.

Use fine-grade sandpaper and don’t apply too much pressure.

After sanding, remove the dust from the surface of the skirting board (use a vacuum cleaner for best results). Wipe the skirting down with a damp cloth, and let it dry before applying the next coat of paint.

Before you start painting again, make sure the painter’s tape and other methods of protection are still in place. Now, go through the painting process again for the second coat.

When you’re finished, remove the masking tape (it’s best to do this before the paint dries completely to avoid pulling bits of dry paint away from the surface), floor protection and tidy up.

Always take your time removing painters/masking tape. You don’t want to pull off bits of paint, plaster or wallpaper and ruin the look you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Don’t forget to clean your paintbrushes properly and store them (and the rest of your gear) safely in preparation for your next painting and decorating job.

Tools needed for painting skirting boards

Here’s a list of the DIY tools you’ll need to do this job. Some of them are optional depending on your circumstances.

  • Good quality 2″ paintbrush
  • Paint (read this article on the best types of paint for interior woodwork if you’re not sure which type to use)
  • Primer (optional for repainting but a must for new wood to prevent it from soaking up the paint)
  • Painter’s masking tape
  • Low tack floor protector (optional)
  • Newspaper or dust sheets to protect your floor
  • Thin card
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Sugar soap and cloth
  • Water, sponge, damp cloth
  • Old clothes or overalls