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How to Paint Plywood Subfloor

Post Updated: 03/11/2020

If you want new flooring, but can’t afford it, don’t fret. You can still get a new look for the floor when you rip up the carpet and paint the plywood sub-floor. It is a very budget friendly update that will give the room a whole new look for the cost of a few gallons of primer and paint.

How-to-paint-subfloor---Before-photo

Do you remember the BEFORE? I have an AFTER shot to show you now.

If this is the first time you are seeing what I am doing to the room that used to be my oldest daughter’s room – here is what the room looked like after I pulled up the carpet.  I am turning the room into a fitness/exercise room.  You can see my vision for it in this post.  It is a very low budget makeover.

Paint-subfloor-tutorial

Can You Paint Subfloor?

I am saving money by not replacing the flooring. I will eventually add new carpet or hardwood, but for now I am happy with simply painting the subfloor.

Yes, subfloor can be painted successfully and last for years. One of the ways The process was not as hard as you would think, in fact – it was pretty darn easy.

I thought about painting it decoratively using a stencil, but I want the room to be simple and serene just like a yoga studio.

How to Paint Subfloor

supplies needed:

  • Multi-surface primer
  • Floor & Porch paint – I used Behr Porch and Patio Enamel in the color Pools of Blue.  Home Depot has a pamphlet of all the colors in comes in – over 75 colors.
  • Rough surface paint roller
  • Roller handle extension
  • 2″ angled paint brush
  • Paint tray
  • Broom/mop/vacuum
  • Shoe molding/trim color paint/finishing nails/nail punch/hammer/pencil/miter box & saw/measuring tape
  • Carpet trim and hammer

As long as your subfloor is solid it can be painted.

How to Prep the Subfloor for Painting

How-to-make-subflooring-look-good

This is how the floor looked after I removed the carpet. You will need to remove all the carpet, padding and tacks. There was some glue residue that we had to chip off.

How Do You Hide The Seams in the Plywood?

How-to-prepare-subflooring-for-painting

When you paint a plywood subfloor, seeing the seams between the sheets of plywood are part of the look. The primer and paint will settle into the seams a bit, but for the most part they will be visible.

You should however fill in any holes and gaps in the wood with wood filler. After it was dry, I sanded the patches smooth.

What Products To Use to Paint a Plywood Subfloor

Primer-to-use-to-paint-subfloors

The size of the room is: 14′ x 11-4′.

I needed 2 gallons of Behr Multi-Surface Primer Sealer to get full coverage and 2

This primer is the best for rough and porous wood. It sucked right into the wood and helped prepare the surface for paint.  I used a brush around the perimeter of the room and a roller for the rest of the floor.  The first coat of primer was dry in 30 minutes, so I had the two coats on in under 2 hours.

What-is-the-best-primer-for-painting-wood

The most important thing when painting a floor is to work from the farthest corner and then work backwards until you reach the door to exit.  If you did it the other way, you would get stuck and have to walk over wet paint to get out the the room.

The-best-paint-to-use-to-paint-subfloors

Since I primed, I only needed 1 gallon of Behr Porch & Floor Paint Gloss Enamel in the color Pools of Blue PFC-56.  I used this since it is glossy and will be easy to mop clean, plus it is super durable and does not need a polyurethane coat over it since it can be used for exterior applications also.

I used a roller to roll the paint on. I rolled on 2 light coats, letting the first coat dry before applying the second. I didn’t even use the full gallon. There is still  about a 1/4 left in the can.

Do You Need To Use a Sealer Over a Painted Plywood Floor?

There is no need to seal a painted plywood floor if you are using Porch and Floor paint. If you are using any other paint, you may want to seal with a water-based sealer like Minwax Polycrylic that will not yellow over time.

How long does it take a painted plywood subfloor to dry?

I waited a few days to make sure the paint was fully dry before adding the shoe molding along the baseboard. Since there was carpet in the room before, the molding had to be added to hide the gap where the carpet once laid. I bought primed molding since it saves time.

How-to-countersink-a-nail
How-to-patch-holes-in-a-wood-floor

If you do a lot of DIY projects then you know you always get a surprise in the way of something that needs to be done that you didn’t think of.  You have to rethink or make a new plan or come up with a fix for something you did not foresee. This happened after the subfloor was painted.

When I placed the newly spray painted floor heating vents over the ducts, they didn’t cover the saw marks on the subfloor.

I had to fill these cut marks with wood filler. When the filler was dry, I sanded it smooth with my trusty little hand sanding block with 100 grit sandpaper on it and then painted over it and was good to go.

How to Add Finishing Trim

Miter-box

My table saw has seen better days – it is a goner and until I can afford to get a new one, I am cutting the finishing molding that will go along the baseboard the old-fashioned way – with a simple miter box. As much as I love power tools, a miter box is truly a genius invention. Simple, yet effective.

I used finishing nails and a nail punch to counter sink the nails to attach the shoe molding to the baseboard. I filled the nail holes with Spackle and then sanded the areas smooth.

What-is-the-best-caulk-to-use-for-molding

I am no pro when working with molding and always need to use caulk to cover up all my imperfect cuts.  I call this brand of caulk – Cheez-Wiz caulk. No caulk gun is needed. It is my favorite caulk to use. I buy it at Walmart.

How To Deal With Flooring Changes to Other Rooms?

Carpet-transition-strip

To make the transition from the painted plywood floor in the new fitness room to the wall-to-wall carpeting in the hallway, I used these simple carpet trim strips at Lowes.

I bought the carpet strips in the color Pewter, but they also come in wood, gold, and silver finishes. The short side goes against the carpet and the long side onto the wood.  Nails comes with it to attach it to the floor. I needed to cut the length to fit the width of the doorway, but my trusty little miter box and saw has it cut to size in no time flat.

How Long Do Painted Plywood Floors Last?

Paint-subfloor-tutorial

This room has been a bottom up makeover since I started with the floor…it is all up from here. The floor was in perfect condition 3 years after we painted it. We moved from the house after this, but knowing how durable the paint was and the traffic the room got, I would paint a plywood subfloor again in a room where I wanted a simple look or to save money on flooring.

How to Paint Plywood Subflooring

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44 Comments

  1. Floors painted with semi-gloss or gloss floor enamel hold up very well. My bedroom floor was painted gray. The floor was just due when covered with carpet 18 years later.
    I also have a painted bathroom floor. It was recommended I use latex satin. The satin porch and floor paint did “held the dirt”.
    I repainted the floor using a gloss finish. The floor looks good 10 years later.
    Just remember if you move furniture without felt pads the floor will scratch.
    Painted wood floors are an easy DIY as last longer than a clear sealer coat on a wood floor.

  2. Do you have to fill all the spaces with wood filler ? I have a lot and I heard the filler works it’s way out eventually

    1. Hi Patricia – You don’t have to fill the spaces, but it will make the floor look better/smoother. Once painted, though you may not even notice the cracks. The filler will stay put in small areas, but if the space/crack is really large, it could come out. My floor held up fine for as long as I lived in the house. I no longer live there so I can’t give you 5 year update on how well the floor held up.

  3. Diane, thank you for all this information. I have just removed the old vinyl, and in the process of removing the paper backing w/glue by soaking in hot water/softener mixture, scoring with wallpaper scorer, and heating with hot steam iron. This is working very well. This is a 5 x 6 bathroom in a 104 years old house and the subfloor is in pretty good condition, however the nails heads are rusted but not disintegrating. Any suggestions about preparing these nailheads before priming? Thanks very much!

    1. Hi Melanie – I think the best way to prepare the nailheads before priming the entire floor would be to go over them with a scouring pad or steel wool. This will smooth them out a little and remove any rust. Once they look clean, then use some stain blocking primer over them, light coat. Wait a few hours and then dab another light coat over each nail head. Once dry then prime the entire floor and then paint making sure to use light coats and let each one dry completely before applying the next.

  4. I love your tutorial and did this in a small room. I then painted a rug on the floor. I did a quasi Oriental rug and it’s very whimsical.

  5. I have previously painted our subfloors and Im curious about how you clean them routinely besides sweeping them. I have mud that has been tracked in and very nervous on how to get it off….

    1. Hi Sarah –

      I use a Bona Floor Mop to clean the floor. It is the type that has a spray bottle of cleaner attached to it. There is velcro for the cleaning pads to stick to. It only dampens the floor and dries almost instantly so no water is ever laying on the painted surface. Here is a link so you can see exactly what I use. http://amzn.to/1T60zmf

  6. What are your thoughts if subflooring is not plywood but that pressed board/composite? I painted my kitchen floor, which WAS plywood, but when pulling carpet out of powder room (terrible idea to carpet a bathroom!) the subfloor wasn’t plywood and the same will be true for my den. Maybe additional coats of primer?

    1. Hi Joyce – In the new house I am moving into this week, there is particle board sub flooring in one of the rooms where I am removing the carpet. Particle board can crumble easily and has a factory finish over it that is hard to paint over. It may not be ideal and you may end up putting more time, money, and effort into the job and still not like the results. It may look spotty, even with a primer on first. I am going to use vinyl plank flooring over my floor. I will be posting about it in January.

      1. Hello. I just painted my particle board subfloor, and it came out great! I followed these instructions more or less and I think it will be fine. I pulled up the carpet, pulled out all the tacks/staples/nails, and used a shop vac to vacuum up all the remaining pieces, and then applied wood filler to all the cracks and holes. I sanded down the areas with filler and other areas that felt poky or sharp. Then I used the shop vac again. Then I coated it with a Kilz Primer (its white, interior and exterior) and then used the shop vac a third time. Next I put two coats of White Behr porch and patio paint on top of that to really make it nice and smooth. It took about an hour to dry so I applied my second coat after that. I waited about 24 hours to start walking on it. It did not take very long to dry where I live and the room is small. I left the window open and fan running while it dried. I can walk bare foot on this floor now. I don’t see any chipping or breaking at all. My guest bedroom is very beautiful now. Much better than carpet. I will also add shoe molding to cover the small gap between the baseboards and the floor. I will be doing this to my entire second floor eventually in my town home. The first floor is all wood floor. I hate it when people design homes with wood floors and then carpet!! Who invented carpet?! I don’t have the money to put a whole new wood floor down and I am not interested in doing that because I will move out and sell/rent this place but I think the next owners will appreciate that I at least prepped the floor so someone could put wood down someday.

        1. Hi Rachael – I bet your floor looks great – so much better than wall to wall carpet and the best part – you are decorating in a way that feels right to you. In Your Own Style. :-) Love hearing about you process. I am happy to hear that my post helped you.

  7. Hi Diane. I wanted to ask how you find the porch and patio floor paint holding up now that some time has passed. Is this room used often? I’m considering using this product for my living room (and put down a nice rug probably), but I see several reviews that it hasn’t lasted. Then again, I see lots of good reviews too lol

    And to confirm, you did not sand. You cleaned up the floor, primed it, and then finished it off with the porch and patio floor paint, right?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Nicole – The floor has held up great, no problems at all. We use it everyday to workout and I walk over it other times during the day to close and open windows. It doesn’t get a ton of traffic though. I would do it again in other room for sure. I did not sand, the plywood subfloor was rough enough and did not have any type of coating on it to need to sand. If your subfloor is smooth or looks like it has a coating, then sanding will help with adhesion. So to re-cap. No I didn’t sand, I cleaned the floor well, primed, and then painted with the porch and patio paint. The primer I used sticks right away. Wear gloves when using it, it is very hard to get off your hands.

      1. Thank you for the tips! I know this might be difficult to describe, but how rough would you say is good to not need sanding (but also not be rough on the feet)? You just just not polished smooth already? Thanks again!

        1. Hi Nicole – You need to take away any shine or slick smoothness on the surface. You want to provide some “tooth” so that the paint has something to grab onto. You don’t want it too rough or the finish will look rough. A good going over with 60 grit sandpaper over the smooth/shiny areas will be enough.

  8. Diane,

    I love the fresh color and the floor looks great. Did you have to sand more of the floor than where you filled it in with wood filler/putty?

    1. Hi Stacy – I only sanded over the areas where I filled in the gouges and grooves. You could sand the entire floor if you want a very smooth look, but since it was in the fitness room, I don’t mind that I can see the swirl texture of the plywood sub-floor in some places under the painted finish.

  9. Is the floor slippery? Lowes recommended against KILZ as a primer since label said not for floors. So I stopped and came back to this and wonder did you have any issues with the floor being slippery. Thanks

    1. Hi Marie – I didn’t use Kilz brand of primer. I used a Behr Multi-Surface primer. It worked great. It is not slippery at all. Not one bit. :-)

  10. I was in the process of looking on painted furniture and I found YOU! You are brilliant, the ideas are wonderful. I painted my hallway subfloor recently, but my paint was dark brown. I am currently in the mood to paint the other floor but was second guessing myself, now I am more inspired to finish what I started which is to removed carpet from my master bedroom and paint. I will let my family know that I am not crazy after all. Thanks a million you are now save as a favorite.

  11. Our log house floors are all painted sub floors. The great room is a maroon and peach check. using 1/4 in. automotive detail tape for the grout lines i measured for the 15×15 squares i wanted and wa la! no one has ever recognized it as the subfloor.

  12. You are the most clever lady. This was hard work, but what a wonderful result! You couldn’t have picked a better color for your space! Now, I need to figure out what ‘white’ color I want to paint my cupboards (again) so I’m looking up your link that I remember seeing once…. I go to your site to get the best advice! Keep it coming! :-)

  13. wow, this is what I will be doing to the family room in the house we purchased 6 months ago. When I painted the old dark paneling I planned on replacing the carpeting so I was pretty reckless with the paint roller. Then when I had the wood burning chimney insert replaced, I begged the men to be brutal with the carpeting. Success. Carpeting has to be replaced – and inexpensively. You rock. started following you today and have already found a lot of great ideas.

  14. Great job painting the floor, Diane! Looks like a great room to exercise in!

  15. Diane, this is what we did our 2 bdrm rental apt at FSU. It was the least expensive and less time consuming way to replace the old carpeting and spruce up the bdrms in a college rental. The floors were cement and we used the same BEHR paint and then we bought a wall to wall carpet remnant and laid it in the rooms, no pad or installation costs and when the college kids leave, we’ll just roll up the carpet and go buy another room size remnant for $100 and have it replaced and looking like new. They can’t hurt the painted floors and we’ll get a new look with every new tennant for a lot less money, year after year.

  16. This was such a helpful post as we are needing to do this in one of our hallways and bedrooms. Didn’t know where to even begin until reading this article and seeing all the pictures. Thanks!

  17. I love the painted floor. Great color and you got a very clean look to the room. Great job and what a wonderful room to have.

  18. Such a pretty blue. The room looks so calm and serene. I wish one of my children would move out so I could take over their bedroom! Looking forward to seeing what you do next.

  19. I’m loving the painted floor! In fact I’m hoping to do this to our living room…and then maybe add in a couple of gorgeous area rugs. Are you planning to seal with polycrylic or leave ‘as is’ now with the paint?

    Beautiful! Can’t wait now to see the rest of the room’s transformation.

    1. Thanks Connie – Since the paint is Int/Ext porch and floor enamel, it does not need a poly sealer. It is durable just the way it is. If you wanted to poly over paint, especially if you stenciled a design on it I would not use gloss paint, but a flat or satin. I will be using crafts paint and poly to do my mudroom floor. I will be posting it soon.