Caulking and Painting Baseboards

Baseboards are one of those little detail things that just make a huge difference. Here’s a before and after (with new doors to dazzle you – I’ll talk about that in another post):


You can see the gap between the baseboard and quarter-round, as well as the discoloration where the old carpet used to be.

(Check out ruminating on refinishing hardwood floors for more on why this happened)


Man, after pictures with a bunch of furniture obscuring the thing you’re trying to show are fucking awesome.

I’m gonna level with you. I didn’t take a lot of pictures of this process. Mostly because it involved me crouching and crab walking around the perimeter of our entire open living space for an entire weekend, and I pretty much stopped giving a fuck about this blog, much less you, my hypothetical reader. Do I regret that decision now? When I think back on how tired and achey I was, and how good beer tasted, I’m gonna go with “no, no I don’t. Suck it.”

Still, from an illustrative point of view, it’s a bit of a bummer that I don’t have more visuals. Nevertheless, I’m a writer, so I’ll just describe it to you, with tasteful, minimalistic imagery like I planned it this way all along.

There’s nothing particularly difficult about painting baseboards in and of itself. It’s just time consuming and painstaking. Anyone can do it, you just can’t rush it or do it half-assed. Which I guess means that not everyone can do it well. But everyone can do it. I think it’s probably fair to say that anyone who embarks on a project like this is fairly detail-oriented and willing to do it the “right way” to get what they want. Everyone else is probably just like, “I don’t see a marked difference between those two pictures. Also, what’s a baseboard?”

Things you will need:

  • Sand paper / sander
  • Wood filler
  • Frog tape / Painter’s tape
  • A roll or two of brown paper (we did a huge perimeter with one roll, so figure out your square footage, or just buy two if you can’t math good)
  • Scissors
  • A razor blade (replete with little holder thing so you don’t slice yourself up)
  • Painter’s caulk
  • Caulk gun
  • Poly-foam caulk saver (optional, only if you are filling in large gaps)
  • A caulking tool (optional) for smoothing caulk
  • Small can of semi-gloss paint (if you aren’t sure what to get, standard white is generally fine. Semi-gloss is the key, though), depending on how much painting you need to do, 1 small can should cover you for 2-3 coats.
  • 2″ paint brush (I prefer the non-angled, but your mileage may vary)
  • Small plastic bucket for paint
  • Wooden paint stirrer
  • Foam kneeling pad (optional) if you’re weak
  • Wet paper towel

Before you start:

  1. Dust and wipe down all of the surfaces you will be painting. Dry dust first, then do a second pass with a damp cloth, making sure to remove any spots or stains that can be easily wiped up.
  2. Sweep the perimeter. Fucking trust me on this.
  3. Take an inventory – note any major gaps, gouges, or chips in your baseboards. If there are significant gaps in any areas, measure and pick up some poly-foam. You don’t need to get an exact size match, that shit will squish into pretty much any space, and you can jam another one in on top of it if you need to.

Filling in the gaps

  1. If you saw any gouges, chips or dents in your baseboard, fill it with wood filler. Let it dry for the amount of time recommended on the package.
  2. Wearing goggles and a mask, sand down the wood filler once it’s dry.
  3. Repeat step #2 and #3 above to remove all the dust.

Prepping your space

Line the entire perimeter of your space with brown paper, using painters tape to align it flush with the quarter round. You don’t need to go insane and cover your entire floor. A foot of brown paper around the perimeter should be plenty. Should. Send me pictures of your fuck ups, and I’ll post them.


If you can get the tape under your quarter-round, go for it, but don’t jam it in there. Just do what feels natural. As long as it’s flush with the quarter-round, you’re good. You want to avoid any gaps where paint could get on your floor.

Caulkin’ it up

Caulk, when done correctly, covers up a LOT of things, and makes for a clean, seamless look. If you’ve just added quarter-round, it’s non-negotiable. It has to be done. The gaps are too big to look good with just a coat of paint, and if you’re gonna paint, you might as well do it right and save yourself the effort of having to redo it.

  1. If you have any major gaps, now is the time to stuff them full of poly-foam. Just jam ’em in there real good.
  2. Load up your caulk gun with painter’s caulk
  3. Make sure to have a wet paper towel ready to go
  4. Squeeze out a steady bead of caulk along the gap
  5. If you have a partner, you can do all the caulking and they can follow and do all the smoothing. Otherwise you will need to take frequent breaks to smooth out the caulk in each section, wiping the excess on your damp paper towel.

Yeah, we caulked before we put down the paper and tape. We like to live dangerously.

Tip: Use excess caulk to fill hard-to-reach places. Take a glob on your finger and dab it into tight corners or the seam where two pieces of quarter-round were joined. Clean off your finger, wet it on your paper towel, and smooth out the excess.


Once your caulk has dried, you’re ready to paint. You will almost certainly require two coats, sometimes more in certain places, but two is the standard.

  1. On a hard, easy to clean surface, open up your tin of paint. Give it a stir with your wooden stirrer, and carefully wipe it off.
  2. Pour about 1-2 inches of paint into your small bucket
  3. Replace the lid and set aside in a safe location where it’s unlikely to get knocked over.
  4. Dip your brush in about 1/2 inch – you don’t want a ton of paint, just enough to coat the surface you’re painting. The goal here is to avoid big drips.
  5. Start along the baseboard surface (the wide part that faces out, not up) using horizontal strokes. It should be pretty easy to see what you’ve painted and what you haven’t during the first coat. For the second, I like using a marker (a pair of scissors or something) to track where I am. So I’ll choose a starting point, like a corner, and set my scissors about four feet from it, then work my way backwards to that corner. Then pick a point four feet from the scissors and work my way back and so on.
  6. In smooth, steady motions, sweep your brush along the top of your base board, cutting in so that with the pressure you’re applying, your brush just hits the wall. It can take a few tries to get this right – use a moist finger tip to fix any mistakes. No one will ever know your shame.
  7. Be careful as you get close to the floor. Focus on having your brush more “loaded” with paint when working on the baseboard surface itself. For top edge and quarter-round, you want a drier brush so that you don’t have big gobs of paint to clean up or cut through later. So that’s why I say start with the big surface part, then cut in along the top and bottom.
  8. Let your paint dry. Latex paint usually takes about 3 hours to dry fully. Repeat for your second coat, and do a third coat if needed (or touch up any specific areas that require some extra love).
  9. Once just dry (but not too dry), carefully remove your paper and tape. Use a razor blade to cut any areas where the paint dried thick and is at risk of being pulled up with the tape. If you fuck this up, you can smooth the pulled up tacky paint back in place pretty easily with your finger. Use the razor blade to help detach the tape.
  10. Use the razor blade to scrape up any dried paint along the perimeter, being careful to stay level with the floor and only scrape the paint itself.

Fixing Mistakes

Your fingers and the wet paper towel are without a doubt the most important and versatile tools you have. The paper towel will help you clean up caulk, it will clean up hands, and errant paint strokes. Use it. And don’t be afraid to use your fingers to get caulk into little crevices, or a moistened finger tip to sweep a bit of semi-gloss off your wall. This is one of those rare situations where fixing it in post is a lot more work than just fixing it as you go.

And because I couldn’t resist…

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