How to paint wood or tile floors so they’ll look great for years

Shawn Bo-Abrams, right, and his husband, Leon Bo-Abrams, painted their old wood floors dark brown. (Shawn Bo-Abrams)

A fresh paint job is much cheaper than new tile or hardwood. Follow this expert advice to make sure your hard work doesn’t chip away.

Shawn Bo-Abrams, who is renovating his house in Washington state with his husband, Leon Bo-Abrams, was eager to get rid of the carpet covering their top floor. “I have four animals, and they all like to shed, so it’s just easier to have a cleaner environment without carpet,” he says.

Since the hardwood underneath was in rough shape, the couple thought painting it dark brown would give it a fresh look. The hardest part was deciding to actually do it. “We were quite nervous,” Shawn says. “We would go to Home Depot and ask a ton of questions. Then we’d be like, oh no, we’re not going to do that. … I swear, we went back and forth like four times.”

Their ambivalence is understandable. Painting your floors is not an easily reversible decision, and the job will have to stand up to a lot of wear and tear. But if you’re willing to put in the work, it can be a cost-effective way to transform a space. The key is to thoroughly research the best process and paint for your type of floor and to not skip any steps.

Ultimately, the Bo-Abramses took the plunge and love the result. “It really changed how the entire upstairs felt,” Shawn says.

The most obvious reason: It’s significantly cheaper than ripping out and replacing the floor. The Bo-Abramses used Behr paint made for both interior and exterior surfaces that cost roughly $200 for five gallons. (Shawn shares videos about their process on Instagram.)

Kristen Coutts, a DIY hobbyist turned contractor, says she landed on the idea while looking for budget-friendly ways to upgrade a client’s tiled entryway. “We were trying to come up with something that we felt would be durable and easy to maintain,” she says.

Putting in new tile would’ve cost more than $2,000, she says. By comparison, painting the existing tile required about $50 worth of paint. (The total for all the products she used, including primer and sealant, was higher. But she used only a portion of each can and plans to use the rest for other projects).

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Whatever color you choose will have a big impact on the room. And because we’re talking about the floor — which gets dirtier and more beat up than just about anywhere else — you’ll want to consider your lifestyle.

A white floor could be beautiful, but if you wear shoes inside, or have a dog that sheds dark fur, it’s probably not the best choice, says Kenna Stout, design director at Brio Interior Design in Seattle. At the same time, dark paint colors will show dust more easily.

In her own home, Stout had the staircase painted leafy green. “A medium tone is probably the easiest to maintain in that you won’t see every speck of dust,” she says.

Painting tile is riskier than painting wood

Arielle Decker, a DIY content creator in New Jersey, says that when she shared her decision to paint her tile hallway with a tan and white checkerboard pattern, she was met with indignation. “So many people said, ‘Don’t do this! It will never last!’” But a year later, Decker says the paint job has held up, even with two dogs and two kids running around. “It doesn’t have any knicks or scratches,” she says. “It really worked out well.”

Still, many experts caution against painting tile. Brad Hoffman, a professional painter for 35 years who shares tips at, is one of them. “Painted tile is just never going to hold up in the long run,” he says. He feels the same way about painting laminate.

Jeff Dupont, owner of Sound Painting Solutions in Seattle, agrees that painted tile often doesn’t last. But if you want to try, he emphasizes the importance of choosing paint specifically meant for tile. Decker used Sherwin-Williams Porch & Floor Enamel, an interior/exterior paint made for high-traffic areas. For her client’s entryway, Coutts used Rust-Oleum Interior Chalked Paint, which is designed for a variety of surfaces, including ceramic.

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Proper prep work will make or break a paint job.

Begin by removing all furniture from the room. It’s generally best to sand wood floors before priming and painting, Hoffman says. You can use a palm sander or regular sandpaper (he advises starting with a coarse grit and finishing with medium). Or rent a floor sander from a hardware store. To get tile ready for new paint, Dupont suggests using stripper to remove the existing glaze or sealer.

Whether you’re working with wood or tile, clean the floors thoroughly before painting. Start by vacuuming, then mop with warm, soapy water. (For tile, Dupont says you can also use Krud Kutter.) Rinse well and allow the surface to dry completely.

Primer will make your paint job more durable. For wood, Hoffman suggests an all-purpose, interior primer to seal the surface and help the paint stick. For tile, consider a heavy-duty primer like Insl-X Stix waterborne bonding primer, which can be used on many types of surfaces. For her checkerboard hallway, Decker used Rust-Oleum’s floor-coating kit, which comes with a base coat and top coat and can be used on many materials, including tile, wood and laminate.

To paint on the primer, use an angled-sash brush to “cut in” the edges (the term for using a brush to paint a border and getting to the places a roller can’t). Then, use a roller to cover the rest. An adjustable extension pole can make the job easier on your back. It’s also wise to start on the opposite wall of the door so that you can work your way out.

Choose a paint that is clearly intended for floors, or floors and patios, such as Tough Shield by INSL-X. And make sure it’s fit for interiors. An interior/exterior paint is fine, but a product meant only for an outside space may contain toxic chemicals unsuitable for indoors, Hoffman says.

For a solid color, use the same brushing and rolling techniques as you did with the primer. You’ll likely need multiple coats — the Bo-Abramses applied four to attain the look they wanted. Though the painting itself can go quickly, you’ll need to abide by the dry time specified in your paint’s instructions.

To apply a pattern over your base color, consider using a stencil. Coutts used a foam paint roller and a geometric design that she found online to create a repeating motif in her client’s entryway. The corners were the trickiest part, she says, and required her to hand-paint the design where the stencil wouldn’t fit. She advises using as little paint as possible and a light touch to avoid sloppy lines.

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Hoffman offers another tip to improve your floor’s chances of holding up. “As you’re painting, keep a vacuum handy because there’s always dust settling,” he says. “I’ll paint a section and then, if needed, give a quick vacuum before I paint more, because there are particles of dust that get in your paint. Later, when someone walks on it and scrapes that, that’s going to start the paint peeling.”

You can choose to finish a paint job with a coat of sealant. Coutts, for instance, used a polycrylic top coat by Minwax. But according to Hoffman, you don’t need it: “These days, big companies have formulated floor paint to be very tough.” Sealant could also make it harder to repaint the surface in the future, he says.

Annie Midori Atherton is a writer in Seattle who covers culture, lifestyle, business and parenting.