Is it a cardinal sin to paint over wooden floors?


Lets talk about something controversial to get people's blood boiling! I’m having a bit of a ‘discussion’ with Joel at the moment about whether it's okay to paint wooden floors…….needless to say we have different views.

So what side of the fence do you sit on? Is it a cardinal sin to paint over wooden floor boards??

I guess the main thing is to think about the state and the quality of your wooden floors. If you are doing a reno like us, find out about what type of wood the flooring is and the history of it if you have a heritage cottage like we do.

If you have pine then maybe you wont feel so guilty about painting it…..if you have beautiful kauri then maybe you will…..

I absolutely love the look of painted floors so for me the thought of getting my dream provincial cottage look by having white floorboards is strong on my want list. However Joel really wants to keep the existing floors natural and sand and polish them…..lets just say Niki was easier to talk about on the design front!

If your floorboards are in terrible state, have marks, stains, are thin and cant be sanded much more or if you just cant afford the quite significant cost of sanding and polishing floors to restore them then painting may be an option to give them a new lease on life.

If you’re dealing with existing floorboards then it will be necessary to sand back the timber to remove any existing finish, this will give you a blank canvas – a floor receptive to whatever stain, paint or wash you want to apply.


But if you like to dance to the beat of your own drum then maybe you want to take a chance and go the whole hog – paint those damn floor boards! It is a risk if you want to re sell your home to some degree but at the same time it also makes a design statement and will make your house stand out on the design front. Painting floors white gives a fantastic boho/cottage/french vibe and you may even like the vintage look you can get when using a certain paint that will scuff and show wear. White floors will bring a sense of light and space to your home. People naturally jump on the old ‘oh but it will get so dirty’ bandwagon I think if your floors are dirty your floors are dirty and you should clean them not make design decisions based on grey so that you can cover up your dirt!

Paving paint is good if you want that scuffed rustic look otherwise for a long lasting glossy finish choose an acrylic urethane that has been tinted white but always go and have a talk with your paint experts to find out what will suit your situation best.

Dark painted floors can look super dramatic and luxurious especially paired with light walls but these will actually tend to show dust more.


By far the most dramatic way to turn a timber floor a rich, dark colour is with a product called black japan – While the product is a semi-transparent stain, if several coats are applied undiluted the result will be a deep coating that dries to a hard finish. Traditionally, Black Japan was a bitumen-based varnish used as a decorative floor border. There really isn’t another product on the market like it.


Whereas real lime was once used to prevent insect damage, these days liming is done for a purely decorative effect. Then, the result was always a soft white lightening of the boards, but contemporary products can now be tinted to produce a pastel effect as well as the traditional white. Because liming is a treatment that fills the grains of wood, it is best suited to open-grained timbers such as pine, oak and maple.


A trade secret to getting your stain to take evenly is to prepare the floor by sanding first with a coarse grade of paper, around 240, then finishing with a fine 320 or an even finer 400 grade. Many uneven stain applications are due to poor preparation and not moving beyond the 240 grade of sandpaper.

The first task when selecting a wood stain colour is to identify the type of timber you will be staining. The timber’s natural colour will affect the final finish and different varieties and grades of wood will absorb the stain differently, so it is important that you consider this when selecting your colour.

Higher density timber and hardwoods will not absorb liquids as readily as softer less dense timber. Consequently you may need to select a darker stain or apply two coats to get your desired colour.

Stains applied to light timber (or composite boards notably plywood) will appear much stronger and brighter in colour than stains applied to dark wood. Dark stains applied to a dark timber may also cause a darker result than anticipated. Strong primary colours are best applied to light timbers such as pine or plywood.


Wood washes impart a subtle lick of colour to highlight the grain of natural timber, so they tend to create a soft, French provincial-style mood. So this is perfect if you are a sit on the fence kinda person! You want to change the look of your timber with out going full on into the paint.


This is one of the few treatments that doesn’t require sanding. Wax is an option for those who want to keep a warm, pre-worn look to their boards and aren’t afraid to use a little elbow grease (or a buffing machine) along with their wax. Environmentally friendly beeswax can be buffed and polished onto boards to produce a natural, satin sheen.