Looking for a simple, inexpensive flooring option? Here are all the how-to’s and tips for how to DIY your own painted plywood floors.

painted plywood floors how to

This post has been years in the making.

YEARS, y’all.

I’ve wanted to write it ever since I painted my plywood floors back when cell phones still flipped and purple nail polish wasn’t really a thing.

It kind of started as an experiment. I didn’t really have any money for new flooring and I had carpet that was super stinky. I didn’t really overthink it. I didn’t really plan or research or even have a specific idea of how I was going to go about painting the subfloors—I just knew that carpet needed to go. After the carpet was gone, we painted the floors in a checkerboard pattern. It was just supposed to be a temporary solution. It was only going to be for a couple of months until we could afford to put new flooring in.

And then?

Something amazing happened.

I FELL IN LOVE WITH MY PAINTED PLYWOOD FLOORS.

They were so easy to clean and looked so fresh and pretty. So I kept those floors for ELEVEN years until we sold the farmhouse and moved back to Texas. When we needed an affordable flooring solution for the master bedroom makeover (and this time I could afford to put in new flooring) I STILL chose plywood.

I’ve gotten so many questions about this project and I wanted to share every last little detail—the paint we used and how we did it and things to do and even a few things not to do.

Here are all the Q & A for our DIY painted plywood subfloors.

painted plywood subfloors checkerboard pattern

Q: Can you paint plywood subfloors?

I decided to go all Julie Andrews and start with that question. That’s truly at the heart of the matter. And the answer (hello Captain Obvious) is yes—but with a disclaimer.

And this disclaimer is a big one.

If you are sitting at your house and trying to decide if this is for you—you want to judge the health of your plywood floors—because while you can paint a plywood subfloor—it’s actually very challenging to paint a plywood subfloor that’s damaged. It’s okay if parts of it are slightly damaged–you can replace those parts. But if the entire floor is damaged, you’ll probably need another flooring solution.

Quick tip: peel back the edges of the carpet in the corner and look at the flooring. This is a good indicator of what your plywood looks like before you peel up the entire carpet.

painted plywood floors

Q: where do I start with painted plywood floors?

Great question. You’ll want to start with pulling up the carpet. This is actually a lot easier than it sounds. We pulled up the carpet in this room in about 10 minutes. Pulling up the carpet is the easy part. Then you are left with these things called tack strips that are used to hold the carpet in place. If you are lucky (which we were with this room) the tack strips will only be placed around the edges of the room. Then you just pull up the tack strips and the occasional nail before you paint.

But sometimes?

Sometimes you have an overly exuberant carpet installer like we did upstairs at the farmhouse where they put tack strips down the middle of the room in rows and they run across the middle of the floor. That makes the job much more challenging. With that room we actually called in a professional to help and it made it easier.

painted plywood floors area rug

Q: How do I hide plywood seams?

This is an easy answer. You don’t. Or at least we didn’t. If you wanted to apply wood filler to all the seams and sand down, you could, but that is a LOT OF WORK.

I just decided to let the plywood be.

Just as it is.

Imperfections and all.

You can see where the tack strips were along the edge of where the plywood meets the pine flooring. All those little holes are nail holes. We are just going to put a threshold down to hide the joint between the two floors. This will cover up the nail holes, but the seams are still there. I don’t mind them at all. If you paint a checkerboard pattern on them they become even less noticeable.

Quick tip: if you want another idea to hide the seams, an overall stenciled pattern is an easier idea than patching all the seams.

Q: how do you prep the floor for painting?

After you pull up the tack strips, you’ll want to sand down any rough places and replace any plywood boards that have damage. In this room, all the boards were in really good condition (and in the farmhouse as well). You can use wood putty to fill in any big holes and sand down.

And then?

You want to clean it all thoroughly.

We actually cleaned and swept this room for dust several times.

It’s worth it. Trust me.

No one wants to paint dirt and dog hair into their floor.

Q: what is the best paint to use?

I like to use a really good floor paint.

This is where to put your money in the project.

Truly.

For this room, we used Sherwin-Williams Porch & Floor enamel in Sandbar SW 7547. When we painted the floors in Kentucky, we primed the plywood first, but with this paint? You don’t need to use a primer. You can just paint directly onto the plywood floor that is prepped and ready.  It delivers exceptional block resistance as well as resistance to dirt, especially in high-traffic areas like the entrance to this room.

We used two coats of paint on the floor. One ALMOST covered it, but I wanted the durability of two coats.

Q: do I need to use a floor primer?

This totally depends on your floor paint. We didn’t use primer with our floor paint. I would recommend using a floor paint designed for floors to make sure your plywood floors hold up over time. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on the paint can and check with the paint professionals at your local store.

Q: what if there’s a gap on the sides with the molding?

Many times when you pull up the carpet, there will be a gap between the molding and the floor. This happens when people install floor molding with the carpet in place.

Do not be alarmed.

This is such an easy fix.

You can see here where we added quarter round molding around the bottom of the floor molding. It hides the gap as well as slightly disguises the holes leftover from the tack strips.

painted plywood subfloors area rug

Q: do you need to seal the painted plywood floors after you are finished painting?

We didn’t seal these floors. The paint is so durable that we felt like we didn’t really need to seal the floors. However, if we were painting a pattern on the floors or stenciling the floors, I think sealing might be a great option.

For example, when we painted the checkerboard on the floor in Kentucky? We sealed the floors with a latex clear coat sealer designed to work on floors.

Sealing a pattern in helps preserve the painted pattern and make it more durable.

painted plywood subfloors

Q: do painted plywood floors really hold up?

This is the NUMBER ONE question that I get about these painted plywood subfloors. This floor held up for almost eleven years and still looked almost exactly like this when we moved out. We did reseal the high traffic areas after about five years to keep the checkerboard pattern even.

I also think the key to ensuring the longevity of the painted plywood floors is to add an area rug to the space—much like you’d do with a wood floor. Then you have the pretty painted pattern peeking out around the edges, but you have the warmth and comfort of an area rug.

painted plywood floors bedroom

Whew.

That was a LOT.

I hope this helped a little bit if you are thinking about painting your plywood subfloor.

If you have any questions I didn’t answer, just leave them in the comments and we can discuss.

And now friend?

I’ll leave you with this decorating truth.

A project doesn’t have to be expensive to be beautiful. 🙂

Comments

  1. Image for Jenn Jenn

    We painted the floors in all of our kids rooms. They have the tongue and groove subfloor, which is a total bonus! We did a checkerboard for the girls. However, I used cheap paint!!! Even after two coats of poly, they have chipped and scratched.☹️ I think good paint is the key to success!

    1. Image for Graham Graham

      I have to ask- I painted a checkerboard pattern on my upstairs hall, black squares/natural wood. Two of the bedrooms off the hall have pet stains and I’d like to paint them but wonder if I have to stick with the same colors. Did you do your kids’ rooms different colors. I’d love to paint the floor in one room red and maybe one checkerboard grey/white. It’s not exactly going to “flow” is it? Am I stark raving mad?

  2. Image for Sher Sher

    Thank you. Your floors look great, but I actually LOVE everything you do to your home. Thank you for your knowledge and willingness to share it.

  3. Image for Kris Kris

    I love it when you do a budget-friendly post. I would like to do this in my home, but I'm pretty sure we have floor tiles from the 60s under our carpet--yet, the ones with asbestos--so, not an option. Boo.

  4. Image for Pamela Smith Pamela Smith

    I haven't painted a sub floor, but I have painted a cement floor! When we moved into our home, the laminate in the kitchen was so bad, we tore it out. We were left with the cement floor which I painted with patio paint. So far, so good! Some day we hope to put in flooring, but this works for now. I love your floors! Beautiful!

  5. Image for Marty Marty

    I absolutely love this idea, genius and your floors look as amazing as the whole room does. (Did you get my latest emails about the 2020 Spring Home Tour?

  6. Image for Chris Ann Chris Ann

    Looking great! What product did you use to seal the floor? Water based, non yellowing? Did you use a long handle roller to apply product, Thanks

  7. Image for Becky Becky

    Lovely floors! We have new flooring through the entire house in our nearish future. (Trying to finish paying off the house BEFORE re flooring!) I wonder if the bedrooms would like painted floors? 😊 I have a feeling kitchens need a bit more protection?

  8. Image for Jenny Jenny

    Oh my gosh Karialnne, This is such a great gift you have given us. Your bedroom is so pretty. I am so inspired. We have awful green carpet. color? I was wondering about charcoal??I had it installed in 2003. I never liked it. It is old ans dirty and doesn't go with anything. OH,I have told my hubby about this before and now I can show him what you did. What are both the colors in the checkerboard floor?Paint brand again?? Thank you. Have you used a dark color?

  9. Image for Teresa Teresa

    It's beautiful! Just because I am always curious of the history of homes (the realtor)...why do you think that room did not have hardwood floors like the other rooms in your home...since the age of the home would lend itself to all hardwood? "Curious minds want to know!"

  10. Image for Beverly A Hartman Beverly A Hartman

    I pulled up the carpet and have old hardwood floors with terrible stains.. I had my living room and hall hardware floors sanded, stained and sealed but cannot afford to to the whole house. Do you think painting an old hardwood floor would be a good idea? And, since this room is my office and craft room will the floor hold up to me moving my rolling office chair around with me (a big woman) in it? Thank you. I love your home

Comments are closed.