The truth about our painted plywood floor – I’m spilling all the details of how our stenciled plywood floors are holding up after seven months.
My painted plywood floor is one of the most beautiful, creative, fantastic projects I have ever done. And one of the most popular projecta I have shared here at Lovely Etc. so far.
(If you missed my post about how I transformed my living room by painting my subfloor, you have got to go check it out immediately!)
Now that we have lived with our painted floors for more than half a year, I figured it was time to share a little update on how they are holding up. So here it is. The completely honest, unbiased update of the good, the bad, and the ugly of painted plywood subfloors.
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First, I should say that the floors have held up great and continue to be my very favorite thing in our house. I love, love, love them.
When I walk into other rooms that still have their dreaded dingy carpet, I can’t stand how the carpet seems to just suck all of the light out of the room. These floors, on the other hand, continue to be just as beautiful and reflective as they were the day I finished painting them.
The floors have also been quite durable. I have had almost no problems with the paint getting chipped or scratched.
Some of my furniture has protective pads under it but not everything. The couch is sitting directly on the floor and has not made even the slightest scratch in the finish – even when we scooted it around to reach things underneath.
There is one exception to this. There is a very small divot in the floor where I dropped something several months ago. I think it may have been a picture frame, but in any case a sharp corner fell into the floor.
This did not scratch the paint, but it did dent the soft plywood of the floor. The divot it left was deep enough to show the bare wood beneath the paint.
As you can see, it is tiny and not very noticeable at all. If it really bothered me, I could simply touch up the paint.
As far as cleaning, I have simply swept and mopped my painted floors the same way I would any other hard surface flooring with no problems.
The sealer I used has been one of the biggest keys to the durability of this project and has held up great. I used porch and floor paint followed by Rust-Oleum Varathane Clear Water-Based Polyurethane, Satin Finish.
I also painted the floor of my screened porch several years ago with porch and floor paint but did not use a sealer. Not only does that floor not have the same beautiful sheen, it is also much more difficult to keep clean. Without a good sealer, the dirt just seems to stick to the paint.
I am extremely happy that I stenciled a pattern on the main area of the floor because it hides dust and dirt so well. (I used this Paisley Allover Stencil by Cutting Edge Stencils.)
The solid area around the edges of the room tends to show every speck of dust – mainly because the floor color is so dark. Also, being a painted surface, it is very uniform and hides nothing. Even hardwood floors have some wood grain to help camouflage dust.
The other reason the pattern is so key is that it helps hide the seams in the plywood floor. The floor overall looks completely amazing.
But when the light hits it a certain way, you can see the plywood seams quite clearly. This doesn’t really bother me, but if you are a perfectionist, it may not be for you.
Of course the seams would not be so noticeable to begin with if I had used the right filler to patch them before painting.
When I originally painted my floors, I used a product called Flexible Floor Patch and Leveler. I am sure it is great for some applications but not for painted floors – it has a very rough texture and does NOT sand smooth at all.
This weekend I was patching some dings in our kitchen floor in preparation for laying hardwoods and I tried something I hadn’t seen before – Dap Presto Patch Filler .
It was brilliant! It goes on very smoothly and sands like a dream. This is definitely what I would use in the future to smooth seams before painting floors.
And the biggest negative of all.
After I posted about my painted subfloors, a fellow blogger let me know that painting subfloors can be a problem from a real estate point of view. Yes, I already realized that potential buyers may not be pleased with plywood flooring – even if it is very beautiful plywood flooring.
The bigger problem is that in at least one state, you cannot sell a house unless there is some sort of covering over the subfloor – it has to do with not being able to get bank financing. One of those strange quirks.
That state is Virginia which is where I happen to live. (This may or may not be true for other states – I am not an expert in real estate and have absolutely no idea).
For some people, this could be a major deterrent and it is definitely something you should be aware of before you undertake a project like this. For me, it is not really a big deal because we are not planning to move anytime soon.
Come on, seriously, there is nothing ugly about this floor! It is magnificent and it makes the whole room seem so much more amazing.
Okay, so there was one point when it almost took a turn toward ugly.
When I first did this project, I actually sealed the floors two times. The first time I used Varathane Crystal Clear Water-based floor sealer in Gloss Finish. The floor was so shiny and glossy that it looked wet long after it dried. The extreme shininess of it also highlighted every single imperfection in the plywood – not pretty at all.
Luckily, I didn’t let that get me down; I just went back to the store and bought Rust-Oleum Varathane Clear Water-Based Poleurethane, Satin Finish. I put this right over the finish I had previously used and it turned out perfectly.
So there you have it – the unbiased truth.
It may not be perfect, but I absolutely adore my painted plywood floor.
Has anyone else out there tackled a floor-painting project? What tips or advice would you add?
Are you as thrilled with your floors as I am with mine? Anyone have other questions about the process or about how they are holding up?
If you are thinking about painting your own floors, you may want to check out these other posts for tips and answers to many of your questions:
You used a waterbed verathane. I have done this using a polycrylic (spelling ?), but it smelled and took forever to dry. My question is since it is water based, do you mop it and if so does it effect it at all? if you do not mop, how are you cleaning it !
Yes, I mop it without problems. I have used things like the stiffer wet jet and even the hands and knees scrubbing method a few times and haven’t had problems.
I painted my particle board sub-floor a few years ago. Still very satisfied with the result, even though we do have some scars & mars from furniture rearranging and where the grand kids belly up to the dining table half a dozen times a day. Initially we had attached small pads to the legs of all furniture and chairs, which made them glide effortlessly across the floor. Eventually the little pads worked off and were never replaced, that was when wear and tear began.
I did two coats of primer to prepare the raw surface, two coats base color and a glaze applied with a faux wood grain tool. The finished floor then had four coats of polyurethane applied over the top. Took about a week to complete when allowing for adequate dry times between applications.
If I had it to do over again I would practice my wood grain technique prior to starting (looks fine, could look even better) and my honey says he wished he would have taken the time to fill & sand the seams & staple scars. Honestly, it has been well worth it, a whole new living room floor for less than $200! And anyone can come along at anytime and lay carpet, laminate, or any other floor covering right over it so it really doesn’t matter that the subfloor happens to be painted and perfectly sealed.
It has held up very well in an active rural household, going on 5 years now, (think muddy boots, dusty britches, grand kids, old dogs, and an occasional barn fowl). Depending on what kind of mess we face, we might sweep, dust mop, or Rainbow vacuum sweeper, and damp mop every not quite often enough. I have dabbed a bit of the leftover glaze here and there to conceal the worst mars, but the painted floor proves itself beautifully durable and practical in spite of our lifestyle.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience with your own painted floors! This is great for anyone else considering this – especially those with particle board floors. And it is awesome to hear they have held up well for five years – especially with kids and pets. I get a lot of questions about having painted subfloors with dogs but we only a small dog for a short period while we had these floors so I can’t ever give a good answer. Again, thanks so much for sharing. Also, the faux wood grain is an excellent idea!
Very cool idea! I’m in a similar situation, old carpet looks bad would love wood floors but can’t afford it. I have two kids, cats and a dog in the house so it gets messy. Does the sealer seem to help with the pet messes good as far as easy to clean? Also did you use like a swifer to dust up pet hair? What type of mopping product did you use as well on the floors? Thanks for the input ,Dana
Hi Dana, The sealer definitely helps with all kinds of messes. Liquid messes pooled on the surface of the sealer rather than soaking in. I just used a broom and swiffer wet jet to clean the floors and it worked great. They are very low maintenance.
Melissa Stovall says
Hello, great looking floors, I’m curious how it’s holding up now that it has been a few years. Also, how much traffic do you have in your house? I have kids and dogs and very sandy soil in my area, it’s like being at the beach, sand is everywhere. Makes me wonder at how the durability of the floor would hold up over time. I would love to know more about your experience, just came across your page when I was searching the pros and cons of plywood flooring. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Melissa! My floors have held up really well. I have a post detailing exactly how they look after three years of use with a kid (and a small dog for the first year). I don’t know much about sandy soil but I can say, scratching of the paint hasn’t been a problem at all. https://www.lovelyetc.com/2015/06/painted-plywood-subfloor-three-years-later-the-final-update/ Let me know if you still have more questions after reading it!
Thank you for posting this. It gave me the courage to pull up some old, nasty carpet in my bedroom, paint the floor, and install carpet tiles. I am so happy with how much easier it is to keep clean.
Yay Lisa! I am so glad you were inspired to go for it!
Shari Wall says
I am considering this in my upstairs. Can you tell me how the stenciling works? Do you have to apply, dry, move and if so, how hard is it to line up straight? I plan on doing a grey floor with teal/turquoise stenciling on my landing and stairs. Stenciling down the center like a runner.
The stenciling is easier than it looks but it does take some time. Generally, you can stencil a section and then immediately move the stencil without waiting for it to dry. But you will want to avoid stenciling directly next to any section that isn’t fully dry. So if you work out from a corner, you can get a few rows going at once. That way when one section is still wet, you can just move to a dry area and keep working. And lining up the stencil is really easy – all repeating pattern type stencils come with special areas to help line up the stencil with the previous section.
Gina Duran from Texas says
Was this room downstairs or upstairs? We have been wanting to pull up the carpet upstairs but just don’t have the money to put new carpet (which I don’t want anyway) or wood flooring. So I wonder if this would work on the upstairs wood subfloor. And I haven’t read your original post yet – about to go there – how many square feet did you do and how long did it take you?
Gina, we have a one level home with a full basement. So I guess it was on the first floor, but with a basement below. I have definitely seen others do something similar in second floor spaces. I did my living room and dining room which together are around 400 square feet. It is hard to gauge how much time it took because I was working on it in the evenings after work a little at a time for several weeks. To be safe though, I would allow at least a week for the whole process because the primer, paint, and sealer all need to time to dry.
Your floors look truly wonderful, although I know these now no longer exist in real time, and congratulations on getting the floor you were truly wanting!
My story: I recently bought a house with 4000sf of original white carpet…originally white in1962! Even the bathrooms were completely carpeted. It was all extremely filthy and actually disintegrating in some spots. It took two 15 yard dumpsters to get rid of it all! We planned on putting down a new floor, but the baseboards and door trim was installed flush with the subfloor, and the whole house is wallpapered with still-nice wallpaper, some of it grasscloth, and pulling off the baseboards might damage the wallpaper….major scope creep! So I have been researching painted subfloors and yours is truly inspiring, I keep coming back to it. Eventually we will probably put down cork tiles, as that is the thinnest natural floor I can get, and it would be appropriate for this house’s era, but for right now, making this floor feel and look nice is my priority over rushing a major decision that affects 4000 sf of floor!
I am spending about an hour each day pulling up the staples and sanding with an orbital hand sander. It goes slow but I am making nice progress without it feeling like a huge overwhelming project. The floor is particle board but it is covered with blotches of paint from when the baseboards and ceilings were painted, and it is stuck on tight, so it’s clear it takes paint very well. With sanding it’s very smooth, and the seams are mostly tight, but I note that you say it’s a nicer finish to fill them, so I am going to try paintable caulk.
I read a lot of internet comments from people who are nonplussed about a subfloor being painted. If I personally were buying a house, I would a million times rather have found a clean painted subfloor that one that was covered in new synthetic’ or worn out ‘acceptable’ flooring that I was just going to have to rip out. When I was looking for a house before buying this one, I turned down so many. They looked like they had been updated to sell, with new vinyl or laminate or ceramic tile or worst of all, new carpet, that was not to my taste and almost always wrong for the house style. (Is there a resale formula, regardless of the house style and era?? ) I guess there is a market for those houses, but I definitely wasn’t it! If I were house shopping and it came down your stenciled subfloor and a comparable house with the old carpeting or new vinyl/laminate/ceramic (or really any floor that was not to my aesthetic), yours would have won in an instant.. And a painted subfloor is a much greener and healthier solution than buying new synthetic products just because someone says plywood isn’t a ‘real’ floor and resale demands it. Um…can you walk on it? Can you clean it? Can your kids safely play on it? Sounds like a floor to me!
For those who talked about subfloor not being able to qualify for a loan, I talked with a real estate agent (not from my state), just a casual conversation at a social convention, and he said it was really that you couldn’t have an unfinished, unlivable floor, and that a clean, smooth, and painted ‘subfloor’ would probably qualify as finished. In this house, the living room and dining room floor under the old carpet was concrete slab (considered subfloor) and we had it acid stained and it looks amazing, but I also live in the southwest where acid stained concrete is considered a high end and very desirable finish. In the midwest maybe not so much desired! In our case, the to-the-floor windows have narrow aluminum framing, and wood over the concrete would have ruined the look and perhaps even been higher than the frame. Also there are rough rock walls, and I can’t imagine doing wood against those, how uneven it would be.. So having the subfloor as floor, is undoubtedly the most aesthetic and appropriate finish. I think the people who automatically dismiss the idea of ‘subfloor’ as ‘floor’ are just engaging in limited thinking. A painted plywood floor can always be refreshed and renewed. A laminate floor or carpet or vinyl tiles…when it’s worn, it just goes into the dumpster and a whole new floor has to be put in.
Thank you so much for being brave and creative. I bought a stencil with a design that is like those spanish or moroccan cement tiles. I’m really looking forward to having a finished floor as beautiful as yours. And I very much appreciate your pioneer spirit! Enjoy your new wood floors in good health and joy!
Thanks for sharing your story JoJo. You make so many points, especially that it doesn’t make sense to say a junky, cheap floor is more acceptable than a fresh, painted subfloor! It sounds like you have your hands full but I know all of your hard work will pay off. And I love the idea of acid-stained concrete. I haven’t seen much of that in my area, but I know it can be so beautiful!
I’m about to tackle a project like this in my daughters room. One of the family dogs has marked her bedroom multiple times, in multiple places. Hardwood isn’t in the budget at the moment, so I’m ripping the carpet up & staining the floors! Looking forward to getting rid of the ugly carpet today!
Yay congrats on getting rid of that carpet!
Hey there … I was wondering about stains . Have you dropped anything like red wine or anything else that might have color pigment in it . Does it adhere or just wipe away? I’m thinking of installing this in a salon and just curious. Thanks a bunch , Danielle
Hi Danielle, No red wine stains but definitely lots of drinks spilled and a few dog messes. Everything wiped right off. Liquids puddle up rather than soaking in so I don’t think staining would be a problem.
Hello! I am also inspired by your post and am looking to paint the small landing on the way down to my basement. Unfortunately, the landing is really chopped up and has large gouges and missing pieces of floor. Do you have advice on how to patch a 3-inch x 2-inch hole in the floor?
Thanks so much for all your hard work and advice.
Hi Sarah! I would just patch it using the Presto Patch I mentioned in the post. It will probably take a few times to get it all filled in and then you can sand it smooth. You could also try cutting a small piece of wood to put in the hole and then use the wood filler to fill in the cracks around it. Good luck!
Hi. Your stenciled floor looks nice, for sure. For me, though, one of the negative factors for going with a painted plywood floor is how the baseboards no longer fit because the plywood floor is a sub-floor only. Consequently there is an unfinished look to the final product. And out here in the rural area, it gives our little eight-legged friends a place to hang out. :)
Yes, I totally agree. The plan was to add white shoe molding (quarter round) along all of the trim to bring it down to the right level. But I have a bad habit of putting off boring finishing touches like that for way too long!
Marisol aka DaDomesticDiva says
I am in the process of making the decision to do this to the upstairs of my house. My daughter, son and myself have bad allergies, horrible carpet being taken out slowly. there is a sub floor and wood flooring for 830 square feet is very expensive, so I am truly thinking of this idea. kids get some cool floors. any tips , let me know. You have done beautifully with your floors.
Thanks Marisol! This is one of those projects that truly transformed our house – and also made me realize I really can do just about anything! And the possibilities with paint are endless! Good luck!
I have a loft just above my closet in my bedroom (with high ceilings). It already has a thick board above my closet (floor to loft), but as I’m placing a lot of weight up there, I just purchased some 3/4 inch plywood to place up there for added support. As plywood always so rough and splintery , I realized I should put a coat of polyurithane on it before placing it up there (as it will be easier to do it before putting it up there). Then I realized I should put a coat of paint on it before the polyurithane to make it pretty. My boyfriend suggested Stain, but I would rather use paint. And here’s my concern… I have several cans of ceiling flat white paint that is just goingto waste if I don’t use it, but I’ve dealt with paint enough to know that sometimes using the wrong kind of paint can make things worse.
So my question is, can I use the flat white paint topped with thick coats of polyurithane to the plywood floor of my loft (that won’t get alot of traffic, but will store some heavy items.
Hmm, that is a tricky one. In general, flat paint isn’t great for anything that will potentially get scuffed because you can’t wipe it down. But if you are covering it with poly, that won’t be an issue because the poly IS very easy to clean. I think if you start with primer and end with a good polyacrylic (polyurethane yellows), you should be fine. Especially since nobody will be walking on it. Good luck!
gorgeous floor!!! is it safe to walk on with bare feet?
Nancy, yes it is totally safe for bare feet. It is as smooth as linoleum to the touch!
So glad I read through the entire post – I had no idea Virginia had a ruling like that. There goes my DIY dream of making my own floors. :) Great update and beautiful floors!
Thanks Kim! It is kind of a crazy rule but you may want to look into it further – it’s possible things have changed over the past few years.
Hi Carrie. Your floor looks beautiful. I wish I had seen your blog before I tackled my particle wood sub-floor (after tearing out the carpet). I used Flexible Floor Patch and Leveler (recommended on a video I saw), and it is HORRIBLE to work with. As you said, rough, and impossible to sand (no matter what grit). I was a little sloppy when filling gaps, since I didn’t have the right tool, and thinking I’d be able to sand it smooth (WRONG). I had initially planned to leave the floor a plain grey color. But, after several coats of primer, the seams are visually noticeable, especially, when the sun hits the floor through the window. Now, deciding how I’m going to finish, to hide all the imperfections. The stenciling seems easy enough, but thinking it’ll take me forever, since I’m not artistic at all. Or, possibly a faux wood grain. Either way, i know it’ll be harder than I think. Thanks so much, for your detailed review. Here’s hoping the next room will be easier (with a different filler).
Bonnie, ugh, I’m so sorry that happened. That flexible floor patch is a pain, and yes definitely not sandable! Good luck figuring out your next steps. If you do decide to stencil, the good thing is stenciling a floor is actually way easier than stenciling walls or other things since you can lay it flat. And really, even if you aren’t artistic, you can do it as long as you take your time and pay attention to detail. Good luck!
I live in Fiji and we have yet to add the back veranda.
Your floor is beautiful!
I am wondering if we could use an exterior plywood for the back verandah? And if we did can we just stain it, etc, etc.?
Would appreciate your thoughts.
Hi Luise, I am not a construction expert, so I can’t say for sure. Especially since I don’t know anything about Fiji and what the weather/humidity is like. I would mostly be worried about moisture causing the wood to expand and contract. That being said, I do know that exterior wood is treated and can be used for all kinds of projects outdoors so it might work. We actually have a screened porch with a plywood floor here in Virginia. I painted the floor and it has held up well. Sorry I can’t be more helpful – good luck!
Extreme Epoxy Coatings says
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janell stough says
How much primer, paint and topcoat did you need?
Did you remove and replace floor/wall moulding?
My floor was around 400 square feet and I used 1 gallon of primer, 1 gallon of each of the two colors of paint, and 1 gallon of sealer. I did not use the entire gallon of each of these products, but definitely more than half of each (other then the light gray paint which was only used for stenciling). Also this room did not have shoe molding previously. If it had, I would have removed it before removing the carpet. But you do not need to remove any molding unless you have to do so to remove the old flooring/carpet. You can just protect it with painter’s tape. If you do remove it, you can reuse the same molding as long as it isn’t too damaged in the removal process. (I have done this when installing flooring in other spaces.) Just label each piece of molding as you remove it so you will know where it goes. Then reattach and repaint/caulk the molding as needed when your floors are finished. I hope that helps!
For people asking about how the floors hold up with dogs: I have 2 80-lb dogs and a 10-lb dog. We have no kids and have furniture pads on all our chairs, tables, bookcases, etc. We’ve lived in our house a year with most of the house being painted subfloor and our dogs have scratched the floors in several places all the way down to the floor. I used 3 coats of oil-based Kilz primer, 2 coats of porch paint, stencils, and then 3 coats of oil-based sealer for durability (I wasnt worried about yellowing). I think that, overall, the floors were a good choice for us but I will be making time at least annually to get the dogs out of the house for a weekend so that I can touch up the paint and reseal it. Their claws do leave dents in the wood!!! The texture will never look as smooth as when we first moved in. However, it’s not something that bothers me. Just letting people know that if they have dogs (especially large energetic dogs) the floors will not look like painted cement floors (I have also had those in a previous house!)
Thanks for sharing your experience for all the other dog owners!
This was so helpful to me and I now have a gorgeous painted plywood floor. I had some wallpaper border that I had never used. I used flat latex, put down the border and coated it with three coats of polyurethane. It is so beautiful!
What a great idea to add the border! I’m glad my post was helpful!
I am thankful I ran across this. I am in the planning stages of painting my living room, dining room, and kitchen floors. I have a craftsman built by my Grandfather in 1940. Carpet just doesn’t go and hardwood/laminate is out of my budget. I knew I didn’t want just a plain/one color floor and stripes didn’t seem right.
I have considered stencils but it seems overwhelming to me. I have a lot of square footage and a one foot square stencils seems like a lot to handle.
Can you tell me more about your stenciling process?
It my not seem so overwhelming 30 years ago, or even 20 years ago, but at 60 years of age I am wondering if I can handle the project.
Thank you for your time.
Your house sounds wonderful! How special to have a house built by your grandfather! The stenciling process isn’t difficult, but it does take a bit of time. I used a small foam roller to paint over my stencil so it goes faster than you would imagine, but it does involve a lot of bending over the floor which can be tough physically. (I have no idea what physical condition you are in, but I’m almost 40 and my back definitely isn’t what it used to be!) If you have plenty of time, you could definitely do a few sections at a time and spread the work over a few weeks. I have more details on the step by step of stenciling here if you haven’t seen it yet – https://www.lovelyetc.com/amazing-painted-floors-how-to/
Laurie Martz says
I’m not keen. on using an oil based primer, for allergic reasons. Any thoughts on whether an acrylic primer would be good enough for an art studio? Not a lot of through traffic, no pets, and definitely not a show home!!
I prefer oil-based primer but a good water-based primer should also work. One of the big advantages of oil-based primer is it sticks really well to anything, so just be extra sure to clean your floors really well to remove any dust and grease before priming. Kilz or Zinsser water-based primer should work. Good luck!