Can Plywood Subfloor be Painted (Used as Finished Flooring)

Painting plywood subfloor

Are you working on a tight budget and still want to remodel your plywood subfloor? Consider painting it. It is a low price DIY project that will massively improve the appeal of your subfloor. 

You can paint a plywood subfloor without a wood covering. You will first remove the top covering to expose the subfloor. Next, prepare the surface for painting. Also, before painting, you need to apply a primer then a paint layer. Next, paint the plywood and seal it. 

Painting your plywood subfloor will go a long way in improving its value. It’s a simple process that you can do all by yourself as long you have assembled the necessary tools. We’ll explain the critical steps in this process. Take a look. 

Can you Paint Plywood Floor?

You can paint a plywood floor, especially if replacing the floor altogether is not in your plans. You could be constrained by finances or just not ready for new flooring. Whichever the reason, you can paint a plywood floor. 

Note that in most instances, plywood is a common subflooring material. However, you can use it as a finished floor. As for painting, It also does not matter whether the plywood is the hard floor or the subfloor. Both types of floors will improve significantly on having a fresh layer of paint.

Nonetheless, before painting, you must ensure that the surface is ready for a fresh coat of paint. Thus, you’ll have to perform several vital things that will set it up for painting. We’ll look at the preparation in-depth later. 

Can you Use Subfloor as Finished Flooring?

You can use the subfloor as the finished flooring as long as you protect it from moisture. Therefore, painting is one of the best ways to convert your subfloor to finished flooring. 

We refer to the unfinished layer below the upper floor when we talk of the subfloor. Sometimes you can use a carpet to cover the subfloor to improve its durability. The most common subfloor material is plywood, although other materials such as plywood and pine boards. 

You need to consider several critical considerations when using the subfloor as a regular floor. Let’s look at each one of them in detail. 

Durability

Most plywoods are less than ¾ inches in thickness. As a result, they are not suitable for long-term use, especially as finished flooring. 

Still, you can use the plywood subfloor for long but not in a high traffic room. The painting will also improve the subfloor’s durability. 

Subfloor Viability

The other critical consideration for a subfloor as the main floor is its viability for the task. The strength and durability of the subfloor will depend on several factors, among them being the strength of the foundation. 

If the subfloor is uneven, it will make a poorly finished flooring surface. Therefore, proper fitting, preferably by a professional, is imperative in ensuring a solid subfloor.

Moisture causes rotting and warping of the subfloor. Thus, it’s not something you would want to experience as you’ll be required to repair the floor often. In addition to proper laying of the subfloor, the painting will go a long way in improving its water resistance. 

Aesthetics

Painting is one of the ways of improving plywood’s floor aesthetics. But before painting, sanding the surfaces is also important. It will significantly enhance the floor’s appearance and make it possible for the paint to stick. 

Long Term Use

If you use a plywood subfloor for finished flooring, it will damage. Thus, you must only adopt such use as a short-term strategy. Maybe you are working on a thin budget, and you would want to postpone spending on durable flooring material. 

In such a case, you can leave the subfloor unattended. But make sure to protect it by laying a carpet on top. Also, ensure that it is well painted. 

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How to Paint Plywood Floors

Before painting a plywood floor, ensure that it is in good condition. Otherwise, applying a paint layer on damaged plywood will not conceal the problems. You do not have to replace the entire plywood if some parts are damaged. Adding a new layer, preferably about ⅜ thick, will do the trick. 

Also, if your floor receives heavy traffic, it’s essential to choose high-quality plywood that will withstand the pressure. 

Now that you have ensured that your floor is fit for painting, let us first look at the tools and materials you’ll require for the job. 

Materials and Equipment

Painting Procedure

1. Remove the Old Flooring

If a carpet covered your subfloor, you’d need to remove it first. Also, remove the carpet padding and tack slips as well. Remove staples on the plywood leftover from removing the padding before painting. 

You can use a flat head screwdriver to gorge them out. However, the best tool for the task is a staple remover. Ensure you have the heavy-duty type, as the staples will likely be firmly attached to the floor. 

2. Sand the plywood surface

First, you must get the surface ready for painting by sanding it. You’ll need to put on your safety goggles and a dust mask during this process. Also, it’s essential to prevent the dust from the plywood from getting to other rooms by sealing openings with the plastic sheet. 

Additionally, let your fan or air conditioner be off during the cleaning process. It will prevent the circulation of dust in the room which will choke you. 

Using the sander, scrap the plywood surface to smooth. Also, make sure that you expel all splinters from the surface. While you may not achieve an immaculately smooth surface, you should at least manage to make it relatively even. 

3. Fill Indentations

If your floor has been in use for some time, you’ll be sure to find some indentations and gouges in some parts. Now is the time to fix them by filling them with wood putty. 

After the putty has dried, sand the parts again. Remember that the aim is to ensure that the surface is as even as possible. Therefore, if you realize that some indentations remain after sanding, fill them again and repeat the sanding process. 

4. Clean the Dust

Once you finish sanding and filling the dents, it’s now time to clean the mess. The dust from the sanding process can find its way to the ventilation system if left unattended. Thus, it is important to suck it out with a vacuum cleaner. 

Also, make sure you fit the vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. 

5. Prime the Surface

First, protect the areas you do not want to paint, such as the baseboard, by attaching the painter’s tape on the plywood’s edges. Next, apply the primer. Start with the extreme corners of the room away from the main door, working your way towards the main door. 

It would be best to use a paint roller connected to the extension pole for this process. For best results, apply two coats, then allow the coating to dry. 

We recommend using Zinsser Oil-based Primer as it guarantees a durable coating that will support any paint. However, make sure you open the windows when applying this primer. It will emit fumes that are not healthy if inhaled. 

Also, after applying the primer, clean the brushes with mineral spirits, or else, the primer will stick permanently on the brush. You can skip the priming step by using self-priming paint directly.

6. Paint the Plywood Floor

If you have applied the primer and dried it, the next step is to paint the floor. Again, the painting procedure is similar to the primer application process. Apply two paint coats. Also, during painting, ensure that you leave as few paint marks as possible. 

You realize this by rolling the brush from dry to wet. Allow the paint to dry before taking the next step. 

7. Make a Pattern

It’s noteworthy that when painting plywood, leaving unsightly marks is inevitable. Therefore, you must know how to cover them to deliver the beautiful look you’re essentially looking to create. The best way to cover up the marks is to create patterns. 

Design shapes using a light pencil and paint them on the floor. You can make shapes of flowers tiles or anything you want depending on your preferences. If you don’t have expertise in drawing, let a professional painter do that for you. 

You can also use stencils for the creation of perfect patterns. Remember to attach the stencil firmly on the floor using the painter’s tape when stenciling. Also, do not apply a thick paint layer over the stencil as it won’t stick well. A thin coating is enough. 

8. Seal the Floor

You may or may not apply a sealant to the floor. However, it would be best to reinforce its durability while also giving it a shiny appeal. But before applying the sealer, it is essential to wipe the surface with a cloth to remove dust. 

Next, apply the sealant using a finish applicator. We recommend using the RUST-OLEUM 989751 Waterborne Applicator for a smooth layer. You can apply the sealant of your choice. Nonetheless, we recommend the Varathane Floor Finish. It is abrasion-resistant and thus will provide a durable cover for your floor. 

Apply as many coats as you want, but at least two should be enough. 

9. Cure the Paint

Give the painted surface sufficient time to cure. It means not stepping in the house until the paint is thoroughly dried. After it has dried, you can move the furniture back. It’s essential to place felt pads below the furniture’s point of contact with the floor for added protection from scratches. 

With the pads, you can pull the furniture without undoing the excellent painting job you have just completed. 

What is the Best Paint for Subfloor?

You need to cover the subfloor as its unfinished look is not attractive to the eye. Thus painting will conceal the flaws of the plywood. Nonetheless, you must get the paint type right. Otherwise, you’ll have a frying pan to fire sort of scenario. 

Plywood is a perfectly absorbent material. It will readily take up whatever you apply to it to a great effect. Thus, lousy paint will be almost impossible to undo after applying it. It is therefore critical to get the primer and paint choice right. 

Best Primer for Plywood Subfloor

Depending on the type of plywood and its density, the surfaces will vary textures. Hence, it’s essential to apply the best primer to solve the problem you have at hand. 

Essentially, a primer fills in the gaps and imperfections preventing the paint from attaching to the plywood’s surface. Hence, a wrong primer choice will also affect the finish coat. 

We have compiled a series of top-quality primers that you should consider using for your plywood subfloor. 

  • Durock Primer-Sealer

Durock is renowned for the manufacture of cement backer boards. The company is now manufacturing sealers for use in boards such as plywood. Among the upsides of the primer is that it is smooth and the best fit for porous materials such as plywood. 

It also features a low odor and also mixes well with water. Thus, cleaning up the roller after the primer application is not sophisticated. Also, with this primer, you don’t need to apply numerous coats. One is sufficient to get the surface ready for painting. 

It retails for $60 per gallon. Thus, you’ll need to calculate how much you’ll spend by determining how many gallons fit your room size. 

  • ArmorSeal

It is a water-based primer made by paint manufacturer Sherwin Williams, ideal for plywoods and other wood floors. The primer dries fast and has a low odor. Thus, its smell does not spread all over the room after application. 

Being an epoxy primer, it’ll provide extra protection from moisture while also preparing the surface adequately for painting. The primer is also critical in making the plywood surface tear and wear-proof. 

The primer is water-based and thus cleans up easily. 

  • Behr Premium Plus

It is oil-based and thus ideal for priming surfaces prone to heavy foot traffic. Also, it helps cushion surfaces that are prone to receiving heavy moisture. The primer also has a sealer. Thus, it prepares the plywood surface for any kind of subsequent treatment. 

It is also a tintable primer capable of delivering highly saturated colors with a few coats of paint. The primer is relatively cheap as a gallon costs about $40. The gallon is enough to cover an area of approximately 500 square feet.

Best Paints for Plywood Floors

The overarching feature of paints on plywood floors is providing adequate moisture and foot traffic protection. Here are some paints with such properties that you should use on your plywood. 

There is no doubt that your plywood floor is most likely to be on the house interior. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot use a paint designated for the exterior, such as this brand. Exterior paints have protective properties against the weather. Thus, this paint will guarantee much-needed extra protection to your plywood floor. 

The oil-based paint also forms a smooth layer and is also chipping proof. Also, you can bet that its finish will last for an extended period without requiring repainting. It is also relatively cheap. With $25, you can get a gallon adequate for a 500 square feet surface. 

You will not require using a primer for this paint as it already has the primer. It will deliver a smooth finish within a short period. You’ll skip the primer application process, which is often time-consuming. 

Nonetheless, there are exceptions when you might need to use a primer. For instance, if your plywood is quite rough, it would be best to apply a primer. It will prove handy in improving the sticking of the paint coat. 

The paint also contains low VOCs thus does not pose a health hazard. Also noteworthy is that this paint delivers a semi-gloss finish. Additionally, it dries fast and is also easy to clean up. However, before applying subsequent paint layers, you must give the original coat at least 4 hours to dry up. 

  • Sherwin-Williams ArmorSeal Enamel

It is the ideal paint for use in places where oil-based paint is not a viable option. The paint is urethane-based, with similar properties to the average oil-based paint. Another advantage is that the paint can easily clean up with water. 

It also features low amounts of VOCs and is thus safe for your health. It is also cheap since you’ll spend about $25 for a gallon that will cover about 500 square feet. 

If you are looking for a rustic finish floor, settle for milk paint. Also, if you have reservations for the non-organic paints in the market, this should be your go option as it is 100% organic. 

Real milk paint is also stiff, facilitating the delivery of the rustic appearance. Unlike other paints that give a smooth finish, the stiffness in these paints means that brush and roller marks will be inevitable. 

But that should be the aim if you have a weathered rustic look finish in your mind. Remember to wax the surface after applying the finish. It’ll improve the longevity of the paint coat. 

There are several milk paints that you can use for your subfloor painting project. They include Old Fashioned Milk Paint and General Finishes Water Based Milk Paint

The paint retails at about $46 a gallon. 

  • Dutch Boy Latex Porch and Floor

It’s an exterior-based paint like Valspar that you can also use in painting interior wood surfaces. The paint is latex-based. Therefore, if you are in a state with reservations on oil-based paints like California, this latex paint is a feasible option. 

Its finish is durable, and the paint is also easy to clean with water. Additionally, it will protect your floor from anything thrown at it in the form of abrasions and chipping. For only $40, you can have a gallon of the paint.

The paint is made from recycled latex paint, and it’s ideal for efficiently covering plywood grains to deliver a smooth finish. While the term recycled may raise eyebrows, there should be no cause for alarm as its quality remains top-notch. The manufacturer recycles the paint to deliver a low-cost product that matches the original paint. 

But before using it, it’s essential to ensure the plywood floor is well sanded. Also, applying at least two layers of primer will significantly improve the attachment of the coat to the plywood’s surface. 

It’s also easy to clean up as you only require soap and water. Its color shades may vary with batches. Nonetheless, you can avoid the problem by mixing colors from different batches to improve the shade. 

Another fundamental upside of the paint is that it’s eco-friendly. Thus it poses zero health threat to you, kids, or pets. However, it does not dry fast, and you’ll have to wait for at least 2 hours before applying a second coat. Sometimes you may have to wait up to 6 hours depending on the humidity of your locality. 

It is essentially a latex/acrylic-based paint that is durable and easy to apply. Also, it is a low odor and thus can be used for a DIY subfloor painting project. Its VOC content is also relatively low. Hence, you don’t need to undertake numerous precautions when using it. 

In addition to using it on plywood, it’s also suitable for use on metal and plastic. Thus, it is multipurpose and dries fast after application. Nonetheless, with the paint, you’ll have to put up with its lack of furniture-based colors. 

Another downside of the paint is that finding a full gallon on Amazon is quite an ordeal. All in all, it is a high-quality paint that is also lowly priced. 

The fundamental upside of this paint brand is that it is available in various colors. Hence, it offers you a wide range of options when choosing the best color for your plywood floor. It is also eco-friendly and USA-made. Thus, you can be sure that it is a high-quality brand. 

Another advantage of this paint is that it retails in 1 and 5-gallon cans. Hence, depending on the size of your painting project, you can choose either of the two. It is also cheaply priced. It’s also versatile, and you can use it for indoor and exterior painting projects. 

Nonetheless, you’ll have to bear with the only two sheer options that it offers. It only has the semi-gloss finish and low sheen options. Thus, for a high gloss finish, you’ll have to settle for another paint brand. 

Also, while it has a wide range of colors, other paint brands have more color options. Hence, it does not exhaustively cover all the available color choices. 

If you are looking for high-quality acrylic latex paint for use on your high-grade plywood floor, this is among the key options to consider. It provides you with a plethora of color choices. Hence, it is ideal for a crafty painting project if you are keen on a design featuring more than one color. 

It is also durable and dries fast. However, it’s pretty expensive, especially if you are painting a large area. But for small projects, fewer brands will give you a better finish than this brand. 

How do you Paint Plywood Without Sanding?

Sanding the surface during painting is one of the most time-consuming and messy tasks. It would be better for many people to find an alternative to painting plywood without going through the hassle of sanding it first. 

We have several ways that you can use to avoid this messy task that is most painters’ nightmare. 

Apply Chalk Paint

With chalk paint, you can skip the sanding process and be sure that it’ll do nothing to affect the quality of the coat. Also, if you are looking for a matte look finish, there’s no better way to achieve it than using chalk paint. 

When choosing the best chalk paint to use, you’re simply spoilt for choice as there are arguably so many quality brands in the market. We recommend using Rust-Oleum 285140 Ultra Matte Interior Chalked Paint. It is fast drying and adheres firmly to the surface as it is also latex-based. 

Other top-quality chalk paint brands include:  

Use Mineral Paint

Like chalk paint, you do not need to apply a primer or sand the surface before painting with mineral paint. Mineral paints are also durable and stain-proof. One coat of mineral paint is enough, and you’ll not need to apply an extra coat layer. 

Dixie Belle Paint Company is the mineral paint brand that we recommend. 

Apply Milk Paint and Bonding Agent

Using milk paint plus bonding agent will deliver a superb finish without necessitating you to prepare the surface by prior sanding. The upside of using a bonding agent is that it has primer properties. Thus, it will facilitate the attachment of the milk paint to the plywood’s surface. 

You can use any milk paint in equal parts with the bonding agent for excellent results. Note that the bonding agent will only be necessary for the first coat. Thus, you can skip it in the subsequent coats to no effect. 

Use the Country Chic clear bonding primer as your bonding agent for this project. It will sufficiently prepare the surface for absorption of the milk paint layer. We’ve already covered the various types of milk paints that you can use. Any of those brands will give you a top-quality finish. 

Use a Bonding Primer

If you use a high-quality bonding primer like the BIN Shellac Primer, you will not require sanding the surface beforehand. It has superior bonding capability. Hence, it will adequately prepare the surface for the perfect adhesion of a paint layer without giving away the true nature of the plywood underneath. 

With a quality primer, all the stains on the wood will be covered, giving the paint a clean slate to adhere to. Use the above-recommended brand for your priming purposes, and you’ll not need sanding the surface. Alternatively, you can use  Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer or Kilz Premium Primer, both of superior quality. 

Use a Liquid Sander 

A liquid sander like the Klean-Strip Liquid Sander Deglosser does what the regular sandpaper does, just differently. Once applied to the wood, it reacts with surface stains permeating the plywood. 

Consequently, it leaves the plywood surface ready for a paint coat similar to the typical sandpaper. 

The sander is also easy to apply by brush. You will only need to use a small amount, and the surface is ready for painting. Nonetheless, you must ensure that the room is well aerated as the liquid sander has an odor. 

Can you Paint Particleboard Subfloor?

Similar to plywood, you can also paint a particleboard subfloor. It is one of the critical ways of improving its longevity and looks. Often an exposed particle board subfloor will portray the appeal of a low price subfloor. Of course, you wouldn’t want this. Thus consider painting it in addition to other coverage options. 

Painting the floor will go a long way in getting it in good shape for covering. It’s among the several particle board subfloor improvements that you should prioritize, especially to improve its appeal and durability. Let’s look at the various significant ways of covering the particle board/plywood subfloor (painting included). 

Overlay

Among the common particle board problems is swelling. It is common, especially if the material is exposed to moisture. If you are already experiencing swelling or you’d want to cushion the surface from water, consider covering it with an overlay material. 

A thin layer of plywood would be useful for covering the particle board subfloor. The process is a common practice, especially by carpenters before laying the upper floor. 

Before laying the plywood, smoothen the particleboard surface. A belt sander would be perfect for this procedure. Make sure you have a flat layer by removing all the points above the floor level. 

Next, hammer down the exposed nails or staples that you could use to attach a carpet to the particleboard. Your particle board surface is now ready for the plywood overlay. A ¼ inch thick layer would be perfect for creating a  flat surface. 

Paint

Painting the particle board is akin to covering it with a plywood layer. The preparation process for painting the surface is similar to that of laying a plywood layer. 

After the surface is ready, apply two layers of paint. Ideally, floor paint would be the best fit for this task. You can do it yourself or employ the services of a professional. If you intend to use the subfloor as a regular floor, make sure you work on the aesthetics during painting. 

You can create suitable patterns, and a professional painter will be handy in helping you out with this. 

Paper Bagging

You can also opt to finish a plywood floor with pieces of kraft paper. It will be handy in giving the floor a marble-like appearance. First, fill in the gaps between the plywood with Red Devil 0544 ONETIME Lightweight dry compound

Next, stick pieces of kraft paper soaked in watered-down glue. Allow the layer to dry, after which you should apply a finish. Lastly, seal the floor to protect the kraft paper layer. You’ll finally obtain a beautiful pattern of the marble-like floor. 

You can alternatively use wallpaper in place of the kraft paper. 

Sticky Tiles

Using sticky tiles is also a viable option for protecting the subfloor. Most of such tiles are made of vinyl and have an adhesive on the backside. Thus, laying them is not hard. But you must prepare the particle board subfloor first. 

Peel the adhesive coverings and lay them perfectly along the surface. It’s also possible to cut them to the desired shapes using scissors to fit the area perfectly. Also, choose various patterns to your liking. It will go a long way in improving your floor’s appeal. 

Clear Finish

Applying a layer of varnish, lacquer, or polyurethane will undoubtedly make it attractive and unique. Prepare the surface as explained in the above processes and hammer down the protruding nails. 

Next, apply an oil-based stain and allow it to soak well into the particleboard surface. Note that particleboard features intricate patterns that are not visible outrightly. Nonetheless, after the stain layer dries off, the surface is a spectacle to behold. 

Cover the stain layer with two coats of either of the materials mentioned above. The results will be amazing, and you can bet that your floor will be attractive to many. 

Final Thoughts

Painting a plywood subfloor is a straightforward procedure that you can do all by yourself. But, you must be aware of the critical basics of the process. First, you must prepare the floor adequately for painting. 

You must also make the right choice on the primer and paint. We have highlighted how to go about all this in the article. We have further provided insights into avoiding the messy sanding process while painting. 

You are ready to handle any plywood painting process with the above tips. When you are unsure what to do, especially regarding choosing paint, consult a professional. 

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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