Should You Paint a Room’s Walls or Trim First?

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Updated April 13, 2022
Two girls laugh in room with dark walls and light trim
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Though it comes down to personal preference, there are some circumstances when you should choose one first

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

If you’re planning to paint a room, you may be wondering whether to start with the colorful walls or the complementary trim. While there’s no “right” answer, there are pros and cons to each strategy. These simple guidelines will help you decide what makes the most sense for you and your project. 

In General, Paint the Walls First, Then the Trim

In most cases, it’s going to be easier to paint wall first and then move on to the trim. The reasoning? You typically paint walls with rollers, which can fling small paint drops onto your trim. So, if you’ve already painted the trim with a brush, you’ll have to go back and cover up any splatter afterward. So save yourself the time and effort by painting the walls first.

For Instant Gratification: Paint the Walls First

Because walls make up the majority of a room, painting them first will deliver visible results quickly—and give you instant gratification. No matter how nice newly glossy, pristine, brilliant white trim looks, it won’t make as much of an impact as walls transformed from deep indigo to pea green.

Such a speedy and dramatic turnaround will likely inspire you to complete the remainder of your project. In addition, after painting the walls, you might decide that you don’t even need to repaint the trim. Refreshing the wall color might deliver enough punch to reinvent your space.

If You’re Unsure About Color: Paint the Walls First

The trim and walls should coordinate in each room, but it’s almost always the wall color that people notice first. With so much surface area, you may not know if a shade looks right until you paint a full wall, or even the whole room. 

So, if you’re not 100% committed to a wall color, don’t skip to the trim first. Try a few different color samples and, once you’re satisfied, you can paint the trim in a complementary shade. That way, if you end up disliking the wall color, you won’t have wasted time repainting the trim.

To Follow Convention: Paint the Walls First

Modern two toned green walls with pink accents
Photo: FollowTheFlow / iStock / Getty Images

Traditionally, interior painting should be done from the top down, because paint drips. This means you should paint the ceiling first, then the walls, and then the trim (although crown molding throws a bit of a wrench in this theory, since it’s trim that abuts the ceiling). Heed the laws of gravity and paint the ceiling, then the walls, then the trim. That way, if paint does drip down (which it most likely will), it won’t mess up your work.

To Cut Down on Corrections: Paint the Walls First

In general, you should paint walls using rollers and trim using brushes. Rollers deposit paint on larger areas more quickly, but provide less control than brushes. This is the main reason why painters use brushes to handle the tight transition areas, such as between the ceiling and walls.

If you paint the trim first and then make a mistake when using your rollers on the walls, you’ll potentially have more paint to clean up than you would if you’d overbrushed slightly. Plus, rollers tend to fling paint droplets into the air (and onto trim!).

Lastly, in most rooms, you’ll use higher-sheen paint (such as semi-gloss) for trim and lower-sheen paint (such as matte or eggshell) for walls. So, if you paint the trim first and get some onto the wall, you run the risk of that higher-sheen paint showing through. This even applies if you’re planning to paint the walls and trim the same color.

To Make Trim Painting Easier: Paint the Trim First

Painting trim white next to a blue wall
Photo: Wavebreakmedia / iStock / Getty Images

Trim can be difficult to tackle, since it’s three-dimensional and most often painted with a brush. So it’s only natural to be a bit sloppy when painting the trim. Then, when it’s dry, use easy-release painter’s tape to cover it thoroughly, and proceed to the walls. In fact, many professional painters swear it’s easier and faster to cover the edges of baseboards, trim, and crown molding with tape as opposed to the wall perimeter.

Alternatively, use a paint shield to protect your trim paint job when working on the walls, or use an edger to get a sharp, crisp line. To make this process as easy as possible, if at all doable, paint the trim before installing it (though you may need to touch it up a bit after installation). 

If Your Home Is More Like a Construction Site: Paint the Trim First

Walls are more vulnerable to damage than trim at construction sites, so if you’re in the middle of a Fixer Upper-esque home remodel, you might want to hold off on painting those walls right away.

If you paint the trim first, the odds are lower that your work will have been in vain. Then, once the majority of work on your home has been completed, you can paint the walls as one of the finishing touches. 

In addition, construction sites are notoriously dusty. If you paint the walls while materials are still being hammered and sawed, you’ll likely have to clean (and possibly even repaint) them again. It’s much easier and faster to wipe down smaller areas of glossy trim. Of course, it’s best to wait until all construction is complete before tackling any paint job.

Don’t Sweat the Decision

At the end of the day, whether to paint trim or walls first is largely a matter of personal preference. Whichever you tackle first, know that you can always correct mistakes and the results won’t be radically different either way. So pick up that brush and get to it! 

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.