Should You Refinish Your Floors or Paint Your Walls First?

Angela Brown
Written by Angela Brown
Updated December 17, 2021
A young couple paints a wall
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Spoiler: there's no right or wrong answer

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Which came first, the wall paint or the refinished flooring? If you’re looking for a catch-22 to eat up your time, trying to choose whether to paint your walls or refinish your floors first might do the trick. The short answer to this riddle: it depends.

Every Job Is Different

Several factors will affect your (or your contractor’s) decision about the order to complete projects. The size of the space, timeline, and the room’s current condition could affect the order that works best for your project. 

If you hire a local wall painter to help with the project, they may have a preference for how the job is handled. The same applies to construction companies that may help install or repair flooring

Both painting and refinishing have some time considerations. For example, one thing you should know when refinishing hardwood floors is that you need to avoid walking on it for at least 24 hours after the final coat of floor finish is applied. So it could be at least a full day after your floors are complete before you can start painting. 

If you use oil-based paint for your walls, you can apply a second coat within hours. Otherwise, you’ll need to wait 24 hours before adding a second coat. If you go this route, you may need to wait up to a day or more before you start on the floors.

Pros and Cons of Painting Your Walls First

Some think that painting first is the best option. Painting the ceiling, wall, and trim often work best if you’re a work-from-the-top-down type of organizer. Some of the benefits of painting first include: 

  • Any paint dripping on the old flooring is nothing to worry about

  • No risk of damaging floors with paint thinner

  • Floors are more expensive and time-consuming to repair than a paint job

Some of the drawbacks of painting your walls first include:

  • More difficulty matching paint shades to flooring tones

  • If you plan to sand the floors after you paint, you’ll need to protect the walls from the dust

  • You could damage the freshly painted baseboards

If you choose a lighter paint, like eggshell, cleaning dust and floor stain from the new coat could be a bit tricky. Consider basing your decision on the type of paint you’ll use: for example, satin finishes are easier to clean than flat finishes. In addition, flat-finish paints are more likely to attract dust. 

Pros and Cons of Refinishing Your Floors First

A man refinished a hardwood floor
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There are some benefits of getting your base set before working on the walls, including:

  • It’s often easier to choose a paint shade that matches wood tones versus choosing a wood tone to match paint color

  • Damage to the wall from a sander is relatively simple to fix

  • If you sand the floors first, you won’t have to worry about dust working its way into your paint job

Some of the potential problems include:

If you really want to finish your floors first, consider hiring a local floor refinishing company that uses a dust-free sanding process. 

  • You’ll need to cover the entire floor in drop cloths as you paint

  • Sanded wood can soak up paint easily

  • The new floor could become damaged

If you really want to finish your floors first, consider hiring a local floor refinishing company that uses a dust-free sanding process. 

Can I Do a Little Bit of Both?

An alternative solution would be to work both projects simultaneously. Consider prepping your floors (sanding any needed areas) before covering with a drop cloth and painting. Prep your walls and ceiling, and then paint the ceiling first. Covering the ceiling before your new flooring is finished will protect the finish from ladder marks. 

You could then put in your flooring and fix up the baseboards before covering the floors and painting the walls. 

Sanding the floor first prevents damage from the sander and dust, and allows you to make any needed repairs before working on the final flooring. 

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