Can You Paint the Plywood Subfloor – What Paint to Use?

priming and painting subfloor

Plywood is manufactured from thin sheets of veneers glued together in layers, with the grain of each sheet running in alternate directions.

Since plywood is a relatively strong and stable material, its often used to construct subfloors in homes and commercial buildings commonly found in basements and attics, as well as over existing concrete floors.

Plywood subfloors are often also reinforced with a felt paper or fiberboard layer to act as a vapor barrier and protection from moisture, which can cause it to warp or rot over time.

If you’re considering investing in a completely new look for your plywood subfloors by painting them over, it’s crucial to know the type of paint you’ll need and whether they can be coated in the first place.

Also, it’s important to note that there are several factors that will affect how long your paint job will last on subfloors if you decide to do so.

So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it all…

Painting Plywood Subfloor

Painting plywood subfloors is not as difficult as you may think. And as long as you use the appropriate materials, tools, and techniques, you can effortlessly achieve a polished look that will remain durable for several years without getting chipped or peeled off.

Here are the steps you need to take…

Step 1- Remove the flooring

The first step is to remove the top covering of the plywood to expose the subfloor. For this, you can use a crowbar or a floor scraper. Be sure to wear gloves and protective goggles to avoid any injuries.

If there are carpets, you will need to remove them as well. Once the top flooring is removed, use a shop vac to suck up all the loose dirt and debris.

Step 2- Prepare the surface

The next step is to prepare the surface for painting, which includes cleaning the plywood and removing any grease or wax that may be present.

You can do this by sanding the plywood surface (along with rough edges) with a sanding block or 120-grit sandpaper. After all the sanding is done, clean all the sanded dust with a cloth.

Step 3- Fill in any cracks or holes

Once the surface is sanded and cleaned, fill in all the cracks or holes that may be present on your old subfloor using a wood filler or joint compound. Doing this before painting is essential as it will create a smoother surface for the paint to adhere to.

Patching compounds, cement-based formulations, and polyurethane subfloor caulk also can work to fill the gaps in plywood surfaces. Just follow the instructions on the packaging and allow the filler to dry completely before proceeding to the next step.

Step 4- Apply primer to the subfloor

Using a primer that is designed for plywood surfaces will help the paint adhere better and create an even finish.

I have recently used Zinsser Oil-based Primer when refinishing my neighbor’s plywood flooring, and it worked great. Behr Premium Plus is also a great option that can be tried.

Once you have your primer ready, apply it evenly to the surface using a paint roller. Cover the entire area and allow the primer to dry completely.

Step 5- Paint the subflooring

For covering plywood surfaces and subfloors with a beautiful even finish, I would recommend using Rust-Oleum acrylic latex paint, which is specifically designed for wooden flooring. It’s easy to apply, incredibly durable and will be able to withstand a lot of foot traffic.

If you want, there are a few other options as well, which include:

  • Krylon COLORmaxx Brush On Paint
  • Sherwin-Williams ArmorSeal Enamel
  • Valspar Porch and Floor Enamel

You can alternatively pick a PRESTIGE Interior Paint & Primer In One, which doesn’t need a separate primer. All of these are great to use for plywood subfloors. You just need to pick the color that you love and that will complement the rest of your décor.

Once your paint is ready, apply it evenly to the surface using a paint roller. Begin by painting the edges of the plywood, and be sure to cover the entire area evenly.

I would recommend applying at least 2 coats of paint for best results. Allow the first coat to dry completely before applying the second.

Step 6- Use stencils to create beautiful patterns

If after painting, your plywood shows marks and smears, you can use stencils to cover them and create pretty patterns like flowers and birds on top of the paint.

Simply find stencils online or at a craft store, wait for the paint to dry, and follow the instructions to apply your chosen design.

Step 7- Add a floor sealant

After completing the job to your satisfaction, apply a sealant such as water-based polyurethane to safeguard your floor and lend it a glossy appearance. If necessary, mix a non-slip agent with the sealant to prevent slipping.

Always adhere to the instructions on the packaging to ensure that you follow safety guidelines. Additionally, let the sealant dry out completely and cure fully before walking on the floor to avoid any hazards.

how to paint plywood subfloors

Waterproofing Plywood Subfloor in Bathroom

If you have a plywood subfloor installed in a bathroom, you must waterproof it before proceeding with the painting process.

This is essential because if you ignore it, water can damage the plywood and cause the paint to peel off quickly. Plus, long-term exposure to moisture can cause molds to grow, which is challenging to get rid of and can cause several health issues.

To waterproof your plywood subfloor, use silicone caulk around its entire perimeter and then use a product called Liquid Rubber Waterproofing Sealant, often found at your local home improvement store or online.

Once you have followed the packaging instructions and applied the sealant, allow it to dry for a recommended time before proceeding with the painting process.

Can You Use Chalk Paint Over Plywood Subfloors?

Chalk, as well as milk paints, are specifically designed to adhere to wood surfaces and can bond well if applied correctly over your plywood subfloor with the primer.

The good thing is you can apply the chalk paint without sanding to get a unique distressed look along with a beautiful, even finish. Just make sure to follow the instructions on the paint can and wait for the recommended drying time before walking.

As an alternative to paint, you can even opt to finish your particleboard subfloor with some pieces of colored kraft paper. These papers are available in different colors at your local hardware store and are easy to apply.


Before using any paint, paper, or sealant, ensure your wooden subfloor is free from mold. To remove mold from the sub-flooring and prepare it for painting without causing damage, the safest method is to scrub it with soap and water.

However, if you have a severe mold problem on your wood subfloor, you must use a bleach product. But keep in mind that bleach can be harmful to plywood, so it should be used cautiously and sparingly. Another alternative way to kill mold is with a product that contains vinegar which is a natural disinfectant and will not damage the plywood.

Can Subfloor Be Used as a Finished Flooring After Painting?

Using a painted subfloor as a finished floor is possible, but using a water-based polyurethane or a non-slip sealant is best to make it safe and slip-resistant.

Other than that, there are a few other factors to remember before using a subfloor as a regular floor. These are as follows…

a) Thickness of the plywood

It’s recommended to use your subfloor as flooring – only if the plywood is at least 3/4-inch thick. This will ensure that the floor is sturdy and safe to walk on without any flexing.

b) Type of paint you have used

Plywood subfloors are usually very strong and durable. However, if you have painted your subfloor with water-based paint, it might not be as tough and durable as when you use oil-based paint.

When painting, you should therefore use oil-based floor paint specifically designed for hardwood flooring. These are usually very tough, slip-resistant, and can withstand a lot of foot traffic without getting damaged soon.

c) The condition of the subfloor

If you are on a tight budget, using your subfloor as flooring can save you a lot of money. But this should only be done if the plywood subfloor is in good condition. If your subfloor is old and worn out, I recommend replacing it with a new one before using it as a floor.

The Bottom Line

By painting your plywood subfloor, you can create a distinctive appearance for your home while also safeguarding it against water damage, all at a low cost and with minimal effort.

However, for optimal results, it’s essential to select the appropriate paint and sealant that can promote the durability and safety of your plywood subfloor.

Additionally, if you want to use your painted subfloor as finished flooring, make sure it’s at least 3/4-inch thick and painted with highly durable flooring paint.

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