Can You Paint the Plywood Subfloor – How Long will it Last?

painting plywood subfloors

When you’re thinking about investing in a completely new look for your plywood subfloors, it’s crucial to know what type of paint you’ll need. And whether they can be painted in the first place or not.

The short answer is, yes, you can most certainly paint your plywood subfloors! And with the right steps and techniques, the paint can last for a very long time and even a couple of years without getting chipped or peeled off.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of it all, however, let’s take a quick step back and explore what kind of wood plywood is. After all, this will give us a better understanding of how to approach painting it.

Why is Plywood Used for Subfloors?

Plywood is a manufactured wood panel made out of thin sheets of wood veneer. The veneers are glued together in layers, with the grain of each sheet running in alternate directions.

This makes plywood an incredibly strong and stable material, which is why it’s often used in the construction of subfloors.

Plywood subfloors are further reinforced with a layer of felt paper or fiberboard to act as a vapor barrier.

This protects the plywood from moisture, which can cause the wood to warp or rot over time.

Now that we know a bit more about plywood subfloors- let’s get into how to paint them properly.

How to Paint Plywood Subfloors – Step By Step

The process of painting plywood subfloors is as hard as you would think.

With the right steps and materials, you can easily achieve a professional-looking result that will last for years to come.

Here’s what you need to do…

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 any loose dirt or debris.

Step 2- Prepare the Surface

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

You can do this by sanding the surface with a sanding block or 120-grit sandpaper.

Make sure you sand down any rough edges and clean the wood of any debris or dirt after all the sanding is done.

Step 3- Fill in any Cracks or Holes

Once the surface is sanded and cleaned, you need to fill in any cracks or holes that may be present on the subfloor.

This is important to do before painting as it will create a smooth surface for the paint to adhere to.

You can use a wood filler or joint compound for this step.

Patching compounds, cement-based formulations, and polyurethane subfloor caulk also work great for filling the gaps in plywood surfaces, so you can consider them as well.

Just be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging and allow the filler to dry completely before proceeding to the next step.

Step 4- Apply Primer to Subfloor

Now it’s time to apply a primer to the plywood surface. This will help the paint to adhere better to the wood and also create a more even finish.

Be sure to use a primer that is specifically designed for wood surfaces. 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, apply it to the surface using a paint roller. Be sure to evenly cover the entire area and allow the primer to dry completely before proceeding.

Allow it to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 5- Paint the Subflooring

For covering plywood surfaces, I would recommend using Rust-Oleum acrylic latex paint that is specifically designed for floors.

This type of paint is incredibly durable and will be able to withstand a lot of foot traffic. Plus, it’s easy to apply and will give you a beautiful, even finish.

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

All of these are great to use for plywood subfloors. You can alternatively pick a PRESTIGE Interior Paint & Primer In One, which doesn’t need a separate primer.

Choose a paint color that you love and will complement the rest of your décor. Once you have your paint, apply it to the surface using a paint roller. Begin by painting the edges of the plywood, and be sure to evenly cover the entire area and allow the paint to dry completely between each coat.

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

Painted plywood can leave some marks and smears. You can use stencils to cover them and create beautiful patterns on top of the paint.

Once the paint is dry completely, adding some beautiful stencil patterns (like flowers, birds, etc.) can really give your floor some personality.

There are a ton of great stencil designs available online or at your local craft store.

Simply find a design that you love and follow the instructions on the packaging to apply it to your floor.

Step 7- Add a Floor Sealant

Once you are happy with the paint job, add a sealant to protect your newly painted floor and give it a beautiful, shiny finish.

Use water-based polyurethane for this step, following the instructions on the packaging. Allow the sealant to dry and cure completely before walking on the floor.

If required, you can also add a non-slip additive to the sealant to make your floor safe to walk on.

Waterproofing Plywood Subfloor in Bathroom

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

This is an important step because water can damage the plywood and cause the paint to peel off. Plus, long-term exposure to moisture can cause molds to grow, which not only is difficult to get rid of but can also cause several health issues.

To waterproof your plywood subfloor, use silicone caulk around the entire perimeter of the subfloor. Then use a product called Liquid Rubber Waterproofing Sealant.

Once you have the sealant from your local home improvement store or online, simply follow the instructions on the packaging to apply it to the surface of the plywood. Allow the sealant to dry completely before proceeding with the painting process.

how to paint plywood subfloors

Can You Use Chalk Paint Over Plywood Subfloors?

Yes, you can use chalk paint or even milk paint over your plywood subfloors.

Chalk paint, as well as milk paints, are specifically designed to adhere to wood surfaces and can bond well with the primer. It is also very easy to apply and will give you a beautiful, even finish.

The good thing is you can apply the chalk paint without sanding to get a unique distressed look. Just make sure to follow the instructions on the box and wait for the paint to dry completely before walking.

As an alternative to paint, you can even opt to finish your particleboard subfloor with some pieces of colored kraft paper.

Applying the kraft paper is a very simple process. Plus, these papers are available in different colors and can be found at your local hardware store.

Can Subfloor Be Used as a Finished Flooring After Painting?

Yes, a painted subfloor can be used as a finished floor.

However, I would only recommend this if you are using a water-based polyurethane or a sealant that has a non-slip additive. This will make your floor safe and slip-resistant.

There are a few other things you should know and take into consideration before using your subfloor as a regular floor. Here are those things:

a) Thickness of the plywood

I would recommend using your subfloor as flooring only if the plywood is at least 3/4-inch thick.

b) Type of paint you have used

You should only use floor paint that is specifically designed for floors. These paints are usually very tough and can withstand a lot of foot traffic. They are also slip-resistant and will last long.

c) The strength and durability of the subfloor

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.

d) The condition of the subfloor

If the plywood subfloor is in good condition, then you can use it as flooring. However, if the subfloor is old and worn out, I would recommend replacing it with a new one before using it as a floor.

e) The look of the subfloor

Painted subfloors usually have a very different look than regular floors. So, if you want your floor to have a specific look, you should probably not use a painted subfloor.

f) The cost of the project

If you are on a tight budget, using your subfloor as flooring can save you a lot of money.

However, if you want your floor to look perfect and polished, then you might want to consider other flooring options.

If you have any confusion, I would also recommend consulting with a professional to get their opinion on whether or not using your subfloor as a floor is a good idea.

Related FAQs

What is a plywood subfloor – What is its purpose?

Typically there are four primary materials that are used as subfloors in houses. These include plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), concrete, and high-performance panels.

A plywood subfloor is a wood panel that is placed over the floor joists in order to create a level, smooth surface for the finished flooring.

The purpose of the plywood subfloor is to provide a stable foundation for the finished floor and to help distribute the weight evenly over the entire floor area.

Do all houses have subfloors – are they necessary?

All houses do not have subfloors. Some houses are built on a concrete slab, which does not require a subfloor.

However, most houses are built with a wood frame, which does require a subfloor.

The subfloor provides a level, stable surface for the finished flooring and helps to distribute the weight evenly over the entire floor area.

Not always needed, but flooring beneath the subfloor is beneficial wherever feasible.

Most of the time, they only come into play when you want to extend your basement and make it a warm, liveable space. There is no need for a subfloor or floor covering if you don’t intend to utilize the area.

What to use to kill the mold on a wood subfloor?

The safest way to remove sub-flooring mold is by scrubbing it out with soap and water – its the best method to use for preparing the subfloors for painting without any risk of damaging.

If you have a severe mold problem on your wood subfloor, you will need to kill the mold before you can proceed with any repairs and refinishing.

The best way to kill mold is with a product that contains bleach. You can find products that contain bleach at your local hardware store. But do remember that bleach can sometimes prove damaging to plywood, so you will need to use it with caution.

Another alternative way to kill mold is with a product that contains vinegar which is a natural disinfectant and will not damage the plywood.

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