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Use Paint Levelers/Extenders When Painting Moldings

[This is part of our How to Paint Moldings series]

latex paint extenders

add to latex paint for moldings, trim, millworkAn experienced painter advised me to add Floetrol to a can of trim paint I was going to use on a really large fireplace surround because I was worried that I couldn’t paint the large, flat surfaces fast enough to not leave drag marks in the finish coat of paint.

I’d never used a paint extender (also called a paint leveler) before, but after the first five minutes I was a true believer in the stuff, and have added it to every can of latex paint I’ve used on moldings since.


The Problem With Latex Molding Paint

Latex paints get sticky if you expose them to the air for very long. That’s a problem when you’re painting large, detailed moldings like wainscoting and fireplace mantels. You don’t want to leave ropy-looking drag marks in your paint finish.

The Solution: Perfectly Imperfect Moldings

I really don’t like the look of a really good spray paint job on moldings. That’s because it makes them look like they were stamped out in a factory — cold and impersonal.  A few gentle brush strokes in your paint is fine, especially at molding direction changes like miters. In fact, I prefer them.

Brush strokes, on the other hand — not too many, mind you — give the moldings a touched-by-human-hands warmth that I love. I know that sounds corny, but I really do mean it.

But too many brush strokes looks sloppy, so just make sure you add some kind of latex paint extender like Floetrol or X-I-M for really beautiful results.

A few other tips to help keep your paint fresh when painting moldings:

latex paint extender for wall paint around moldings cutting in

  • Use a small paint tray and add just a little paint at a time — don’t fill it up.
  • Use a quality (read, expensive) brush like a Purdy or Wooster.
  • Clean your brush every hour or so to get the old paint out.
  • Buy good paint.
  • Turn the heat down in winter and turn the air conditioning up in the summer to slow the drying time. This gives your paint a little more time to level before it sets up.

Use Paint Extender for Cutting In Walls

Don’t forget you can use paint extender in wall paint too. I use if when I’m cutting in around a lot of molding details like in the picture below. I’ll also use it when painting large ceilings.

latex paint extender for wall paint around moldings cutting in
I’m using Floetrol in this wall paint because of all the molding detail, and because it’s summer in Arizona!

[This is part of our How to Paint Moldings series]

18 Responses to Use Paint Levelers/Extenders When Painting Moldings

  1. Christina March 21, 2012 at 5:57 PM #

    You have an amazing site! I’m just trying to work up the nerve to paint hi-gloss trim…will definately whip up some Floetrol in the mix. Will I need to sand between coats of hi-gloss? I’m actually wondering if there’s anything I can add to cut the shine…any ideas?

    I read somewhere (Young House Love site?) to use a little fabric softner when cleaning brushes. I tried it once and the bristles did seem to come cleaner and the brush took to the paint again no problem. I also read to get the brush damp with water before dipping it in the paint so the brush doesn’t get bogged down absorbing too much paint…

    Thanks again!

  2. Ken March 21, 2012 at 7:01 PM #

    Hi Christina,

    I’m so glad you like our blog! Here are some answers to your questions:

    1. Try not to sand between coats when painting moldings with latex paint. You can do that with oil based paint, but latex just does not sand well. So just do a really good job with your prep work before applying your finish coats.

    2. You can cut the shine of high-gloss by not using it. Instead, use a satin finish for a low luster finish. But moldings properly painted in high-gloss are gorgeous!

    3. I use a wire brush and plain ol’ warm water to clean my brushes. I’m fanatical about keeping my brushes clean, so they last for many, many years before I simply replace them. I’ve used special brush cleaning detergents before, but the brush is just never the same after that. Those old brushes go in a separate paint box for painting fences, trash cans, that sort of thing.

    4. Yes, by all means, wet your brush down before you dip it in paint. Just make sure you shake the water out really, really good so it does not stream down your wall. I use this technique more for how much easier it makes it to clean the brush out afterwards, than paint load issues.

    Good luck painting your crown. Send us a picture of your crown when it’s all done!

  3. Simon March 22, 2012 at 6:49 AM #

    Hey Ken,
    I got to your blog from your guest post on OneProjectCloser, and I have since added your feed to my list. I very much enjoy your attention to detail and your experience, and I already have taken a few notes to improve our own work.

    This may be a bit of a silly question, but how do you add Floetrol to a full gallon of Latex paint? Do you do ratios for, say, taking 1/5 and mixing it with one 1/5 in a separate container before you can use the rest in the can?

    I also agree with 3) in your reply to Christina as I use a metal comb to clean out our brushes. At $8/pop, I want those Purdy brushes to last a while before they become second-grade purpose brushes.

  4. Ken March 22, 2012 at 7:11 AM #

    Hi Simon,

    I just dump some of the paint from the new can into an empty 1 quart paint can, add the Floetrol and then mix with one of those finned mixing tools that attach to a drill. I also add a splash of Floetrol to the 1 quart can and then give it a good, long shake. Not very scientific, I know, but it does work.

    Speaking of how much Floetrol or X-I-M to add, I always just start with what the manufacturer recommends. Then if I feel I need to add more, then I’ll add it to my paint tray. Just a dash or two, just like cooking, until the paint flows just the way you want it.

  5. Simon March 23, 2012 at 4:00 AM #

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks very much for the tip. I’ll be sure to try it out next time we paint trim.

    Take care,


  6. Chris October 26, 2012 at 5:54 AM #

    Hi Ken,

    Is it true that a product like Floetrol will make the finish less glossy?

  7. Ken October 26, 2012 at 7:40 AM #

    I’ve never noticed a difference, Chris.

    You can experiment, though. Paint a long piece of scrap molding two coats of paint — half with Flotrol and half without — then compare.

    It would be a pretty rare instance where I’d try to paint moldings without some kind of paint extender added, even if there is a slight loss of sheen.

    But let us know how your experiment turns out!

  8. Chris October 26, 2012 at 7:54 AM #

    Thank you Ken for your response and all the knowledge and inspiration you impart on this site.

  9. Ken October 26, 2012 at 2:20 PM #

    Any time Chris!

  10. Hate 2 Paint December 15, 2012 at 10:17 AM #

    Actually, when it comes to flat wall paint, if you add enough (too much) Floetrol, it will acquire a satin look rather than flat, but sure goes on nice – especially with today’s pudding consistency wall paint.

    Has anybody used Floetrol as a leveler for large flat surfaces (my kitchen cabinets) which I want to paint with a satin finish and would like it to look like a “Formica” surface (real smooth). Or is there another product that one could use to achieve a nearly glasslike surface.

  11. Ken December 16, 2012 at 6:55 PM #

    The best surfaces I’ve ever achieved was when I used very expensive oil-based paints.

  12. Hate 2 Paint December 18, 2012 at 12:46 PM #

    I’ve wondered about that. Oil based paints can be sanded smooth much better than latex which is too gummy. Thanks

  13. Christine January 5, 2013 at 5:08 PM #

    I have stained trim and want to change it to paint it white. What steps should be taken to prepare the stained wood for paint? What kind of primer is best? Any help would be appreciated.

  14. Ken January 6, 2013 at 1:31 PM #

    Christine, I’ve never done that kind of work. My experience is with installing new, paint-grade moldings.

  15. Jason January 12, 2013 at 8:59 PM #

    I’m not a painter, but in my experience the key question in painting white over a dark stain is not the stain but the type of finish over the stain. Generally, stained woodwork is finished with a clear polyurethane which is a slick and hard coating. My paint store recommended either sanding to roughen up the surface or using a deglosser to soften the finish. I used both methods and was not happy with either. I also tried priming with pigmented shellac. With all three methods, it took something like 4 coats to hide the dark stain and even so the latex paint did not have a good bond with the material I was painting (stained wood doors and trim). I recommend finding a locally-owned paint store owner who has been in the community for some time (rather than a big box employee who happens to be assigned to the paint section the day you go in the store) and ask his recommendations.

  16. Ken January 13, 2013 at 6:12 AM #

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Jason.

  17. Jason January 14, 2013 at 9:49 AM #

    I really enjoy your site. You give a lot of very useful tips and ideas.
    I’m about to start my most ambitious project; trimming out a whole house myself. I have built many new homes using a trim carpenter and utilizing standard, factory-made mouldings, but this next house is a fire-damaged house that I’ve stripped to the studs and want to customize all the trim throughout the house because I am going to move into when I’m done. I’ve retro-customized the trim in several of the homes I’ve lived in because there is a certain deep-seated satisfaction that comes from just sitting in any one of the rooms and looking around at the way nice trim makes the house feel not just more luxurious, but more importantly, very personal and intimate. It’s what makes the house “my house.” So I am anxious to spend the next few months in my spare time coming up with unique applications of moulding and trim and I am sure your site has/will assist me in accomplishing that.

  18. Ken January 14, 2013 at 3:28 PM #

    “Personal and intimate.” That’s exactly it Jason. Good luck with your project. Keep us updated!

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