Should Wainscoting Be Painted Semi-Gloss? Experts Weigh In

Wainscoting can add a touch of elegance and sophistication to any room, but choosing the right paint sheen can be a daunting task.

With so many options available, it can be difficult to know which one will provide the best balance of durability and aesthetic appeal.

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of different paint sheens for wainscoting, with a particular focus on the popular choice of semi-gloss.

Whether you’re a seasoned DIYer or a novice looking to tackle your first home improvement project, read on to discover everything you need to know about painting wainscoting with semi-gloss paint.

Should Wainscoting Be Painted Semi Gloss

When it comes to painting wainscoting, there are a few factors to consider before deciding on the right paint sheen. One of the most popular choices is semi-gloss, but is it the best option for your project?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that different paint sheens offer different benefits. Lower sheens like flat or matte finishes will hide more imperfections but are slightly less durable. Higher sheens like semi-gloss or gloss finishes will show more imperfections but offer more durability. Higher sheens also offer more reflective properties than lower lustre finishes.

Semi-gloss is a great choice for wainscoting because it strikes a balance between durability and aesthetic appeal. It’s durable enough to handle the conditions in most rooms, including bathrooms and kitchens, where walls need to be washed regularly. It also offers a nice reflective quality that can enhance the beauty of your wainscoting.

However, if you’re seeing brush strokes or other imperfections, you may want to consider using a higher quality paint like Ben Moore or Sher Wms or have it professionally sprayed. At least a semi-gloss or for a more reflective and elegant look in the dining room try a high gloss. It needs to be done by an experienced painter as it’s more difficult to work with than a semi-gloss.

It’s worth noting that not all bathrooms are typical, and if yours has poor ventilation or you have had previous problems with peeling paint and mold, your wainscoting may need a coat of full-gloss latex enamel to properly protect it.

Some people may argue that oil-based paints are better than waterborne paints because they’re more durable and leave fewer brush strokes. However, experts now feel that the benefits of waterborne alkyd paints outweigh oil paints. Oil paints have three detriments: they yellow with time, have a strong smell, and clean up involves using harsh chemicals. Good quality interior latex paint doesn’t yellow, lasts a long time, and self-levels, giving you a nice appearance overall.

If you plan on spraying the wainscoting panels, you can use a semi-gloss. If you’re brushing the panels, use a satin paint finish instead. Semi-gloss paint will show any imperfection like seams and nail holes, providing the appearance of not being well-prepped. The satin paint finish is more forgiving.

Rooms which are more trafficked or need to have walls washed regularly like a kitchen or bathroom are better with a low level sheen as those finishes create a harder shell and are easier to wipe down. I use eggshell for kitchens and bathroom walls and satin or pearl for cabinets.

Understanding Paint Sheens For Wainscoting

When it comes to wainscoting, the paint sheen you choose can make a big difference in the overall look and feel of the room. Here are some factors to consider when selecting a paint sheen for your wainscoting:

– Durability: Wainscoting is often installed in high-traffic areas like hallways, foyers, and bathrooms. As a result, it’s important to choose a paint sheen that can stand up to wear and tear. Semi-gloss is a popular choice because it offers good durability without being too shiny.

– Reflectivity: Higher sheens like semi-gloss and gloss offer more reflective properties than lower lustre finishes. This can be a good thing if you want to enhance the beauty of your wainscoting, but keep in mind that higher sheens will also show more imperfections.

– Imperfections: If your wainscoting has visible imperfections like nail holes or seams, a higher sheen may not be the best choice. Semi-gloss paint will show any imperfections, providing the appearance of not being well-prepped. A satin paint finish is more forgiving and will hide imperfections better.

– Personal preference: Ultimately, the paint sheen you choose for your wainscoting will come down to personal preference. Satin finishes tend to provide a softer, more muted look, adding a subtle glimmer to walls for a cozy feel. On the other hand, semi-gloss finishes tend to provide a higher shine, making them ideal for adding contrast and interest to a room.

It’s also worth noting that different types of wainscoting may require different paint sheens. For example, if you have wood wainscoting, a semi-gloss finish may enhance its natural texture and beauty, while a satin finish will also create a beautiful look. If you’re using vinyl wainscoting that has a glossy sheen, you’ll want to go with a satin finish to create a softer, muted look.

Pros And Cons Of Semi-Gloss Paint For Wainscoting

Before making a decision on whether to paint your wainscoting with semi-gloss paint, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.


1. Durability: Semi-gloss paint is highly resistant to moisture and mildew, making it a great choice for bathrooms and kitchens.

2. Reflective properties: Semi-gloss paint offers a nice reflective quality that can enhance the beauty of your wainscoting.

3. Easy to clean: Semi-gloss paint is easy to clean and can handle regular washing.


1. Imperfections: Semi-gloss paint shows imperfections more than lower sheens, so any seams or nail holes that were not prepped well will be more visible.

2. Brush strokes: Semi-gloss paint easily reveals every brushstroke, so it may not be the best choice if you’re brushing the panels.

3. Limited options: If you’re using trim/cabinet paint, most are limited to semi-gloss or gloss finishes.

How To Prepare Wainscoting For Painting

Before painting your wainscoting, it’s important to properly prepare the surface to ensure the best possible results. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Clean the surface: Use a soft cloth or sponge and a mild detergent to clean the wainscoting panels. Make sure to remove any dirt, dust, or grime that may have accumulated on the surface.

2. Sand the surface: Use a fine-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the surface of the wainscoting panels. This will help to smooth out any rough spots or imperfections and create a better surface for paint adhesion.

3. Fill any holes or cracks: If there are any holes or cracks in the wainscoting panels, fill them with wood filler and let it dry completely before sanding it down.

4. Prime the surface: Apply a coat of primer to the wainscoting panels before painting. This will help to ensure that the paint adheres properly and provides a smooth, even finish.

5. Paint the surface: Once the primer has dried, apply your chosen paint sheen to the wainscoting panels. Use a paintbrush or roller to apply the paint evenly and avoid drips or spatters.

6. Check for imperfections: As you paint, examine the surface for drips, spatters, and overlapped edges. Clean them with a rag as you go along to ensure a smooth finish.

By following these steps, you can prepare your wainscoting for painting and achieve a beautiful, long-lasting finish with your chosen paint sheen.

Tips For Applying Semi-Gloss Paint To Wainscoting

Now that you’ve decided to use semi-gloss paint for your wainscoting, it’s important to follow some tips to ensure a smooth and successful application. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Prepare the surface: Before painting, make sure the surface is clean, dry, and free of any dust or debris. Sand any rough spots or uneven texture with medium 180- to 220-grit sandpaper and a sanding sponge. Vacuum up any dust or sanding debris and wipe the wainscoting clean with a damp rag or a microfiber cloth. Let it dry completely.

2. Use the right tools: For best results, use high-quality brushes specifically designed for semi-gloss paint. A 2-inch angled brush works well for cutting in around edges and corners, while a 4-inch flat brush is ideal for larger areas.

3. Apply thin coats: Thin coats of paint will dry faster and provide a smoother finish. Apply one thin coat of paint, let it dry completely, and then apply a second coat if necessary.

4. Work in sections: Paint only 2-3 feet of baseboard at a time. As you paint, examine the surface for drips, spatters and overlapped edges and clean them with a rag.

5. Allow proper drying time: Semi-gloss paint takes longer to dry than lower sheen finishes, so be patient and allow ample drying time between coats. It’s best to wait at least 24 hours before applying a second coat.

6. Use proper ventilation: Semi-gloss paint emits fumes that can be harmful when inhaled, so make sure you have proper ventilation in the room where you’re painting. Open windows and doors and use fans to circulate air.

By following these tips, you can achieve a beautiful and durable finish on your wainscoting with semi-gloss paint. Remember to take your time and work carefully, and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning result that will enhance the beauty of your home for years to come.

Maintenance And Care For Semi-Gloss Painted Wainscoting

Once your wainscoting has been painted with semi-gloss paint, it’s important to properly maintain and care for it to ensure its longevity and appearance. Here are some tips on how to maintain and care for your semi-gloss painted wainscoting:

1. Regular Cleaning: Semi-gloss paint is durable and can handle regular cleaning, so it’s important to clean your wainscoting regularly to prevent dirt and grime buildup. Use a soft cloth or sponge with mild soap and warm water to gently wipe down the surface of your wainscoting. Avoid using abrasive materials or harsh chemicals that could damage the paint.

2. Avoid Scratching: While semi-gloss paint is durable, it’s still important to avoid scratching the surface of your wainscoting. Avoid using sharp objects or abrasive materials that could scratch the paint. If you do accidentally scratch the surface, touch up the area with a small amount of paint.

3. Protect Against Moisture: Moisture can damage semi-gloss paint, so it’s important to protect your wainscoting against moisture. Avoid exposing your wainscoting to excessive moisture, such as steam from a shower or bath. If you do have moisture issues in your home, consider installing a dehumidifier to help control the humidity levels.

4. Touch Up as Needed: Over time, your wainscoting may become chipped or damaged. To keep it looking its best, touch up any areas that need it with a small amount of paint. Be sure to use the same type and sheen of paint that was used originally.

5. Professional Cleaning: If your wainscoting becomes heavily soiled or stained, consider hiring a professional cleaning service to clean it for you. They will have the expertise and equipment needed to safely and effectively clean your wainscoting without damaging the paint.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your semi-gloss painted wainscoting stays looking beautiful for years to come. Remember to always use caution when cleaning or maintaining your wainscoting to avoid damaging the paint.