Painted Plywood Floors

Last week we embarked on refinishing our kitchen floor. This week I’m happy to say that the end is in sight. As soon as we sand and repaint the woodwork, and put down new trim, we’ll be set to officially close the book on this experience and find something else in our home to tackle.

Here’s a glimpse at where we are right now.

We chose to save some money and refinish the strand plywood flooring under the linoleum by sanding, painting and sealing the plywood directly. If you look beyond the fact we were without an oven and had only limited access to the refrigerator for a week, and had to rely on fast food and the kindness of friends for meals, it was a really painless process. If you’d like to try your hand at a pretty awesome floor redo on the cheap, here’s the process we used.


• Plywood flooring, either already installed or install it yourself. Make sure it is not the subflooring itself as all the wear and tear wouldn’t be good for it.
• Primer (we used Zinsser PrimeCoat Primer & Sealer)
• Paint of your choice (we used Behr Premium Plus, paint and primer in one)
• Stencil
• Polyurethane floor sealant (we used Parks Pro Primer Pro Finisher Clear Gloss)
• Paint rollers
• Paint brushes
• Sand paper (variety of grades, depending on the quality of your floor and the number of blemishes you need to smooth out in preparation to paint)
• Large orbital sander and a handheld random orbit sander


1. Discover the flooring you have to work with. We found strand plywood under our horrible linoleum and spent a weekend prepping it by first removing all the quarter round with a prybar, then peeling up sheets of the linoleum flooring using a variety of sizes of metal putty knives. What linoleum and adhesive remained was heated gently with a heat lamp, then slowly scraped away.

2. After all adhesive and remaining bits of flooring was cleared away, we rented an orbital sander for the afternoon. Using sandpaper of first 50 and then 80 grit, Regan went over the floor many times, smoothing away as many of the large flaws as possible and generally smoothing the flooring for primer application. We didn’t expect an entirely smooth surface considering the rough strand plywood we were using as a base, but Regan managed to sand the heck out of most of the flaws, using the large orbital for the center of the room and the handheld for the perimeter.

He’s a sanding bandit.

3. After the sanding is complete you’ll need to clean up the floor. Vacuum with a shop vac, sweep with a broom and then wet a rag with mineral spirits and go over the entire floor to remove the rest of the dust. Keep the broom handy at all times. It’s insane how hard it is to keep a floor clean even when you aren’t using the room at all.

4. Once the floor is prepped and ready to go, it’s time to paint. First we put three coats of primer down, allowing plenty of time to dry between coats. Then we put three coats of paint down. We strategically painted around our work, eat and sleep schedules allowing as much time as possible for each coat of paint to dry before starting the next. By Thursday we were ready to stencil the floor. Stenciling isn’t necessary, but it’s just an added feature we thought could greatly improve a painted plywood floor.

We chose a stencil that complemented the patterns throughout the rest of the house, then together drew diagrams of how we envisioned the pattern repeating. I highly recommend drawing diagrams if you are working as a team. It brought a whole new level of sanity to our project.

After our diagram-drawing and conversation, we chose to angle our design at 45 degrees and have it run in parallel paths across the kitchen floor. I relied on Regan’s brain for figuring how to implement those details and relied on my monkey feet to hold down the stencil while I painted with a contrasting color. We first tried to apply the stencil paint with a sponge, but that pulled up the stencil and made a mess. We just held down the stencil with our body parts and used a medium-sized paint brush to apply the paint by basically stippling. If you will be stenciling you may consider spraying a few layers of adhesive to the back of your stencil and letting them dry so that the back is tacky, but so the adhesive won’t transfer to the floor. This can help you greatly in keeping the stencil in place.

5. Once you are satisfied with the look of your floor, it’s time to seal it all under a few layers of poly. But first here’s something to remember about shine. A matte finish will show some flaws, but not many. Semi-gloss will show some more of those flaws and high gloss will show them all. We used high gloss, which is fine for our purposes as we didn’t want to have the end product look too smooth and perfect. We like to embrace a bit of imperfection.

Make sure the floor is clear of all debris, then paint the first coat of poly on using a paintbrush. A roller brush will create bubbles in the finish, which you do not want. Let this coat dry thoroughly, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once dry, buff the top coat with a high grit sandpaper of 200 or so, wipe down, touch up any paint that may have chipped off in the buffing process, and then apply one more coat of poly. Let dry thoroughly. We let ours dry 30 hours before walking on it and another 48 before letting the dog near it. It feels pretty solid to me, but I don’t want to risk damaging any of the hard work we’ve done and so the oven (the new one!) won’t be going in until Thursday.

Minus the new oven, this little project only cost us about $190. Pretty good deal for a one-of-a-kind floor.


5 responses to “Painted Plywood Floors”

  1. Patsy Avatar

    You two amaze me! What energy and go-to-itness. You inspire me. AND the floor looks incredible. Curious how long it will hold up before needing new polyurethane. WAs there an industrial strength of the poly?

    1. Claire Avatar

      Thanks so much, Patsy! We we really appreciate hearing that. The poly, I hope, will hold up for a long time. It’s professional grade floor sealant, which is surprisingly cheap!

  2. […] But a new oven was a luxury, and so we pushed the want aside and made do just fine. But this whole floor redo in the kitchen made us want something a bit nicer to look at and use. We figured it was a good […]

  3. Amy Carter Avatar

    Hi there,
    I just came across your blog.
    We are in the midst of doing our kitchen floor too (as in, hubs says today ‘go ahead and pull up the floor’. We didn’t kno what we would find or what shape. Turns out it too is glued dn linoleum (pulled up faux panel wood crap). I am *trying* to convince hubs to go plywood. I am going to show him yours. I love your floor! Great job!

    1. Claire Avatar

      Hi Amy,

      Fantastic! I hope your floor redo turns out amazingly. I can’t wait to see what you end up doing. Even though it takes forever, it’s amazingly rewarding and cheap. Our floor is still holding up perfectly.

      Best of luck!

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