Should You Paint Your Basement Walls? (Why & Why Not)

Last week I walked down into my basement and took a look around. It looked boring and run down. I use the space for family activities and laundry, but it was still looking a little rough.

I’m not a fan of concrete, so I thought maybe I would paint the walls, but I recall being told it wasn’t good for them. So before I made any rash decisions, I took to the internet to see whether or not I could paint my basement walls. I was surprised by what I found. 

You should never paint bare concrete, brick, or block walls like you would with drywall that’s unfinished. The issue is that basement walls are the perfect place for moisture and humidity to seep out into the basement. Mold likes paint and moisture, so it’s the perfect breeding ground for disaster. 

Even though painting your basement walls isn’t exactly recommended, there are ways you can get around it. It’s important to know that many paints aren’t quite strong enough to hold back the hydrostatic pressure that builds up.

If the pain can stop the pressure, it will still be the perfect storm for mold. Below is more information regarding painting your basement walls, how to do it, and if you really should do it. 

Should I Paint My Basement Walls?

If you really want to paint your basement walls, you can, but it’s going to require some work. Some professional contractors advise against it because not everybody takes the time to prepare the walls. They slap some paint on them and then wonder why their walls are growing mold when the basement gets damp. 

Painting basement walls

There’s a lot of moisture and humidity in your basement making it the ideal breeding ground for mold and bacteria. There’s also hydrostatic pressure within the walls. Paint alone can’t contain it, so mold grows and spreads.

If you want to paint your basement walls, you have to prepare the walls and then begin with a waterproofing sealer for concrete walls. As long as you have that waterproof sealer on it, you should be able to paint your walls without an issue later on. 

How To Paint Basement Walls

If you’ve decided that you want to take the risk and paint your walls, you’re going to need some important tools. These tools include: 

  • Gloves
  • Mask
  • Safety glasses
  • Wire brush
  • Sledgehammer
  • Trowel
  • Hydraulic cement
  • Waterproofing primer and pain
  • Paint rollers
  • Brushes
  • Drop cloth
  • Vacuum
  • Paper towels or rags
  • Chisel
  • Muriatic acid
  • Water 

Step 1: Inspect The Walls

Before you do anything, you need to inspect the walls. Take a close look around the basement walls to check for impurities.

You should use your hands to feel for water or moisture. If you notice any of those things, you have to find where the moisture or leak is coming from and fix it before you begin painting. 

If your paint walls are wet, the paint job won’t look great and it could even trap the moisture and cause more damage. The main idea here is to prevent water from getting in. 

Step 2: Remove Debris

Next, remove debris from the walls. You can use a wire brush to remove any loose debris from the walls. Once you do this, you can use a paper towel that has been moistened to remove the remaining debris that you can’t see. Use the vacuum to clean up the debris from the floor so that it doesn’t swirl up and attach itself to the freshly painted walls. 

Once you clean the walls, very carefully use a mixture of muriatic acid and water to remove the remaining efflorescence from the walls. You should use some goggles and gloves to protect yoru eyes and skin from this potentially hazardous mixture. 

Step 3: Key Cracks

Keying cracks is a method used to widen the cracks on the inside while keeping them narrow on the outside. This will help keep any patching cement firmly in place. You can use a chisel and a small sledgehammer to make the cracks larger on the inside.

Once you do this, vacuum any debris that may have popped up. Use a moistened paper towel to wet the area and apply the patching cement with a towel while the area is wet. If you see any gaps in the wall, seal these as well. 

Step 4: Apply Cement

Hydraulic cement will fix the cracks in the concrete, cinderblock, or grout. You can use a pre-mixed or powder with water. Either one will be fine. You will use a putty knife and a trowel for this. Slap some cement on the crack and use the putty knife to scrape away excess cement and smooth it out. 

As the cement dries, it will expand. You’ll never have to worry about whether or not you completely filled in the crack. You have to wait at least 24 hours after putting on the hydraulic cement to do anything else. Once it dries, use the putty knife to scrape away the excess concrete. 

Step 5: Apply Paint

Before you begin painting, tape off any edges you don’t want to paint on. You can use painter’s tape for this. This is especially helpful for keeping finished walls, wood floors, and wood joists free of paint splatter.

Before you apply the paint, you need to put some waterproof primer on the walls to seal them. If you’re painting your walls a light color, use white primer.

If you’re painting your walls a dark color, get gray primer. You’ll also want to apply a layer of waterproofing sealer if they are concrete walls. Roll over each area 2-3 times to ensure all pores are filled. 

Once that’s all dry, you can paint the walls with the pain you chose. The paint should be waterproof masonry paint. It can be applied with a thick-nap roller. Fill the paint tray and apply the paint to the roller. Use vertical back-and-forth strokes to cover the area 3-4 times to fill in all the pores. 

Step 6: Apply The Final Coat

Lastly, sand the finished walls after 2 days to allow the paint to dry. You can do this with a sanding brick or sheet of sandpaper with a grit of 40-80.

Once you do this, you can apply the final coat which will be your semi-gloss paint. If you’ve never had an issue with water in your basement, you can use matte or flat paint. Otherwise, use semi-gloss paint. 

Paint your trim with an angled brush whether it’s drywall, concrete, or cinderblock. Angle the tip of the brush and brush towards the outside edge as carefully as possible while applying the paint, adjacent walls, or the floor. Let the paint dry for 2-3 days and apply a second coat. 

Should I Use Waterproof Paint?

If your basement is prone to moisture, then yes, you should use masonry waterproofing paint. Waterproof paint is essentially a sealant. It’s premixed and is applied with a brush or roller. You put it on the wall in thick rolls to fill all the tiny pores and surface holes.

You should apply more than one coat to ensure the walls are now waterproof. You can do 500 square feet with a five-gallon container of waterproof paint. 

Waterproof Paint

If your walls are already painted and you want to repaint them, you have to remove the paint beforehand before applying sealer. You also need to remove any efflorescence. These are the white deposits that you see on the surface of concrete walls that come in contact with constant moisture.

What Kind Of Brushed Should I Use To Paint?

I didn’t realize how many types of brushes there are for painting. However, I did learn that you can use just about any paintbrush to paint concrete. Thick, flat brushes are the best for flat surfaces and angled brushes are great for corners and edges. For painting concrete, opt for a durable nylon or polyester brush. 

Additionally, you could use a paint roller with a ½-3/4 -inch-thick nap. The nap is the fabric is called that covers the roller. Thicker naps hold more paint. The more paint held on the nap, the better it fills cracks and crevices.

The paint roller frames that go with the fabric you plan to use come in 4 and 9 inches. You could also use a paint roller with a yoke. These are generally between 14 and 18 inches in width. They’re more for industrial use and cost more, but it works well for concrete projects. 

Reasons To Avoid Painting Basement Walls

Even though I’ve just explained why and how to paint your basement walls, I should inform you of the reasons to avoid painting them.

The most important thing to remember is that most paints aren’t strong enough to keep back the hydrostatic pressure. Concrete itself doesn’t grow mold, but once you slap some paint on them, it becomes food for the mold. Why add fuel to the fire?

Not only that, but it’s not a sealant. Sure, paint can cover marks on the walls, but it won’t do anything for cracks unless you fill the cracks in first with concrete. This is a week-long process, if not longer. You can’t just slap paint on the walls and call it a day. 

Is Painting My Basement Walls Worth It?

If you’re trying to sell your home, then I would say that painting your basement walls would be worth it. Based on the information I’ve provided, If you’re willing to put in all of the work and effort, I would say go for it. I ended up repainting my basement in about two weeks between all of the preparation, waiting for the paint to dry, moving furniture, and cleaning. 

I can honestly say that it’s not an easy task to paint your basement. I found myself exhausted from all of the work, but the benefits were worth it. My basement looks fantastic and it certainly gave it more of an appealing look.

If I ever plan to sell my home, I can honestly say that the basement has been completely finished. I hope that I’ve helped you figure out whether or not you should finish your basement with a beautiful coat of paint. 

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