Why Does Your Trim Paint Looks Streaky? Causes and Fixes

Streaky paint is extremely unsightly, making your painted surfaces look unpolished. Streaks are pretty common, especially if you’ve decided to do the paint job yourself rather than hiring a professional to get the job done. Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to help avoid those unattractive streaks on your trims. 

When your trim paint looks streaky, it may be because you didn’t prep the surface before painting or you’re not using the right tools for the job. Make sure the surface is smooth and clean, and always use the correct brush for layering the paint. Use long, even strokes for that sleek finish. 

In this article, we will talk about why trim paint looks streaky and what you can do to avoid being in the same situation again. The fixes are simple, such as sanding between layers and letting the paint dry completely before adding the next coating. Let’s get started!

1. There Is Debris Under the Paint

Painting over a rough or dirty surface is not a smart move. Dirt and debris will cling onto the sticky brush as you paint. They will make streaks along the way and the lines will become more evident when the paint dries. 

Why Does Your Trim Paint Look Streaky? Causes and Fixes

The tops of baseboards and door trims are among the most notorious dust gatherers. Pay extra attention before painting on these surfaces. Make sure the surface you’re about to paint on is smooth, clean, and free of unwanted particles. 

How To Fix This

Dip a piece of clean cloth in some water and soap. Wipe off the dust and debris, then dry the entire surface with a clean, dry piece of cloth. You can also use a damp sponge to get rid of debris, dust, and other particles on the surface.

A sponge works better than cloth because it can get into little nooks and crannies where minuscule particles may be stuck. Remember to let the entire surface dry completely before painting on it. 

2. Your Paintbrush Is Dirty

Dirt may have clung onto your paintbrushes’ bristles, which will affect the quality of your work the next time you use your paintbrushes. Your brushes may also be caked with paint, which can be pretty tricky to get rid of once hardened. 

How To Fix This

Make it a habit to clean your paintbrushes after each use. Constantly inspect your brushes, as well, while in the middle of a paint job. Paint may have hardened on some of the bristles, particularly on the inner ones, and these can make lines and streaks as you work. Simply take them out by hand so you can go on painting.  

Here’s how to clean your paintbrushes:

  1. Place your paintbrush under warm to hot running water. Make sure the water isn’t so hot that it might burn your hands. 
  2. Work the paint out from the bristles with your hand. Do this until the water runs clear. 
  3. Grab a brush comb and run it through your paintbrush’s bristles. This step effectively removes any dried-up paint that may have lodged deep within the bristles. 
  4. Use a dishwashing sponge to gently scrub the bristles and get rid of any leftover paint. Never use a steel wool brush or scrubber because it may damage your brush’s bristles. 
  5. Place your paintbrush on a clean and dry surface. Allow it to air dry completely. 

Some additional tips on caring for your paintbrushes:

  • Never leave your brushes soaking in water. Prolonged water exposure may damage and weaken the wooden handles.
  • Always store your paintbrushes in their own sheaths. If the ones they came in are already damaged, you can fashion some out of cardboard or any thick, rigid material. Make sure the new sheaths fit perfectly since these will help your brushes keep their original shape.  

3. You Didn’t Use the Right Paintbrush

It is essential to use the right paintbrush for the specific paint job you’re doing. Painting a wall, for instance, requires a different type of brush from painting a smaller area, such as door trim or a baseboard. Choosing the right kind of brush will help make the job easier and the workmanship more top-notch. 

How To Fix This

Always use the right kind of paintbrush for the specific types of paint job you’re planning to do. There are a variety of sizes, bristles, and styles to choose from, each catering to particular needs and expectations.

Here are some of the more popular kinds of paintbrushes and what each of them is typically used for:

Paintbrush Types

  • Polyester paintbrushes. These brushes are stiff and can hold their shape well. They are best used with latex paint. 
  • Blended nylon-polyester paintbrushes. Nylon is known for its durability, while polyester can be counted on for its excellent shape-retention properties. Combining these 2 elements results in a paintbrush that is long-lasting and versatile. This type of brush works well with practically any kind of paint. 
  • Natural-bristle paintbrushes. Animal hair is used for making these types of brushes. The natural fuzziness and splitting of the bristles account for a smoother paint finish. These types of brushes work best with varnishes and oil-based paints

Interesting question about latex paint: Is it possible to paint over latex paint if it’s peeling? I’ve written a complete guide about this question. [Can You Paint Over Peeling Latex Paint?]

Paintbrush Sizes

  • 1-2 inches (25.4 – 50.8 mm). This is the perfect size for painting window frames, baseboards, and other small trims. The narrow width allows for smaller, more precise strokes. 
  • 3-4 inches (76.2 – 101.6 mm). This size is great for medium-sized surfaces like doors and cabinets.
  • 4 inches and up (101.6 mm). The width and size of these brushes are great for flat and wide surfaces, such as walls. Work will be easier and quicker since you can make broader brush strokes. 

Paintbrush Ends 

  • Square trim paintbrushes. The tips of these brushes are cut bluntly and straight. They are used for painting over flat surfaces. 
  • Chisel trim paintbrushes. The bristles of these paintbrushes are tapered. They are the perfect tools for trimming corners and edges since you can easily make straight lines with them.  
  • Angled paintbrushes. The bristles of these paintbrushes are slanted. They are ideal for painting trimmings on narrow surfaces, such as windows, doors, or baseboards.

4. You Didn’t Get Your Brush Wet Before Painting

Most types of paints work best when applied using a damp paintbrush. It is best to check your paint’s label for instructions, but generally, the paint will adhere better to the brush and glide more effortlessly on any surface if applied using damp bristles. 

A wet paintbrush also ensures that paint will not dry out too fast as you apply layers over a surface. The formation of unsightly lumps will also be avoided. Furthermore, damp brush bristles will help seamlessly blend paint colors for a more polished, professional look. 

How To Fix This

Before starting any paint job, dip your brush in a bucket of clean water until the bristles are soaking wet. You may also place your brush under running water. Wait until the bristles are completely saturated and soaking wet. 

Then, get rid of the excess water by squeezing the bristles against any clean surface or squeezing the bristles yourself with your hands. Make sure the bristles are no longer dripping wet before you start painting. Tap the brush against a wall for good measure to ensure that any leftover water in the bristles will be dislodged. 

5. You Didn’t Let the First Coating Dry

If the top layer isn’t completely dry and you paint over it, the paint will be thick and rubbery. It will adhere to the bristles of your paintbrush and create marks along the way. Bubbles and lumps may also form as you work your way across the surface. This will result in stipples (tiny dots on your paint job) and streaks. 

How To Fix This

Always allow the first coating to dry before adding another layer of paint. Wait a few minutes or so, and always check for dryness before adding a fresh layer of paint. Tap the paint lightly with your fingertip. If it stays in place, then it is ready for another layer. If the paint feels gooey and sticks to your skin, you must wait a few minutes more before painting over it.

6. You Did Not Sand Between Coats

One layer of paint usually isn’t enough to hide the uneven or unsightly surface underneath. You need to add another layer (or more) to get that smooth, neat finish. If you do not sand the surface before adding another layer of paint, you will be painting on a surface that may be rough and grainy.

The bristles will then catch on these bumps and leave lines across the surface, which will become more evident as the paint dries.

How To Fix This

Lightly sand over the first coat before applying the second coat. Do the same for the successive layers. Doing so will help the fresh layer adhere more to the initial coat, creating a more durable finish. Sanding will help get rid of the grainy, uneven texture. 

It is best to use a sanding sponge rather than regular sandpaper. The sponge will get into little nooks and crannies which may otherwise be inaccessible to sandpaper.

This is how to do it:

  1. Sand the bare trim surface before painting over it. Use light, even pressure to get rid of small bumps and indentations on the surface. 
  2. Clean the surface to get rid of debris and dust. Use a vacuum cleaner or a damp piece of cloth to eliminate any unwanted particles.
  3. Layer on the first coat of paint. Make sure that the paint isn’t too thick and that it is evenly applied. 
  4. Allow the paint to dry. For best results, leave it to dry for 24 hours. 
  5. Sand the painted surface lightly. This ensures a smooth, even surface.
  6. Clean the sanded surface again with a vacuum cleaner or a damp piece of cloth. This helps eliminate unsightly bumps and streaks on the surface. 
  7. Apply the second layer of paint. See to it that you use long, continuous brush strokes for a smooth finish. 

7. You Used Short Brush Strokes

Short brush strokes often lead to unsightly marks or streaks on your painting surface. Shorter strokes also mean that you would have to make frequent stops as you paint over a small area. The marks and streaks become more evident as the paint dries.

How To Fix This

It is best to make long, continuous brush strokes rather than short, sporadic ones. It would help to start at the corners, then move in toward the center. Longer, steady strokes will allow you to paint over an entire surface more evenly. 

It would also be best to have a lighter hand when painting. Avoid putting too much pressure on the paintbrush so that the paint flows evenly through the bristles. Applying pressure on the paintbrush will leave dents and marks on the finish and make your paint job unprofessional-looking. 

Key Takeaways

Streaky trim paint can be attributed to paintbrush quality, the condition of the painted surface, and the painter’s skill level. The key to a smooth, flawless finish is doing things correctly right from the get-go. Use the proper paintbrush and apply paint using long, even strokes. Most importantly, prep the area to be painted, so it is free from dust and debris.

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