When it comes to painting trim and base molding, which is the whitest white to use?
Did you know that both Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams both have over 100 shades of white? In fact, I think it’s over 150! Pretty crazy, right? I know, it makes things tricky for when you’re trying to find the perfect white for you trim or you cabinets.
So, I wanted to help guide you through the process of selecting the best white for all of your molding and trim work.
Please note that this article contains affiliate links. You can read my disclosure at the bottom of the page.
The best shades of white paint for trim work
While white can be a tricky color (as it is the most reflective of all the colors…and therefore can take on other subtle colors from the room…or even the trees from the exterior), you’ll also be happy to know that it’s also the most forgiving paint color. As long as you get it “close,” you really can’t go wrong.
And, remember that when you compare whites next to each other, you will notice subtle differences in the undertones. But, in the end, when you make a choice, you’ll only be using one color and unless you’re a designer, you probably won’t notice a difference.
I will share the best and most popular whites from both Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore, as well as the best finishes to use.
What does the trim and molding work include?
Before I get started, I just want to clarify what “trim” is. When I say trim, I mean all of the trim or molding in your home. While this may vary from home to home, the trim includes the following areas which would typically be painted white:
- Base molding (and/or shoe molding/quarter round)
- Chair rail
- Crown molding
- Doors, door jambs, door casing
- Wainscoting, bead board, shiplap (although some people paint shiplap the same color as the rest of the room or a contrasting color)
- Spindles, risers, stringers on the steps
- Fireplace mantel
As a general rule, it’s best to paint ALL of the trim in the entire house the same color, so it looks more consistent. Inevitably, if you use different colors, it will almost always show. At a minimum, all the trim should be the same on the same level.
Bear in mind that if you change the trim color by level, you will often notice a difference at the steps (unless they are carpeted).
Wood trim vs white trim
As a general rule, I would usually recommend painting wood trim white. It is much more contemporary, and it makes your space look larger and brighter. In fact, it can make a HUGE difference!
Wood trim and paneling used to be popular in the 60’s…and even into the 70’s and early 80’s. Do your house a favor and update this trim,whether it’s for the base molding, chair rails, crown molding, doors/door casing. It will give you way more flexibility in the paint color you choose for the walls and make your space look more modern.
The same goes for wood paneling, especially if it’s a golden oak or mid brown. Nothing shouts louder that your house is outdated. (See: How to paint wood paneled walls and trim). And, if you’re about to sell your house, this is a MUST. Buyers HATE and I mean HATE wood paneled walls, and many of them can’t see past it.
Bring your home into the 21st century and paint it white! Your house will look larger and show better, and the buyer won’t be wondering how much it will cost to remove it or paint over it.
What about the stair area? I would recommend that the spindles are painted white. Also remember that stairwells typically have less light vs. the rest of the house, so white really helps here.
The banisters and balustrades can either be stained to match the floor or painted (e.g. try a black lacquer if you are doing dark hardwood floors).
Usually, you paint the risers white, the treads same color as floor, and risers and stringers white. Again, this looks most contemporary and makes your space look brighter. The tread is the part you step on, the riser is part your toe may kick, the stringers are on the right and left side where hold the treads in place.
Note: I’m generalizing here, and there are some notable exceptions. In particular, in some older and fancier homes, especially those built before 1930, there are some lovely pieces of finely cut base molding and trim.
These are usually found in Tudors and fancier/more expensive homes (usually priced $1 million dollars and higher). You will sometimes find intricate and nicely carved mahogany woods and paneling in very high end homes. And, these often look nice and go with the style of the home (or the room…sometimes you will find these in library or dens). Many feel it’s sacrilege to paint over these, and they are usually right.
Also, most people these days are adding carpet runners to the steps – both for style and safety (as well as a quieter home). So don’t worry about the white paint on the risers getting dirty.
Using white vs using a color color for the trim
By far, white base molding is the most popular and stylish. It’s timeless and looks clean and crisp. It also allows you to use whatever paint color your choose…and gives you flexibility for the future if you ever want to change paint colors (even if it’s just for 1 room).
Nothing looks cheaper than to paint the base molding the same color as the wall. It screams tacky, dated and cheap. Just don’t do it. (Can you tell how I really feel?)
And, oddly enough, I’ve had few people who think they are “in the know” by choosing to paint the base molding a different color than the walls. For example, they may do the walls white and the base molding gray. In my opinion, this looks both dated and cheap.
They say it’s trendy because they read it in a magazine or saw it on a website. Well touché…if it’s “trendy” then it must be so trendy that it’s already out of style. For what it’s worth, I go into a LOT of high end homes (I live in one the most expensive counties in the country), and I never see this in real life. (And, I rarely see it on Pinterest!). Where I do see it is in mid grade homes that look dated and the new buyer can’t stand the painted molding.
And, I will point out that usually when you need to repaint this molding to make it white again, it’s more expensive as you usually need to prime + add 2 coats of paint. (Whereas if you already have white molding that’s in good shape, you often only need to add 1 coat of paint). So, this just costs more for something that most people don’t like. Not the best use of money, in my opinion.
My advice is to stick with what’s tried and true and never goes out of style. Use a classic white.
My top recommendations for white trim paints
So now, let’s get back to the main question at hand. Which are the best shades of white for base molding and other trim? I’m sharing my top 8 choices – 4 for Benjamin Moore and 4 for Sherwin Williams.
Before I go any further, I want to assure you that you can’t go wrong with any of these whites. They ALL work. And, the normal person won’t notice the difference among these shades of white.
There are 2 slightly different directions you can take for white trim. The first is the more common and popular way and that is to do the whitest white for a clean and crisp look. This white is what’s expected and gives you a great contrast with the paint color, no matter what you choose.
If you’re going for a dramatic look, or if you are using cool colors, especially cool grays or navy, or a very dark color, this route is almost always the best choice. And, if you’re using other colors, it’s a sure bet.
Side note: One measure to help in looking at how light and reflective paint colors are is to look at their Light Reflective Value (LRV). The higher the number, the more reflective and lighter the paint appears.
For Sherwin Williams use the following for “white whites:”
1. Highly Reflective White SW (LRV 93) – the whitest white in Sherwin’s Collection.
2. Extra White SW7007 (LRV 86) – Extremely white with the faintest hint of a pale blue undertone
For Benjamin Moore use the following for “white whites:”
3. Super White OC-152 (LRV 89) – The whitest white in Benjamin’s collection. It’s even whiter than their white (by just a tad). Semi gloss white works very well, too, but this is just a tad whiter.
4. Decorator’s White OC-20 (LRV 85) – This is the most popular white for trim, most likely due to the name. It’s white and has a faint hint of pale cream.
The second option is to do a slightly warmer and softer white. I wouldn’t go so far to say that these are off-whites (because off whites tend to look dirty, especially on base molding). Rather, these have subtle undertones that soften the look. Often when we use these colors, we use a satin finish (rather than semi-gloss) for a richer look).
We tend to use this approach in higher end homes when using warmer grays or greiges. It adds a bit of depth and dimension. In the same way that we are seeing more matte finishes on the floor or honed finishes on counter tops, this works for the walls.
For Sherwin Williams use the following for a soft and subtle white:
5 Alabaster SW7008 (LRV 82) – A bit softer white with some light cream and pale green undertones.
6. Snowbound SW7004 (LRV 83) – A bit softer with some pale gray undertones
For Benjamin Moore use the following for a soft and subtle white:
7. White Dove OC-17 (LRV 90) – One of Benjamin Moore’s most popular whites (most of my customers are very familiar with this color). It looks great and walls as well as trim. Has creamy and greige undertones, but still reads as white when it’s on the walls…without a stark white look. Due to the greige undertones, it;s very versatile and tends to work with and complement many paint tones, including beige, greige, warmer grays and warm tones.
8. Chantilly Lace OC-65 (LRV 92) – a clean crisp and clean white…as delicate as the lace it was named after. This is also a very popular color for kitchen cabinets. It has some pale blue undertones and works very well with blues paint colors and other cool tones (e.g. gray).
What if you have white walls? What color should you use for the trim?
See if you can guess…yes, white. White on white looks clean and crisp. The trick is that you use different finishes on each. For the walls, a flat finish is the most stylish and popular (followed by matte). For the trim, I would use semi-gloss. It’s fine to use the same white for both. It is also fine to use a white white for the trim if you’re walls are an off white.
White seems to be the clear winner when it comes to base molding and trim. With the above 8 shades of white (4 for each of the manufacturers), your choice should be relatively simple. And, all of them should work. From there, just decide if you want a traditional white white or a softer white.
Do you need any paint shade fan decks?
Amazon can help with that. It’s so much easier when you have the full color wheels and can see all of these in your own home (vs. going back and forth to the store MULTIPLE times).
- Best paint colors for kitchen cabinets
- Most popular shades of gray paint and choosing a coordinating gray accent wall
- Best shades of paint for selling a home