Solving the Problem of Fingerprint Walls in a High-Traffic Area

We moved into our house with a long list of ways we wanted to improve on it – paint every room! Change out the light fixtures! Tear out the carpet in the master bathroom! We were ambitious, first-time homeowners who thought we knew exactly what our house needed.

After 9 months of living in this house, we realized that this 3-step staircase leading from the kitchen down into the family room might just be the most high-traffic area in the house. And with 4 kiddos, builder-grade flat paint, and 16 ft. ceilings in that room – I needed a solution for my grubby fingerprint aversion that didn’t involve repainting every few months! Brian & I brainstormed and decided that installing some kind of easily-repaintable-and-scrubbable paneling/trim was the best solution. Painted in a high-quality semi-gloss, it could be wiped clean as frequently as it needed to be.

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For the paneling, we went with 1/4″ MDF – it’s very smooth and doesn’t require sanding before painting. We cut it into 2.5″ wide strips for the vertical posts and 2″ wide strips for the posts that run the length of the baseboard. We wanted the top to be the same angle/distance from the bottom, so we used a quick square to figure out the exact angles we needed to cut.

We joked about how this was the first time in our adult lives that we used that geometry we were forced to take in high school! We were trying to figure out the angles we needed to cut for the sloping part, and it took some calculations with a pen and paper to get it right. It ended up being about a 37.5º angle.

(The black wall anchors are for our baby gate – we wanted the gate to stay anchored into the studs and drywall, so we spaced our MDF accordingly.)

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(you can see the dirt, fingerprints, and crayon marks all over the beige wall…)

We attached the slats to the wall with a small amount of wood glue just to hold them into place. We then used a finish nailer to nail in the MDF, and left an 11″ gap between each slat. We thought that 6 slats would look best in this spot, so that’s how we came up with the 11″ gap – you may want yours to be closer together or further apart, depending on the size of your space. If you wanted to fill the tiny spaces with putty, you could, but they were really not noticeable at all once the paint was up. (We use this putty around our house – it is different than most of the cheaper brands but is so easy to use! You can roll it in your fingers like Playdoh, push it into the holes, and scrape off the excess with a putty knife.)

Once it was all securely nailed in, we painted both the paneling and the walls with a a white semi-gloss paint + primer combo – we like Valspar Signature from Lowes, and have used that in most of our house (it’s zero VOC and holds up really well!). We matched the color to the existing baseboard so it would flow continuously with the rest of the house.

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After we had a coat of paint on, we added chair rail on the top with the finish nailer to give it a more finished look – again, with the finish nailer. It came in white, but it was a brighter white than the paint, so we did fill the nail holes with a little bit of putty and paint it just for uniformity.

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A close-up of how we cut the MDF to work it around the gate anchor:
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The end result:

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We were so happy with how it turned out! We actually did this project 2 years ago and it has held up wonderfully. I’ve touched up the paint once, just because I was doing baseboard touch-up and we had a little Sharpie incident, but it really does look great still. Since it’s sturdy semi-gloss paint, you don’t even need anything as strong as a Magic Eraser to clean it – a sponge and some water is usually enough.

My favorite cleaning trick, though, is baby wipes – it gets off the sticky grime and makes the wall look really clean, and, I can make it a kid job. 😉 My 3yo loves to “clean the stair wall” as a chore!

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Maybe you’ll get lucky and want to do this in an area that doesn’t involve stairs and only uses right angles – if that’s the case, it will be SUPER easy to do! Even for us with the crazy angles, it only took a couple hours to get up – we did it during nap time and painted after the kids were in bed for the night. I’m all about easy, quick projects that make a huge impact!

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