How to install shoe molding

Find out if this slender baseboard supplement is just the thing to give your rooms extra finesse.

By Glenda Taylor and Bob Vila | Updated Oct 18, 2020 10:31 AM

How to install shoe molding

Paired with baseboard and stained or painted to match your trim, shoe molding (also known as “base shoe”) is a small, thin strip of molding that gives your room a finished look. Shoe molding adds a decorative touch while covering any gaps that might lie between the bottom of baseboard and the floor. Not all types of baseboard are suitable for installing shoe molding, however, so keep reading to find out if this slim trim is right for you—plus how to install it flawlessly.

How to install shoe molding

Shoe molding offers a fine finish to baseboards and covers the seam where it meets the floor.

Tall baseboards were popular during the Greek Revival period in the early-to-mid 1800s, but the idea of adding shoe molding to baseboards began in Europe and the United States during the Victorian era of the late 1800s. That’s when mass production of wood trim made the molding readily available. Shoe molding, so called because it’s located at “shoe level,” caught on because it looked good and also helped seal out insects and dirt.

Today, the main goal of both baseboard and shoe molding is to conceal the less-than-appealing transition between the bottom of the wall and the floor. Baseboard alone covers most of the gap, but because it’s larger than shoe molding, it’s relatively stiff and doesn’t conform well to an uneven floor. Even after baseboard has been installed, you will often see small gaps here and there between the baseboard and the floor. That’s where shoe molding comes in. Its small size makes it slightly flexible, allowing it to be installed flat against the floor to give baseboard a professional finished look.

The only caveat to installing shoe molding is that the bottom of the baseboard must be flat to accept the molding. For example, if you want to install standard ¾-inch-high shoe molding, the lower ¾-inch of the baseboard should be flat to allow the shoe molding fits snugly. Some more ornate baseboards feature grooves, slants, and curves within the lower ¾-inch, which would prevent shoe molding from fitting flush against the baseboard.

How to install shoe molding

Finishing trim comes in two different shapes: shoe molding vs. quarter round.

If you’ve been looking at baseboard finishing trim, you’ve probably discovered quarter-round, too. As the name implies, this type of molding is one-quarter of a round dowel (split a dowel down the middle, then further split the halves, and you’ll have quarter-round). While quarter-round can be installed along the bottom of baseboard, trim carpenters and homeowners tend to prefer the sleeker look of shoe molding, which is taller and narrower than its curved counterpart.

How to install shoe molding

Photo: via Kari Shea

Shoe molding is available in wood, MDF, and polystyrene to match your baseboards.

Standard shoe molding, available at home improvement centers and lumberyards, comes in widths of 7/16-inch to ½-inch and ranges from ¾-inch to 1-inch in height. It’s also made in a variety of material options to match the different types of baseboard.

  • Wood is the most common type of shoe molding, and you can buy inexpensive (paintable) pine shoe molding for $5 to $6 per eight-foot section. Hardwood shoe molding, including oak, ash, and walnut, which can be stained to match your trim, runs $6 to $10 per eight-foot section.
  • Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) shoe molding is made from a combination of resin and sawdust, and it is similar in price to pine, at $5 to $6 per eight-foot section. MDF is even more flexible than wood, so it’s a good choice if you have a lot of uneven gaps under your baseboard, but while suitable for painting, it doesn’t stain well.
  • Polystyrene shoe molding is the least expensive option, running $2 to $3 per eight-foot section, and it’s meant to be painted. Polystyrene is not as durable, however, as either MDF or wood, and it tends to dent if bumped.

How to install shoe molding

Install shoe molding along the edge of your baseboards with these tips.

Installing shoe molding is a fairly straightforward do-it-yourself project, but you will need to create a “coping joint” (discussed below). The following tips will help you achieve a professional look.