icon Wall Refresh: How to Paint Over Paneling Walls

Wall Refresh: How to Paint Over Paneling Walls

Wood paneling can make a room feel dark and dated. If that's not the look you want in your home, it may be time for a change. 

An old tv in front of a wood paneled wall.

While there are a lot of options, ideas, and inspirations out there for how to makeover a room, that's not always possible. In many cases when you have wood paneling, repainting can be a great way to brighten up your space with only a few hours of work.

Are you unsure how to paint over paneling walls? We have your ultimate source on the materials, techniques, and strategies to help you take on a dated room. 

Types of Wood Paneling

One would think that painting over paneling could be as easy as slapping a coat of paint or two on it and calling it a day. If only it were that simple. 

But when it comes to painting the paneling, it's helpful to know what kind you're working with. That way, you can be sure to get the right materials and master the right techniques to help your paint job look fantastic

Type #1: Real Wood

The most authentic, and best, looking paneling will consist of real wood. It's also easier to cover most of the time. 

Real wood paneling, unpainted.

There are many different looks, even from recent years, that highlight wood paneling. Shiplap, tongue and groove, and even wainscoting have seen a comeback in regards to modern style. 

This look can add a lot of character and warmth to a room, and adding a fresh coat of paint can help revitalize a room for not a lot of money. Some styles, like wainscoting, can also elevate a room to look more traditional or formal. 

Type #2: Veneer

When you think of wood paneling, the vinyl, dark, 1970s look is probably what pops into your mind.

Wood veneer is often a thin sheet of medium-density fiberboard, or MDF, covered with a thin sheet of real wood. Or sometimes, it's just a printed image of wood fixed on top of the board. 

This means that it doesn't take paint well unless properly prepared. But it is possible as long as you follow the necessary steps!

Risks of Removal

While it may be tempting to get in behind ugly paneling and rip it out, this is not recommended for your average do-it-yourself homeowner. There are a few key reasons for this. 

First, many times paneling is attached with both nails and construction adhesive. Ripping off paneling may cause significant damage to the drywall behind the paneling.

If you're not up for patching drywall or spending more hours than necessary repairing holes and rips, then skip removing the paneling. And honestly, who can blame you? 

The other reason is that sometimes the paneling is attached directly to the studs of the wall. Ripping down paneling, and finding nothing behind it, again puts you in the position of time-consuming, and potentially expensive, repairs to install drywall. 

How to Paint Over Paneling Walls

If you're ready to say goodbye to wood paneling in your home, say no more. Follow this step-by-step guide to achieve a fresh new look with any paneling. 

1. Gather Your Supplies

Before you begin, make sure you have all the supplies and materials you will need to complete this project. Nothing is more frustrating than running out of something partway through and losing momentum. 

Close up of various painting supplies: paint pan, roller, brushes, tape, can of open paint with a mixer in it.

You will need the following materials: 

  • TSP or TSP substitute
  • Painters tape
  • Drop cloths
  • Oil-based primer
  • Latex paint in the color of your choice
  • Paint roller and tray
  • Paintbrush
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Spackle (optional) and putty knife
  • Personal protective gear, such as gloves and a respirator

2. Prep Your Space

Start by making sure you remove any wall hangings, photos, artwork, or even furniture that you want to protect. Cover the floor with your drop cloth to make sure it stays clean and undamaged. Don't forget to remove any light switch plate or electrical socket covers at this time.

Next, use diluted trisodium phosphate (TSP) or a TSP substitute to thoroughly clean your walls. This will help clean and de-gloss the surface of your wood paneling, which will better help the paint to adhere. Make sure you follow the instructions on the package for how to mix and use the specific product that you buy.

Once the walls are dry, use your sandpaper to "scuff" the wall. You're just lightly sanding to create a rough surface to help the paint stick. Wipe away dust or use a shop vacuum to help clean up as you go. 

Use your painters tape to tape off any trim or walls that you don't want to paint. While this can seem time-consuming, it can make the difference between a clean finish and a messy one. 

Your next step is to fill in the grooves between the panels. If you want a smooth finish without the paneling look, now is the time to do that. This is best done if the grooves are shallow (1/8th of an inch or so). If you like the paneled look and only want a lighter, brighter color, you can skip this step. 

Using your spackle and a putty knife, fill in each line and smooth over the surface as best you can. Once dry, gently sand down the spackle until the surface is smooth and even. 

Also, look for any cracks or gaps between sheets that can show through the paint. Be sure to fill those in to create a smooth, final look. 

This is also a great time to fix any nail holes that may need to be repaired. 

3. Time to Prime

Now you get to apply primer! Be sure to use a good quality, stain-blocking primer. 

A large bucket of primer being poured into a pan.

Primer is important for several reasons. First, the primer will act as a barrier between the paneling and the paint. A stain-blocking primer keeps stains from leaking through the paint and ruining your hard work. If you want to achieve a good quality finish, then a primer is vital.

Second, primer is going to help paint stick to the wall and avoid damage from scratches or chips. Because wood paneling, especially veneer paneling, is rather slick, you need all the help you can get to make sure your paint adheres well. 

Next, primer provides a good coverage base. This means you can use less paint in the next step, saving you both time and money. Wood paneling can absorb a lot of paint, 

You'll need to apply at least one coat of primer. After it dries, perform a topcoat test by applying a thin coat of your chosen color of paint. If the stain bleeds through, you'll need a second coat of primer before you continue. 

If your wood paneling is made from real wood, you'll need to seal any knots with a shellac-based primer. Knots are infamous for bleeding through paint, so a good primer will help to prevent this from happening. 

4. Start Painting

It's finally time to start to paint wood paneling! Your best bet when choosing paint is to go with acrylic latex-based paint. 

Once your primer is dry, start by painting around any trim or edges with a paintbrush (known as cutting in). Next, apply thin coats of paint with your roller. Choose a thick-nap roller that can fill in gaps if you chose not to fill those in. 

It's also better to apply more thin layers of paint than one thick layer when it comes to painting wood paneling. Don't overload your roller, and move in a W pattern. Don't push too hard on the roller, which can cause an uneven finish. 

You should apply at least two coats of paint, waiting for at least two to four hours between coats. If you're impatient and try to apply a second coat when the first coat is still wet, the paint job can clump, streak, or even peel.

Some experts even recommend lightly sanding between coats to help the paint adhere as best as possible. Make sure you wipe down the walls afterward if you do this. That will help you to prevent dust and debris in your topcoat.

This would also be a great time to try a new look by painting the trim the same color as the walls. This can bring a dramatic statement into your home improvement project!

5. Put the Room Back Together

Once the paint has dried, you can start to pull the room back together. Remove tape from trims and edges, replace switch plates, and remove the drop cloth. You can also move furniture back in. 

This is a great time to update some of your other style choices as well. Maybe you pick a new rug or throw pillows. You can choose some new art or wall hanging. You could even experiment with updating any shelves or lighting. 

Now is the time to go for a new look and show off your design skills and style!

Mistakes to Avoid

When you're spending a lot of time and energy to cover up old-fashioned paneling, don't sabotage your efforts with one of the following avoidable mistakes: 

Mistake #1: Not Sanding

As you can tell, paint has a tough time sticking to wood paneling. This is especially true of veneer paneling, which is smooth to the touch. 

While some may say you can skip sanding when you use a primer, that's not the case. Your primer and paint need to be able to hold onto the wall, and sanding gives the surface enough roughness to help this happen.  

Take our advice: Take the time to sand your panels, and even between coats of paint. This will help your room look much better when it's finally time to reveal your transformation!

Mistake #2: Not Prepping Well

Don't neglect to fill in nail holes or fix other imperfections. Paint will show these, even with multiple coats. In order to achieve a smooth finish, you need to fix any minor flaws or damage. 

Even if you're not covering up the grooves between panels, make sure you examine the wall and take some time to fix any issues. 

Mistake #3: Skipping Enough Primer

Primer is another step that helps your paint stick to the paneling. Without it, your paint won't cover the darker material beneath and you'll need more coats. 

Primer also plays a key role in locking in the surface below and providing a good surface for the paint to be shown off to its best advantage. 

Mistake #4:Using the Wrong Materials

Make sure you know about the best types of paint for your wood surface. For example, don't use oil-based paint on wood veneer panels.

Oil-based paint dries much more rigidly, which means it can crack and flake much more quickly. Because wood paneling is thin, it needs paint that can flex as needed. 

Acrylic latex-based paint is going to be the best option for painting wood paneling to give you a longer-lasting finish. 

Mistake #4: Rushing

Set aside enough time to paint wood paneling right. That means taking time to sand down panels, fix any holes, tape off edges, and wait long enough for coats of primer and paint to dry. 

Ready to Be Rid Of Dark Paneling? 

A coat of paint can work wonders on a room, turning it from dark and dated to light, airy, and modern. While wood paneling may still have its place in some areas, painting over it is an easy way to update a room. 

An empty room where all the walls are wood paneling.

And while learning how to paint over paneling walls may seem like a big undertaking, it can be a straightforward process that any handy homeowner can take on over a weekend. Be sure to prepare well, take your time, and have the right supplies ready!

If you're interested in learning more tips, tricks, and inside secrets to make your home a cozy oasis, be sure to check out our blog! There, you'll find tons of information that can help you design and create your dream home today. 

1 comment

  • This sounds like a lot of work but I think it will be worth the time!


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