How To Paint Paneling

Paint Paneling

Painting paneling is a great alternative to a potentially messy and expensive removal process. While it’s fairly simple to paint paneling, it’s important to follow a few key steps for successful results. By properly preparing the paneling and applying paint, you can embark on this project with confidence.


Clean the Paneling


Paneling is often dark in color and may have a pattern that makes dust and dirt more difficult to see. Even if you think your paneling is clean, it’s a good idea to give it a dusting and then wash it with soap and water. This will ensure you have a clean surface to paint so you can avoid trapping debris against the wall.


Consider Scuffing the Paneling


In some cases, it’s a good idea to roughen the surface of the paneling before you apply paint primer. This step, known as scuff sanding, can be completed by rubbing a fine-grit sandpaper or sanding block over the paneling. Slightly roughening the surface can help the primer and topcoat adhere to the paneling. If you use a high-quality water-based primer, like Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3, on faux wood paneling, scuff sanding is typically not required.


Fill or Paint Paneling Grooves


Many people opt to paint over the paneling without filling in the grooves. This means you will still see the small indentations where the panels meet after you paint the wall. If you choose this approach, no additional step is required before you begin priming and painting.


If you’d rather have walls that look unpaneled, you’ll want to fill in each groove before you paint. After you clean your paneling, use sandable caulk to fill in the grooves. Once the grooves have been filled and the caulk is dry, use sandpaper or a sanding block to smooth away any imperfections.


Choose the Right Primer


In addition to improving paint adhesion, primer helps seal the surface and prevent the wood tone from showing through the paint.


To choose the best primer for your paneling, you’ll need to consider what kind of paneling you have. While faux wood can be effectively primed with a water-based formula, real wood paneling should be approached differently.


If you have real wood paneling, tannins can bleed through lighter paint colors and cause discoloration over time. To prevent future discoloration, you’ll generally want to use an oil-based primer like Zinsser Cover Stain. If the stronger odor of an oil-based primer is a concern, a good alternative is Zinsser Stain Killing Primer. This water-based primer acts like an oil-base, offering tannin-blocking properties while emitting less odor in your space.  


If you did not fill the grooves in the paneling, apply primer to that area with a paint brush to ensure the primer covers the indentations. After the grooves are covered, use a roller or brush to prime the entire wall.


If you filled and sanded the grooves, you can proceed with priming the entire wall without any further attention to those areas.


Paint the Paneling


Now that your prep work is complete, it’s time to paint the paneling. Painting paneling is similar to painting any room. Once you choose your paint color, you can use a brush or roller to cover the primer with wall paint.


If you left grooves in your paneling, you’ll want to follow the same process you used with the primer to make sure the paint covers each groove. After you’ve brushed the paint into the grooves, use a paint roller over those areas, and the rest of the wall, to ensure consistent coverage and adhesion.


If you filled and sanded the grooves in your paneling, you can proceed without any special treatment to the formerly grooved areas. Simply apply your wall paint over the primer.


Painting paneling is a simple and cost-effective way to refresh a room. By choosing the right products for your space and completing a few prep steps, you’ll be on your way to a more modern look that you can enjoy for years to come.

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