Painting Wood Paneling: Make It Look Brand New And Modern

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Wood paneling, made from plywood-sized sheets was all the rage in the ’70s and ’80s for the reason that it can make a home feel warm, cuddly, inviting and all things nice.

However, through the years, wood paneling has made way for more aesthetically pleasing ideas. The paneling in older homes now is starting to also get damaged further adding to its decline in most people’s eyes. In the modern eye, instead of looking warm and inviting, wood paneling can give off the appearance that a room is musty & dark. 

A popular home improvement option is to just get rid of the wood paneling and replace it with drywall. But, if this is out of the budget, then painting over the paneling is a great 2nd option.

This post will show you the best way to paint wood paneling.

What Kind Of Paint To Use

We suggest using Valspar Signature Series Paint that is paint + primer. An extra coat of primer doesn’t hurt and the quality of the paint will save you some serious time. White, Off-White, Beige & Light Gray are the most popular colors to paint wood paneling. 

Should You Do It?

If you do decide to paint over the wood paneling, remember that it’s a decision you cannot turn back from because it’s too hard to sand paint from paneling.

This won’t be too much of a problem if you already have your mind set. Some of us held out hope that if dad hats, denim dresses & avocado colored appliances can make a comeback then maybe wood paneling too, but alas….

So, I decided to not only paint my wood paneling but also to fill in the lines to make the walls smooth.

Tools & Materials

  • TSP or Borax
  • Gloves
  • Long-Sleeve Clothes & Protective Gear
  • Palm Sanding Cloth
  • Painters Tape
  • Primer
  • Drop Cloths
  • Plastic Sheeting
  • Sprayer
  • Googles
  • Painter’s Respirator
  • Wood Filler

Step 1: Prep, Clean The Molding And Clen Paneling

The first thing you’ll want to do is properly prep the painting area. Any painter worth their salt will tell you that proper prep is the key to a good paint job.

Mask the nonpainting area with painter’s tape and plastic sheeting.

You need to clean off any dust, dirt, and oil fingerprints so that the paint sticks well and you don’t end up with a visibly uneven surface. Substances on the surface can also disrupt the chemistry of the paint job causing the paint to chip early

We use TSP and water.

Wear protective gear that covers all of your skin glasses, mouth and nose, and open windows so you have proper ventilation.

When using a liquid deglosser for cabinets or regular soap to clean a wall you can get away with just wearing gloves. However, using TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) can cause dangers to your health because of its potency.

If you’re looking for an alternative that’s safer for your health, your home, and the environment then we suggest using borax.

Step 2: Sand Wood

It’s commonly said that you don’t have to sand paneling before painting, but we think you should.

Related: Can You Paint Cabinets Without Sanding?

Sanding will help you dull the gloss If it is too far gone then you should probably consider just replacing it anyways.

After sanding, vacuum the surface using a shop vacuum’s brush attachment or you can wipe the paneling with a damp cloth.

Step 3: Fill The Grooves

Filling the grooves can give the appearance of one smooth wall. Instead of using caulk, you’ll fill the grooves with wood filler and a putty knife. Smooth it out as much as you can with a sanding block and allow the putty to dry.

You can use caulk if you’d like, but we prefer to use putty.

This helpful article from Home Steady will show you how to do the job properly.

Article: How To Fill In Paneling Cracks

Step 4: Add Two Stains Of Stain-Blocking Primer

Apply primer as you would for almost any painting project. Priming your wood paneling will help the paint stick better as primer sticks far better than paint which will likely peel. 

Primer can also prevent flashing, a phenomenon where the final paint job can appear to be done with different shades of paint.

Note: For the best finish, you’ll want to spray the primer on the wood for a smooth finish. You can rent a sprayer by the day or buy one if painting is something you do on a regular basis.

Step 5: Paint The Paneling

You’ll want to add two thin coats of paint. After letting the first coat of paint dry, lightly sand the 1st coat. Also make sure to wipe off any excess paint that gets stuck in the panel grooves if you didn’t caulk or fill them with puddy.

The second coat of paint assures you get added durability and coverage making it well worth the extra time. Before you know it your weekend project will be finished.

Use a paintbrush and roller as they are complementary to each other and ensure a smoother finish.

Final Thoughts

We wanted to get in-depth on this article (as we do with all of our articles) so novice painters can know exactly what they’re getting into when embarking on painting their wood paneling. Painting is not as simple as grabbing a brush and paint and slathering it on. For this reason, we’ve built our business by offering everyday people painting that’s guaranteed to work saving them both time and the ego hit of trying to paint on your own and messing it all up.
As painters, we’re used to embarking on “easy” home improvement projects that have a big impact on the look of a room. Painting wood paneling is no different than an exterior repaint or cabinet painting in that it can have a dramatic effect on the atmosphere of your room.
If you live in the Southeast Phoenix (Mesa, Gilbert, Tempe) then give Hillis Brothers Painting a call to handle this project for you.