How To Paint Over Wood Paneling [5 Steps]

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Wood paneling has been on walls in homes for centuries, but it really peaked in popularity in the 1970’s and 1980’s, making it completely reasonable to think that the wood paneling in your home may be looking a bit dated. Covering your wood paneling by simply painting over wood paneling is a great way to give your space an updated look without the expense of completely remodeling your walls. Deciding to paint over your wood paneling may at first seem a bit overwhelming, and the process may seem a bit complicated. We have searched multiple sources to bring you a simple but complete list of steps to give your walls a new life by painting over your wood paneling.

Painting over your wood paneling involves a bit more than just applying a couple of coats of paint to the surface. To ensure the most durable finish possible, a little bit of preparation is required before actually painting the surface. By completing a few simple steps, you can give your walls a whole new look. The steps to painting over your wood paneling include:

  1. Cleaning wood paneling
  2. Filling in dents, nail holes, and grooves
  3. Sanding paneling and spackling or caulk
  4. Applying primer to the newly sanded surface
  5. Painting primed and sanded surface

Though following these steps to painting your wood paneling may be easy enough, there are likely to be other questions that will arise during the course of your project. Can I paint over my wood paneling without sanding first? How do you whitewash wood paneling? Should you paint wood paneling? What Is The Best Primer For Wood Paneling? What Kind Of Paint Do You Use On Wood Paneling? How Do You Fill Grooves In Paneling Before Painting? We will answer all of these questions and discuss some other closely related topics, keep reading.

Homeowner gives his front door a new bold lick of paint, How To Paint Over Wood Paneling [5 Steps]

1. Cleaning wood paneling

Dust and debris can settle into cracks and crevices along with oils and grease to form stubborn grime and build-up on your wood paneling that has become hardened and stuck to the surface over the years. The surface of your wood paneling should be cleaned thoroughly before beginning your project to ensure proper adhesion and durability of your paint project.

Cleaning your existing wood paneling with soap and water may remove most stains but likely won’t be enough to remove all of the grime and debris left on your wood paneling from years of use. For tough grease and grime remaining on your wood paneling, the example below pictures TSP or trisodium phosphate all-purpose cleaner that will easily remove any remaining grime or debris after cleaning the paneling with soap and water. 

Click here to find this trisodium phosphate all-purpose cleaner on Amazon.

2. Filling in dents, nail holes, and grooves

If your wood paneling has been on your walls for a lengthy amount of time, it is likely to have many dings and dents on its once smooth surface. These imperfections are easily visible, especially when covered in paint, and you should fill them using spackling or caulk and a putty knife, scraping off excess putty as you go. Excess spackling or caulk should be wiped off while wet as a thinner layer of spackling or caulk will dry faster. Dried spackling or caulk should be sanded along with the rest of the wood paneling for a smooth, even surface to paint. 

Click here to find this interior/exterior spackling on Amazon.

3. Sanding paneling and spackling or caulk

After your spackling or caulk is completely dry (the rule of thumb is to allow drying for 24 hours), use 150-220 fine-grit sandpaper to sand the entire surface of wood paneling and newly caulked areas. Wood paneling normally has a shiny finish that will not allow the paint to adhere to it. Sanding this layer off provides a suitable surface for the primer to adhere to, ensuring a smooth, even surface, proper adhesion, and a durable paint job. Dust is sure to settle on your surface after sanding. Wipe the entire surface off with a wet cloth or a special tacky cloth designed to attract dust particles and allow to dry completely.

Click here to find this 45 pack 120-5000 grit abrasive sandpaper with sanding block on Amazon.

4. Apply primer to sanded surface

Once the surface is completely smooth, clean, and dry after cleaning and sanding, it is ready to prime. Tape off surrounding areas with painter’s tape prior to priming and painting to prevent paint from bleeding over. A primer helps to further smooth your surface by filling in the wood’s pores and leveling itself smoothly on your wood surface. Primer can help cover any imperfections or stains and act as an adhesive to help paint adhere to the primed surface. 

When purchasing primer, keep in mind whether your final wall paint will be latex or oil-based, as this will affect which primer you should purchase. If you choose to paint later with latex paint, you can use a stain-blocking latex primer or oil-based primer can. For oil-based paints, only use an oil-based primer to ensure proper adhesion. Apply 2 even smooth coats of primer, allowing coats to dry completely in between and then allow the surface and primer to dry for a full 24 hours before painting on primed wood. 

Click here to find this stain-blocking interior/exterior latex primer on Amazon.

5. Paint primed and sanded surface

After allowing your primed wood paneling to dry for 24 hours, you are ready to paint your wood paneling. Beginning at the top and working your way down, paint the surface of your wood paneling with 2 thick coats of paint, allowing for complete drying in between coats. Experts in the field offer a tip for a smooth finish to your project. After completely applying a thick coat of paint, use a wide brush to paint long strokes through the thick coat of freshly applied coat of paint and leave the wood paneling alone to self-level and dry with a smooth, even finish.

Painting wood paneling without sanding

There are ways to paint over wood paneling without having to sand it. Using a de-glosser as shown below, you can achieve a gloss-free finish ready for a primer with no sanding by hand. After wiping down your walls with soap and water and cleaner if needed, apply the de-glosser to your wood paneling with a rag or a fine wool pad, wearing gloves to prevent irritation to hands from the chemicals in the de-glosser, rub the de-glosser over the surface. Let de-glosser dry to reveal matte gloss-free finish wood paneling that is ready for priming and painting.

Click here to find this gloss-off prepaint surface preparation on Amazon.

How to whitewash wood paneling

Originally used as a term to describe painting lime or calcium carbonate on rough barn surfaces to coat with an antibacterial white color, whitewashing creates a white, partially transparent look that can lighten and brighten the surface of the wood. Diluting white-ish paint with water and painting the diluted solution over your surface is known as whitewashing. Whitewashing is a cost-effective alternative to painting, as it requires half the paint and no primer. Whitewashing your wood paneling is a great way to achieve a brightening effect in your space and stick to your budget.

After thoroughly cleaning your wood paneling, lightly sand the surface with the grain of the wood to remove gloss and create light grooves in your surface that will better absorb whitewash. Dilute the paint at a 1:1 ratio to a creamy but not runny consistency and paint a coat or two on your wood paneling, allowing the diluted solution to dry completely between coats. The finished product should have a slightly transparent and almost chalky white finish. 

Should You Paint Wood Paneling?

Sources recommend painting over wood paneling made of a material that is old or of poor quality. Once wood paneling is painted, it cannot be returned to its original state, so you should be completely sure of your decision to paint your wood paneling. Painting your paneling can open up your space, make it appear bigger, or brighten your room. A fresh coat of paint in any color can give any room or space with wood paneling a much-needed makeover. 

What Is The Best Primer For Wood Paneling?

Primer is a thick enamel that is important to use on sanded surfaces under paint coats for several reasons. Primer is able to self-level by filling in the pores of surface materials, creating an even and smooth foundation, ready to adhere to your paint for a durable bond. Before deciding what primer you need for your wood paneling, you will need to decide what type of paint you want to use to paint over the primer.

For latex paints, stain-blocking latex or oil-based primer can be used. Only oil-based primer should be applied under oil-based paints. The primer discussed in step 4 above is highly rated and recommended for use on interior wood surfaces.

What Kind Of Paint Do You Use On Wood Paneling?

A good quality oil-based primer or a stain-blocking latex primer may be more important to your paint project than the actual paint when it comes to covering your wood paneling. With the proper primer in place, virtually any kind of paint can be used to achieve a successful outcome. While some experts recommend latex interior paint for its easy to clean, smooth satiny finish, oil-based paints can be a very durable option. 

How Do You Fill Grooves In Paneling Before Painting?

With some styles of wood paneling making a comeback, the grooves in paneling don’t necessarily have to be filled in before painting. However, if smooth walls are what you desire, grooves can easily be filled in with spackling or caulk. Fill in grooves using spackling or caulk and a caulk gun, scraping off excess spackling or caulk with the flat edge of a spackling knife to allow for faster drying. After allowing spackling or caulk to completely dry over 24 hours, sand with fine-grit sandpaper for a smooth foundation ready to paint.

Final words

Painting wood paneling can give your space a bright new look with just a few simple steps. By outlining these steps for you, we hope to have helped make the process of painting your wood paneling simpler. 

Before you go, be sure to check out these other home decor guides that may be of interest to you:

Enamel Vs. Latex Paint: What Are The Differences?

How To Clean Wall Paneling In 4 Easy Steps

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