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It’s easy to paint wood paneling and it can totally brighten an older home!
Can You Paint Wood Paneling?
Yes you sure can paint wood paneling! And in our case, it would have almost been a crime to not paint our wood paneled walls. Because they were ugly and darkened our old house so much, we had to have interior lights on all day long.
A lot of older houses still have that crappy 1970’s wood paneling covering some (or all) of the walls. This stuff was all the rage at that time – it was going up in living room and basement rec rooms across the country. This stuff….
But now? It looks so ugly; it made the house so dark and frankly, depressing. And it’s not solid wood; it’s a veneer. It’s ugly and low budget.
How to Paint Wood Paneling
So I had to figure out how to paint paneling. And you know, it wasn’t that hard to do. And we love the way it turned out.
I cannot stand that wood paneling, even though it does bring back good memories. Those parties we had in the basement when we were teenagers – those were the days!
But now, we found ourselves in a house covered in that grooved wood paneling and it just HAD to be dealt with. It had to go.
Sure, it would have been easy to rip the paneling off the wall. I could have done it by myself. That stuff is as light as can be.
But, then what are you going to do? Because once it’s been pulled down there is only one way to go.
Cover the studs again with something, right? That is expensive – using drywall would end up be fairly costly. There goes many thousands of dollars.
Here is the easiest solution to completely change the look of your house that has this type of paneling. Just paint it.
Seriously, save yourself tons of money. Just paint it – it will brighten and clean up the whole interior. Here’s how to get started!
Preparing wood paneling for painting:
A huge part of any painting job is the prep work.
The actual painting doesn’t take that long but you end up with a much better job because you took the time to prep properly. It’s up to you, but I think prep is pretty important.
Completely empty the room of furniture and everything else. Grab some old bed sheets or buy some drop cloths and spread them over the entire floor.
Find the Painter’s Tape. If you have to buy some, don’t buy the narrow stuff – go for at least the medium width one. I prefer Painter’s Tape over masking tape, as it comes off cleaner without any damage to the paneling.
I get the wide tape. Also, buy some Spackle wood filler and a putty knife.
Start by filling any holes with the Spackle. I always find little tiny nail holes in these walls; you want to find them all!
Nail holes will show up really well (too well!) once the wall is painted, so cover them all.
Let the Spackle dry completely and sand lightly. Run your hand over the sanded area; if it feels smooth you’re done. If not, more sanding is needed.
I liked to fold my sandpaper and get the fold right in the groove. It makes the sanding go much easier and faster too. Be sure to use a fine grit sandpaper.
Grab your vacuum cleaner. I never wash wood paneled walls before painting. But they do get vacuumed off, every inch of every single wall. You can wipe your walls, trim and mouldings down if you would rather do that than vacuum.
This gets all those little spider webs in the corner or dust collected on the wall (which especially happens with rough paneling).
If you have grease or grime on the paneling, you will have to wash the area. Use trisodium phosphate (TSP) and a damp cloth or sponge and dry the wall really well after washing.
Taping edges of ceiling
Tape every single edge that you don’t want painted. Every. Single. Edge. Yes, total pain but if you do it, it will pay off in the long term.
You won’t be scraping off bits of paint that ended up on the ceiling edge or bottom baseboards.
Cleanup will be a breeze, because you just need to fold up your drop sheets and carefully remove the tape from the edges. Boom. Done.
Can Paneling be Painted without Sanding?
WHY would anyone bother sanding wood paneling? Yes, it can be painted bare. It should be.
I can think of no good reason why anyone would go to all that work? It would take hours, cause huge dust storms in the house and in the end what would you have?
You would have crappy wood paneling, just like you had in the beginning. So, yes you can paint paneling without sanding it first!
Now you are ready for your first coat of paint. You are going to need a lot of latex paint. I am not kidding. Wood paneling is so porous it will suck up every little drop of paint it can get.
You’re looking at several coats of paint to get the job done. I put on three coats; it’s a lot but the walls needed it.
Use a latex based primer paint with a stain blocker. That paneling has been there for decades and will definitely benefit.
Here’s a really good tip I always use when using primer:
Priming the walls is important. Primer is not quite the same as paint, but here is a tip: Get the paint people to “half tint” your primer.
What I mean is take the paint color for your finished walls, and get your primer tinted by half.
Your primer will be half as dark as the topcoat paint. This hides a lot of imperfections on the wall itself. Another bonus is sometimes you can get away with fewer top coats!
Grab some paintbrushes – get the nice angled ones as they work great for the grooves.
How to Paint Paneling with Grooves
With the room taped off and the floor covered, it’s time to crack open the tinted primer.
Use your brush to paint the grooves themselves. Try to keep the paint inside the groove. It’s not that easy but make sure you’re not leaving gobs of paint on the smooth part of the panels.
Feather out with your brush to spread any paint that ends up on the smooth panel. Be sure to smooth any excess drips, using the paintbrush.
There is so much ladder work for this job, you probably won’t have to do squats for a week!
Once you get the wall done, grab your paint roller and paint that entire wall with the primer paint. One thing about paneling, it dries really fast – there’s even a chance the beginning will be dry by the time you get to the end of the wall.
Here’s another thing – that wood wall is sucking in all that paint, right? Two coats of primer helps.
At this point, it’s up to you whether to put the second coat of primer on. I did, but really, it depends on the coverage on your wall and how dark the wood was underneath.
Make your decision and get the rest of the walls painted.
After your coat(s) of primer, it’s time to break open your top coat. Remember at this point, the wall will probably look awful.
Primed paint covering over old wood is just not a good look. But wait, because here comes the real change.
Painting the Top Coat
Start your top coat with using the brush to paint those grooves again. It should be a pretty fast job now, with two coats already on there. Then paint the wall with the top coat.
Let it dry really well and then take a good look. Is the coverage great or does it perhaps need one more coat?
When the painting is finished, wait a few hours and then carefully pull all the tape down.
Here’s the after photo from above. The job is done! Just move some furniture back and start decorating. Look at the difference it makes!
Painting Wood Paneling in the Living Room
How depressing this looked when we first moved our stuff in there!
This was the family room, right off the entry. The enclosed porch you saw earlier is right outside that living room window.
The paneling made the whole house so dark and dreary.
Take a look at the difference after painting the paneling!
Painting the wood paneling made quite the difference didn’t it? Look how much brighter it is in the living room.
We removed the drape as well and we really liked the room so much better.
This project cost us about $700 – we did almost the entire house.
About $650 was spent on paint – the rest on paint brushes, rollers and tape. Every square inch there was paneling was painted over.
We were so happy with the way it turned out. Give it a try!
Paint wood paneling and brighten up your entire room!
Other home renovations we’ve written about:
Fix Up That Stairwell Landing – want to see something really scary? Take a look at THIS before photo!
Building Loft Closets – We desperately needed more closet space. Here’s what we did to change our loft into a large closet space.
How to Paint a Counter to Look like Granite – This job takes a few days (mostly to allow paint to dry) but the difference this will make in your kitchen or bathroom is unbelievable!
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