How to Paint Wood Paneling

table and plant in front of painted wall
Take your home out of the 1970s by painting your wood paneling. We'll show you how simple it is to give wood paneling a clean, modern look with paint.

Preparation Is Key

If you're tired of the wood paneling in your home, give it a new look with a fresh coat of paint. While painting paneling isn't hard to do, proper preparation is important to allow the paint to adhere well. Without taking appropriate measures, you could end up with an uneven paint job that you'll have to redo later on. Follow our step-by-step instructions for how to paint wood paneling, and get a new look in no time.

Clean Paneling

Start by wiping the paneling clean with a damp rag to remove any dust or dirt. If grease or other problem stains are present, remove them using a mild cleaning solution, then wipe with a clean, damp rag. Be sure to get in the crevices of the panels, which tend to collect a lot of dirt. Make sure the wall is completely dry before moving to the next step. 

Fill Nail Holes

Putty any nail holes or other imperfections with spackling compound. Use a putty knife to best spread the compound over the holes or imperfections. Don't worry about the color of the putty—it will dry neutral and be covered with paint. Allow putty to dry, then sand the spackling flush with the surface. Wipe away any dust with a tack cloth.

Sand Paneling

Sand the paneling with 100 grit sandpaper using a pole sander, sanding block, or orbital sander. This will take the sheen off the finish, which will allow the paint to adhere to it better. Don't get carried away and sand the surface down to the bare wood—just enough to rough up the existing finish.

Remove Trim

If you plan to keep the trim's color as-is or paint it a shade different than your wood paneling, remove it from the wall. Use a prybar and gently pull it loose. 

If you plan to paint the trim the same color as the wall, lightly sand the adjacent wood trim on baseboards to allow the paint to adhere to it. Once everything has been sanded, go over the walls and trim with a clean, damp cloth to remove any sanding dust. Touch up any rough sanding spots along the way. 

Caulk Cracks

Using a caulk gun, apply caulk to any cracks and gaps where the paneling meets the baseboard or around doors and windows. This will give your room a nice, polished look. Allow the caulking to dry thoroughly before painting. Consult with the manufacturer's instructions to see how long you should let it cure.

Protect the Surrounding Areas

This step is important if you want to keep your room looking clean when you're done painting wood paneling. Cover the floor with drop cloths large enough to go along the paneled walls. Paint may drip and the drop cloth will save your tile or carpet.  Also, mask any areas you wish to protect with painters tape, such as vents, doorways, or windows.

Paint Paneling

Use a roller with a medium nap to paint the wood paneling. It should have a long enough nap to fill the vertical grooves in the paneling, but short enough to leave a smooth surface. We also advise using a roller with a large or adjustable handle. This will help you reach the entire span of the wall with ease. 

Prime the paneling with a latex, stain-blocking primer. For even coverage, we recommend having your primer tinted with colorant similar to the finished paint. Once the primer has dried, finish it with two coats of latex wall paint.

Modern Painted Wood Paneling

While painting over paneling takes a bit of extra preparation, the end result looks clean and crisp. Simply painting the trim involves much less work than tearing it out and replacing the room with drywall, plus we love the textured look of painted paneling. Try this intermediate painting project and see how easy it is to upgrade your space in a weekend.

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