How to Fix Peeling Paint and Prevent Walls from Chipping Again

Paint peeling off the wall can be an eyesore for homeowners. Tackle the issue easily with this step-by-step guide on how to fix peeling paint.

The telltale signs of peeling paint are hard to miss: spidery cracks, holes in the paint surface, even large strips or sections of paint that come off on their own. The reasons for peeling paint can vary widely. Painting over dirty walls, excess moisture, improper prep, and using latex paint on top of oil paint can all affect the paint's adhesion and cause it to eventually begin flaking off. To solve the problem, you'll need to remove the peeling areas and start over with fresh coats of primer and paint. Use our step-by-step guide to learn how to fix peeling paint.

Before you get started, it's important to determine whether the peeling paint contains lead. If your home was built prior to 1978, it could have lead-based paint, which can pose serious health risks, especially for children. You can find testing kits at hardware stores, but to be sure, hire a certified company to collect chips and send them to a lab for testing. If you think your home has lead-based paint, do not try to fix the peeling paint yourself. Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends hiring a professional from their approved list of providers who can follow lead-safe work practices.

several shapes of mirrors on wall
Dana Gallagher

How to Fix Peeling Paint

Peeling paint needs to be removed first before you can paint over the surface. Follow these instructions to repair peeled paint.

What You Need

  • Personal protective equipment
  • Plastic drop cloth or tarp
  • Painters tape
  • Wire brush or paint scraper
  • Patching compound
  • Putty knife
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth or sponge
  • Paint roller or brush
  • Primer
  • Paint

Step 1: Prep Your Workspace

Even if you don't have lead-based paint, you should still wear a safety mask, glasses, and gloves to protect yourself. Regardless of the size of the area or the type of paint used, place a large piece of plastic or a tarp in the area where you're working to catch any stray pieces of paint. Tape off nearby trim areas, such as baseboards, and remove any furniture, rugs, or other finishings from the space. Place drop cloths around the room to keep paint off other surfaces.

Step 2: Remove Peeling Paint Areas

If your paint is peeling, you'll need to remove the paint from the affected area. Use a wire brush or paint scraper ($12, The Home Depot) to scrape off all loose paint. Don't use too much pressure while scraping or you might damage the surface underneath.

Step 3: Make Any Necessary Repairs

Once the peeling paint is removed, you might be left with cracks or holes in the wall. Any damage should be fixed before you repaint. Apply a patching compound ($14, The Home Depot) with a putty knife as needed; smooth and let dry according to the manufacturer's directions.

Step 4: Establish a Smooth Surface

Whether or not you've had to patch the peeling paint area, you'll want to sand the space in order to ensure a wall surface free of any grooves or lines. Use very fine-grit sandpaper to smooth the area down. Run your hand over the surface to ensure it's completely even with the surrounding wall.

Step 5: Clean the Area

The area should be completely clean to allow the new paint to adhere properly. Using either a tack cloth or a lightly damp (not wet) sponge, wipe off the area to be painted. Wipe the surface again with a clean, dry rag and let dry thoroughly.

Step 6: Prime Walls

If moisture was the cause of peeling paint, it's particularly important to protect your newly painted area from the same problem. Primer can help seal the surface to protect against moisture and allow the paint to properly stick. Cover the area with primer, allowing the surface to dry according to the manufacturer's directions.

Step 7: Paint Walls

Your wall is now ready to be painted. Apply the first coat evenly over the prepared area. Dry according to the manufacturer's directions; apply a second coat if necessary and let dry. Remove the tape and drop cloth and enjoy your new smoothed-out surface!

Ready to paint? Get inspired by our latest episode of The Better Buy, our new podcast. On this episode, Carmen Hamilton shares how to "Elevate the Everyday" in any space from a rental to a home remodel. And, why DIYers first project should be to learn how to paint a room.

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