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How to Go About Painting Over Wood Paneling

If your home was built in the 1970s, chances are it has at least some wood-panel walls. Today, those thin panels give a home a dated look, leaving many homeowners to consider painting over wood paneling.

It is possible to paint over wood paneling, and it’s well within the capabilities of most do-it-yourselfers. Read on for a guide to painting over wood paneling to update your home.

painting over wood paneling

Inspecting Your Wood Paneling

The first step in painting over wood paneling is to know exactly what situation you’ll be facing. Read on for a look at the three most likely scenarios.

1. Wood Paneling Over Drywall

If your wood paneling is installed over drywall, you may want to consider simply removing the paneling and painting or repainting the drywall. To find out if your wood paneling is installed over drywall, simply remove the cover of an electrical switch plate or electrical outlet.

If your paneling is over drywall, you’ll be able to see the drywall — chalky and ¼ to ⅝-inch thick — around the edges of the switch plate or outlet cover.

2. Vinyl-Coated Paneling

In many homes, wood-paneled walls are thin sheets of wood or an engineered wood product coated with a shiny finish. If this is your paneling, you’ll definitely need to sand away the coating before painting.

3. Solid-Wood Paneling

By far, the most elegant wood paneling is solid and thick sections of stained and polished top-quality wood, such as walnut or oak. Less expensive solid-wood options you may find in your home are pine and cedar.

You should think hard about painting over solid-wood paneling. If you decide to paint over it, you’ll have to remove all of the finishes from it before painting. Removing finishes from real wood paneling can be very labor-intensive.

Preparing Wood Paneling for Priming and Painting

One of the basic lessons of DIY painting is that surface preparation is key to the final look of the project. Read on to learn how to properly prepare for painting over wood paneling.

1. Sanding

The first thing to do to get a wood panel wall ready for painting is to sand it, particularly if you’re working with vinyl-coated wood paneling. Use a fine-grained sandpaper sheet, preferably either 180-grit or 220-grit. Your aim is to simply roughen the surface slightly so that paint and primer can adhere to it.

To use a sandpaper sheet, simply fold it into quarters and use each side until it is dulled.

2. Filling Grooves

Most wood paneling includes grooves designed to imitate spacing between planks used in actual wood-wall construction. If you’re leaving the grooves in the paneling as a design element, you can skip filling them in.

If, however, you’re going for a smooth painted surface, you’ll need to use a narrow putty knife and joint compound to fill the grooves. If the grooves are particularly deep, you may need to apply more than one layer of joint compound, allowing the layers to dry between applications.

Once the grooves are filled, sand down the joint compound until it is even with the rest of the wall.

3. Cleaning

After your wall is sanded, you’ll need to clean it. Simply use a damp rag to wipe down the wall. Change rags as they get dirty to ensure that the wall is as clean as possible.

painting over wood paneling

Priming and Painting Wood Paneling

Once your paneled walls have been prepared for repainting, you’ll face decisions regarding primer and paint. Read on for some tips.

1. Choosing the Right Primer

Taking a careful look at your choices of primer for painting over wood paneling will help ensure that you get the look you want. One thing to consider is the sheen of your primer, a measure of its reflectivity. From lowest to highest, primer sheens are clear, flat (or matte), semi-gloss, and glossy.

Sheen basics

A flat primer with no shine is the most popular choice. Next up will be a clear primer, which won’t impact your paint’s final appearance. A semi-gloss primer will add some reflectivity to the paint placed on top of it, and a glossy primer will help produce a smooth and shiny surface for your painted panels.

Primer color

You should also give some consideration to the color of the primer you choose for painting over wood paneling. A white primer will be best for light paint colors, while a gray primer is a good choice for enhancing the appearance of dark paint colors.

You may also want to ask your local home improvement warehouse or paint store whether they have any other colored primers. Choosing a primer close to your paint color will enhance the final look of painting over wood paneling.

2. Selecting the Best Paint Sheen

As you’ve already learned, sheen refers to the reflectivity and shine characteristics of a given paint. Ranked from least to most reflective and shiny, interior paint sheens are flat (or matte), eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss.

If you want to match the sheen elsewhere in your house, take a chip of paint from one of the walls to your local paint store for analysis. Alternatively, you can get a sheen chart from your paint retailer and take it home to match it.

Flat and eggshell sheens are popular but can be hard to clean and are best suited for areas that don’t get a lot of traffic. For high-traffic areas, an easier-to-clean satin sheen is likely your best choice.

Semi-gloss and gloss paint are also acceptable choices, but they will show imperfections in the preparation of your paneled walls. They will also show imperfections in your application of the paint itself.

3. Techniques for Priming and Painting Wood Paneling

The easiest way to apply primer and paint to your wood paneling is to use a roller. A 9-inch roller cover will make the job go quickly. However, if you’re leaving the grooves in your paneling, you should use a 1-inch-wide brush for that part of the job.

Also, to be sure that the wall is adequately and neatly covered around baseboards, doors, windows, and the ceiling, you should use a brush in those areas. A 2-inch brush is a good choice for that work.

painting over wood paneling

Wrapping up How to Go About Painting Over Wood Paneling

Painting over wood paneling can be a great way to update your home. And depending on how much paneling you have to repaint, it can be done in a weekend or conveniently spread over a few weekends.

DIY Painting Tips offers lots more help for projects at your home, from painting kitchen cabinets to painting trim and doors.