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How to Repair Peeling Paint on Plaster Walls, Wood & Ceilings

Updated on May 9, 2017
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Januaris is a professional painter and author of painting guides. He has been painting houses and other structures for more than 13 years.

According to most people, a surface with peeled paint is an eyesore. This paint flaking problem is common in bathrooms & kitchen, on ceilings, drywalls, wooden surfaces, trims and even on cars. If you have a surface with cracked paint, worry no more because it can be repaired. I am going to teach you how to fix the problem.

peeling coating
peeling coating | Source

But first, the major causes of paint-peeling are moisture and improper surface preparation. I have discussed all the causes of the problem in my previous article: Why is Paint Peeling Off on My Bathroom Walls and Ceiling?

The paint bubbling, blistering, alligatoring and chipping problem can also be prevented. There are a number of ways you can stop the problem and all of them are discussed this article: How to Prevent Paint-Peeling on Walls, Bathrooms, Concrete Ceiling and Cars.

Knowing the causes of the problem is a great step towards preventing it in your next painting. You can easily avoid most of the causes and end up creating a stable coating.

Read on to learn how to repair your chipped coating. There are two ways to achieve this: removing the oil paint and repainting your area. See also the tools and materials you need to get the job done.

Tools & Materials Needed to Fix Peeling Paint on Walls, Wood and Ceilings

Depending on your surface, you will need these things.

  • Putty knife
  • Paint scrapper
  • Wire brush
  • Sandpapers
  • Tack cloth
  • Damp cloth
  • Patching compound
  • Drop cloth/tarp/plastic piece/rag
  • Roller pan
  • Shop vacuum
  • Dust collection bag
  • Paint brush or roller
  • Masking tape
  • Flashlight tool
  • Paint tray
  • Ladder
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Protective gear

In brief, how to remove old paint on walls, wood or ceilings

1. Wear protecting clothing

2. Get a ladder to access higher areas

3. Take items out of the room & protect unpeeled areas with masking tape

4. Use drop cloth, trash, roller pan, or vacuum/dust bag to collect falling fragments

5. Open windows & doors to get fresh air

6. Use paint scraper, wire brush or putty knife to remove the old coating

7. Use sandpapers to smoothen the material

8. Clean the material using tack cloth & apply patching compound

9. Use sandpapers to finish the patched

Removing the Old Coating Ready to Repair the Peeling Paint

1. Safety is everything in this kind of a job. Some paints contain hazardous elements such as lead, so protect your body fully. Wear protecting clothing before you start scrapping the old coating. Get dust mask to avoid inhaling dust. Get also safety goggles to protect your eyes from sharp particles.

2. Get a ladder to enable you fix the ceiling and high walls. Since you don’t want to fall when carrying out the task, get a strong one with a supportive base. You may need someone to hold it for you if you are not sure of its safety and reliability.

3. If there are items you want to protect from paint, take them out of the room. These may include furniture, carpets, rugs and wall decor. Use masking tape to protect parts such as windows, doors and baseboards.

4. Place a drop cloth or a trash on the ground/floor to help collect fragments falling from the wall or ceiling. You can also use a roller pan fixed on your hand to catch the falling particles. In addition, a shop vacuum attached to a dust collection bag can be a great tool to trap the sanding dust.

5. Open the windows and doors to get fresh air if you are working in an enclosed place. Your room will have fewer particles suspended in the air if it is well ventilated. You will have to keep the windows and doors closed if the outside air is too humid. High humidity causes a buildup of moisture on the walls, preventing proper paint adhesion.

6. After you have set everything correctly, use a paint scrapper to remove the old coating. If there are tougher, but loose layers, use a wire brush to remove them. Finally, use a putty knife to remove any paint remaining on the surface.

uneven surface
uneven surface | Source

7. Your surface will not be smooth after scrapping: it will have some small ridges (raised areas) and depressions (cracks & holes). Use sandpapers to make it smooth and even. Sandpaper with tough grit, like the 80-grit one, is recommended at this stage. For the depressions, you will have to use a patching or plaster material.

For the 14 years that I have been painting, I have came across many patching compounds, and the most amazing thing is that most of these products were of poor quality. They couldn't prepare surfaces accordingly and the peeling problem would occur immediately after painting. But I have come across a few high quality compounds that made my work easier.

One specific plaster material that I found quite useful is the Dap Presto Patching Compound which is suitable for filling, leveling and patching cracks & holes in all kinds of surfaces, including concrete, wood, wallboard, plaster and stucco. It sets in 5 minutes and is ready for paint in 30 minutes. Once dry, it can be filed, drilled or even nailed. I would advise you to use this high performance patching compound in your next painting if you are serious with avoiding problems like blistering, chipping and peeling.

8. Clean the surface using a tack cloth before applying the patching compound. Dry the area properly if you used a wet cloth. Use the putty knife to apply the compound. If you are dealing with a ceiling, use the compound to fix any incomplete joints and seam tapes. A flashlight tool can help you locate ridges and depressions on the ceiling.

9. Use the sandpapers to finish the patched area. Make the surface level and even with the sandpapers. The 220-grit sandpaper is recommended for this area as it has less tough grits that can't spoil the compound.

In brief, how to repaint walls, wood or ceilings

1. Clean the patched surface with a damp cloth & let it dry up

2. Prime the dry material

3. Apply undercoat, in the case of ceilings

4. Let the primer or undercoat dry completely

5. Apply a coat of paint on the dry material

6. Seal the coating with an oil-based primer

7. Remove the tape and clean your tools & materials

Many sandpapers have been manufactured, but most of them are not reliable - they don't smooth surfaces accordingly and wear out quickly. If you are looking for a durable and effective sandpaper, I would recommend that you go for the 3M SandBlaster Sandpaper Sheets. I have been using these products for more than 13 years, and I can say that they stay sharp for longer and resist clogging.

The sandpaper comes in 60-Grit, 80-Grit 100-Grit, 120-Grit and 150-Grit styles which means that you can always choose a style that suits your stage of sanding. Each type is designed to cut faster, reducing the work and leaving your surface even. The sheets are great for paint stripping and all provide smooth finishes and don't discolor your surface. They can be used by hand, sanding block or power tool sander.

Repainting the Surface to Finally Fix the Peeling Paint

1. Start by cleaning the patched surface with a damp cloth to remove any loose particles. Let the surface dry before applying primer or paint. You can use a dry rag to facilitate for quick drying.

2. Prime the dry surface before coating it. An oil-based primer is recommended for surfaces that can be affected by moisture, mold and mildew. Use a suitable brush to apply the primer.

3. Some surfaces such as ceiling need an undercoat. You can create an undercoat from the normal paint. Just add water to the paint in the ratio 1:3 to thin it and you have an undercoat. Use a roller to apply the undercoat.

4. Let the primer or undercoat dry before applying paint. Your coating may fall off immediately if the first layer (primer or undercoat) is not adhering firmly. The flaking problem can occur later if there are layers that did not dry well.

5. Apply the first coat of paint on the dry surface and let it dry up before applying the second one. Some surfaces may not need more than one coat, so know the ones to apply one or more layers. Rough surfaces require more than one coat while the smooth ones require only one coat. It is recommended to use the right type of paint. Latex and oil-based paints are recommended for areas that are vulnerable to water damage. Use of wrong colorants is one factor that contributes to the peeling and flaking problem.

recoated | Source

6. If you are working with an area that is likely to get wet before the paint dries up, seal it with an oil-based primer. The primer will block water and allow the paint to dry accordingly. Wet paint is more vulnerable to moisture and may fall off if water is splashed on it.

7. Lastly, remove the tape and wipe up any paint that fell outside the coating surface. Ensure you prevent paint from peeling when removing tape. You will have to warn people about the wet coating. Clean your tools & materials and enjoy an attractive room.

If you have to return your items back in the room in the same day, do it carefully to avoid damaging the coating. The colorant smell may remain for a while, but this is not a big issue. Corrosive substances can interfere with your coating, so try as much as possible to keep them away from your surfaces.

In Conclusion…

Fixing peeling paint is something that you can do it on your own. You don’t need to hire a professional painter, unless you are painting a car bumper or other delicate parts. You may spend a few bucks in buying the tools and materials, but you will surely save in the long run. You will not need to buy other tools and materials for your subsequent painting tasks.

If painting is your hobby, put it into practice by doing the job on your own. Start by removing the old layers and then apply a new coat as described above. The process may take more than a day if the area is large, but I am sure you will really love the end results.


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  • Shearer J. "Why Paint Blisters, and What to Do About It.". The House Painting Guide. (2003).
  • DiClerico D. "How to Paint a Room and Get It Right the First Time.". Consumer Reports. (2016).
  • Horvath L. "Coatings Go Beyond Appearance to Provide Quality Control.". Foundry Mag. (PDF). (2008).
  • Neguer J. "Excavation and Treatment of Plaster, Stucco and Wall Paintings.". Israel Antiquities authority Conservation Department. (PDF). (2014).

Have you ever thought of repairing painted surfaces in your home on your own?

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© 2015 Januaris Saint Fores


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