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Tips for Painting Paneling

Updated on July 17, 2012

Painting Wood Paneling

Painting over old paneling is the easiest and most cost-effective way to update an outdated room in the house. The finished look of dark brown paneling painted white is an amazing transformation that can make the smallest room look so much bigger.

The process for painting wood paneling is simple, but it does require a few important steps along the way to steer clear of problems. You can't slap a coat of paint directly over bare paneling and call it a day. Depending on the size of the room, it could take a couple of days to fully prepare and paint paneling the right way.

Clean the Paneling

Dirt or greasy residue on old paneling can prevent primer and paint from adhering properly to the surface. The paneling must be completely cleaned before pulling out the brush and paint roller. The best way to clean paneling is to use either Trisodium Phosphate (TSP), or a liquid de-glosser with a scrubbing pad. Actually, TSP, followed by the use of a de-glosser would be best, but TSP is fine. Wear protective gloves and safety glasses before using TSP. It won't burn your skin, but it may cause a little irritation.

Throw down some drop cloths, or plastic, to keep the TSP from soaking into the flooring. Be careful not to splash or drip too much of the cleaning solution around outlets.

Sand the Paneling

Nobody likes sanding, but it's the most important part of this project. Most wood paneling, new or old, is already stained and sealed with a protective polyurethane coating. Sanding the paneling breaks down the glossy top layer to better expose the wood, which provides a stronger bond for primer and paint. If you don't sand the paneling, the primer and paint won't bond well to the glossy surface and the paint could easily peel or rub off as a result.

Wear a dust mask, or a respirator, before sanding. A sheet of 100-grit sandpaper is good for sanding wood paneling. Fold the sheet of sandpaper in half and sand the paneling from top to bottom. Also, one way to make a tedious job like this a little easier is to wrap the sheet of sandpaper around a sanding block for better leverage. You can use a sanding head too, but sanding by hand is more effective.

After sanding, the surface should appear dull with a white powdery sanding dust on it. Wipe the entire surface with a clean rag to get rid of the dust. If the paneling still appears glossy, use liquid de-glosser to remove it.

Prime the Paneling

Your choice of primer is really important. As a professional painter, I have used many different types of primer, but overall, I prefer oil-based primer over latex most of the time. If you are painting over 1970s wood paneling, it is very likely that an oil-based stain and sealer was used on the wood. In that case, if you were to use a water-based primer, there is a very good chance that the old stain color will bleed through into the paint.

Oil-based primer is formulated to block the toughest stains and it's the best way to go for any paneling paint job in my opinion. I recommend alkyd (oil-based) Kilz or ProBlock from Sherwin Williams. Both are fine and will completely seal the paneling and provide a strong bond with your new latex paint on top.

The type of method used to apply the primer should be the same as the method you plan to use for the paint. That way everything looks uniform. If you are going to spray the paint onto the paneling then I would also spray the primer coat instead of rolling it, otherwise the roller stipple from the primer is going to make the final coat of sprayed paint look like it wasn't even sprayed. The whole point of spraying is to resemble a factory finish.

If you apply the primer with a paint brush and a roller, use a thin 1/4" nap roller for both the primer and the paint. A foam roller will look even better. You can either apply primer to each groove in the paneling with a brush first and then roll in between, or use only the roller and push the primer into the grooves while rolling. The primer must dry according to the recommendations on the can before moving forward.

Most people paint brown paneling white, or an off-white, but not everyone. If you plan to paint the paneling a darker tan or off-white color, have the store tint the white primer to the same color as the paint. That will save you from having to paint an extra coat.

Caulk Seams and Cracks

After everything is primed, you will be able to easily see the cracks in wall corners and the seams where each section of paneling meets. Make sure you caulk every crack with a white paintable caulk and let it completely dry for a few hours before painting. DO NOT paint over the caulk too soon or it will crack after drying and look like crap.

Paint Over the Wood Paneling

The best paint to use for paneling that gets bumped into frequently is enamel semi-gloss. Enamel is durable and cleans well. One of the best enamel semi-gloss paints for paneling is ProClassic from Sherwin Williams. It's an acrylic enamel that's very strong and looks amazing over properly prepared wood. It also self-levels, which means it slightly sags after application to automatically hide brush and roller marks. ProClassic also looks amazing when sprayed onto paneling or any trim.

If you have an airless sprayer, or feel up to renting one for the job, I definitely recommend spraying wood paneling over painitng it with a brush and roller. Spraying is faster and the paneling will look much better because you won't see marks from a brush or a roller. Spray painting paneling does require masking and careful application.

If you paint wood paneling by hand, use a foam roller, or a regular roller with a 1/4" nap. Roll every coat of paint in one direction. Plan on painting at least two coats, but it might take three coats if the original paneling color underneath the primer was really dark. Before rolling, cut-in the corners and edges of the paneling.

This article was written by Matt Goetz, owner of Advantage Painting Services, a Crystal Lake, IL painting contractor. Advantage Painting provides Mchenry County painting service in the northwest suburbs including Cary, Lake In The Hills, Huntley and Fox River Grove.


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    • saif113sb profile image

      saif113sb 3 years ago

      Informative hub.

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