Should I Paint That? Tips & Tricks for Painting Wood Paneling


Do you have some wood paneling in your home that you think looks a little outdated or maybe even tacky? You’re not alone. Wood paneling was all the rage in the 60s and 70s and the look hasn’t necessarily aged particularly well. But don’t fret, you don’t have to rip all of that wood paneling out and redo your walls, you can just add some paint and help to modernize the look of your home.

Of course, before you paint your wood paneling there are a few things to consider. First of all, it’s an irreversible change. It’s nearly impossible to remove all the paint from your wood paneling once it’s done so make sure that this a change you really want. Secondly, you want to double check that your wood paneling is real and not just a wood grain image placed over plywood or composite. Plywood and composite can still be painted but your paint might not adhere as well, and your preparation process might look a little different. You can always try a test patch in a hidden area of the wall to find out how the paint will work on your paneling.


If you’ve decided to go through with the painting process, the first step, as always, is to clean the surface. A gentle cleanser detergent might do the trick but if the wood is a little dirtier and worse for the wear, you can try a diluted solution of Trisodium Phosphate (TSP). Always remember when working with TSP to use proper protective gear as it can be harsh on skin and produces harmful fumes for your lungs and eyes.

Once the paneling is clean, it’s time to fix and sand the wood. Use wood putty to fill any cracks or holes in the paneling and create an even surface. Then, use a 220 grit sandpaper to sand the entirety of the wood. This process is called scuffing and serves to create a texture in the wood for the primer to adhere to. You can use a pole-sander to help make the job easier, but it shouldn’t take too long to achieve the right texture. When you’re finished sanding, make sure to wipe up any dust with a clean, damp rag.


At this time, you can make the choice to caulk any gaps or cracks where the paneling meets. Leaving these gaps will allow the design of the paneling to still be visible after you paint while filling them can provide a flat even surface looking like any other wall. Make sure that if you do decide to go the caulking route that you use a paintable caulk, or your paint job will be a disaster.

Next, it’s time for the primer. You will definitely want to use a stain-blocking primer to avoid any problems with the underlying wood coming through and ruining your final paint job. The type of paneling you have is also important in this step. If you have solid wood, you will want to use a latex primer while shellac-based primer is better for veneer wood paneling. Two thin coats of primer are recommended as a base for your paint.

Finally, it’s time to add two coats of your chosen paint overtop of the primed paneling. As with any painting project, care is key – make sure to avoid drips, work from the top down and use smaller hand brushes as opposed to rollers to get into the gaps and molding of the paneling if you didn’t caulk them up.

Obviously, painting your wood paneling is a bit of an undertaking and if you need some help, PaintPositive would be happy to add your project to their list. PaintPositive is a team of expert, professional painters servicing all of Northeast Ohio. We know all of the ins and outs of painting different materials in your home. Contact them us for a quote on your next big project!