How to Paint Paneling Correctly
Painting old paneling is a cost-efficient interior paint idea to update a room. Old brown paneling is ugly, but looks brand new when painted white. Painting paneling is easy, but it takes more time to finish than painting drywall because there is more prep work involved. If you are unwilling to roll up your sleeves and do some work, hire a professional painter.
Most people paint brown paneling white, and then paint the drywall above it a different color, but you can paint both of them the same color too. Interior paneling, or wainscoting, usually consists of varnished wood, or a smooth plastic material that must be cleaned, sanded and primed before applying paint. Primer sticks well to paneling that’s been prepared, and paint bonds well to primer, which means the new paint is less likely to chip.
Step 1. Prepare the Room
Clear the work area and remove furniture that might get in the way. Throw painter’s plastic on top of the furniture. Unscrew and remove the outlet covers. Cover the flooring with canvas drop cloths. I like to use 9×12 drop cloths, but 12×15 is even better.
Step 2. Clean the Paneling
Buy TSP (trisodium phosphate), or deglosser, to clean the paneling. Cleaning the surface isn’t fun, but it’s a really important part of the job. If the surface is very smooth, it would be best to buy TSP with a deglosser additive, or buy it separately. As the name implies, the deglosser will degloss the surface to a dull condition, so the primer and paint can stick better. The TSP will eat away dirt and grime. Wear gloves and follow the mixing directions on the container.
Step 3. Sand the Paneling
Now comes the fun part – sanding. Nobody likes to sand, but it has to be done so the primer and paint can bond well to the surface. Even after cleaning, the surface will probably remain a little smooth, and that should be sanded. Wrap 120-grit sandpaper around a sanding block and sand the surface. When you’re done sanding, wipe the surface with a tack cloth, or a damp rag, to remove the dust.
Step 4. Caulk and Fill Holes
Fill nail holes with drywall joint compound, or spackle, and sand when dry. I like to use drywall joint compound because it barely shrinks, and it dries faster. You can buy drywall joint compound that dries in as little as 5 minutes. I like to caulk after the filling and sanding task is done. That way falling dust particles won’t ruin the fresh caulk. Inspect the paneling for cracks, and caulk where needed. The top edge of base board usually needs fresh caulk. Make sure you’re only using caulk that can be painted.
Step 5. Apply Oil-based Primer
Buy Kilz oil primer sealer to prime your paneling. You can also use oil-based Zinsser Cover Stain primer sealer. Both are great, but I use Cover Stain the most. Oil primer will seal the surface of the paneling, preventing old stain coloration from bleeding through the new paint. It also provides a sticky surface for a stronger paint bond. If you don’t prime the surface, the paint is more likely to chip easier, and the paint color might look yellowed. If you’re using a brush and roller, use a 1/4-inch nap roller for rolling. Prime each paneling groove with the brush first and then roll the surface.
Step 6. Select the Best Paint
It really pays to use a quality paint. First decide on the paint finish. If you’re painting wainscoting paneling on the lower half of a wall, semi-gloss is a good choice, but if you’re paneling covers the whole wall then maybe choose eggshell or flat because semi-gloss might look too shiny on an entire wall. I use semi-gloss for wainscoting. Benjamin Moore Regal or Impervo semi-gloss is good. Sherwin Williams Pro Classic acrylic semi-gloss is awesome for paneling and interior trim. None of products are cheap, but you get what you pay for. I use ProClassic all the time.
Step 7. Paint the Paneling
Depending on how dark the paneling is, it might take three to four coats of paint to get solid coverage on top of the primer. Use a 1/4-inch nap roller, and apply the paint the same way as the primer. Cut-in the edges with the brush first. If you’re using shiny paint, start on one side of the wall and work towards the other side, in one direction, to avoid roller marks. Roll evenly from top to bottom.