How to Paint Paneling?

Painting Paneling Guide

Wood paneled walls look great if they’re well maintained and well painted, but the wood-paneled walls of older houses are often flaking and poorly maintained. If you’ve got an area of wood paneling you’re looking to liven up and get back to a smart, fresh look, you’re going to want to paint it to the best of your ability. Wooden paneling can be tough to paint, particularly if it has visible knots in it.

These can be difficult to clean up and cover smoothly with paint, and the process of preparing wood paneling for paint can seem intimidating. Here at Best of Machinery, we’ve put together some helpful tips to help you to paint paneling as effectively as possible, simplifying some of the most intimidating and difficult aspects of painting paneling a little and giving you some simple guidelines to follow.

With the help of our guides and tips for painting paneling, you can get a great finish on your wood paneling with relative ease.

Related; Paints for Wood

Preparing Wooden Paneling for Paint

Some of the tools you’re going to be using for preparing and painting your wood paneling are toxic and dangerous, so begin by preparing yourself and your working area before you start painting. Protect any areas you want to keep clean with old sheets, taped in place to stop them from slipping during the painting process. You’re also going to want to open all of the windows to maximize the ventilation of the room you’re working in, and to wear full protective gear.

Goggles, gloves, and long-sleeved clothing are essential, and a respiratory mask is highly recommended. To clean all the dirt and oils from the wooden paneling, you’re going to want to wipe it down with a diluted solution of TSP (trisodium phosphate). This cleaner is toxic and unpleasant, so work with care.

After you’ve cleaned the walls thoroughly, it’s time to sand down the wood paneling. Use a relatively fine 220 grit sandpaper and rub in circular motions to create a lightly textured surface that your primer will adhere to properly. Once you’ve finished sanding, wipe the walls down with a damp cloth to remove the remaining dust from sanding, and vacuum up the dust carefully.

Priming Wooden Paneling

Paint adheres relatively well to wood, but the application of primer is still a worthwhile stage when painting wood paneling. A good coat of paint primer creates a surface that paint can cling to more effectively than plain wood, and can also help to smooth off the surface, giving a smoother and neater looking finish once you’ve painted. Covering up the wood grain and imperfections can make a huge difference to making your paint job look professional and clean.

In order to achieve the best finish once you’re done painting, it’s important to choose the best primer for painting wood. If your wood paneling is made from solid wood, you should use a water based primer, but if your primer is veneer coated, use a shellac based primer instead. Other than this, the primer you should choose is primarily a matter of personal preference.

The one detail that’s worth noting, though, is the existence of “stain blocking” primer. This is a type of primer that gives solid color coverage, hiding color irregularities such as knots and other such features of the wood when you apply it. Paint the primer on in a two thin, even coats, being careful to get it into the crevices as well as the larger areas.

Painting primer onto wood paneling can easily be done with a roller; this will work fine for getting paint into the gaps between panels. A small painting brush will be needed for the corners of the room, but the rest should be manageable with a roller alone. The length of time required for the primer to dry will vary between types; as a general rule, an hour or two between coats of primer should be sufficient, but leave your wood paneling overnight in between priming and painting!

Painting Wooden Paneling

Painting your wooden paneling is far easier than preparing it for paint. Use the same tools and methods as described above, applying thin, even coats with a roller and a small brush for the corners. If paint starts to collect in the gaps between the panels, wipe away any excess, as it can dry somewhat tacky if allowed to pool.

Expect to apply two or three thin coats to achieve full coverage, sanding lightly in between coats. If you sand too heavily, you’ll scrape away your fresh paint, so keep it light and gentle! Make sure you leave plenty of drying time between coats and allow enough time for a fourth and final coat if you feel that the third still isn’t covering sufficiently. That’s unlikely to be necessary, though; two coats are usually enough, and the third should be plenty to cover up any imperfections in the second.

Once you’ve allowed the final coat to dry overnight, you’re finished! Pack up your safety sheets, and your room will be ready to use again, this time with a fresher, cleaner look to its wooden paneling.


Painting paneling doesn’t need to be intimidating and confusing. It takes time and care, but it’s entirely possible to achieve high-quality results at home if you put the effort into doing it correctly and carefully. A fresh, clean coat of paint can make a world of difference to the feel of a room, and will always look better and smarter than older, rougher paneling with imperfect, aged paint.

If you follow our tips above, the process of painting paneling shouldn’t be too intimidating and complex. It’s always going to take a bit of effort to achieve high-end results on your own, but it’s entirely manageable, and our guidelines should help to demystify the process a little and make it easier to understand.

About the Author

Bob Robinson has been a tool enthusiast and lawn care expert for the past 11 years. First working with John Deere to reduce their impact on the environment, whilst building his love for writing in his spare time. Now, Bob runs the editorial team at BestofMachinery and tends to his garden in his spare time.

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