How to Pick the Best Paint for Wainscoting and Other Wood Paneling

Beadboard Wall

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Installing wall paneling is a great way to dress up a room and to protect the underlying drywall or plaster. Beadboard, wainscoting, shiplap, and other types of wood paneling are highly versatile and adaptable to different house styles and needs.

Wall paneling is only as good as its paint coating. The wrong type of paint exposes the wood to moisture, impact damage, and slow deterioration. But certain types and qualities of paint—glosses, manufacturers, and brands—will help the paneling last longer, look better, and have fewer maintenance issues.

Properties to Look for in Wall Paneling Paint

Beadboard, wainscoting, raised panels, and shiplap are different types of interior wood wall paneling. Paneling's origin in centuries past was as an attractive way of insulating and protecting interior walls. Today, wall paneling covers much of the same ground. While no longer used for insulation, it does hearken back to the past, giving any room a timeless, classic look.

Equally important, wall paneling gives walls a hard, outer skin to protect fragile drywall and plaster against damage from chairs, children, and daily scuffing and impact.

Durability

A high-impact application like wall paneling demands tough paint. Paints designed for trim, cabinets, and doors come equipped with all of the toughness you need to resist minor scratches, dings, and gouges.

Gloss or Sheen

With wood paneling, the gloss or sheen of the paint is as much a matter of function as it is of personal preference. Wall paneling paint finish glosses technically can be anything you like: from flat or matte, on up through eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, gloss, and culminating with high gloss.

In reality, though, your wall paneling paint will stay in the satin, semi-gloss, or high-gloss half of the sheen family. If you're using trim/cabinet paint, most are limited to those glosses.

Water Resistance

Beadboard wainscoting is often used in one of the home's most moisture-rich environments: the bathroom. For applications there or around the kitchen sink or dishwasher, choose a paint that can stand up to water.

Glossier paints bead up and shed water instead of soaking it in. Flatter paints not only soak up water but can also leave water spots.

Brushability

Wall paneling has so many lines, seams, and other fine detail work that it's hard to avoid using a brush. Brush streaks detract from a perfect paint job.

Oil-based paints are self-leveling, so brush marks tend to flatten down naturally. If you go with a water-based paint, look for a paint that is specifically designed to be self-leveling.

Non-Yellowing

Paint for wall paneling often comes pre-tinted in bright white—appropriate since white is a popular color for beadboard and wainscoting. But you can have any color that you like, as base colors can be custom-tinted.

If you're sticking with white, make sure that the paint has non-yellowing qualities. Over time, sun can yellow the paint and make it look dingy.

Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Paints for Wall Paneling

When painting wood wall paneling, you can choose between water-based or oil-based paints.

For most interior wall painting applications, water-based acrylic/latex paints are a good choice. Water-based latex paint cleans up with water, is less smelly, and dries quickly.

Water-based paints can develop a durable coating and an adequately smooth finish. Yet oil-based paints are even better at creating a rock-hard, shell-like coating.

Oil-based paint dries much slower than water-based paint. This can be a good thing when you're trying to eliminate brush marks in the paint. Oil-based paints have more time to level out than water-based paints. With oil-based paint, it's not difficult to achieve a glass-like finish: You simply brush it on. Its self-leveling properties take care of the rest.

Best Wall Paneling Paint Brands

Sherwin-Williams ProClassic Paint

ProClassic comes in two versions: water-based interior acrylic enamel, for easy soap and water clean-up, and its oil-based alkyd interior enamel counterpart. Both paints are available in satin or semi-gloss sheens.

Dutch Boy Dura Clean Cabinet, Door & Trim Paint

Dura Clean Cabinet, Door & Trim Interior/Exterior paint is water-based, but Dutch Boy adds what it calls "Smooth-Finish Technology" to compensate for water-based paints' tendency to streak.

Behr Premium Cabinet & Trim Enamel Paint

Available in satin and semi-gloss sheens, Behr Premium Cabinet & Trim Enamel is a water-based paint that flows easily and self-levels.

In a market where cabinet and trim paints can reach $75 to $100 per gallon, Behr Premium's offering is a standout at just $40 to $45. Behr paints are available at Home Depot stores.

Glidden Trim, Door & Furniture Paint

Glidden's high-gloss trim paint is oil-based, so it requires mineral spirits for thinning and clean-up. Glidden formulated this paint to have gel-like properties to minimize drips and brush marks.