How to Fix Chipped, Peeling Paint Before Repainting

Desert Midwestern white house
Joseph Sohm / Getty Images
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $15 to $50

Before painting your house's interior or exterior, it's important to deal with existing paint problems. Although you can simply cover over old, peeling, or chipped paint with a fresh coat, this approach tends to leave telltale rough edges.

In a certain light, this kind of paint fix is highly visible. For key areas—or if you are just more of a perfectionist—you will want the underlying layer to present a perfectly smooth, flat surface as the base for a fresh coat of paint.

Basics of Fixing Chipped, Peeling Paint

If you're extremely motivated and have a great deal of free time on your hands, you can strip off every square inch of paint right down to bare wood, But it's easier and more logical to make spot fixes instead of stripping away all of the paint.

When peeling or chipping paint is found in a small area, you may be able to simply brush off the peeling paint and then prime the wall and paint over it. As long as the remaining edges of the peeling area are stable, this solution will work. But it's not always the most attractive solution, especially if you're dealing with peeling or chipped paint that is several layers deep.

A better method is to fill the depressions with wood filler before priming and painting. In addition to being more attractive, this method also helps protect those edges of existing paint so that they are less likely to begin peeling again.

Tip

This type of fix is best for small and infrequent patches of peeling or chipped paint. If the house is badly damaged, all of the paint should be removed.

Safety Considerations

Older homes, especially those built before 1978, may have been painted with lead-based paint. Lead-based paint has been proven through research to cause neurological damage. It is particularly harmful to pregnant women and to children. Test the paint for lead before you begin stripping or sanding it. If it does contain lead, have the paint removed by a qualified remediation company.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Putty knife
  • Paint scraper or 5-in-1 tool
  • Wire brush
  • Sander with fine-grit sandpaper
  • Paintbrush

Materials

  • Wood filler
  • Primer

Instructions

  1. Scrape Away the Loose Edges

    With a paint scraper or 5-in-1 tool, scrape away loose edges of the painted area. Stop when it becomes too difficult to pry away the paint. Also, take care not to gouge or damage the wood with the sharp edges of the scraper.

    Scraping before paint
    pablohart / Getty Images
  2. Remove the Loose Paint by Brushing

    With a wire brush, vigorously sweep away remaining debris from the area. Work the edges of the damaged area once again. If more paint begins to peel, go back and pry it away with the paint scraper.

    Fix Peeling Paint - Brush Down the Area
    Lee Wallender
  3. Apply the Wood Filler

    Apply wood filler to a putty knife and spread a thin layer of filler across the damaged area. Make sure that the wood filler extends slightly beyond the perimeter of the damaged area. This excess wood filler will later be sanded away. Be sure to flex the putty knife to produce a flat surface.

    Fix Peeling Paint - Apply Putty with Putty Knife
    Lee Wallender

    Tip

    Do not apply the wood filler thickly as this will only be more material for you to sand away. Apply only enough to cover the damaged section, plus just a bit higher.

  4. Allow the Wood Filler to Dry

    Allow the wood filler to dry as directed by the manufacturer's instructions. This normally takes 45 minutes to one hour, but you may wish to give it at least two hours. If you try to sand before it has thoroughly dried, the filler will slough off when you sand.

    Tip

    Water-based wood filler will dry faster than oil-based wood filler.

    Fix Peeling Paint - Let Wood Filler Dry
    Lee Wallender
  5. Sand Down the Wood Filler

    Attach a fine-grit paper on the oscillating sander, and grind down the patched area until it is flush and smooth with the surrounding paint. Avoid sanding down all the way to bare wood.

    Fix Peeling Paint - Sanding the Area
     Lee Wallender
  6. Check for Smoothness

    Run a bare hand over the patched area to feel for smoothness. The patched area should blend in with the surrounding paint. If you are unable to smooth the area entirely—such as when the board is badly damaged—a good option is to replace the board entirely.

    If the wood filler is not flush with the surrounding wood, repeat the earlier steps.

    Fix Peeling Paint - Sanded Wood Filler
    Lee Wallender 
  7. Apply the Primer

    When the filled area is smooth to your satisfaction, apply a primer to the entire surface to prepare it for painting.

    Tip

    Priming the entire surface will help the filled area blend in perfectly when you apply paint. If you do not prime, the patched area may absorb paint at a different rate than the surrounding area.

    Fix Peeling Paint - Priming Wood Filler
    Lee Wallender 
Article Sources
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  1. Mason, Lisa H et al. Pb Neurotoxicity: Neuropsychological Effects of Lead ToxicityBioMed Research International, 2014, 840547, 2014, doi:10.1155/2014/840547