How to Paint Wood Paneling

Follow These Steps and Get a Fresh New Look for Your Wood Paneling

How to Paint Woodwork
Elegant living room with painted paneling. Steven Miric / Getty Images

Whether or not to paint wood paneling and moldings is a controversial topic. When it comes to the cheap wood veneer that was so popular in the 1970s the answer is almost universally yes, but when it comes to other, more solid types of wood paneling the answer is often hotly debated.

Wood can be beautiful and can make a home feel warm and comfortable, but when it's dated, damaged, or made of a cheap veneer, your wood paneling might have to go.

If you don't have it in your budget to remove it, consider a coat of paint. It can instantly make that dingy wood paneling look fresh and bright.

If you decide to paint over the wood paneling in your home make sure to follow these steps.

Clean All the Moulding and Paneling 

Before attempting to do anything with your wood paneling be sure to clean it.  A damp rag will get rid of most of the dust, dirt and cobwebs, but if there are layers of grime you’ll want to use a solution of TSP and water to get it all off. Never paint over a dirty surface as the paint won’t adhere and it will look just plain sloppy.

Fill and Sand Cracks

Fill any holes or cracks with wood putty and allow it to dry. Once it’s all dry lightly sand all of the paneling (don’t forget trim and moldings). The idea is to take off the sheen and create a lightly gritty surface so the paint will adhere (don’t get carried a way and sand too hard).

When finished wipe it down with a damp cloth to remove all the dust.

Note: Sanding is optional depending on the paneling and the type of paint you’re going to use. If you plan to use a primer the sanding may not be necessary. But when in doubt, sand it.

Caulk Around Trim

Make sure to apply caulk to any gaps between the panels and trim, and around the windows and doors.

This can be done after the sanding. Allow to dry before painting.

Prime Everything

Apply a thin coat of primer using a foam sponge roller, but keep a brush on hand to to get into any cracks, seams or corners where the roller can’t go. It’s best to use an oil-base primer or a latex stain-blocking primer because they will prevent any grease or wood stains from coming through and ruining your paint job. Make sure to cover the entire surface, including any trim.

Paint Paneling

Once the primer is dry apply a thin coat of paint to the entire surface. Begin at the top and work your way down being sure to cover all the gaps between the panels. (But be sure to remove any excess paint that gathers between the panel grooves with your brush and remove drips right away.) Let it dry and repeat. With the primer and first coat it may look finished, but a second coat will ensure the best coverage and better durability so it’s worth the extra time and materials.

Paint Trim

Paint the trim your desired color. It’s usually best to use a glossier finish than the walls, but it really comes down to personal preference.


If you're still undecided about whether or not you want to paint your wood paneling and need some inspiration have a look at  these photos.

They'll provide you with all the inspiration you'll need!