Top Ten Paint Problems and How to Fix Them

Peeling paint
Remigijus Stirbys / EyeEm / Getty Images
  • 01 of 10

    Introduction, Blistering Paint

    Blistering Paint
    Blistering Paint. © 2006

    This tutorial will illustrate and discuss common paint problems and paint failures found around the home. We'll review the problems and their causes, and list possible solutions for the top ten house painting problems, starting with blistering paint.

    Symptom: Blistering Paint

    Blistering paint is identified by small- to medium-sized bubbles or blisters under the paint film and is most common on wood siding and trim.

    Potential Causes:

    • Painting in direct sunlight on a hot surface, which traps...MORE solvent vapor as the paint dries too quickly.
    • Painting when the wood is damp, causing trapped moisture to expand the paint film.
    • Dew, rain or very high humidity after latex paint has dried—if the latex paint is of lower quality or the substrate surface preparation was inadequate.
    • House moisture escaping through the walls due to improper house ventilation.

    Possible Repairs:

    • Scrape away blistered paint, and sand to bare wood.
    • Let wood completely dry.
    • Sand, prime and paint in non-direct sunlight and non-humid conditions.
    • Use high-quality latex paint.
    • If due to lack of home ventilation, corrective repairs must be made to properly ventilate the home's walls, roof, and eaves, bathrooms, etc.
    • Check and repair any loose or missing caulking around windows and doors.
    • Consider providing siding ventilation.
    Continue to 2 of 10 below.
  • 02 of 10

    Alligatoring and Checking

    Alligatoring and Checking Paint
    Alligatoring and Checking Paint. © 2006

    Symptom:  Alligatoring and Checking

    "Alligatoring" is a failure in the paint film in which it takes on a cracking pattern of deep relief resembling a reptile's skin, such as that of an alligator. "Checking" is a similar failure, but is less severe and is characterized by long, fairly evenly spaced cracks in the paint film having shallow relief or depth. Occasionally checking may become severe in some areas, leading to a deeper crack or split in the paint.

    Potential Causes...MORE (Alligatoring):

    • The second coat of paint was applied over the first coat of primer or paint base coat before it dried.
    • The second coat of paint was applied over an incompatible paint, such as a glossy paint or a hard oil enamel over a latex-based paint.
    • Oil based paints naturally aging and losing its elasticity, leading to cracks caused by fluctuations in temperature.

    Potential Causes (Checking):

    • Natural aging of several layers of older oil-based paint. As the material that was painted (usually wood) shrinks and expands over time, the paint has to move, and as it loses elasticity, it checks.

    Possible Repairs (Same for Both Symptoms):

    Continue to 3 of 10 below.
  • 03 of 10


    Paint Efflorescence
    Paint Efflorescence. © 2006

    Symptom: Efflorescence

    A problem of painted masonry construction, efflorescence is identifiable by crusty white salt deposits that bubble through the paint film from a masonry structure. Salts in the brick or concrete become dissolved with water and then leach to the surface as the water evaporates.

    Potential Causes:

    • Poor paint surface preparation where prior efflorescence was not entirely removed and washed before the surface was repainted.
    • Heavy moisture migrating through exterior masonry walls...MORE from inside the home.
    • Inadequately waterproofed basement walls allowing ground water penetration.
    • Painting masonry construction before the concrete or mortar had adequately cured and dried out.
    • Cracks in the masonry wall or poor tuckpointing are allowing water to get behind masonry wall.

    Possible Repairs:

    • If moisture is getting into the masonry wall, eliminate the source of moisture by properly tuckpointing any cracks or missing mortar in the wall or patching concrete with a latex concrete patch;  clean out gutters and downspouts, and caulk joints around windows and doors with a butyl rubber caulk.
    • If moisture is migrating through the wall from the outside (e.g., basement wall), apply waterproofing to the outside of the wall.
    • Remove all efflorescence and loose flaking, chalking paint with a wire brush, scraping or power washing before repainting.
    • Clean area with a trisodium phosphate cleaning solution and rinse with clean water.
    • Let completely dry and paint with a high-quality latex house paint.
    Continue to 4 of 10 below.
  • 04 of 10


    Chalking Paint
    Chalking Paint and Runoff Onto Brick Wall. © 2006

    Symptom: Chalking

    Chalking is identifiable as a fine chalky powder that forms on the surface of a paint film. Although some chalking is a normal way that paints self-clean when exposed to the sun and rain, excessive chalking can indicate paint failure. In dry arid climates where there is a little rain, chalking can become excessive. Chalking is actually the paint pigment released by the paint binders that have been broken down by exposure to the weather. Chalking is especially typical of very...MORE light-colored flat paints, especially lesser quality oil-based paints containing high levels of pigment extenders. When chalking gets severe it may run off and stain surrounding construction, as in the above photo.

    Potential Causes:

    • Use of cheaper-quality exterior paint containing high levels of pigment extenders.
    • Improper paint (such as an interior paint) was used in an exterior application.
    • Lower-quality factory-finished aluminum siding.
    • Paint that has been over-thinned. 
    • Not properly sealing a porous surface before painting.

    Possible Repairs:

    • Chalking is considered dirt and must be removed before repainting.
    • Remove chalking by power washing or scrubbing with a trisodium phosphate cleaning solution and rinse with clean water.
    • Let dry and paint with a high-quality latex house paint.
    • To clean brick areas stained by chalking runoff, the masonry should be scrubbed with a specialized masonry cleaning solution. If staining persists, a professional cleaning contractor may be required to clean the brick.
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Sagging or Running

    Sagging - Running Paint
    Sagging - Running Paint. © 2006

    Symptom: Sagging or Running

    This paint failure is easily identified as a dripping or drooping look to areas of the paint film.

    Potential Causes:

    • Application of a coat of paint that was too heavy or overloaded.
    • Heavy-handed paint application.
    • Paint thinned too much at the time of application.
    • The paint was applied in poor environmental conditions, such as when temperatures were too cool or when humidity was too high.
    • The paint was applied without a primer to a high gloss vertical surface, preventing the...MORE paint substrate from having the "tooth" necessary for the finish coat to adhere.
    • Painted surface was not clean or properly prepared at the time of application.

    Possible Repairs:

    • If you catch the paint while still wet, use a brush or roller to redistribute the excessive paint evenly.
    • If the paint is dried, sand the uneven area and lightly reapply paint.
    • If the paint was applied to a glossy surface, sand the glossy surface to dull it and create a "tooth" for the paint to adhere, or apply a primer and repaint.
    • Paint using two light coats instead of one very heavy coat.
    • Do not overload the paintbrush.  See tutorial How to Properly Use a Paint Brush.
    Continue to 6 of 10 below.
  • 06 of 10


    Paint Mildew
    Paint Mildew. © 2006

    Symptom: Mildew

    Mildew is a fungus that feeds and grows on the paint film or caulk and is identifiable by its gray, brown, green or dark black "splotchy" spots.

    Potential Causes:

    • The combination of moisture, poor ventilation and lack of direct sunlight. The underside of soffits and eaves are especially prone to mildew.
    • Painting over a surface or prior paint film that still had mildew.
    • Use of lower-quality paint having inadequate mildewcide.
    • Not priming bare wood before painting.

    Possible...MORE Repairs:

    1. Wearing eye protection (goggles) and rubber gloves, scrub vigorously with a trisodium phosphate cleaning solution or a household bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water.
    2. Let the solution set on the cleaned are for 10-15 minutes.
    3. Rinse with clean water.
    4. Wash the area with a detergent solution and rinse again.
    5. Let completely dry and paint with a high quality latex house paint.
    Continue to 7 of 10 below.
  • 07 of 10

    Rust Discoloration

    Nail Rust Through Paint
    Nail Rust Through Paint. © 2006

    Symptom: Rust Discoloration

    This problem is characterized by rust-colored, reddish-brown to black stains on the paint surface.

    Potential Causes:

    • Non-corrosion-resistant nails were used instead of galvanized zinc plated or stainless steel nails.
    • Steel nails became in contact with the air.
    • Steel nails popping from surface.
    • Excessive weathering or sanding has worn away galvanized coating on nail heads.
    • Tannic acid from moist wood (e.g., oak) has reacted with steel nails, creating a black stain.

    Possible...MORE Repairs:

    • If possible, replace steel nails with galvanized or stainless steel nails.
    • If rusted nails can't be removed ,then remove rust by sanding nail heads to bare metal and countersink.
    • Prime with a stain-blocking, rust-inhibiting primer.
    • Caulk, fill or patch depressed nail heads and sand smooth.
    • Paint with a high-quality paint.
    Continue to 8 of 10 below.
  • 08 of 10

    Peeling Paint Due to Poor Adhesion

    Peeling Paint - Poor Adhesion
    Peeling Paint Due to Poor Adhesion. © 2006

    Symptom: Peeling Paint Due to Poor Adhesion

    Peeling paint is a very common paint problem that can be caused either by moisture or poor adhesion. Peeling due to poor adhesion is characterized by the paint peeling and separating from an earlier paint layer (intercoat peeling) or from the substrate, leaving some paint behind. Sometimes portions of earlier paint layers are visible under the curling, peeling paint layer.

    Potential Causes:

    • Painting over an surface with poor paint surface preparation,...MORE such as being dirty, wet or shiny.
    • Substrate had poor adhesion prior to being repainted.
    • Applying an oil-based paint over a wet surface.
    • Blistering paint allowed to progress in failure.
    • Lower-quality paint was used.

    Possible Repairs:

    1. Scrape away old peeling paint and feather-sand affected areas.
    2. Spot prime bare area.
    3. Caulk as required with appropriate caulking product.
    4. Repaint with a high-quality acrylic latex house paint.
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Peeling Paint Due to Exterior Moisture

    Peeling Paint - Moisture Problem
    Peeling Paint Due to Exterior Moisture. © 2006

    Symptom: Peeling Paint Due to Exterior Moisture Under Paint Film

    As mentioned in the previous section, peeling paint is a very common paint problem that can be caused either by moisture or poor adhesion. Peeling due to moisture is recognizable by large peeling sections of paint exposing bare wood underneath. Unlike peeling due to adhesion problems where peeling may be spotty, with moisture-related peeling, larger areas peel away often around windows, doors, and gutters.

    Potential Causes:

    • Moisture...MORE getting behind paint film from failing or missing caulk, leaks in roof or wall systems or being too close to the ground.
    • Faulty guttering or missing ventilation causing ice dams or water back up.
    • Painting when the surface being painted is wet from condensation or rain.

    Possible Repairs:

    • Ensure proper drainage of gutters and downspouts flowing away from home.
    • Eliminate cause or source of moisture by installing exhaust fans, soffit vents, siding vents, louvers, fans and dehumidifiers.
    • Repair and replace missing or damaged caulk.
    1. Scrape away old peeling paint, and feather-sand affected areas.
    2. Spot prime bare area.
    3. Caulk as required with appropriate caulking product.
    4. Repaint with a high-quality acrylic latex house paint.
    Continue to 10 of 10 below.
  • 10 of 10

    Peeling Paint Due to Interior Moisture

    Peeling Paint - Interior Moisture
    Peeling Paint Due to Interior Moisture. © 2006

    Symptom: Peeling Paint Due to Interior Moisture Under Paint Film

    Peeling of interior paint due to moisture is characterized by cracking and gentle peeling away of the paint from the substrate as it loses adhesion due to the moisture. Moisture originating from behind the paint film, or in front and forcing its way through the paint film, can create this type of paint failure.

    Potential Causes:

    • High humidity areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, hot tubs and wet basement areas can create humidity that...MORE penetrates the paint film from the front.
    • Leaking flashing around a chimney or other exterior wall/roof intersection can allow water to seep into the house and wet the plaster from behind the paint film, causing the paint to separate from the substrate.

    Possible Repairs:

    • Ventilate high-moisture areas such as bathrooms by providing an exhaust vent fan that removes humidity and discharges it to the outside.
    • Ensure proper ventilation of the roof, walls, and soffits.
    • Repair missing or damaged flashing at chimney or other wall/roof connections.
    1. Scrape away old peeling paint and feather-sand affected areas.
    2. Spot prime bare area.
    3. Paint with high-quality acrylic latex paint.