The One Problem No One Tells You About Shiplap

Plus expert tips on how to prevent it

shiplap kitchen

Trinette Reed / Stocksy

With its hand-crafted appeal, timeless look and instant visual interest, shiplap is a favorite wall paneling for interior designers and homeowners alike. From its origin as a method to waterproof ships, it made its way to homes and barns in the early 1900s. Now, it’s synonymous with the farmhouse and rustic design styles—you can find it in anything Joanna and Chip Gaines touch. 

Unlike many forms of wooden wall paneling, shiplap has “rabbets.” These are 90-degree grooves on both sides of each board that distinguish true shiplap from other panelings, such as wainscoting or beadboard. And while these grooves give shiplap its iconic and stylish look, they are also, to put it frankly, complete dust magnets. 

We spoke to shiplap aficionado Amanda Friemel, interior designer at Duet Design Group, about how to keep your shiplapped walls (mostly) dust-free.

Meet the Expert

Amanda Friemel is an award-winning interior designer and co-founder of the luxury interior design firm, Duet Design Group.

  • 01 of 04

    Install the Shiplap Vertically

    vertical shiplap

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    Dust gathers on all horizontal surfaces, and the spaces between shiplap planks are no different. An easy solution: install the panels vertically instead. This will do wonders to minimize dust collection, and it’s a more modern way to show off shiplap. (Pro tip: to make your shiplap even more modern, skip the whitewash and paint the boards instead.)

    Friemel says she actually prefers this vertical look to the traditional, horizontal installation. 

    “[Installing shiplap vertically] enlarges and heightens the room,” she says. “This accents any vertical lines in a space, so if you have any amazing industrial vertical windows, French doors or wood-burning fireplaces, you can follow the chimney lines and accent what your home already has.”

    Before putting up your shiplap, make sure to do your research to define what look would work best in your space. If you’re putting shiplap in your kitchen, for example, you might want to stick with horizontal boards to accent the natural lines of your countertops and cabinets.

  • 02 of 04

    Dust Your Walls Regularly

    For those who already have their horizontal shiplap up on their walls, keeping up with regular dusting is the best way to stay on top of any accumulation. Friemel recommends cleaning your shiplap every time you dust the rest of your house—at least once or twice a month. 

    While dusting is enough in most cases, Friemel says there are times you might want to get a little more involved with your care. Namely, if your grooves and panels get a bit more grimy. 

    “I have toddlers at home, and so I’m always finding handprints and things everywhere,” she says. “If I had shiplap in my home, I would use a toothpick and one of those straw cleaners that come with your reusable straws to clean it if there was anything that got gunky in there.”

  • 03 of 04

    Close the Gaps

    horizontal shiplap

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    If you have your heart set on horizontal shiplap, don’t stress—there are still things you can do to fight back against dust. Friemel says that while the little gaps between boards are traditional, you can talk with your installers about minimizing that space during installation. A smaller gap means there’s less space for dust, but you’ll still get that classic look.

  • 04 of 04

    Go With Faux

    Another trick for avoiding dusty grooves is to install paneling that looks like shiplap, but isn’t actually shiplap. Again, what sets shiplap apart from other wall panelings are those 90-degree rabbets and that shiplap is made from real wood. If you swap shiplap for another paneling that doesn’t have those rabbets or that’s made from a different material, you could avoid a dust problem altogether. 

    Friemel says there are a ton of other options, and some are nearly indistinguishable from true shiplap.

    “If you do peel-and-stick, they kind of flesh together and so the gap isn’t as wide and can’t collect dust as much, Friemel says. “Or if you do tongue-and-groove shiplap, those are made with materials that aren’t true wood and so it’s harder for the dust to collect on those materials.”

    So now that you know the dusty risks of shiplap, keep this intel in mind when picking paneling. But also ... a little dust never hurt anyone.