How To Paint Wood Paneling

Tons of people have written to request a step-by-step guide to painting wood paneling so we’re here to deliver the lowdown. It’s one of the easiest ways to transform your room in an afternoon (and on the cheap) so get ready to do the happy dance because there’s virtually no skill or mind-numbing concentration required. Just look at what a little bit of primer, paint and elbow grease did for our den:

Oh paint, you’re the peanut butter to our jelly. Here’s the play by play for anyone who’s ready to say goodbye paneling (this works for either the real stuff of the thin “fake stuff”):

Step 1: Give Em’ The Brush Off. Fill any nail holes with caulk and once it dries sand it down and wipe away any cobwebs or dusty areas with a moist rag so your paneled walls are clean and ready for their big makeover. No overall sanding of the paneling is necessary unless yours is splintered (or otherwise needs to be smoothed out) or if it’s extra glossy (as if it has been shellacked).

Step 2: It’s Prime Time. Use a roller to apply one thin and even coat of oil-based primer and a paint brush to get into any cracks or corners that the roller can’t reach. This application might look spotty and uneven but as long as the entire surface is covered you’ll end up with a flawless finish. We do not recommend water-based primer for this step as oil-based formulas are stronger and more durable so no grease or wood stains will come through and ruin your finish.

Step 3: Get Your Paint On. Once your thin coat of oil-based primer dries, apply one thin and even coat of latex paint with a high quality roller and again use a paint brush to get into any cracks and crevices that the roller misses. And once your first thin and even coat dries, apply another one the same way for better coverage and long-lasting durability. And when it comes to getting a clean line along the ceiling and baseboards, blue painters tape works but we also love this short handled brush for the perfect edge every time.

Step 4: Hug It Out. You’re done! It’s really that easy. Feel free to snuggle your spouse, dance with the dog, or do anything else you normally do to celebrate a job well done. Your room should feel bigger, lighter, and oh so fresh- and that’s definitely deserving of a little victory cha-cha or two.

So there you have it. Our easy how-to-paint-paneling tutorial. It’s definitely one of the cheapest and most dramatic ways to snap a room into the 21st century in under $50, so don’t be surprised if you amass more hours of complements than it even took you to transform your room in the first place. What about you guys? Is there any paneling near you that’s about to be freshened up with some crisp clean paint? Does anyone have any other painting tips while we’re on the subject? Do tell.

And if you’re wondering how we painted all the dark brick in our den, check out the painting play by play right here. Happy makeovers to one and all!


  1. Shannon says

    My husband and I painted the wood paneling in our basement and we were amazed at the transformation of the room! It’s so much more inviting.
    You did a beautiful job with your den, it’s gorgeous!

  2. salley says

    i’ve painted the (fake) wood panelling in my den as well, and you are right- it does make a huge difference. i love the color you used as well!
    a question- did you all replace the ceiling as well? i’ve got a similar ceiling- it is like acuoustic tile but attached to whatever is behind it (as opposed to a drop ceiling) and, well, i really dont like it. any tips on how you all removed it/what was behind it/ whether you had to use a contractor/cost would be most appreciated!

    thanks- and congrats on all the recent press! you all are making this richmond native proud!

  3. says

    Ok, question. Did you not sand before hand at all? Is your paneling kind of rough already then? We have smooth paneling in the kitchen, and I figured I’d have to go crazy sanding it first before I could get to painting it.

    • says

      Salley- Again we did the super cost effective thing with the den ceiling and just painted those dingy gray tiles. It took some oil-based primer followed by about 3 coats of paint (those suckers are porous!) but the difference is night and day and it now looks crisp and new. Hope it helps!

      Jenny- Nope, no sanding required (unless your paneling is splintered or damaged where you’d need to smooth things out). Oil-based primer makes your walls nice and sticky for paint to cling to and three years after we painted our paneling it’s in mint condition (it actually holds up better than a regular painted wall thanks to the primer base). Good luck!


  4. says

    we have a “sunroom” covered with wood paneling. I’d love to paint it but the paneling is super shiny…I’m guessing the previous owner put a gloss on top. Do we have to strip it off or can we just put primer over it?

    • says

      Hey Vika,

      Here’s a case were a gentle sanding should make all the difference in the world. The oil-based primer would probably do the trick without it, but the extra tooth you’ll gain by going over everything with sandpaper first (and of course wiping down the sanding dust before priming) will make for a flawless finish that lasts. Hope it helps!


  5. says

    I love the transformation in your den! I wish I could convince my parents to do this to their living room… the paneling and dark brick make for a very dark room!

  6. says

    What kind of rollers do you guys use? On some of the HGTV shows they use a small cigar roller (I think that is what its called). I think they use the skinny foam kind. Anyway since you guys are the paint experts, I just wondered if you favored a certian nap, size, brand etc. . . Thanks!

  7. says

    Hey Sherry I have a question for ya! How come you decided to paint over it versus removing the paneling altogether?

    We had the same stuff in about 4 locations in our house and we’ve removed them all. One room actually was painted over, but the panel was buckling so removing was the best option in that case.

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Cristina- We’re all about working with what we have when we can (less waste, less money spent, less effort, etc) so because our paneling was in good painting condition it was the perfect solution. Plus since two of the walls were brick and had raised and recessed grout lines the paneling balanced that nicely since it also had recessed seams. Hope it helps!

      Karen- We do not recommend foam rollers as they tend to rile up the paint more and result in annoying bubbles that can ruin a flawless finish. We prefer high quality wool or poly rollers and Purdy is our favorite brand (sold at Home Depot). Hope it helps!


  8. Kim says

    Hi there!

    Thanks for the tutorial.

    My husband INSISTS that since our paneling is the “fake” kind (not real wood paneling), we can’t paint it. He thinks it will peel, not look right, etc. So, if you don’t mind me asking — is your paneling real or fake, and do you think it matters when painting? Thanks again.

  9. Monika says

    My basement, which is only about 7 years old, was designed to look like it was closer to 30 years old. Berber carpeting, dropped ceiling and lovely, dark faux paneling. It’s like a cave from 1972 and my husband loves it.

    Do you know if I could paint over paneling the same way, even if it’s the thin, cheap, fake stuff? Thanks. :-)

    • says

      Hey Kim & Monica-

      Good news! Ours is the fake kind. It’s not true, thick wood paneling at all but the thin cheap “fake” kind and three years later the paint is holding up better than other non-paneled walls in our house! You can definitely definitely paint yours too.


  10. BG says

    We just bought an old beach bungalow with dark wood walls (in EVERY room!) and have started to paint room by room. We started in the master bedroom and after 2-3 coats of water based primer (Kilz) and 2 coats of Behr, the room is amazingly different. Does water vs. oil based primer make that much of a difference? As our wood is old and has never been painted, I wonder if we used oil based if it would require less coats. Any thoughts?

    • YoungHouseLove says

      BG- Water based primer is a bit less strong and protective, so it usually calls for more coats of paint over it and blocks less stains/bleeding than oil-based does (for example, if the stain/wood sap on your paneling decided to bleed through once it was moist with primer & paint, oil-based would have had you covered). Luckily it sounds like yours turned out just fabulously anyway!

      Tara- I would definitely try asking around at your local home improvement store to find someone with experience with the texture you’re describing. That being said I would guess that you could definitely skim coat over it to even out the surface (although scraping the spikes down beforehand might be a smart first step). Hope it helps! Good luck…

      Britiney- We have heard so many great things about your tape-caulking trick! We didn’t need it in John’s sister’s nursery since the walls are nice and flat in there but it’s a great tip for textured walls!


  11. Tara says

    This is sort of off topic, but since you are talking about pesky-weird-hard-to-hide surfaces… I have a guest room with some weird texture. The walls are sheet rocked and covered with (what I think) is just drywall texture. The problem is that the texture is horrid. It is spiky and it actually hurts if you brush against it. Can a person retexture over another texture? Or do I have to try and scrape this stuff off before doing that? Any experience with weird wall textures like this? Thanks in advance for any advice you could provide.

    • PCL says

      Tara: My response might be a bit late for you, but if you (or anyone else who happens to see this) still has unwanted textured walls, here’s one way to get rid of them. Just buy a cast aluminum mason’s float, as long as possible (a trowel, joint knife or even a board will also work, but any of these will leave more surface imperfections, so the job will take longer). Then, apply joint tape and mud, as you would over a Sheetrock joint, to the wall, spacing the tape at intervals a bit shorter than the length of the float; sand only enough to ensure a smooth ridge at the center of each length of tape. You can use pre-mixed joint compound, but the setting type is better for moisture-prone areas. Then, mud the spaces in between each tape piece, running the float in a bridged position between every pair of tape runs. This will give you a smooth, plaster-like surface which can be skimmed, sanded smooth and painted like any other wall. The end result should be indistinguishable from veneer plaster. Good luck!

  12. says

    I’m actually debating between installing panelling or drywall (I can hang panelling but have no clue how to do drywall) in the basement with the intent that I will paint either option. Anything will be better than looking at cement blocks. :)

  13. Kari says

    In a previous house, we had the cheap, thin, fake paneling in a back room (that became a reading/guest room) and we painted it no problem. We did the oil primer, two coats of good paint, and it looked fabulous. Don’t be scared off by the fake stuff–it is worth the effort and it will look SO much better.

    Kari–now in a house with no paneling, fake or otherwise

  14. says

    My favorite painting tip came to me from my brother in law. If you have an edge you’ve masked with tape but there’s a lot of texture, I’m sure you know how easy it is for the paint to bleed under the tape, no matter how hard you try to get it adhered well. His trick is that if you apply a very small amount of caulk along the tape line (so you’re painting over the caulk when it’s dry), it fills in the areas the tape misses and produces a PERFECT line every time. I was wondering if you did this on the nursery stripes. That would have been a perfect application. Our walls are all orange peel texture and this makes a world of difference in getting a professional vs. amateur result.

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