Priming Our Wood Paneling (The Bane Of Our Existence)

And now, for the dang paneling update. Hold on to your hats ladies and gents. This post = wild ride.

As you probably know, we’re no strangers to priming and painting paneling. Sure we could remove the paneling, but it would mean removing and rehanging all the cabinets since they’re hung in front of it – and revealing goodness knows how many scary issues behind it (they’re old plaster walls so that just felt like a big ol’ can o’ worms). And we could attempt to drywall over it (but it would mean drywalling around the existing cabinets and a lot more expense/trouble than just painting it). So we decided early on that we’d once again say yes to painted paneling – just like we did in our former den (which ended up being our favorite room in the house) when it (slowly over the course of 4.5 years) went from this…

… to this:

We never regretted the whole painted paneling choice – I guess it’s just like painted brick to us (we don’t mind the grooves that remain after it’s painted since they just add charming and subtle texture). But folks have caulked or puttied those grooves to hide ’em, so you can always do that (or rip it the heck out) if it’s not your thing.

But this time there was a slight variation to the painted paneling process since the last time we tackled it. That variation: the time that it took to get ‘er done. Last time it took us an afternoon (more on that here). So we went into this whole priming and painting thing with high hopes that it would be a quick little project. Yessiree, an afternoon spent completing the paneling would have been awesome (as would seeing a unicorn on our front lawn or finding out that Burger laid golden eggs). Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.

The time difference was all because we decided to attempt to prime and paint our paneling the no slash low VOC way this time. Just because we like the idea of avoiding as many harmful fumes as we can since we work so regularly with paint and caulk and primer (especially now that we have a baby around). We knew this choice wasn’t a short cut. Heck, it would crack our margin for error right open (since oil-based stainblocking primer is the only professionally recommended way to guard against nasty yellow-orange wood-bleed, which can ooze through as you prime and paint). But we thought it was a risk worth taking in the name of family health. And it was in the end… it just took a while to get there. So here’s how it all went down.

First, here’s what our kitchen looked like before we embarked on our little priming adventure:

And here’s an old shot of the kitchen from the other direction just for reference (it was actually taken a while back, before we removed the wood stove and painted the fireplace):

Step 1: We wiped down the paneling, beams, and trim with a moist cloth. Some people use TSP for their wipe-down, but we didn’t (didn’t use it last time we painted the den paneling either – but it’s not a bad idea, especially if your paneling feels especially greasy). We also didn’t sand at all (didn’t last time either) but you can if your paneling is especially tough, splintery, or super glossy & shellacked.

Step 2: We removed the vent covers and outlet covers since we decided that we’d be replacing them all (they were bisque and we wanted fresh white).

Step 3: We spent about three hours applying a coat of primer to the trim, beams, and paneled walls with Olympic No-VOC primer.

After our first coat it looked like this (about fifteen minutes in we knew we were in trouble):

Primer never needs to be super consistent and perfect looking (it often looks uneven and rough but still totally does the job) but we experienced almost immediate bleed-through in a number of spots (when the orangey-brown stain of the wood seeps through the primer and threatens to ruin your paint job). Not good.

Step 4: We waited for that to dry a bit and tried a second coat of the same primer in certain obviously-bleeding spots, hoping it would block more nasty orange seepage. Nope. It did not.

Step 5: We noticed that we had a can of Behr Primer + Paint (in white semi-gloss) in the basement from a previous project (which is low-VOC and nice and thick) so everything got a coat of that (yup, the trim, beams, and paneling got another full coat).

We still had bleed through. Not much, but in certain places it was definitely still there. And it was maddening.

Step 6: We went to Home Depot and found Kilz Clean Start No-VOC primer. It said “stainblocker” right on the label so we gave it a shot on everything (yup, another full coat of a third type of primer went up on the trim, beams, and walls).

It worked. Angels sang and two white-haired Petersiks rejoiced in the privacy of their freshly primed (finally) kitchen.

Step 7: We painted just the trim and beams with our Behr Primer + Paint (in white semi-gloss) since leaving things primed but not painted for the long term can lead to a nasty and grungy hard-to-wipe-down mess (it’s a dust and dirt magnet since primer is intentionally sticky for paint adhesion). Happily the Behr stuff had great coverage over that last coat of Kilz and looked glossy and amazing. A sight for sore eyes (and arms).

Step 8: We removed all the painter’s tape while the last coat of paint was still fresh for the cleanest lines possible (waiting for everything to dry can cause the paint to peel when you remove the tape). In cases when it was stuck to the primer/paint, we used an exacto knife to carefully slice it along the line of the tape so the primer/paint wouldn’t get pulled off with it.

We’re usually happy to avoid painters tape when we can (I rely a lot on this little miracle short handled brush instead) but since I’m short and I’m the resident cutter-inner/edger, I don’t have as much control up on a stool. So taping around the ceiling trim (and in this case tossing down a quick frame of tape around the baseboards) helped me go faster while I was happy to freehand around the door frames and fireplace.

About 48 hours after the beginning of our priming adventure, it finally looked like this. The trim looks whiter because it’s topped with that semi-gloss Behr paint and not just a flat finish white primer (which was more creamy and less snow-white-ish in color). Now we just have to paint those walls.

We’re not sure if the Kilz No-VOC primer worked because it was the best choice for the job or because it was layered with the other methods beneath it (perhaps on its own you’d need two or even three coats of it to get full bleed-blockage) but we definitely would recommend 2-3 coats of Kilz Clean Start No-VOC primer followed by two thin and even coats of latex paint if you’re planning to paint your paneling without messing with fumey VOCs. Fingers crossed that’ll work for ya. Otherwise one coat of oil-based stainblocking primer followed by two thin and even coats of latex paint should do the trick (find more step by step instructions on that method here).

It probably won’t take you an afternoon if you go low/no VOC (it took us two days with some babysitting help from John’s parents just to complete the priming stage). And we’re not gonna lie. It was not fun. But it was worth it as soon as we got through to the other side. You know, when we finally crossed that rainbow bridge from bleed-ville to clean-white-walls… hallelujah. It should be mentioned that in very rare cases bleed can come through weeks or even months later (which would make us want to stick paintbrushes in our eyes). Thankfully we painted the wood trim in the living room using the same no-VOC method (four coats of Olympic Premium Paint instead of with an oil-based stainblocking primer) five months ago and nothing has since seeped through. And because the baseboard and trim in the kitchen is the same exact wood, all signs point to: this should work. Of course we’ll tell you if something supremely annoying happens though.

So if somebody would be so kind as to do a nap-time dance for Clara, we’d really appreciate it. So far swinging her stuffed giraffe back and forth and saying “you are getting sleeeepy” isn’t quite doing the trick. Well it’s making us sleepy, but we’re not the target. Has anyone else tried to paint paneling without VOCs? Or been forced to apply four coats of paint or primer for any reason at all? Sucks right? Let’s commiserate.

Psst- Read more about the whole Phase 1 kitchen plan here.


  1. says

    I actually kind of like the look of painted paneling. In moderation of course. When my husband and I first moved into our house, we had knotty pine paneling in the dining room. We had to fill in all of the knots, and it took for-EV-er!

  2. says

    You could just do what the previous owners of our home did. Skip the primer and paint it flaming red. Then you can’t see the bleed through!

  3. says

    I suffered similar agony in our 4’x7′ walk-in pantry. The ceiling was stained with something…unknown, and after 8 coats of 4 different products it was finally covered. Small surface, but painting 9ft overhead in July heat with no A/C in a compact room with a pendant light fixture with an ever-so subtle, skin-piercing finial, um, it was less than fun. My eyeballs nearly fell to the back of my skull, my head constantly bent backwards, riddled with an array of primers.

    But on an up note, we, too, painted it a crips yellow-green. The smallest room in the house with the covered, unmentionable ceiling stains became my absolute favorite place to be. And not just because it held the refrigerator with hidden chocolates.

  4. Sheela says

    Wow, that’s definitely a lot of work. Here are a couple of tips I’ve discovered along the way through my years of painting. First, a good cleaning agent for walls that doesn’t require rinsing and doesn’t leave a residue is POWDERED Dirtex. You usually have to go to a paint store (like Sherwin Williams) to buy this. I think it’s less than $4 for a box that will last you a while. It works great on floors too! And cleaning walls can definitely lead to a better, longer lasting paint job.

    Second, an awesome, non-toxic paint is Mythic. I’ve used it to paint furniture and contractors used it on two of my ceilings (I bought it for them to use, and they really liked it). The paint has no smell, no VOCs, etc. It is definitely expensive, but the coverage is very good. (Better than other regular latex paints that I have used.) And despite being no VOC and non-toxic, the paint is very thick, goes on well, and isn’t thin with poor hide like other no VOC paints. You’d have to find a Mythic dealer in your area, but I’m sure Richmond must have a few.

    So there’s my 2 cents (or 5, since this is a long comment). Hope it helps! And by the way, the kitchen already looks so much better, and I love your future color for it. My kitchen is currently a deeper green (guacamole), but I’ve been thinking of re-painting it a more green/yellow color, similar to what you’re choosing!

  5. Brandy says

    I had to paint paneling in my family room. Was a chore for sure. I had to deep clean all the walls first (Old owners had 4 large dogs, licking the walls, and they were covered in old dog fur and greasy) When I washed them I used a mix of hot water, dish soap, bleach and a big scrubber sponge. Took hours to wash 2 walls. I don’t know if the bleach did something to seal the wood, or keep it from bleeding, but I used the primer I had on hand (Kilz latex) 2 coats because I was scared of a bleed through. Now, the primer sat on the walls 3 weeks before I could paint it (I have 3 kids, 1, 3, and 7) Bit when I did paint it Almond Wisp by Bher satin, it hasn’t had a problem in the 6 months I have lived here, looks fresh and even still. Also did the ‘wood’ beams that turned out to be 1970’s plastic the same way, but used gloss white for them.

    Anywhoo, your looks awesome as always! Love your inspiration room!

  6. Sarah H. says

    Did you paint the wood beams white too? Or are they just primed for color? What’s going to happen with the ceiling color? Looks great already – can’t wait to see the finished product!!

  7. says

    Good morning! I’m so impressed with yall’s constant persistence :) We too moved into a home where the kitchen needed some TLC. The funny thing is that your inspiration picture was EXACTLY the same as mine! I actually just did a reveal post of our kitchen, if you want to check it out on my little blog. Our walls ended up being a little less yellow & a little more green…but we painted the cabinets & installed darker granite for a similar look :)

  8. says

    I completely sympathize with the multiple coats of paint. Last fall I decided that I wanted to have my living room and dining room to have the same color scheme – and that involved a deep red accent paint color (below the chair rail in the dining room, accent wall in the living room). It looks great now but each room required 4 coats of paint (not including primer) before getting there. By the time I was done I needed to take a serious break before painting anything else.

  9. jenn says

    i have a feeling the second you paint the paneling you will want to paint the cabinets no matter how much you despise painting after. grello and orangey cabinets will look so barfy (yes its an adjective) you will bust out that can of white paint sooner than later.

  10. says

    The power of paint never ceases to amaze me. It’s like makin’ the bed. Or mowin’ the lawn. It makes such a big difference.

    That picture looks nearly identical to the green I have in my kitchen and I love, love, love it. In 10 years, it’s the only room in the house that has never changed colors. It’s perfection. I say go for it GI Joe.

  11. Alyson says

    Amazing! The difference is unreal. It looks like a totally new kitchen!!

    I actually painted my pine panneling about 2 years ago. I used kilz and one solid coat did the trick. I painted the walls a warm, light grey with white simi-gloss trim and love it!

    Super excited to see the green paint go up!!

  12. whitney says

    So much work! But it looks great!
    Just found your blog from ohdeedo, love it!
    Wondering what the yellow is from the top pictures of your “former den”. I am looking for a yellow for my basement family room. Having a hard time finding something calming and not too yellow. Thanks!

  13. DanielleR says

    About 2 months ago I repainted our living room while my husband was at work on a Saturday … took me 6 hours and 2 coats of a really thick hiding valspar primer to cover the deep dark red that I “had to have” a few years back, and then another 2 thick coats of valspar paint + primer on a different day which took about 5 hours. So far so good and the room looks transformed now that I have a neutral tan color going but wow was that a pain. And that was not low voc but a huge undertaking anyway … reds are evil lol.

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