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How to Paint Wood Paneling – Painting Over Unfinished Wood


When you want to change the look of your paneling consider painting it. Painting paneling is less expensive than replacing paneling.

You do not have to be a skilled carpenter or painting professional to paint paneling. You simply need to know the steps involved in the process. Anyone can paint paneling.

Before you can start painting paneling you must prepare the paneling, and the room for the painting process. The following tips from our experts will help you to transform your room and create a professional finish that you are proud of.

Paneling Assessment

The first thing you have to do is assess your paneling and determine if it is solid wood paneling, or if it is a vinyl paneling.

  • Using a fine grit sandpaper sand a section of the paneling. You only need to sand a small area, about 2” x 2” will do.
  • List EleSand the area with a very light pressure. It will not take much sanding to reveal whether the paneling is solid wood or vinyl coated so that it appears to be woodment
  • If you quickly see pressboard you are dealing with a vinyl coated paneling.

If your paneling is vinyl coated then there are a few extra steps you have to take before you begin to paint.

Painting a Vinyl Paneling

Materials Needed

Interior paint (You can use latex or an epoxy paint. You do need to shop for high quality paint that covers well. Cheap paint will likely require more coats of paint and more work)

Lightweight spackle and a putty knife to apply it with

Step One – Lightly stand

The first thing that you need to do is lightly sand the paneling. You will not need to use a great deal of pressure because your goal is not to remove the vinyl coating completely, you are simply roughing the texture of the coating so the paint can adhere to it.

Tip: You MUST do this sanding by hand. An electric sander is too aggressive and may damage the paneling. Take a small block of wood and wrap the sandpaper around the block. Then sand the wall in circular motions. The circular motions will keep you from creating grooves or lines that will be noticeable after you apply the paint.

Step Two – Use shopy water to clean

You now need to take the soapy water and clean the paneling thoroughly.


  • Wipe every inch of the paneling so that the dust from sanding, and any dirt or grime are completely washed off of the surface.
  • Once the wall covering has been washed you must rinse it with clean water so that you remove any soap residue.
  • After you have rinsed the paneling you must then dry the paneling using a clean, dry cloth. Even if you plan to air dry the paneling and begin painting at a later date you want to run a dry cloth over the surface to remove as much excess water as possible.

Tip: A minute amount of dust will cause the paint to either not adhere or you will see a noticeable “clump” when you paint.

Step Three – Protect your floor using drop clots and painters tape

Use your painters tape and drop cloths to cover any areas you do not want to paint. Cover your flooring so you do not damage it, tape any trim, hardware on doors, tape around the ceiling, tape the windows, and any trim that you do not wish to paint.

Step Four – Use wood putty to fill the paneling

Now you can fill the paneling grooves using the wood putty if you desire to do so.

  • Apply the spackle to the groove in the paneling
  • Run the putty knife down the paneling to wipe away as much of the excess spackle as possible
  • Allow the spackle to dry completely
  • Using a bloc of wood wrapped in sandpaper you lightly sand the spackle so that you can run your hand over it and you do not feel anything but a smooth surface. If you feel a bump you need to sand some more so that you feather the spackle out and create a smooth surface
  • Use a dry cloth and remove any dust from the paneling.

Tip: Even if you do not see the dust on the paneling there is a good chance that some dust is there. Wipe the paneling from top to bottom with a clean cloth to make sure that all dust is removed.

Step Five – Apply two thin coats of primer

Apply the primer.

  • Use the paintbrush and apply the primer to the spackled areas first. (Be careful to not allow this paint to dry before you use the roller. The roller will smooth out the fine lines that the brush may create)
  • Allow the primer to dry
  • Apply primer to the entire surface of the paneling

Tip: when you apply the primer do not simply use the roller in an up and down pattern. You should paint in an up and down, side to side, and vertical configuration so that you do not create a pattern that shows up after you apply the paint.

Step Six – Apply at least two thin coats of paint

Time to paintUse the same technique as you used when applying the primer

  • Use the paintbrush and paint the spackled areas first
  • Use the roller to apply paint over the larger smooth surfaces
  • Allow the paint to dry
  • Apply a second coat of paint

Tip: You may not need to brush the paint over the places where the paneling grooves were when you are applying your second coat of paint

Now you simply clean up all of your painting tools, remove the painters tape, and remove the drop cloths. Enjoy your new look!

Pro Tips of How to Paint Over Wood Paneling


You are basically going to follow the same steps for painting wood paneling that you would use on vinyl paneling.

You may not have to sand wood paneling prior to painting if the surface area does not have a varnish or finish that will inhibit paint adherence.

Tip: It is recommended that you sand the paneling lightly even if it is solid wood. This will insure that your primer and paint will adhere properly to the surface.

If the paneling has visible knots you want to apply a shellac based primer so that the knots are completely covered

Always allow the first coat to dry completely before you apply the second coat.

Always allow plenty of ventilation in a room you are painting. This will help the paint dry faster and allow you to breathe easier.

A video guide for you..

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of paint do you use on wood paneling?

On wood paneling you can use either the latex which is a water based product or the acrylic which has an oil base. The latex paint usually dries faster and may actually require more coats of paint than the acrylic does.

Do you have to sand wood paneling before painting?

You do need to run a fine grit sandpaper over your paneling before you apply paint. The paneling has a finish coating on it that needs to be roughened up so your paint can adhere properly.

How do you paint wood paneling with grooves?

You have two options when you are painting paneling that has grooves in it. You can leave the surface alone and your finished wall will have grooves or you can fill the grooves so your finish wall is smooth.

How do you fill grooves in paneling before painting?

To fill in the grooves you can use wood putty or even joint compound like you use on sheetrock to seal the joints. If you choose to use joint compound you will need to sand the paneling slightly so the compound will stick. If you use wood putty to fill the gaps be sure you buy putty that can be painted.

Final word

Painting paneling can transform a room completely. It does not cost much money to paint the paneling and everyone can do this job, no matter what their skill level is.

Before you paint your paneling make sure that you gather all of your supplies, and that you are prepared with a face mask and goggles.

When you paint there will be some fumes, so make sure that the room is properly ventilated, and that you take breaks and step out of the room to breathe in some fresh air.

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