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I know that some people are scared to paint paneling or perhaps are against it, especially if it’s wood.  As with any to-paint-or-not-to-paint debate, I take this stance.  If you love it as is and/or you think that painting the subject of the debate will devalue or damage said subject, then don’t paint it.  If you don’t love it as is and it’s a good candidate for paint, then paint it.  There are always what-ifs to consider but the thought that someone else down the road might not like it painted isn’t a good reason to not transform it into something that feels more like your style.  And I am no stranger to painting paneling so I figured I would share some things I’ve learned.

The first paneling I painted was in my friend Shari’s farmhouse.  Not to confuse her with my Minnesota antiquing buddy, Cheri.  Shari and Cheri are actually very similar friends that I lived close to in different seasons of my life.  Both are about 10 years older than me and took me under their wing when I didn’t live close to my mom.  And they both shared my love of decorating and antiques.  Anyway, Jeff and I used to farm-sit for Shari and her family when they traveled.  One of those times, I told Shari to leave primer and paint so we could paint the paneling in their family room for them.  I really am not sure where my love of painting came from, but I just remember being very excited that I could paint their house!

So, in addition to feeding goats and haying the horses, Jeff and I painted their paneling.  It was during that painting session that we developed the highly effective “glop-n-schmeer” technique.  The pain about painting paneling is that you have to apply all of the paint in the grooves with a brush by hand, slowing down the painting process.  We found loading the brush with a healthy amount of paint (or “glopping”) and then smearing the paint (or “schmeering”) down the grooves was the most efficient way to get good coverage in all of the channels.  Hence, the glop-n-schmeer.  We’d then follow with a roller.   Telling this story makes me smile because I just love the goofy little things we invent to make a more tedious job sound fun.  Do you want to glop-n-schmeer or should I?  

Since then, I’ve painted paneled ceilings and walls in our PA house, in the sunroom-turned-studio in our Minnesota house

tips on painting paneling | miss mustard seed

This was solid wood paneling and it was quite a chore to go from all of that dark wood to bright white!  You can read about how we painted it HERE.

tips on painting paneling | miss mustard seed

I also painted the faux wood paneling we installed in my home office.  You can read about that HERE.

tips on painting paneling | miss mustard seed

tips on painting paneling | miss mustard seed

And I installed and painted paneling in our laundry room, too.

tips on painting paneling | miss mustard seed

Just last week, we painted the paneling in the living room in our current home.

So, here’s what I’ve learned…

tips on painting paneling | miss mustard seed

painting paneling | work from the top of the room down

This is just general advice when it comes to giving a room a makeover.  If you need to paint your ceilings, do that before you do anything to the walls or floor.  It really is just about gravity.  You don’t want to drip ceiling paint on freshly painted or papered walls, your floor, rugs, carpet, or furniture.  Of course, if those are already in place, just cover your area well with plastic and/or dropcloths and it’ll be just fine.  It’s just ideal if you can get the ceiling done first.

tips on painting paneling | miss mustard seed

painting paneling | plan on it taking longer than painting regular walls

Most paneling is going to require the glop-n-schmeer technique, which means a lot of brushwork and hand-painting.  It’s not hard, but it just takes a lot longer than rolling a flat wall.  It took three of us all day to apply two coats (one primer, one paint) on three walls in a small-ish room.  And I’m a fast painter.  Just give yourself plenty of time and maybe even plan on painting one wall at a time to limit the upheaval and finish the project in a way that isn’t stressful or rushed.

Also, be prepared for multiple coats.  Oddly enough, you’re likely to require more coats for white paint even if you use white primer and are painting paneling that is already white or a light color.  White just takes more coats to get good, even coverage.  I always plan for a coat of primer and two coats of paint and then I’m pleasantly surprised if I only need to apply one.

painting paneling | Use a quality primer

Whether it’s solid wood paneling or faux wood paneling, I cannot overstress the importance of using quality primer.  I would suggest a bonding primer if you’re painting a surface that’s slick or smooth in order to help the paint layer(s) adhere better.  If your walls are stained, have an odor (pet, smoke, etc.), or real wood with tannins that might seep through, I would use a stain & odor-sealing primer.  I do not recommend using primer & paint in one products to save time or coats of paint.  Using products that are specifically formulated for the walls you are painting will produce a much better, professional-looking result.

If you are painting the paneling in a color other than white, ask for the primer to be tinted to match your paint color.  In the photo below, you can see the tinted primer on the walls and the final coat on the beams.  Because we used tinted primer, we only needed to apply two coats in total.  If we had used white primer, it would’ve been three, increasing the cost and time spent on the project.

tips on painting paneling | miss mustard seed

Especially if your selected color is very dark, the color won’t be an exact match, but it will help with coverage and reduce the number of coats you need to apply.  I always, always use tinted primer.  It makes a huge difference.

painting paneling | use a trim roller

In the photo below, you can see that my dad (who was the roller in our operation), was using a 6 1/2″ trim roller instead of the traditional 9″ roller used for applying paint to walls.  It means covering a larger area with a roller that’s made for smaller areas like doors, trim, and furniture, but it also means that you’ll get a smooth texture on the walls, which makes sense for paneling.  Nothing screams “painted paneling” like stippling from a 3/8″ nap on a roller.  My ideal roller for painting paneling is a 6 1/2″ microfiber trim roller with a 1/4″ nap like .  It will hold more paint than a foam roller, but it won’t leave marks like a roller with a 3/8″ nap.

Cut in along the edges and in the grooves with a brush and follow behind with the roller for a professional, smooth finish.  With a smaller roller, you can also get closer to the edges, reducing the texture difference from where the paint was applied with the brush vs. the roller.  This is especially important if you’re using paint with a sheen to it.

tips on painting paneling | miss mustard seed

One thing to keep in mind if you’re painting real wood paneling is that it will expand and contract as the temperature and humidity in your home change with the seasons  This means you’ll see some gaps where the wood peeks through the paint.  I noticed that in my studio and laundry room over the years, but I would just touch up the areas of exposed wood every year or two.  If and when that happens, it’s just the nature of wood and not an indication that you did anything wrong.  If your paneling is in a sheet or it’s faux wood, this isn’t an issue.

I know painting paneling can be controversial (some people really, really love their paneling), but it is a great way to revive a dated room or simply make it more to your taste.  I think that paneling, especially solid wood paneling, can look charming, sophisticated, and timeless.  It all depends on the look you’re going for.

You can read more tips on painting everything from ceilings to furniture to tile to floors in my painting & refinishing archives HERE.

 

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    16 Comments

    1. Amanda

      This is so interesting to me because we are remodeling a 70s brick ranch that we bought recently. It had dark wood paneling through most of the house. We were advised to sand it all before painting, which was super dirty and time consuming. We used a quality primer as well and since we’re not living in it yet, we were able to spray everything EXCEPT those grooves! We had to brush those. It’s a lot of work but so happy with how it’s looking now! I think your house is lovely and had never noticed the wood panel walls so this post caught my eye! I’m thinking we could have skipped the sanding step??

      • Marian Parsons

        Sanding certainly isn’t going to hurt, but I’m not sure it was necessary. Maybe if there was a glossy topcoat, the wood was rough, or the wood had a lot of filler in it. I think a quality primer is going to work in most cases, though.

      • Holly Erwin

        Your home is so original and warm. I like that you make everything look
        like it should have always looked.

    2. Betsy

      When I met my husband his little house had 70’s wood paneling and he had dark pine furniture. It looked like a sea of wood with no place to rest the eye. We painted the paneling a cream color and it made a world of difference. Then he decided the dark pine furniture had to go. : )

    3. Andrea

      This detailed info is handy since I’ve waffled for years about painting my golden oak living room paneling & ceiling beams. Thanks for this post which makes it sound more doable & provides links to all the tools.

    4. Mimi

      I’m on team paint. We painted the paneling in our basement quite a few years ago and transformed it from a dark, depressing dungeon into a light cheery space in a weekend. I wish we’d done it much earlier.

    5. Patricia Kasparian

      Thank you for sharing all of this information, I have no doubt this post will help a lot of people!

    6. SueA

      I hated the paneling in a hallway that led from the front door to the living room. It looked cheap, dark and old and, well, paneled. I was poor and adventuresome then so I improvised and used a faux technique that turned out great. I painted it a pale but bright yellow and then a coat of white and made stripes with the inner wavy side of a sheet of cardboard while the white paint was still wet. The technique camouflaged the grooves and the yellow brightened up the whole corridor. Later I just took out the whole darn wall.

    7. Peggy

      The cabin we sold last year had tongue and groove knotty pine paneling everywhere! I was scared to paint it at first because I thought the knots would show through. But then I realized it had all been clear coated with something that would block the knots. I still lightly sanded and scrubbed the paneling clean ( it was so dirty!) and it all turned out fine. A lot of work but so worth it!

    8. Michele M.

      I am on team paint, too. At least on paneling. Nothing changes a room more. Loving yours.

      GREAT info.

    9. Susan G.

      Thank you for sharing this! I am preparing to paint my paneling. You answered my questions. Are you planning on painting your beams or leaving them stained? I’m waffling about mine.

    10. Teresa

      We had our wood stained wainscoting/crown molding in our living room professionally painted last November and I love it! It makes the room look so much larger and brighter! With anything, it’s a matter of preference, but I wanted a change and I love the results.

    11. Shelly F

      I’ve painted many rooms full of sheet paneling. Including every wall in my first home. Thankfully, it was a small house. It’s grueling work in my opinion. The last time I painted paneling, I ended up having to use oil based kiltz. It’s so stinky and hard to work with, but the reason I had to use that was the home apparently hard a heavy smoker in it for many years. It kept spotting up in certain areas and had bleed-throughs which looked awful. Even more so awful than the dreadful dark paneling which I didn’t think was possible. So happy you’ve provided help to those who are considering it.

    12. LInda

      I used an oil based primer on a new (raw) beadboard accent wall and then gave it two coats of SW Emerald in Pure White. I painted the grooves first and then the flat boards–all two coats by hand with a high quality Purdy paint brush. My groves have paint “gaps” in them: some have nice smooth lines; others, look as if the paint is “broken” in the grooves. What did I do wrong?

      • Marian Parsons

        It sounds like your wood has shrunk when your house got drier, which is completely normal. Wood will expand and contract through the seasons. Just touch up the paint along those grooves when it happens.

    13. jennifer cundiff

      I love the color! Did you post the name somewhere? I can’t find it. Thank you!

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    Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

    I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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