Monday, January 28, 2013


I have lived places that had paneling.  A couple of those properties had the really nice real wood paneling that gave the room a distinguished and warm feel.  However, the majority of those properties had sheet paneling that has about as much real wood in it as my plastic lawn chairs.  In my neck of the woods, we call that trailer paneling.  There has never been a painting or piece of furniture ever made in the history of the world that when put up against this type of paneling will make it look better.

When dealing with a wall covering that you can't live with, the best solution (in a perfect world) would be to have it all removed and replaced with nice new sheetrock.  However, what if you don't have the budget to have that done?  My solution?  Paint it!  This post will give you instructions on how to do this and a few visuals as to what it will look like if you do.

I'm a little torn about the thick really nice pine paneling.  I get that it's real wood and my rule has always been "if it's real wood - never paint".  However, when you have an entire room with it on every wall and only one or two windows.....I have to break that rule and paint it.  Once in while I will leave maybe one wall with the paneling untouched.  Another option would be to tape it off to chair railing height.  Paint the upper portion of the walls, clean the lower portion, add a chair rail and love the results!

But this post will be about completely changing paneling so let's get going!

Most people clean, prime and paint and then call it a day with paneling.  I don't know if it's because I'm a masochist or a perfectionist but when I cover paneling - I don't ever want to be reminded that there's paneling beneath that paint!  My only exception is when the paneling is real wood and you get that 3-D effect in the grooves.  I like the look of the deep groves once painted.  But trailer paneling?  I fill in the grooves and once I'm done, you'd never know it's not sheetrock.

Here's a few before shots of the paneling in question.
There's nothing even remotely attractive about this paneling.  All it accomplishes is making the room look dated and very dark.  Who could live in these rooms and not become suicidal??

Now some folks agree that they should paint the paneling.  But some folks obviously need more practice and taste before they attempt it judging from the picture below.

Below is an example of paneling that I'd never paint!  The first picture shows a room with floor to ceiling wood and then more wood in the beams.  However, it has tons of natural light that floods the room and keeps it from looking dark and depressing.  I'd never paint the wood in this room!

The room below has such gorgeous paneling!  Anyone who would even consider painting that should be arrested!

The room below has wood on every surface.  Floor, walls, ceiling.  Yet, again, because of the high ceilings and huge volume of natural light, it looks neither dark nor cave like.

Next take a look at the real wood pine paneling I was talking about.  It's real wood.  It has a nice wide plank.  It has wonderful knots.  I really love it.  Except for the fact that it covers every wall in a small dark room.  I've noticed that to be a real trend back in the 60's and 70's.  They invariably saved their dark paneling for small dark rooms.  Not a good idea.

Now how do you paint paneling?  While it's not a hard job, there are more steps to correctly paint paneling than sheet rock.

1.  You have to clean the paneling.  Paneling will grab hold of more dust, smoke, cooking oils than sheetrock, so while it may be okay to just take a dust mop and wipe down a wall covered in sheetrock, you need to actually hand wipe a paneled wall because every place that has a film will reject or at best, severely weaken the paint coverage.  Best to do it right the first time than to have to repeat the job down the road.

2.  Once you've cleaned the paneling and it's completely dry, we move to the next step.  Lightly sand the paneling to remove any gloss and take care of any splintering in the product.  Once you're done this, wipe the wall down with a damp (not wet) cloth to remove any dust.

Warning:  Shortcuts are awesome!!  I use them whenever possible.  However, if you don't remove the gloss and prime your paneling, your paint will literally slide off......below is an example for you.

3.  While you are cleaning and sanding your walls, stay on the lookout for any portions that have bowed.  As long as the paneling is dark, these bows don't seem to show up as much but once you have lightened them up - any bows will be glaringly obvious.  Using a nail with a head (to prevent the nail from eventually slipping through the paneling), nail these areas down to reduce or eliminate the bows.

4.  Now we get to fill in the all the grooves.  This is not as much of a time consuming job as you might think at first glance. Trust me, it's all worth it in the end.  I use the same joint compound used on sheetrock because it tends to shrink less over time.  I have used spackle in the past.  It worked just fine and my finished product was beautiful.  However, in about a year's time, it had shrunk to the point that it cracked in spots.  Those cracks showed through the paint and a redo was necessary.  For most sheet paneling the grooves aren't very deep so one good application should be all that is needed.  Once you get into the swing of it, it'll go by really quickly.  Let the compound dry (or cure) completely.  I did my paneling over the weekends so in one weekend, I cleaned and filled in the grooves and didn't come back to prime it until the following weekend which gave the compound more than ample time to cure.  However, if you're trying to get it done quickly, I'd follow the directions on the compound and allow it to cure based on the manufacturer's recommendations.  Normally 4 to 6 hours will be fine.  Below is an example of the process.

5.  Now that the compound is cured, go back over your work with a 100 grit sandpaper and just lightly sand to remove any excess.  You don't have to get every single drop that has gotten onto the paneling.  Just sand enough to make it all smooth.  Then, again, wipe the walls with a damp cloth to remove any dust.  If you still notice the grooves, go back over it once more with the joint compound step.

6.  You are ready to prime!  Any DIY store or paint store can point you in the direction of the proper primer for this project if you just tell them you are priming sheet paneling.  If you hate asking or the store's too busy for you to wait on a clerk, then just look for a shellac based stain blocking primer.  Make sure you turn the can around and read the directions to make sure it's the product that is geared for sheet paneling.  With this step, you apply it the same as wall paint.  I like to do two coats letting the first one cure completely before applying the second coat.  After you have applied the first coat and it has cured, go back over your wall with your hand to look for any rough spots that might need to be spot sanded.

7.  Paint!  This is the absolute last step in the process!  I am a two coat kinda girl but if you've properly prepared and primed your wall, one coat will usually do the trick especially if you've asked the paint guy/girl to tint your primer - highly recommended.

Below are a few examples of painted paneling.  The first is a kitchen covered in fake wood. A great big shout out to Kristie Barnett (The Decorologist) for these kitchen pictures.

Look what she's done to this kitchen!!  No new custom cabinets, just new lighting, counter tops, cabinet hardware, new floor covering and (most importantly) she painted all that dark wood! Beautiful!

Below is a paneled den.  It's not sheet paneling but there's just SO much wood in this rather small room.  From the picture it appears the room gets ample natural light.  But it's just not enough to liven up this dark room.

Now look at what she's done with it!  An amazing difference!  How bright and clean does this look?

Below is a very dark living room.  Even with the huge windows, this room looks like a cave.

Look at it now!  Again, light and clean.

Below is an example of paneling without filling in the grooves.  It looks amazing!

Below is another example of not filling in the grooves.  However, this one just looks like painted sheet paneling and I am not impressed.  I'm sure it looks far better than it did before, but it would have looked so much better with the grooves filled in.  Also, if you will notice about the middle of the wall towards the top is a section of paneling that has bowed.  I can't stress enough the importance of checking your wall (before you do anything else) for bowed sections and putting a few well placed nails in order to straighten it out.

As I said earlier, the best possible solution to replacing wall coverings such as sheet paneling, is to have a professional rip it all out and replace with sheetrock.  But sometimes for various reasons, this is not an option.  Maybe you're putting your house on the market for financial reasons and the money's not there.    Maybe it's a room that isn't used much and the added cost just isn't worth it to you.  Maybe you're like the majority of folks in this country and all your paycheck is already spent on rent, groceries and utilities.  Whatever your reason, painting the paneling is both a viable and attractive alternative to replacing it.

Feel free to let me know how your paneling experience goes!  I'd love to see photo's!

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Beadex 1 Gallon Pre-Mixed All Purpose Joint Compound 385278 (Google Affiliate Ad)


  1. I'm living in a cave of dark paneling sheets and want so much to brighten/whiten it up. It's my parents' old vacation cottage, and they used the paneling because it was cheap, quick, and 1970. Your advice was just what I needed. I'm enjoying your fun observations!

    1. Thank you so much for the comment! I'm glad my tip was helpful! When you're finished, please post pictures. I'd love the see the finished product.

    2. I am looking at a home built in 1970, the living room is dark cave that needs some light! I am torn about painting and looking for some other opinions. After reading through the blog and seeing other pictures, my situation seem to fall in the middle of the road. How do I post the pictures?

    3. What a great question!! I have fiddled and searched the help section and I honestly cannot figure out how to post a photo in the comment section! That's awful because I really really want to see your photo!....How about you send it to my personal email and then I can do a blog post about it? Would that work for you? My email is (All hackers and criminals - please disregard this info. LOL)