How To Paint Wood Paneling

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Painting wood paneling is decorative and can add style and character to any room in your home. There are several ways to paint them, but there are some things you should take into consideration before deciding on the method, including how old the wood panels are.

In this article, we will provide you with these factors along with information on how to paint wood paneling correctly – let's get right into it.

Surface preparation

The surface you plan to paint will need some preparation before painting can take place successfully.

This is because most paints do not stick well on surfaces with poor quality or highly absorbent material such as clay plaster, limewash, or a damp concrete wall, etc. Surfaces also should be free of dust, grease, dirt, and other foreign materials like smoke residue.

The ideal way to prepare your surface for painting is to clean it thoroughly starting with the removal of any loose debris using a brush or vacuum cleaner.

After this, you should use a surface preparation product like TSP (trisodium phosphate), bleach, or a chemical paint stripper to clean the surface and remove any dirt or oil that might cause problems later as we shall discuss below.

Next, wash down the surface with some cold water which will remove any excess cleaning solution leaving only the cleaned residue to dry off naturally.

The final step in preparing your wood paneling for painting is sanding them using fine-grit sandpaper starting with coarse and ending with fine-grit sandpaper followed by sweeping clean after each step to ensure there is no loose debris that may cause rough spots on your paneling while you are going over them for the third time.

Ways that you can paint wood paneling

Now let's take a look at the different ways that you can paint wood paneling.

Painted Wood Paneling Method 1 – Brush method

This is one way many people like to paint their wood paneling because of the simplicity involved in it, which will be discussed below. 

Let's get started:

1) Choose your preferred color and prepare all that is needed such as the painting surface, roller covers, brush, trays for cleaning and storage of paints, etc. Wear gloves during this process as some surfaces may have chemical residues on them making them harmful if they come in contact with bare skin.

2) Next, remove all debris from the surface using either a vacuum cleaner or by brushing it off gently with a soft brush. Start by brushing the top of the paneling and gradually work your way to the sides so as not to ruin the overall aesthetic effect if any.

3) Get a painter's tray, place it under where you want to start painting, and put it on some newspaper or drop cloth (whichever is more convenient for you). Now set up your paint stand with the roller cover on it making sure that all excess paint will drip off into your tray before beginning.

Get some paint onto your brush through its bristles, working from bottom to top of the paneling while holding it at an angle starting from one corner and working sideways across until reaching the other end.


The paint should be about ¾” thick at this stage after you have finished.

4) Work from one end of the paneling to another, allowing paint to dry after every application by leaving for about 10 minutes before proceeding. If you want a more matte finish, then wait for longer than that.  The matte look is achieved by applying fewer coats of varnish as opposed to just one coat which gives a shiny one.

5) Use the roller cover instead of a brush if you feel like doing so because it will allow you to apply an even coat of paint which will prevent light patches from forming in some areas. You must, however, learn how to use it properly and not spread excess paint on your paneling since this could result in splotchy patches that ruin the overall effect.

Most importantly protect yourself while doing this method by wearing a painter's mask to avoid breathing in any fumes from the paint.

6) After you are done with this, wait for the paint to dry and your paneling is ready for finishing touches using some fine-grit sandpaper which will give it that final shine and smoothness.

Painted Wood Paneling Method 2 – Spray Painting Method

In spray painting wood paneling, there is no need to use brushes or rollers since you can just as easily let a machine do the job for you if you have one at home or else go out and rent one of those things from local stores such as home depot or lowes. 

This method will be discussed below:

1) The first thing to do after cleaning your surface is to choose the color which you will be spraying on your wood paneling. Find out the number of coats that will go into producing the color and then continue to the next step after applying all those coatings.

2) You can also choose a metallic paint if you want an effect of shininess such as gold, silver, etc, however, let me warn you that this kind of effect only lasts for about 3 years before fading away completely, so if you are choosing this option then it is best done with high-end wood paneling.

With spray paint, you can easily correct any mistakes or patches where excess paint from your brush may have landed so rest assured knowing that you'll get a smooth finish at the end of the day and won't have to worry about how much money you've wasted because of these mistakes.


3) Start by spraying vertically then horizontally, this way you'll achieve more even coatings than just doing one direction which will cause more uneven coverage than desired.

4) Now, when using this method, make sure that there is no wind blowing nearby especially if you are at home as it could result in excess drips. When choosing a spray paint for wood paneling, ensure that it is a high-quality one because these are specifically made for this purpose so they won't tear apart easily when applied on a treated wooden surface which will bend or warp, possibly causing cracks and creases throughout its entire surface. Read more on bending wood.

5) Always apply two coats before proceeding to the next step since initially with only one coat you may not get the exact color that you are aiming for since not all wood panels are made equal and can vary from brand to brand, however in most cases two coats will provide a more accurate result due to better coverage.

6) After spraying your desired surface with paint of your choice then wait for it to completely dry before proceeding to the next step which is sanding. After this stage you'll have hours if not days to wait before continuing any further so keep this in mind when going about doing anything else.

7) Using medium-grit sandpaper, start by lightly sanding down the sprayed area until smooth, without causing uneven surfaces or scratches of any sort. This way you're making it look finished and done. Also the reason for this is to allow the paint to actually stick with your wood paneling since if there are uneven surfaces then it won't be able to adhere properly and therefore will most likely flake off in a short period.

However, make sure that you choose the right grit based on what color paint you have used.

Colors such as white or lighter shades require finer grit sandpaper while darker colors should use medium or coarse ones. These can leave more scratches on your paneling while still at an acceptable level where they won't look bad enough to cause any concern.

8) After lightly sanding your area of choice, proceed by using finer-grit sandpaper such as 150 or 180 so that you can smooth out rough surface areas created from using coarser ones before.

By now you should already be familiar with how much sanding is to be carried out so proceed until your area looks smooth and feels soft to the touch.

9) Now that your surfaces are finally smooth, it's time to prepare for staining by wiping off any dust particles or debris on the surface of wood paneling since they can cause uneven coloring later on which will look terrible if done carelessly.

10) Then using a rag soaked with mineral spirits, start rubbing down the just sanded spot repeatedly back and forth ensuring that you remove all excess sanding residue on surface edges such as corners.

This ensures that the paint won't stick in those areas and therefore not get stained properly but still make sure that you don't rub too hard on your paneling to the point where you're leaving scratches in the wood surface as this will be difficult to repair afterward.

11) When applying stain, be sure that you use a spray bottle or some other sort of container to hold it because even though this product is quite thick, sometimes it can overflow and drip onto unwanted surfaces such as your clothes.

This ends up causing stains that may not wash off easily so better safe than sorry. As needed, just re-dip your rag into mineral spirits and continue rubbing down the spot until it's finally stained evenly.

Other considerations when painting wood panels

Some other things to consider when painting wood paneling are whether the paneling is old or new. If it's old, it may have been stained or varnished and this will need to be removed because you want a smooth surface.

The best way to do this is with TSP (trisodium phosphate) cleaner which can be found at any hardware store and is inexpensive and very effective.

trisodium phosphate for kitchen
Image Credit: Kitchen Infinity Photo

Final thoughts on how to paint wood paneling

As you can see, there are more things to think about when painting wood paneling than you might initially imagine.

However, it is by no means rocket science and a little bit of research will go a long way in helping you decide on the best way forward in your situation.

Painted wood paneling adds character and style to any room in your home and by following these tips, you’ll get the best results possible.

Dino Paccino

Dino Paccino

Dino is a lifelong writer and home improvement specialist. He enjoys bringing cutting-edge information on home renovation and remodeling to Kitchen Infinity.

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