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How to Paint Wood Paneling {DIY Instructions}

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As promised, here are the how-to instructions for how to take a room looking like this:


To something like this:



And this:


Let’s get to it! Here’s a list of supplies you need to paint wood paneling:
1.) 1 gallon of oil-based primer (I used Kilz, about $18 per gallon)
2.) 1 gallon of paint color of your choice (I used Mindful Gray by Sherwin Williams)
3.) Purdy Roller Covers- YES, they HAVE to be Purdy rollers. I picked up a pack of 3 for $10 at Lowes. Make sure to get the one for smooth surfaces.
4.) Purdy Paint Brushes- YES, they HAVE to be Purdy paint brushes. If taken care of, these will last you a long time. Consider it an investment. We bought a 3 pack for $20.
5.) Scotch Edge Lock painters tape, 1.5” wide (1 roll should be enough)
6.) Spackle/wood filler (I love Dry Dex brand- it’s about $2)
7.) Lysol/Clorox Wipes
8.) Scraper to smooth out wood filler (you could use an old gift card in all honesty)
9.) Paint thinner if you plan to clean your Purdy roller after using oil-based primer
10.) Drop cloths/plastic sheets- we bought about 5 from Dollar Tree
11.) White Semi/High-Gloss paint if you need to paint trim or baseboards (We used Kilz High Gloss in Bright White- only at Wal-Mart)
12.) Rollers- also get a lengthening attachment if you don’t want stand on a step stool while painting
13.) A ladder/step stool to reach high places, if needed.
14.) Gallon sized ziploc bags (We bought a pack from Dollar Tree)
TOTAL ESTIMATED COST: $150-$200 (less if you have some of these items, we didn’t)

TIME NEEDED: 3-4 days

DIFFICULTY: Novice/Beginner

If your wood paneling happens to be shellacked, you’d need these as well:
1.) Sanding block/sandpaper
2.) Tack cloths

My wood paneling, thank GOD, was NOT shellacked, so I didn’t have to sand. This doesn’t mean there isn’t prep work, because trust me, there is. I wiped clean all the walls with regular Lysol wipes. I probably used up about 10 wipes. After wiping down all the walls, I went around with some spackle and filled in all the nail holes and patches in the wall.




The above photos show what your walls should look like after filling in the holes. The spackle I used went on pink and dried white, so I knew when it was OK to move onto the next step. Remember to scrape off excess spackle/filler using a scraper/old giftcard. This will make sure it’s flush with the wall.

Now, you need to lay down your drop cloths so you don’t splatter oil-based primer/paint onto your floor. We taped them to the base boards using masking tape. Also, if you’re not moving furniture from the room (we didn’t) cover it with a sheet of plastic as well.


Next step is to prime. This is the part where I gush about Purdy rollers/brushes. GUSH. Yes, that’s how fabulous I think their products are. They gave us such a smooth finish on our walls that no other roller has ever been able to do on a project of ours. Now I know why so many people only use Purdy products when painting, and now we’re converts, too. The brushes were also a great investment for us because we used them to fill in all the grooves in the paneling- it turned out flawless. Here’s what we bought from Lowes:


We used one of the rollers to prime the walls. I always feel a slight panic attack when I see primer go on because it tends to look terrible.


Remember, primer is not supposed to look perfect. Get a good even coat on the walls, trim and baseboards. Our trim & baseboards were also dark wood, so this was imperative for us to do. Oh the joy.

Let the primer dry (we let it dry overnight) and then the next day we started painting with the Mindful Gray paint from Sherwin Williams. This is the part that gets daunting. Exhausting. You’ll feel delirious.

It will pass. Say that to yourself. It will pass.

I do want to mention that Young House Love told us to get primer into the grooves…I did that for about 50% of one wall, and then said FORGET IT. In the end, we didn’t prime the grooves and it all turned out fine. My advice? Don’t waste your time. But, if you want to, go ahead and prime all the grooves and then paint them. Up to you.

Grab your 2nd Purdy roller, and start putting on the first of 2 coats of paint. The Sherwin Williams paint we used had a recoat time of 4 hours, so make sure to pay attention to that for best painting results.

Tip: if you need to take a break from painting, put your roller/brush into a gallon-sized ziploc bag, seal it tight, and it’ll stay moist for when you’re ready to go again. I learned that handy tip from Bari on Twitter!

We used 2 coats of paint and that worked out well for us. And yes, you’ll likely need to use one of your Purdy brushes to get into every. single. groove. It will pass. It will pass. The grooves took us forever, but just take it one groove at a time. My husband painted along with me, so we had fun talking all day while getting the grooves painted.

Again, let the paint dry overnight because you’ll be taping off your trim/baseboards in the next step. Trust me, you don’t want to peel off the paint you just applied 2 coats of. Patience young grasshopper.

Many people love Frog Tape, but I am going to remain loyal to Scotch Blue painters tape. It worked so fabulous, and I barely had to touch up anything in the end. I used the 1.5” wide tape that they sent me for free since I won a contest on Twitter. I am impressed!


Once the 2nd coat of paint is dry, I then taped off all the trim around the ceiling, beams, doors, baseboards and carpet. Yes, the tape even worked well on my carpet- there was no paint seepage whatsoever. Bravo!



Then I used a 2-inch Purdy brush (told you they come in handy!) to paint the trim. It took about 3 coats to get the bright white color I wanted. While the last coat is still wet, peel off the blue painters tape. You’ll hopefully have nice, straight, crisp trim that did not drip down onto your walls. If it did, touch up with the wall paint. The Purdy brushes and the Kilz paint created a beautiful, smooth finish.




At this point, because I am a perfectionist, I walked around the entire living room to do touch-ups. I had very few to do thanks to the high quality Purdy Rollers and Scotch Blue Painters tape.

Once everything was dry, my husband and I moved all the furniture back to its proper place, and we ended up with a fabulous, modern living room. While the task may seem daunting, I truly feel this project can be taken on by a beginner/novice. Just know it probably cannot be done in one day. It’s not possible, or likely not possible. We did this project over our Thanksgiving break, and it was time consuming. Hard. Frustrating. The end result? So worth it. It’ll instantly update a room and add value to your home. What could be better than that? Not much, in my opinion.

Also, if you look at the first picture in this post you’ll see we also had a dark wood built-in bookshelf that we painted white- we did the exact same steps that I outlined above with the addition of sealing the shelves with 2 coats of polyurethane ($10 for a quart at Wal-Mart). Yes, we used a Purdy roller to apply the polyurethane- flawless finish.

To see the complete before/after pictures, click on over to this post, but here’s some more just to inspire you to paint your wood paneling or tackle that project that seems overwhelming. I am telling you- DO IT! You’ll feel so much better afterwards. DO IT!




What do you think? Is this a project you’d take on? Already done this project and have some tips? Share them in the comments section!

I hope my directions are easy to follow, but if you have any questions or need some clarification, please feel free to ask me in the comments or e-mail me at [email protected] I am here to help! Or feel free to tweet at me on Twitter- @MonicaBenavidez


Wednesday 11th of July 2018

Hi, MonicaThank you so much for posting this. I have been wanting to paint my living room for some time now.i just want sure how to tackle the paneling.It seemed overwhelming. But now I feel I can take on the project. Thank you so much for the detailed step by step in your blog. It's going to be very helpful. Oh my I forgot to say how beautiful yours turned out! Great job to you and your husband.


Friday 4th of May 2018

Thank you for posting pictures and very thorough DIY instructions! Our daughter painted our 1981 paneling for us. We used Zinsslers Cover Stain & SW 1549 Balboa Mist. The transformation was amazing!! I posted pictures below... hopefully !


Sunday 10th of July 2016

Thank you so much for the tutorial! I am an absolute beginner when it comes to DIY and painting, but I used your guide to paint over the ugly faux wood paneling in our breezway. It turned out great! Anyone who is considering doing this but isn't confident about their it! If I can, you can!


Sunday 5th of June 2016

Great post, Monica. I'm mid-negotiation for a 1914 bungalow that is 50% covered with awful, fake paneling. Who knows what lurks behind it; knowing I can paint it might cause me to skip finding out!


Friday 11th of March 2016

This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Please keep up the effective work.

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