Paint can transform paneling

Last things first: If you look at the materials list for this project, you notice that the last item required for painting paneling is your spouse’s permission. Guys love paneling  and the darker, the better.

I think more dark paneling was installed in the ’60s and ’70s than ever before. Unfortunately it isn’t as attractive now as it was then. The good thing is you won’t have to remove the paneling; it can be painted. Believe me  it looks terrific.

My decorating pal Shari Hiller and I have painted many rooms with paneling and we haven’t had one complaint from the wife or the husband.


Soap and water

220-grit sandpaper

Multipurpose primer sealer

Interior latex paint

3/8-inch roller cover

Paint roller, roller tray


Your spouse’s permission

Step 1: Stop to think

The first thing you need to do is to decide if you really want to paint your paneling. After all, once it’s painted, that’s it. So think it over before you start. Still want to continue? Then read on.

Step 2: The good, the bad and the ugly

Some paneling (generally the really inexpensive stuff) is actually a photo of wood grain that has been glued to the front of a plywood or composite type board. Conventional wisdom would say that this type of paneling can’t be painted. Well I for one never listen to conventional wisdom  I say paint it.

If you are still nervous about it, pick an inconspicuous spot and do a test patch. If you don’t think paint will last, then don’t do it. But unless you are using the room as an indoor soccer field, the paint should adhere.

Step 3: Fat free? No, oil free

You need to make sure that the paneling is free of dirt and oil. Wash it well with a mild detergent and water (dishwashing detergent works great). After the walls have dried, sand lightly with 220-grit sandpaper. A pole sander can help make the job easier. Wipe the sanding dust away with a damp cloth.

Step 4: Go for it

Prime the paneling with a stain-blocking primer. Paint it on just like a normal wall, masking off the ceiling, trim and baseboards. Cut in the edges with a brush, and roll on the primer using a 3/8-inch roller cover. Allow to dry completely (at least 24 hours).

Now paint the paneling with an interior latex paint. I prefer satin finish because it is durable and can be washed easily. Paint as you did the primer, cutting in the edges with a brush and then rolling on the paint.

Here’s a tip: After you roll a small section, use a wide paintbrush (4 inch) and go over it from ceiling to floor in long strokes. I do this to create an “Old World” look (remember, before rollers all paint was brushed on). Let dry thoroughly, then add your second coat.

Step 5: Groovy man, groovy

What about those grooves? Well, those will remain unless you fill them all in. To do so requires filling all of them  and I mean all  with spackling compound or drywall compound, letting it dry and then sanding it smooth. Personally, I like the groovy look. It adds texture to the wall and enhances the paint job. (And I don’t know about you, but I hate sanding spackle.)

Are you ready to give it try? Shari and I have done it, and it turns out great. Just remember to do the prep, and you’ll be fine. Maybe you can get your spouse to help. Maybe.

 Matt Fox writes this column with Shari Hiller. They also co-host the Home and Garden Television show “Room by Room.” For more information, visit