Knowing how to paint wood paneling white is an important skill needed to repurpose old decor into something new and refreshing.

Though many elements of mid-century style are now making comebacks, wood paneling is not at the top of that list. If you want to stay in the 70s and like the dark look of wood-paneled walls and decor, then this article is probably not for you.

Check out these steps on how to paint wood paneling white and get started on your own painting project!

1. To Paint or Not to Paint

Choosing to paint wood paneling is a big decision and a permanent commitment; once you paint over wood paneling, you have passed the point of no return.

Replacing wood paneling can be tricky and expensive, especially since paneling is often installed both with nails along with an adhesive, so removal can do more damage to the walls than it’s worth. Also, consider the quality of the paneling: is it dated and damages? Or do you live in an older home with high-quality classic wood? If your wood paneling is of the variety common in the 60s and 70s, then painting over it is an obvious choice and a cheap and easy way to updated and brighten any space.

Is it real wood?

Some wood paneling is actually just a vinyl coasting or image of wood grain glued on top of the plywood or another kind of board. You can decide to paint it if you want, but be sure to test out a small sample to see how that paint will look and if it’s a worthy venture.

To check if your paneling isn’t real wood, sand a small area on the wall. If it is vinyl, the top coasting will come off easily and show the board underneath.

2. Clean the Panels

Make sure the area you are painting is free of dirt and oil so that the paint can have a smooth finish and properly adhere to the walls. Using water and a rag is a great starting point, though dirty walls should be cleaned with mild soap as well, such as dishwater detergent mixed with water.

3. Fill in Grooves

This step is only necessary if you want a flat, finished product and want to get rid of the grooves between the panels. Fill them in with lightweight spackle or wood putty applied with a putty knife. Use the same process to cover any nail holes or other damages you need to smooth over. Once the spackle is dry, sand it smooth with a sanding block and wipe away any dust or residue with a damp rag.

4. Sand the Walls

This step is a bit controversial: some say always to sand your wood paneling prior to painting and others say it isn’t really necessary. The basic idea is to de-gloss the paneling and remove glossy finished by sanding the walls. This will also give you a more textured surface that the paint will better adhere to.

It honestly depends on the type of paneling you are dealing with. If your wood panels clearly have a heavy gloss and exterior coating, then, by all means, sand away. However, cheaper wood panels common in many mid-twentieth century homes will typically be fine with just a couple coats of primer.

If you’re not sure what to do, just sand the walls anyway to be safe. You can use a sanding block, a pole sander, or an orbital sander. Don’t apply too much pressure when sanding and sand the trim and molding by hand if necessary; you only need to sand a thin layer, not all the way down to the base wood. Wipe down the area with a damp rag when finished.

5. Final Prep

If you haven’t already, remove anything handing on the walls and nearby furniture. Use painters tape to cover baseboards, molding, ceiling edges, and any other areas you don’t intend to paint. Put down drop cloths or plastic sheeting to protect your floors and other furniture. You should remove any light switch our outlet covers, that way you can have an easier workspace and won’t risk getting paint on these accessories.

If there are any remaining gaps or cracks in your wall, such as near doors and windows or where your paneling alines with the baseboard, use caulk to fill in these spaces prior to painting.

6. Prime

In painting wood paneling white, it’s best to use either a high quality, oil-based primer or a latex stain-blocking primer. This will help cover the dark wood a create a solid surface for the top layer of paint.

Use a foam sponge roller to apply primer and always have a paintbrush on standby to fill in any cracks or corners that the roller cannot reach. It’s usually best to apply two coats of primer to ensure that wood stain doesn’t show through the paint. Let each coat of primer dry before moving to the next step. Don’t forget to prime the trim so that everything matches!


Pro Tip for Priming

If using latex, stain-blocking primer, tint it with a bit of paint from your final color [if it’s not white]. This will help improve your ability to hide the dark wood color you are trying to cover and will go well with your final coats of paint.

7. Paint

When painting wood paneling white, use a high-quality latex paint. Determine what type of finish you want for your paint prior to starting to project.

Use the same method as painting the primer: cover the walls with a roller and use a paintbrush to fill in the grooves and corners. Make sure to smooth over the area around the grooves before that paint dries and smooth over drips as soon as possible for the best results. When painting walls, even wood paneling, it’s best to start at the top and work your way down.

Depending on how many coats of primer you applied and the type of wood paneling you are covering, you may need to paint a second or even third top coat. As always, let the paint dry completely before starting the next coat. Don’t forget to paint any trim and molding that you have prepped and want to match.


We hope these steps help show you how to paint wood paneling white!

Kopeck Painting is here to help you with any of your future painting projects.

If you have any questions about exterior or interior painting or would like to find out Kopeck Painting’s estimate for your project, give us a call!