Does your home feature dark and dated paneling? If your home was built in the 1960s or 70s, it more than likely has some. It’s a big and costly home improvement project to tear out paneling and replace it with drywall.

An alternative way to get your home out of the 70s is to paint your paneled walls. At Select Painting, we know the value of a well-done paint job. However, if you’re thinking about doing it yourself, here is a step-by-step guide to help you out.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Rag cloths
  • Joint Compound (if you’re filling your panel grooves)
  • Spackle
  • Pole Sander
  • Caulking
  • Painters tape and drop cloths
  • Stain-blocking primer
  • Paint
  • Medium-nap roller and paint brush   

Painting Tools

Clean Away the Dirt and Grime

It’s essential to take the time to thoroughly prep your walls to make certain the paint will adhere, and give you a professional finished look. The first step is to wash down your walls with soap and water. Dishwashing soap is a good choice, as it’s gentle on your walls.

Make sure that you clean in all the grooves to prevent dirt and dust from ruining your paint job. If your walls have extra oil or grime, consider using TSP solution or another heavy-duty cleaner.

Grooves or No Grooves

Before you begin painting, decide if you want to keep the grooves on your paneled walls or not. In the last decade, painted paneling made a comeback, especially with designers like Joanna Gaines making shiplap a wall-design staple.

If paneled walls are not for you, simply fill in the grooves to achieve a drywall look without going through the hassle of removing the panelboards.

Work drywall joint compound or wood filler into the grooves in your paneling. Talk to a home improvement or hardware store staff member to find out which product they recommend. Danny Lipford has a quick tutorial video on filling paneling grooves with drywall compound.

Wood Background

Spackle and Sand

Whether you cover over or leave the grooves in your paneling, the next step is to patch any nail holes or cracks in the wall. It’s important to do this to make a smooth surface so that your paint job doesn’t look blemished. Use either spackling or wood putty. The choice is yours.

Once all the holes and cracks are filled, be sure to give enough time for the putty to dry. Unlike most plasterboard walls in your home, you need to lightly sand wood paneling before painting. recommends using medium grit sandpaper, around 120-grit, to get rid of any bumps or imperfections in the paneling.

You’ll make the extensive job of sanding easier by using a pole sander. Pole sanders help you to sand walls from top to bottom without step stools or repeated bending. When you’re done sanding, use a damp cloth to wipe away any excess dust.

If you’re planning to paint molding, baseboards, or other trim, be sure to give them a gentle sanding as well to help the paint adhere. Wipe down all the trim with a damp cloth before painting.

Caulk to Seal Gaps

Caulk to Seal Gaps

It’s a good idea to caulk along baseboards, molding, and panelboard seams, as well as around window and door frames. This helps to close up any gaps between the panels and trim. If you don’t seal the gaps, they will show through and be accentuated when you paint.

Choosing the right kind of caulk and applying it smoothly is essential. There are clear or colored caulking available, which you to change the look of your finished walls.

Here’s a step-by-step Home Guide to help you figure out the best choices and methods.


After you take the steps required to prepare your walls, you’re ready to prime them. The type of paneling you have will determine what kind of primer you should use. There are two types of finishes for paneling: real wood and vinyl or laminate suggests using oil-based primer for real wood paneling and latex primer for laminate paneling. Because of wood paneling’s veneer finish, grease, watermarks, and smoke stains are hard to clean off and more common. Because of this, you should use a stain-blocking primer to prevent any grease or grime from showing through on your paint job.


Use the same paint and primer type: oil-based for oil-based, latex for latex. Tinting the primer to match the paint color you’ve chosen adds another layer of protection against the panel color showing through. This works well especially for dark panels that you’re trying to paint white or lighten.   

Block off walls using painter’s tape and apply primer until all the paneling is covered with an even coat. Have a paintbrush handy to paint edges, corners, and grooves. Prime any trim you’re going to paint as well. Allow the primer to dry completely overnight.

And Finally Painting

The final and most rewarding step in your paneling project is to paint. Apply your first coat of paint using a medium-nap roller in a smooth top-to-bottom motion. Use a paintbrush to wipe off any drips or excess paint in the grooves.

Let your first coat of paint dry completely, leaving it at least overnight. You might find yourself feeling like you’re done when you take a step back to see how the first coat looks. However, it is always a good idea to do a second coat to finish the job right.

Feeling Overwhelmed? We Can Help!

As you can see, there are a lot of steps to painting paneling. If the idea of taking on this kind of project is overwhelming, give our friendly staff at Select Painting a call. We have the experience and knowledge to take your dark 70s paneling and transform it into the vision you have for your home.

We offer our clients a free estimate for your project to know what it will cost before we ever set foot in your home. We look forward to working with you!