Wood paneling became very popular in the 1930's, and remains a classic look even today. It is a durable covering for any wall and adds a certain elegance to any home. Over time, the paneling can become faded, and the color distorted. This usually won't require you to totally tear down the existing paneling. There are a few things you can try in order to restore the original look of wood paneling.
Step 1: Cleaning
Often times a thorough cleaning is all that is necessary to restore the wood's original luster. Use an oil soap, such as Murphy's soap, to remove any built up grime. This will remove any dust, debris, and other pollutants that has attached itself to the surface of the wood. To do this, simply get a large sponge slightly damp, but don't over-wet it. Gently clean the panels one at a time by rubbing in the same direction. Use a dry cloth to soak up excess moisture.
Once that is done, apply the lemon oil to restore luster. Lemon oil works well on natural wood, as it doesn't produce too glossy of a finish. Just pour a light coat of oil on a sponge and slowly work it in to the wood. If this doesn't work, then you may need to remove the finish and apply a new coat.
Step 2: Nicks and Scratches
Most wood paneling will have minor flaws after a period of usage. Nicks and superficial scratches can be covered with wood stain and a cotton swab. Apply the stain, then wipe away any excess with a dry cloth.
Step 3: Gouges
If you have areas with gouges or large chips missing, this can be fixed with wood putty. Follow the directions provided by the manufacturer, apply the putty, allow it to dry, sand it down, and apply the stain over it. After the stain has dried, check to ensure everything looks even. If the paneling is old, the stains may not match. If this is the case, see the next step for refinishing all of the paneling.
Step 4: Refinish Planks
If the planks have become dingy with time, or if they are so old that finding a matching stain is nearly impossible, then refinishing all the planks may be your only option. This will take some time, but it isn't difficult. Use a mild stripper to remove the old finish. This can only be done if the area is well vented. If you don't have enough windows to let in fresh air, then using a hand sander to remove the finish is the best idea.
Once the old finish is removed, clean the planks with a mild detergent. Allow the planks to dry, and start applying a new stain. Once the stain has dried, you can seal the planks to protect the new finish.