Painting over wood paneling is an inexpensive, quick decorating fix that can bring a new sense of space and light to a room, especially if the paneling is worn, dark, or out-of-date. It’s a good way to go if remodeling and plasterboard or wallboard is not an option. Like a remodel, think of this as a permanent design change because it can’t be undone. Paneling has a slick surface that doesn't readily accept paint, but painting it is fairly simple if the surface is properly prepared first.
Sand the Paneling
A light sanding before the primer coat will encourage primer and paint adhesion. Use 100-grit sandpaper to rough up the smooth surface of the paneling. After sanding, use a cloth to wipe the wall and clean up the dust left behind. Finally, wipe down the walls with a chemical deglossing liquid to remove any trace of the paneling’s old finish.
Prime the Wall
Apply a good quality latex primer to the wood paneling to give it a surface that can accept paint without peeling and blistering becoming a problem down the road. The other benefit of priming is covering the color and grain of the wood paneling. Without a good primer coat, it may take three or more coats of paint to cover the paneling adequately so that no trace of the wood shows through. Primer can be tinted to closely match the color of the paint that will be applied as well. Tint your primer in the same shade or a shade or two lighter, and only one or two coats of paint will be needed to cover dark paneled walls.
Fill the Grooves
If you want to get rid of the grooves in the paneling altogether, simply use spackle or joint compound to fill them, but only after the primer coat so the spackle adheres properly. If the finish coat is going to be semi-gloss, the spackle will have to be primed as well before applying the semi-gloss paint.
"Cutting in" refers to painting about three inches inward along the edges and corners of the walls with a paintbrush before painting the wall surface with a roller. The distance should be wide enough to cover areas paint rollers cannot reach or anywhere the roller might scrape and mark adjacent ceilings and floors.
Paint the Paneling
If you wish to leave the texture of the grooves, they will not cover easily with a roller when applying primer or paint. Paint the paneled walls with a paint roller as you would any other wall surface. As you roll on the first coat of paint, paint the grooves with a brush, blending in with the rolled surface to hide the brushstrokes. With the walls completely wet with paint, the brush glides through the grooves.
On the second coat, don’t use the brush at all, or it will show its significance. Just use the roller on the second coat, as the grooves will already be covered. When using shiny paint - semi-gloss or gloss - if you paint all of the grooves with a brush before rolling, the brush strokes will never go away and will be very evident. So go over the brush strokes with a roller on the first coat.
Even without a large remodeling and redecorating budget, paneled walls can be painted to create a brighter, better wall space, for just a small investment of time and money. The difference created by simply painting paneled walls is dramatic, and an investment well worth the effort.