How to Paint Wood Paneling {DIY Instructions}

As promised, here are the how-to instructions for how to take a room looking like this:


To something like this:



And this:


Let’s get to it! Here’s a list of supplies you need to paint wood paneling:
1.) 1 gallon of oil-based primer (I used Kilz, about $18 per gallon)
2.) 1 gallon of paint color of your choice (I used Mindful Gray by Sherwin Williams)
3.) Purdy Roller Covers- YES, they HAVE to be Purdy rollers. I picked up a pack of 3 for $10 at Lowes. Make sure to get the one for smooth surfaces.
4.) Purdy Paint Brushes- YES, they HAVE to be Purdy paint brushes. If taken care of, these will last you a long time. Consider it an investment. We bought a 3 pack for $20.
5.) Scotch Edge Lock painters tape, 1.5” wide (1 roll should be enough)
6.) Spackle/wood filler (I love Dry Dex brand- it’s about $2)
7.) Lysol/Clorox Wipes
8.) Scraper to smooth out wood filler (you could use an old gift card in all honesty)
9.) Paint thinner if you plan to clean your Purdy roller after using oil-based primer
10.) Drop cloths/plastic sheets- we bought about 5 from Dollar Tree
11.) White Semi/High-Gloss paint if you need to paint trim or baseboards (We used Kilz High Gloss in Bright White- only at Wal-Mart)
12.) Rollers- also get a lengthening attachment if you don’t want stand on a step stool while painting
13.) A ladder/step stool to reach high places, if needed.
14.) Gallon sized ziploc bags (We bought a pack from Dollar Tree)
TOTAL ESTIMATED COST: $150-$200 (less if you have some of these items, we didn’t)

TIME NEEDED: 3-4 days

DIFFICULTY: Novice/Beginner

If your wood paneling happens to be shellacked, you’d need these as well:
1.) Sanding block/sandpaper
2.) Tack cloths

My wood paneling, thank GOD, was NOT shellacked, so I didn’t have to sand. This doesn’t mean there isn’t prep work, because trust me, there is. I wiped clean all the walls with regular Lysol wipes. I probably used up about 10 wipes. After wiping down all the walls, I went around with some spackle and filled in all the nail holes and patches in the wall.




The above photos show what your walls should look like after filling in the holes. The spackle I used went on pink and dried white, so I knew when it was OK to move onto the next step. Remember to scrape off excess spackle/filler using a scraper/old giftcard. This will make sure it’s flush with the wall.

Now, you need to lay down your drop cloths so you don’t splatter oil-based primer/paint onto your floor. We taped them to the base boards using masking tape. Also, if you’re not moving furniture from the room (we didn’t) cover it with a sheet of plastic as well.


Next step is to prime. This is the part where I gush about Purdy rollers/brushes. GUSH. Yes, that’s how fabulous I think their products are. They gave us such a smooth finish on our walls that no other roller has ever been able to do on a project of ours. Now I know why so many people only use Purdy products when painting, and now we’re converts, too. The brushes were also a great investment for us because we used them to fill in all the grooves in the paneling- it turned out flawless. Here’s what we bought from Lowes:


We used one of the rollers to prime the walls. I always feel a slight panic attack when I see primer go on because it tends to look terrible.


Remember, primer is not supposed to look perfect. Get a good even coat on the walls, trim and baseboards. Our trim & baseboards were also dark wood, so this was imperative for us to do. Oh the joy.

Let the primer dry (we let it dry overnight) and then the next day we started painting with the Mindful Gray paint from Sherwin Williams. This is the part that gets daunting. Exhausting. You’ll feel delirious.

It will pass. Say that to yourself. It will pass.

I do want to mention that Young House Love told us to get primer into the grooves…I did that for about 50% of one wall, and then said FORGET IT. In the end, we didn’t prime the grooves and it all turned out fine. My advice? Don’t waste your time. But, if you want to, go ahead and prime all the grooves and then paint them. Up to you.

Grab your 2nd Purdy roller, and start putting on the first of 2 coats of paint. The Sherwin Williams paint we used had a recoat time of 4 hours, so make sure to pay attention to that for best painting results.

Tip: if you need to take a break from painting, put your roller/brush into a gallon-sized ziploc bag, seal it tight, and it’ll stay moist for when you’re ready to go again. I learned that handy tip from Bari on Twitter!

We used 2 coats of paint and that worked out well for us. And yes, you’ll likely need to use one of your Purdy brushes to get into every. single. groove. It will pass. It will pass. The grooves took us forever, but just take it one groove at a time. My husband painted along with me, so we had fun talking all day while getting the grooves painted.

Again, let the paint dry overnight because you’ll be taping off your trim/baseboards in the next step. Trust me, you don’t want to peel off the paint you just applied 2 coats of. Patience young grasshopper.

Many people love Frog Tape, but I am going to remain loyal to Scotch Blue painters tape. It worked so fabulous, and I barely had to touch up anything in the end. I used the 1.5” wide tape that they sent me for free since I won a contest on Twitter. I am impressed!


Once the 2nd coat of paint is dry, I then taped off all the trim around the ceiling, beams, doors, baseboards and carpet. Yes, the tape even worked well on my carpet- there was no paint seepage whatsoever. Bravo!



Then I used a 2-inch Purdy brush (told you they come in handy!) to paint the trim. It took about 3 coats to get the bright white color I wanted. While the last coat is still wet, peel off the blue painters tape. You’ll hopefully have nice, straight, crisp trim that did not drip down onto your walls. If it did, touch up with the wall paint. The Purdy brushes and the Kilz paint created a beautiful, smooth finish.




At this point, because I am a perfectionist, I walked around the entire living room to do touch-ups. I had very few to do thanks to the high quality Purdy Rollers and Scotch Blue Painters tape.

Once everything was dry, my husband and I moved all the furniture back to its proper place, and we ended up with a fabulous, modern living room. While the task may seem daunting, I truly feel this project can be taken on by a beginner/novice. Just know it probably cannot be done in one day. It’s not possible, or likely not possible. We did this project over our Thanksgiving break, and it was time consuming. Hard. Frustrating. The end result? So worth it. It’ll instantly update a room and add value to your home. What could be better than that? Not much, in my opinion.

Also, if you look at the first picture in this post you’ll see we also had a dark wood built-in bookshelf that we painted white- we did the exact same steps that I outlined above with the addition of sealing the shelves with 2 coats of polyurethane ($10 for a quart at Wal-Mart). Yes, we used a Purdy roller to apply the polyurethane- flawless finish.

To see the complete before/after pictures, click on over to this post, but here’s some more just to inspire you to paint your wood paneling or tackle that project that seems overwhelming. I am telling you- DO IT! You’ll feel so much better afterwards. DO IT!




What do you think? Is this a project you’d take on? Already done this project and have some tips? Share them in the comments section!

I hope my directions are easy to follow, but if you have any questions or need some clarification, please feel free to ask me in the comments or e-mail me at [email protected] I am here to help! Or feel free to tweet at me on Twitter- @MonicaBenavidez



  1. MiriamR
    December 16, 2010 / 7:16 pm

    I love that you painted the paneling! It looks Fantastic and just in time for christmas!

  2. Kim @ Savvy Southern Style
    December 16, 2010 / 8:30 pm

    Wonderful new look. Wow, what a difference and great tutorial. Thanks so much for linking up.

    • Anonymous
      October 28, 2016 / 2:35 pm

      Great tutorial and not like so many other sites that are unreadable because of too many ads. Thanks!

  3. Alex
    December 16, 2010 / 9:18 pm

    it looks FANTASTIC!!! i love the color and the throw pillows. AWESOME AWESOME JOB!

  4. It's a Wannabe Decorator's Life
    December 16, 2010 / 10:53 pm

    You really did a fabulous job! And a great step by step tutorial!

  5. December 16, 2010 / 11:43 pm

    I know that it was so much work, but it looks freaking BEAUTIFUL! The color is so calming too, I just want to melt right into the room. Scoot over PW, don't hog the chaise.

  6. Bari
    December 17, 2010 / 1:04 pm

    The room turned out beautifully, Monica! I'm so glad the ziplock trick worked for you 🙂

  7. Maryann @ Domestically-Speaking
    December 18, 2010 / 2:58 am

    Great tutorial! I'm putting your paneling in the PoPP Spotlight. I totally agree… Purdy is worth every penny!

  8. Simone @ Doberman's by the Sea
    December 18, 2010 / 11:04 am

    Great tutorial and job. That looks like it was a lot of work. The room looks 100 percent better. Happy 4. Advent.

  9. Katie @ On the Banks of Squaw Creek
    December 18, 2010 / 7:50 pm

    This looks great! I'm going to show my sister – she just painted her paneling and has the same type of ceiling and hasn't decided how to do the top. Your room is great inspiration!

  10. Holly
    December 19, 2010 / 8:28 am

    A BIG job…but so worth it. The result is an amazing looking room!Holly504 MainDIY Club

  11. Denise
    December 19, 2010 / 8:59 pm

    My niece has dark paneling that she is dying to paint. Her fireplace area looks so similar to yours. I sent her a link. Your room turned out great – so light and airy now!

  12. ALVN of WhisperWood Cottage and Junkologie
    December 21, 2010 / 12:15 am

    Congrats on making the Top 10 at The DIY Club!Amy

  13. Alicia
    December 22, 2010 / 1:15 am

    Wow, amazing transformation Monica! Looks beautiful!

  14. The DIY Show Off
    December 23, 2010 / 11:47 pm

    I love the look of painted paneling! You did a fantastic job! HUGE improvement and I love the color! :)Roeshel

  15. muralimanohar
    February 11, 2011 / 6:11 pm

    My entire house is entirely raw wood paneling, a million years old, and I get to paint it finally…I have no issues with painting, having done a million rooms in my time; but I've never done raw, question..does it HAVE to be oil based primer for it? Someone else mentioned the same thing, but I am getting a headache already just at the thought of the smell. :(BTW..awesome job in your's what I dream my place will be like when I finish. 😀

  16. Their Mommy His Wife
    February 28, 2011 / 2:56 am

    I recently started following your blog. Thanks for the inspiration!My circa 1981 dark paneled/faux rustic beam ceiling is a near carbon copy of your Before pics. Now I have a concrete visualization to show my husband how much better it will look if it's painted with white trim. The only difference is that there is a very wide beam (of the same wood as the ceiling beam)that serves as "crown molding", included also as trim around the skylights, and on the gabled ends of the room above that wide beam is MORE dark paneling– up to where it meets the ceiling beam.. and then it's popcorn ugh. I'm hoping in a year or so to purchase enough beadboard-type sheets or other tongue and groove looking material– painted white and cover up the popcorn, having the lines of the beadboard run perpendicular to the ceiling beams, and trim it out with quarter round… Much less mess than scraping popcorn. (I hope all of that makes some sense!)Best wishes on your future projects!

  17. Little Lovables
    July 22, 2011 / 3:07 pm

    I so love, it… and especially the color you chose. Would look fab with a painted white fireplace!Ad oh, the couch, so cute!

  18. Julia Chase
    January 9, 2013 / 3:23 pm

    I painted the paneling in my basement, but instead of using a separate primer I used Behr paint & primer in one. I've used this throughout the house and think it's a miracle product.

  19. Jenn
    November 18, 2013 / 5:56 pm

    Can I ask why did you put polyurethane on the bookshelves?

  20. Jenn
    November 18, 2013 / 5:56 pm

    Can I ask why did you put polyurethane on the bookshelves?

  21. Jenn
    November 18, 2013 / 5:56 pm

    Can I ask why did you put polyurethane on the bookshelves?

  22. Lady Sara
    February 28, 2014 / 1:35 am

    I too LOVE my painted paneled walls.I painted our three bedrooms that had the original 1965 paneling on the walls. They turned out wonderful! I washed them with Simple Green, then very lightly sanded using a sponge hand-held sanding block. I used a non-oil type of Kilz primer. No smells, easy clean up. I did use a 1" Wooster brand brush (great investment high quality brushes are!), and did all the grooves with the primer. I used Benjamin Moore's Aura paint in matte finish. Fabulous paint to work with! And it covered the paneling beautifully. Using a matte (flat) finish was I think important as it hides imperfections so well. And BM's Aura matte finish on the walls has been very durable and easy to clean too. For the rollers, you are in love with the Purdy's, but I have the same love for the Wooster Micro-Plush roller covers! There is no 'orange peel' effect like you can get with some roller covers, the paint especially the top/finish coats of paint look like they have been sprayed on. So smooth. One other step that made things look seamless is to use a white paintable caulk. With your caulk in the caulk gun and a very small opening, go along all the baseboards, and all along the ceiling where the shoe or molding is. I also caulked along the seams of the shoe molding that was in each of the corners of my rooms. Caulking just fills in all those 'gaps' that can be seen. Thank you for showing us your great transformation.

  23. tacia22
    March 9, 2014 / 11:45 pm

    I am painting my paneling this week with the blog instructions above. I accidentally bought the wrong primer…water based Kilz instead of oil based…should I return it or will it work too?

  24. Jamie Garcia
    December 29, 2014 / 3:14 am

    I'm still in negotiations with my husband over painting the rec room (Tri level house) :D.Thank you so much for a very easy to follow and detailed tutorial! Your rooms look wonderful, just beautiful.

  25. Matthew
    March 11, 2016 / 3:23 pm

    This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Please keep up the effective work.

  26. koren
    June 5, 2016 / 9:24 pm

    Great post, Monica. I'm mid-negotiation for a 1914 bungalow that is 50% covered with awful, fake paneling. Who knows what lurks behind it; knowing I can paint it might cause me to skip finding out!

  27. Unknown
    July 10, 2016 / 9:36 pm

    Thank you so much for the tutorial! I am an absolute beginner when it comes to DIY and painting, but I used your guide to paint over the ugly faux wood paneling in our breezway. It turned out great! Anyone who is considering doing this but isn't confident about their ability…do it! If I can, you can!

  28. Leeskid2
    May 4, 2018 / 7:37 pm

    Thank you for posting pictures and very thorough DIY instructions! Our daughter painted our 1981 paneling for us. We used Zinsslers Cover Stain & SW 1549 Balboa Mist. The transformation was amazing!! I posted pictures below… hopefully !

  29. Unknown
    July 11, 2018 / 8:35 am

    Hi, MonicaThank you so much for posting this. I have been wanting to paint my living room for some time now.i just want sure how to tackle the paneling.It seemed overwhelming. But now I feel I can take on the project. Thank you so much for the detailed step by step in your blog. It's going to be very helpful. Oh my I forgot to say how beautiful yours turned out! Great job to you and your husband.