Painting paneling can be a great option when renovating on a budget.  There are many products on the market now that can turn a room full of ugly even plastic paneling into a trendy updated room for very little cost.

As long as the panelling is secure to the wall and not half falling off, this can be a great way to save money and add some interest to a room.  If you are looking at a house to purchase or you already own one with dark and ugly panelling that has been glued and nailed to the wall, then removing it is an option but it can get expensive.

But how to paint panelling? How do you make the paint stick?  Whether it is wood or plastic, there are a few steps to take to ensure adhesion and coverage. 

HIGH ADHESION PRIMER.. that is the answer. The ad pictured below is the best on the market in my opinion.

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How to Paint Cheap Wall Panelling –  CLEAN

This is one of the most important steps.  Take a good degreaser such as Fantastic or 409 spray or TPS cleaner and follow the instructions and really give it a good cleaning.  (make sure to wear gloves as these can be harsh on the skin) Chances are that over the years, products have been used on the panelling such as furniture polish or other grease or oil based products, even wax on wood wall panelling.

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How to Paint over Wood PanellingCredit:


Fill Any Holes – Once you have given it a good cleaning and rinsed and dried the panelling, you are going to get some wood filler and fill in any holes that are in the wall board, such as nail holes or hook holes from hanging pictures etc.  These holes may not look obvious right now, but they will tend to stand out more if you are painting the panelling a light color.  You may also want to fill in any knot holes on wood panelling.

Let it dry (or whatever the wood filler product recommends) then lightly sand it smooth.

Make sure all the panels are secure to the wall too.  If you have made the decision to paint, and a few panels are loose, then use either nails or panel glue to make sure they are well secured to the wall before you start.

Primer – Next you are going to prepare the area for painting, by removing furniture (you may have already done this when cleaning) put down a drop sheet, and get yourself a package of rollers that are designed for uneven surfaces, they tend to be thicker, a good paint brush for getting into deeper crevices and paint trays.

Purchase a good adhesion primer, such as Zinsser products.  Don’t get a primer that is simply used to cover bare drywall or deeper colours, you actually need to get a HIGH ADHESION PRIMER.  By getting this style of primer, you will be creating a “tooth” for your main colour.

This is the most important step (and cleaning) in order for your paint colour to stick to the panelling, especially a plastic or cheaper panelling.  It is also good to use over wood panelling as it will create an even surface for the paint and not have the paint being absorbed.  Renovating on a budget, does mean some hard work!  It will say on the can whether it is high adhesion.  Zinsser is one company that makes a line of these products.  Many of these can be painted over glass and not come off, so you don’t want to be spilling any of this on your carpets or floors!  Make sure you use a drop cloth.

How To Paint Panelling -  Use two coats of primer, following the directions on the can.  When painting panelling with raised patterns, make sure and push hard with the roller to get into all the crevices, you may need to also use a paint brush to get into the seams as well.  Make sure you cover all of the panelling.  If you are going to be painting the panels a dark colour you can get the primer tinted, but otherwise this primer tends to be white, which is perfect under lighter colours.

Main Colour – Now comes the fun bit.  After you have put two coats of high adhesion primer on the wall and let it dry, you can now put on two coats of your main colour.  That old and dated panelling will come to life in a new way! How to Paint Over Panelling - After PictureCredit:

I have personally found that painting the plastic or wood panelling with a light colour really adds to a room, opening it up and giving it a fresh feeling.

I followed the steps above in the office of an industrial space we rented.  It had beige plastic panelling inside that was dirty and dated.  It was going to cost too much to remove it, as there was no drywall behind it.  It was secure to the wall but ugly.  We cleaned it, primed it, and painted it a soft butter colour, and ivory on the window trim and that dreary room came to life on the cheap!

The above steps would also work well on wainscoting or partially panelled walls too.  Renovating on a budget also means working with what you have.  So before you start shredding your home, why not look at opportunities to reuse? 

Get familiar with new paint products that are on the market now.  You may find that there are many ways to reduce costs simply by “covering it up”  If you have a pitted wall you can plaster it, if you are good with those products, or you can purchase paint with texture material in it and simply blend the pitted marks.  I discovered many of these products while checking out the paint store.

If you have a house full of dark wood, or ugly plastic panelling, then consider painting it and using it as extra texture to your décor.  It is much cheaper to paint then to shred!

Rust-Oleum 2004 Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer, 1 Quart, 946 ml, White
Amazon Price: $11.99 $8.51 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 30, 2018)