How to Paint Wood Paneling Successfully

I bet I have something in the garage of my new-to-me older home that most homeowners can’t claim they have in theirs. Can you guess what it is?

As I was trying to create a more welcoming entry to the house from the garage. I didn’t realize the room had it until I started to take photos in the corner of the garage last week for this post on how to paint wood paneling.

There is brown wood paneling on all the walls in the garage. The wood paneling is not what surprised me though.

Tutorial showing how to easily paint wood paneling.

Did you see it?

What surprised me was that my garage… has crown molding! How cool is that? It is stained brown, but it is crown molding…  in the garage. :-)

When Ed and I were removing a desk that was in an upstairs closet we found out that 3 men built our house. We found their names written on the wall and the date, 1974.  The fact that they took the time to add crown molding to the garage tells me that they really put a lot of thought into every detail when they built the house.

Brown was a decor trend back in the 70’s and this house must have been “trennn….dy” back in the day, not so much now though.

How to paint over dark wood paneling. DIY decorating inspiration.

Corner of my garage before painting the brown paneling

I am trying to turn that around by painting all the brown paneling and wood in the house, with white paint.  So far I have painted my studioffice and now this corner of the garage.  Just so you don’t think I am crazy, I am not painting the entire garage, only this corner where we enter the house.

Learning how to paint wood paneling, 1970’s fake or real takes a little more effort than just painting a wall since you need to prime with a stain blocking primer first. It needs to be used  since the stain in the wood tends to discolor paint, that is why you need to use a “stain blocking primer”. It is worth the extra effort, as the wood paneling will resemble much nicer tongue and groove “cottage style” paneling once it is painted white.

The best water based stain blocking primer to use to paint wood paneling from the 1970's.

How to Paint Wood Paneling from the 1970’s

supplies needed:

  • Kilx Max Primer
  • Valspar Interior semi-gloss: Bistro White 7006-4 
  • 2″ angled Purdy paint brush
  • Smooth nap paint roller and roller cage and tray
  • Drop cloths, ladder, painter’s tape
  • Detergent or TSP and water
  • Spackle, putty knife,
  • Sanding block with 100 – 160 grit sandpaper
  • Optional: Caulk – I like DAP Alex Plus Easy Caulk
  1. Go over walls with 100 – 160 grit sandpaper on a sanding block. A quick going over is all that is needed. I use the motion like I was cleaning the walls with a sponge when I sand. You don’t have to do much.
  2. Fill holes with Spackle, let dry, then sand smooth.
  3. Clean walls of all dust and dirt with detergent and water or a TSP mixture. Rinse and let dry.
  4. Tape off areas you don’t want to paint with Painter’s tape.
  5. Stir primer well.
Before and after DIY garage makeover showing how to paint wood paneling.

5. Using a 2″ angled brush, start brushing primer into the vertical grooves in the paneling and around the floor and ceiling line.

Can fake wood paneling be painted successfully....YES. Learn what paint products to use for success.

6. Roll on one light coat of primer on the rest of the wall, let dry.

7. Repeat steps to add a second coat. Let this dry overnight. In the morning check to make sure the primer stayed white. If any area of the primed wall looks brown or orange, roll on another light coat of primer. (If you have a lot of stain coming through the paint you may need to use the shellac based Original Kilz. It is oil- based but does dry in 30 minutes). It will block any stubborn staining.

8. Once primer shows no signs of stain seeping through you can successfully paint the wall.

9. Optional:  I find when I paint around door jams the white paint shows where the joints don’t meet.  I fill these gaps with caulk and then smooth the caulk with an ice cube or a wet finger.  Once dry, I can paint right over it. Now the wood will look seamless.

10. Roll on 2 light coats of paint, letting the first one dry before applying the second.

Find out what the best primer is o use when painting over dark 1970's wood paneling.

Doesn’t it look so much better?  I may paint the door, but I want to wait until we decide what color to repaint the exterior trim on the house. I would like the door to coordinate with what ever color we choose.

Since taking this photo, Ed changed out the antique white light switch and plate on the wall so everything in the entry corner looks fresh and new without a major makeover.  I can’t imagine life without paint. It is the best and most economical way to change just about anything.

I am still not quite done with this corner, stay tuned to see what I added.

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Learn the one thing that you need to successfully paint over wood paneling. | In My Own Style

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  1. This looks so great! I appreciate all the details you included. Question: it’s hard to tell in the pics but does the final project look like a smooth walk or does it look more like a vertical shiplap wall? I’m hoping for the 2nd.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Leslie – When painted it looks like vertical shiplap. I recently painted paneling in my living room white and it looks similar to shiplap. The difference it the panels are various widths and the grooves are not as deep as shiplap. You can see it in this post: Look at the bottom of the photo in the post of the photo gallery wall after I painted it white.

  2. Looks amazing, but I wouldn’t paint the door. Just give it a fresh coat of poly!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Rosita – I never did paint any of the doors. I left them all stained and like the look now. When I first moved into the house, my previous home had all white doors so that was what I was used to seeing. :-) The stained wood doors add to how I decorate now.

  3. Great tutuorial but did I miss the part WHY you should paint wood paneling white?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Hailey – The only reason to paint it is if you dislike the color. :-)

  4. Tiffany Wiseman says:

    Beautiful job!! I realize this is an older post and I haven’t gone through your site (yet!) however, I hope you kept the door(s) brown. I’m all for updating the awful wood paneling… which is what led me here. :) my very first thought on the photo/pin was “beautiful doors!” – really love the brown, solid, wood against the white. your tips and step by step were great! Looking forward to bringing my 1982 living room to new life !!

  5. Hi Diane:

    In he 70’s when woos panelling was used they used trim pieces at the top and bottom. This gave it a finished look instead of rough cut wood edges particularly at the ceiling. I have the same trim pieces as you do and I wouldnt call it crown molding but trim pieces. Crown molding is larger and more ornate.

  6. Hi, I am just starting to paint my awful wood paneling and I researched and a lot of the sites said to sand the whole panels but it doesn’t seem like you did. Did u have any problems after yours was finished with paint flaking off or any cracks in the paint?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Amanda –

      I did sand and I see in my post that I didn’t elaborate on that step. I will add it. Thank you for noticing this. Yes, you should sand, but all that is needed is a quick 5 – 10 minute going over with 100 – 160 grit sandpaper on a sanding block. Run the block over the wall like you were scrubbing the walls with a sponge. You just want to rough up the surface slightly so the primer/paint has something to grab onto. Clean the walls, let dry and then paint.

      The paneling I painted this way look as good as the day I painted them. The real key to getting a lasting finish, is applying light coats of primer and paint. More light coats are better than one heavy one.

  7. Wondering if anyone has ever done with actual color paint? We bought a house with the non-wood paneling and I’m looking to make it look way better and not have to hear it out… thoughts a s suggestions, please!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Erika – Using a color other than white would look fabulous. I have seen it painted blue, neon, and red. Dark colors look amazing on it. Go for it. I would suggest you use an eggshell or satin finish. You don’t want it to look too flat or too shiny.

  8. Tiffany Owen says:

    Hi, we are planning on renovating our basement. We have real wood paneling and it has many knots and grooves in it, do you think it would be worth it to try and fill in all the knots and grooves? Would it look okay after? Or would just painting it look alright?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Tiffany – If you like the texture of the paneling, then I would go for it. Once the paneling is painted you will still see the texture of the wood, but not the wood color and knots. :-) Use wood filler in the knots and grooves. Sand them smooth, then prime, then paint. Priming is a must! Don’t skip. If the paneling does not have any finish on it, use a Multi Surface primer. I like Behr Multi-Surface. If it has a poly finish on it, you can use the Behr or Glidden GRipper. Both are sold at Home Depot. I would use 2 coats. Let these dry and then apply 2 coats of paint. It will look fabulous when you are done. Use a stiff paint brush to paint in the vertical lines and a roller every where else. I did this recently to fake paneling. you can read about it in this post:

  9. Hi Diane, I am revisiting this and I love how your entry way turned out. Can you tell me where you purchased your boxwood wreath? It’s difficult to find a really full one!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Nancy – I bought the boxwood wreath at Pier 1.

  10. Congratulations on your new home Diane! Had to see what you were doing with the wood paneling. I will be moving in the next few months myself and I’ve seen a lot of homes with the same issue – dark wood paneling. I once heard that you could fill in the grooves with wood putty and sand it down before painting but that just seemed like a lot of unrealistic work to get a smooth look. Can’t wait to see how your room turns out.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Kim – We looked at a lot of homes, most of them older and many of them with paneling. I like the look of painted paneling since it resembles a cottage look when painted. I think to fill the grooves would take forever and you would never be able to make the surface really smooth. Easier to just paint. :-) I hope your move goes well.

  11. Terri Gonzalez says:

    I own/live in a 1950’s ranch with paneling in the family room. I have struggled with the brown walls since I bought the home 40 years ago. My challenge has been painting over it because it is Phillipine Mahaogony that was installed board by board, so it’s not your typical flat paneling. Do you think that painting it would hurt the value of the home, and would you do it if it was your home? It’s not a very large room, and it’s in the center of the home, so it is dark. I had skylights installed about 25 years ago so I could have some light during the day, and 3 years ago, canned lights were installed. Please let me know your thoughts. Thanks

    1. You have lived with the dark for 40 years? I would paint it and not look back. Once it’s painted, no one will know or care what kind of wood is under the paint.

      It’s your home, enjoy it the way you would like it.

    2. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Terri – I would paint it. It doesn’t matter what kind of wood it is. If it doesn’t make you happy, then it has no worth to you. For resale value – light and bright is always the way to go, so I do not think you need to worry at all. Dark does not sell well. It would look WONDERFUL painted. Seeing the texture and the grooves between each piece will add so much interest to the wall and your room. I would not hesitate to paint it, not one bit. :-)

  12. Linda Pawlak says:

    Hi Diane! I LOVE what you are doing with your new home. I am so glad that a mutual friend told me about your blog. I have started going back through it for inspiration. Your ideas are incredible. We are starting a redo of our 26 year old home so I will be reading a lot! Thank you!

  13. I say go for it and do the whole garage!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Lisa – :-) Maybe someday I will tire of seeing the brown on the other walls in the garage. I am going to focus my painting efforts back inside the house now where there is lots more brown to paint over.

  14. Hi Diane! I love your painted panel. I think panel painted white give such a fresh, cozy, cottage-y appeal to rooms. I had a knotty pine paneled room in my home that my husband painted white. It was a little more time intensive with the knot holes wanting to bleed through 2 coats of primer and 2 coats of paint, but we persevered and got the finish we were looking for. I was so happy that we had that knotty pine panel, the finished white room has made for a lovely sitting room I can change out with seasonal decorating and it always feels right.

    It has been so much fun watching you and Ed make your way through the decorating of your new home. I can’t wait to see what is next! Have a great weekend.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Judy – What a HUGE difference painting Knotty Pine can make. I agree with you that when painted it is beautiful and does provide the perfect cottage feel. Kudos to your hubby for going the extra mile to make sure all the knots were sealed. :-) Happy weekend.

  15. I so enjoy your blog. Love what you are doing to your new home. Amazing what a can of paint will do. I look forward to seeing all the other things you will be doing to the house.

  16. My “new” old home had panelling in the kitchen and the spacing of the groves on it still resembled cheap panelling even when painted. Ripping it out would have meant moving the hot water baseboard heat and patching the ceiling. Instead I filled the grooves with spackle. It was labor intensive, spackle, sand, spackle, repeat, but the walls look like drywall and it has held up for over 10 years.

  17. Gilmer Gal says:

    Looks great! Good friends and family don’t use the front door!

  18. I really love paneling painted white. It looks so very cottagey. I’ve done it too a few times and truly loved the results! Paint to the rescue…SO many times :-)

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      I agree about white paneling, it does make look cottagey. :-) In the first house Ed and I lived in the entire house was paneled. We painted it in every room before we moved in. We left the carpet in to use as a drop cloth. Once we were finished painting, we removed the carpet knowing that there was hardwood in perfect condition underneath. It was a very easy paint project and made the house look charming instead of cramped and dated. Paint is the best!

  19. Wowzeeee does that look so good! Such a simple change with such a huge impact, nice job!!!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Debbie. Now I have to tackle the rest of the brown doors and trim in the house. :-)

  20. Donna Morris says:

    Amazing how the simplest change can make such a dramatic impact. The white painted entry from the garage is 100x more welcoming than the brown paneling! Your blog is one of the few I never tire of – love how you “keep it real”. It’s easy to see the great bones of your new “older” home. Looking forward to following you as you bring it to life!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Donna – I enjoy making what is already in place…prettier or as you said, “bringing it back to life”. I am happy to hear that you like that I “keep it real”. Since we have to watch every cent, big rip out remodels like on Fixer Upper and other HGTV shows are unrealistic for us. I love the challenge of finding less expensive ways to update and decorate. It is what makes the process more enjoyable for me. XO

  21. Melissa Leach says:

    Wow, it is amazing what a couple coats of paint can do! Good for you. You are like the Energizer Bunny!
    I am so enjoying this journey with the new to you Lake house.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Melissa –

      Paint is my best buddy for sure. It changes everything and makes it prettier almost in an instant. I enjoy transforming and decorating so it never feels too much like work. I am always excited to see the end result. That is what keeps me motivated so I can turn the house into a home we will love. I still can’t believe we actually made the move to the lake house happen. It makes me so happy that we decided to do it. Dreams do come true with willpower, change and lots of effort. XO

  22. Julia@Cuckoo4Design says:

    Looks so much better! And I always love just changing out light switches too. They make everything feel new.

  23. It’s been great reading all the posts about your new journey and home:) I love the white – we painted sheet rocked our entire garage and had the ceilings sprayed several years ago. Just so much more appealing when you open the doors.

    Sure wish I had those lovely brick stairs going in to my home.

  24. charisse Andrews at WHG says:

    White paint certainly will make a difference won’t it? Just as a reference point, maybe in your instructions, folks might want to consider an alternative to TSP. Many states have banned it, as it is considered toxic. No question that it works, but it needs to be used with caution for good reason. Here is a link on the pros and cons. It also should not be used on many surfaces because it will damage them.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Charisse – I did say to use detergent and water or TSP, but you bring up a good point. I will remove it from my list. I always just use the dish detergent I have on hand, it does the job well and is readily available.

  25. Elaine Williams in Baltimore says:

    Gives a much cleaner, crisper modern look to the entrance. Looks beautiful! Have you ever thought about using a paint sprayer? I imagine it takes time to build skill but I see them on HGTV remodeling and they seem like a dream. I’d love to be loose with one of them!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Elaine – I have used a sprayer in the past, but in tight areas like this, I would rather just roll the paint on and avoid having to mask everything or get overspray in the air that can get on everything. Sprayers are the best for big open rooms with nothing in them like they show when painting an empty room on HGTV remodeling shows. I am getting a spray gun and booth next week so I can paint lots of louvered doors. I will be posting all about using it soon.

  26. What an amazing difference you’ve made thus far! After reading your office organization post earlier this week, I was inspired to reorganize my office. Thanks for the unique ideas and inspiration you provide with your blog!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Carla – It makes me so happy to hear that what I write and post about has inspired you. Thanks for taking the time to tell me. I hope you enjoy your newly reorganized office and make it the room of your dreams.

  27. In the photo, it looks like you filled the grooves, but you don’t talk about it… Did you fill them, and if so, what did you use? Looks SO much better!!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Sara – I did not fill the grooves, only brushed paint into them. I wanted the grooves to show so the paneling looks like higher quality tongue and groove paneling or wainscoting. :-)

  28. Catherine D says:

    Wow! I cannot believe what all you and your husband have already gotten accomplished in such a short period of time of moving in a month ago. You don’t let any grass grow under your feet! I am So Very impressed!! Everything you do is gorgeous and done to perfection! I am thoroughly enjoying your journey in your new to you lake home! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks for the note Catherine – Since DIY’ing is my full-time job I can get a lot done in a day. I don’t have any distractions so I can stay pretty focused. It is how I support myself so I have to keep at it. It never feels like work though, I love the whole process. If I had a job outside of what I do, I would not be as productive. Ed works from home also and when he is on calls, he uses a mobile headset, he gets easy things done like changing out an outlet cover. :-)

  29. Brenda Lee says:

    That is too funny about the crown molding! My garage actually has crown molding as well. Really really nice crown molding. And is painted a lovely beige. I finally found out that once upon a time the garage had been enclosed and served as a den. My house too was built in the ’70’s. Thankfully someone had already taken the time and spent the effort to paint all of our icky brown wood paneling. It’s really not bad once painted. But having lived somewhere before where it was unpainted and EVERYWHERE I can certainly understand why you’d want to get it covered up double time ASAP! Your house is shaping up nicely!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Brenda – You are lucky that someone banished the 70’s brown from your house. :-) Like you said, it doesn’t look bad when painted. I think it can resemble wainscoting or tongue and groove paneling when it is painted. I wondered if a previous owner had used the garage as a room once, but was told by our neighbor that it has always been a garage. :-) Enjoy your weekend.