Can You Stain Wood Paneling? — Clean and Refinish Panels!

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Wood paneling is a favored choice for sprucing up interior walls, bringing a cozy feel and a touch of character to your space. Yet, as time passes, the original luster and style of your wood paneling might lose their charm.

If you’re thinking of breathing new life into your wood paneling, staining stands as an excellent choice, promising a fresh lease on its visual appeal. In this guide, join me in delving into the topic of whether staining is a suitable option for your wood paneling project.

Is it Recommended to Apply Stain on Wood Paneling?

It depends on your personal preference and the condition of the wood paneling. Staining wood paneling can enhance its natural beauty and provide a protective finish that can prevent damage from moisture and sunlight.

However, if the wood paneling is already in good condition and has a natural finish that you like, staining may not be necessary.

Staining wood panel

What is the Best Stain for Wood Paneling?

Oil-based stains are highly recommended for staining wood paneling or any wooden surface due to their significant drying period, which allows for a more even and consistent finish. 

The extended drying time of oil-based stains provides ample opportunity for the stain to penetrate and adhere to the wood, resulting in a smooth and uniform appearance. 

Thus, this makes oil-based stains an excellent choice for achieving high-quality results when working with wood.

Guide to Staining Wood Panels

Tools and Materials

Step #1: Prepare Your Workspace

To ensure you have enough room to move around and work comfortably, it’s a good idea to rearrange your furniture. It’s also wise to have some drop cloths on hand. 

These can be used to protect your floor once you’ve finished painting, and they’re handy for keeping your workspace clean while you prepare the surface by sanding.

Prior to starting the project, keep the required supplies nearby. Once the necessary materials are all accessible, you can move on to the following step of the process.

Step #2: Clean and Wash Your Panels

materials on staining

Now, thoroughly clean the boards. One way to achieve this is by making a mixture of hot water and soap.

Afterward, soak the sponge to the cleansing mixture and softly rub the wood panels to remove any gathered dirt, handprints, heel scuffs, grime, body oils, or other blemishes. Avoid putting excessive pressure while cleaning, as it could cause the stains to further penetrate the wood.

After cleaning, dry the panel using a lint-free [1], absorbent, soft cloth and assure that there should be zero water left on the panels. Before continuing with the next step, allow the paneling to completely dry naturally.

Step #3: Start Sanding

After the panels are completely dry, utilize a 120-grit (medium-coarse) sandpaper for the initial sanding process. This will eliminate any surface bumps and other irregularities.

If you want the surface to be completely smooth, you can fill indentations using wood putty or wood filler beforehand, then allow it to dry and cure.

sanding wood

After you’ve smoothed out the surface, switch to a 220-grit sandpaper and gently sand the entire paneling to give it a smoother feel. 

Even though the surface is now nice and even after this second round of sanding, it’s strongly recommended to add a final touch of finesse using a 400-grit sandpaper for that impeccable finish.

The extra-fine sandpaper (400-grit) provides the paneling with a smoother finish by removing any small imperfections or scratches left from the previous sanding, preparing it for stain and primer application.

The entire process of sanding also helps in removing the exterior layer of the wood that has been worn out, bringing back its natural warmth and elegance.

Step #4: Clear the Dust Off

Once the sanding is completed, utilize a vacuum cleaner to extract the sawdust from the panels, with particular attention to the gaps between the wood panels, where most of the dust collect.

VALENGO New Lint Free Rags

Following this, utilize a damp lint-free rag to wipe the entire surface of the panel, ensuring that you wring out the rag beforehand to eliminate excess water.

Alternatively, instead of a wet rag, you can utilize a tack cloth, as it is typically more effective in wiping off wood dust from surfaces that have been sanded.

Step #5: Use a Conditioner

Once the surface has dried, apply two coats of primer that block stain. Spread the primer thinly but evenly. This is particularly important when working with wall panels made of softwoods like spruce and pine, which are composed of pores that are unequal in size or distribution.

If not primed, these types of wood are likely to have uneven coloration when stained. Applying a pre-stain primer in thin layers evens out the pores, resulting in a uniform stain application without any splotches or uneven discoloration.

Use a primer from the same manufacturer of the stain that will be used, especially a primer of superior quality.

Step #6: Start Staining

Start staining

Although every step of this process is crucial, staining is indeed the most significant aspect of this job. For optimal results, use a lint-free, soft cloth to apply the stain for the wood. Polish the panels uniformly and consistently following the direction of the wood grain.

Now, you can stain the wood paneling with an oil-based formula or a product of your choice. For a lighter color, instantly wipe off the excess stain using a lint-free rag. 

In case you prefer a deeper color, let the stain sit on the surface for a duration of 5 to 10 minutes before removing it by wiping. The longer the stain remains, the deeper the color will be, but be careful not to leave it on for an excessive amount of time.

If the stain is left on for an extended period, the surface will become tacky and never dry. Therefore, make sure to wipe off all excess stains and leave a thin coat. For optimal outcomes, wipe through the wood grain’s direction.

Removing sand dust

Wait for the recommended drying time before applying another coat if you desire a more intense hue. However, if you would like a lighter shade, one coat can suffice.

Step #7: Finish the Surface

If you prefer, you can also apply a top layer that will secure the color. Polyurethanes or varnishes are examples of topcoats that dry and create a durable coating, making the wood undamaged from scratches.

Topcoats also safeguard the wood from water and spills of chemicals, which can help preserve its color and extend the life of the panels.

The application of the finish can be done using a sprayer, paintbrush, or roller, depending on your personal preference. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use it for this step.

Finalizing stain

Advantages of Staining Your Panels

Ways to Transform Your Wood Panels’ Color

Now that you can stain wood paneling properly, you may also opt for these steps to further enhance your paneling’s appearance and look:

Rust-Oleum 287722 Ultra Interior Chalked Acrylic Paint

Method #1: Painting

Changing the appearance of wooden panels can be achieved relatively quick by painting them, which requires surface preparation similar to staining. Cleaning the boards is an essential step before painting, just like washing and drying the panels before staining.

To achieve proper adhesion, the wood surface must be cleaned and sanded. Use an appropriate paint primer prior to painting. Unlike staining, a sprayer or paint roller can be used, and wiping off excess paint is not necessary.

To achieve the best results, apply an equal layer of paint to the panels, ensuring full coverage of the overall surface. A top layer is not necessary for painted wood paneling, but it’s important to select a resilient primer and paint for long-lasting results.

Despite the vast color selection of paint, white is commonly the most chosen option for wooden panels as it brightens the space.

wood painting

Method #2: Make it a Wall

Covering your paneling with drywall can be a convenient and efficient way to update its appearance. Drywall is a construction material that can create walls and ceilings with minimal mess.

This method is relatively clean and fast compared to staining or painting, as you only need to install the drywall over the panels without the need for cleaning or sanding.

Drywall is also affordable and long-lasting, and can be purchased at most home improvement stores, with installation instructions included.

Method #3: Hide it Behind a Painting or Wall Art

Wall art offers a benefit of coming in different sizes, enabling you to select larger pieces that can cover a significant area of the panel to completely or partially hide it, depending on what you like.

If you want to limit the number of art pieces you purchase, you have the option to select either one or a pair eye-catching pieces that draw attention away from the wood panel to the artwork itself.

Alternatively, you can consider using mirrors, photo collections or large sculptures to achieve the same effect. Any of these concepts, alone or in combination, can be effective.

wall art

Method #4: Use Shelves or Curtains

One option to hide the wall panels is to build shelves directly, which can also add functionality to the space. Another option is to hang curtains over the paneling, which can effectively conceal it.


How can I make the wood panel’s color lighter?

To make the wood panel’s color lighter you have various options, including painting the wood paneling white, staining it to a lighter shade, or covering it with curtains that are vibrant or vivid in color to conceal it quickly.

Can I apply stain on old wood panels?

Yes, you can apply stain on old wood panels. To begin, clean and sand the paneling and then apply a primer that blocks stain before the application. If the goal is to brighten up the area, I would recommend using a lighter shade of wood stain.

How do I make my wood panel appear like weathered wood?

To make your wood panel appear like weathered wood, you can lightly sand the boards and then apply a whitewash paint to them. But how to whitewash wood? Read next!

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Wood paneling adds a touch of timeless elegance to countless homes. Yet, as the years roll by, it might lose its luster and feel a tad out of fashion. The good news is, you can breathe new life into your space by staining your wood paneling.

Feel free to explore various staining methods, honing in on the one that best complements your unique style and personal taste. It’s an exciting journey to refresh your living space and make it truly yours.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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