How to Paint Wood Paneling Without Sanding

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Less expensive and high-quality wood panels need to be repainted and stained. You can alter the appearance of wainscoting by sanding except for pine and walnut wood which has natural patterns and color.

If you want to know how to paint wood paneling without sanding in detail, here’s a guide from our woodworking experts!

Everything You Need to Know Before Painting

From wood filling and sanding to painting, you can restore the beauty of your solid wood paneling, and you can give it a brand-new appearance.

As long as it’s solid wood, you can do paneling without sanding before painting it. Since most of the wood paint paneling you’ve seen was built decades ago, you should know what’s the key to preserving it.

Can You Paint Wood Paneling?

Painting wood panel is difficult with the coat covering it to give it unique decorations and texture as a classy wooden surface. But with proper preparations for your paint job, the panels can be preserved. 

wall painted grey

In a common scenario, you just want to repaint it to bring back its life and have a fresh look in your house. Whatever your reasons, this article surely can cover your paint job.

Is it advisable to Paint Fake Wood Panels?

Now, aside from solid wood in the 1970s, you can also find a faux panel or popularly known as fake wood paneling. 

The once appealing finished walls turned to awful combinations of wood and plastic, and you have to struggle to remove them. If done by professionals, you have to pay a hefty amount of money.

But there’s always a solution in any wood project, and for faux or fake wood paneling, try to use a liquid sander to remove the primer. Replace it with a more adhesive first coat for your paint. Then the rest is painting the fake wood paneling like an ordinary wall.

Applying Paint on Wood Paneling Without Sanding: 4 Steps

Supplies You’ll Need

Step #1: Preparation

prepare painting materials

In any paint job, make sure you cover with the thin plastic sheeting or paper on the furniture and flooring or anything that possibly gets drops of excess paint. Aside from your workspace, you will need to clean the surface of the painted wood paneling outdated. 

Using soap and water, remove all the dirt and dust accumulated on the entire surface. Then dry it thoroughly to have good adhesion to the right primer. For the new paint wood paneling, you can use clean rags to wipe off the dirt. 

When it comes to the surface edges, use painter’s tape to keep the border lines’ clean. The tape will prevent the chosen paint from crossing over another surface, making it messy. 

After the preparations, you need to gear up with your hand gloves, goggles, and facemask. 

Step #2: Degrease/De-gloss the Wood Paneling Surface

How about if the panel surface were painted with gloss or primer with two coats? The gloss should be removed using a liquid deglosser for wood and faux panels. For the latter, the liquid sander can keep the wood-looking layer unsanded. 

pouring liquid sandpaper to cloth

Also, using a liquid sander can reduce dust particles in your workspace. You just need to wipe the chemical stripper so the gloss and grease will be removed. 

How to Degloss the Surface

Step #1: Ensure that you clean and dry the wood paneling surface and wear your safety gear – gloves, masks, and goggles.

Step #2: Using the lint-free damp cloth, apply the liquid sandpaper in a circular motion [1]. Make sure you cover the entire area. For best results, here’s a how to use liquid sandpaper correctly. 

Step #3: Then let the solvent dry completely so you can apply two coats. But you should double the one coat if the layer of the top coat is thicker than the regular glosser or primer coat.

Step #4: Get another clean, lint-free cloth to do a paint peeling using a de-glosser with the old coat of the panel surface. It is normal to have a blurry or hazy residue once the old glosser was removed. 

person holding white cloth

Step #5: Finally, you should remove the remaining impurities on the painted surfaces. Remember, the surface will have more adhesion and easily paint wood paneling if there’s no gloss on the surface.

Step #3: Prime Your Wood Paneling Surface

After you remove the gloss or grease on the panel surface, you need to apply a primer on it. The best primer should give the best adhesion to your painting to last longer, especially for outdoor wood paneling. So here’s how you would do it. 

For the panel surface, use your roller to apply a single layer of primer, while using your paintbrush for the corners of the panels.

After the first primer coat is completely dry, you can still add two layers to hide imperfections and ensure the surface is fully coated. For the shades of primer, you can have tinted or transparent.

Articles you might want to check out: 

Should You Prime Before Painting? What Happens if You Don’t Apply Primers Before Painting?

Prime wood paneling is the foundation of your paint, so you should apply it before painting. The main goal why pro woodworkers are using a primer is because it gives your panel surface and paints a perfect bond.

Kilz Primer

Otherwise, the painting on the panel without primer will need retouching once in a while. The surface texture will be uneven and cracks and crumbles on the surface. 

Just a reminder, though, that water-based primer should go with water-based painting and oil-based primer with oil-based paint.

Step #4: Start Painting the Surface

Finally, we are on the final step. So when the primer is set, you can get your paint and brush it on the surface. You can use a paint sprayer, and preferably you should apply two layers of painting as long as you give it adequate time to dry before applying multiple layers.

While painting more than one coat, you should mind the grooves. These areas take too long to cure as compared to the surface.

How to Paint Wooden Panels with Grooves

You’ll need special instructions on how to paint wood paneling without sanding. Excess paint can get stuck inside grooves, so you have to use smaller brushes.

painting grooves

Step #1: Prepare your workspace and supplies, and wear your safety gear. Then put the painter’s tape on the panel trim.

Step #2: Sand your wooden painted paneling using solvent solutions to remove only the glossy layer. 

Step #3: In dealing with grooves, you need to use an angled brush to apply the primer on smaller grooves. For the larger grooves, you can use the normal brush. If you want the grooves to disappear, you can use a wood putty knife or filler to flatten the area with the surface.

Step #4: After you finish with the primer second coat, you can paint it already. 

How To Paint Wood Wall Panels

Now you know the basic steps about painting your wood paneling without sanding, how about doing it with your wall panel? Here are the basic steps:

spray painting

Step #1: Prepare the workspace with your safety gear put on – the goggles, mask, and pair of gloves. Also, protect the floorings and the areas you don’t want to have a spot of painting using a thin plastic sheet.

Step #2: Using a damp rag, not too wet, remove the filth from your wall. If there are greases, use a cleaning or removal solution to get them off the surface. Look thoroughly at the crevices and grooves of the panels, which accumulated more dirt. 

Step #3: This is optional if your wall was painted with a primer or stain to give it a glossy look. As we mentioned, you have to de-gloss the panel surface to give it more adhesion to the paint. Use a liquid de-glosser to gently remove only the old primer or stain.

Step #4: Make sure the surface is dry before applying the putty for the nail holes and cracks. You can use any color of putty, as it will be painted over after it gets dry.

Step #5: After filling it, you can probably notice bumps on the surface. So, you have to lightly sand the wall using 100-grit sandpaper. Make sure to sand it just enough to maintain an even surface. Use a clean, lint-free cloth to wipe off all the dust particles.

absorbent cloth for cleaning

Step #6: When it comes to the painting the trim, remove it only if you want to retain its color. Otherwise, use a prybar tool to pull it from the panel and apply caulk if you see cracks and gaps. You can see these between the baseboard and ceiling. 

Step #7: Let the caulk and wood filler cure before applying the primer. Our experts recommend latex paint or stain-blocking primer so your painting will have the best result. You can use a roller to apply double layers of prime. Make sure it’s completely dry.

Suggested Read: How to Remove Caulk From Your Hands

Step #8: Once the primer is completely dry, spray or brush your paint. Make sure there are no dips and too much splattering on the paint. Also, you should start from the top part of the wall to the bottom. 

You can apply two layers to your top coat. You can lightly sand the wall surface in between the coats to have a smoother texture.

Painting To Use For Wood Paneling

Water-based paints are ideal for interior painting applications because they dry quickly and have a faint smell. 

using #2 Bates Paint Brush

While oil-based paints on your panels create a tough coat and cannot easily be removed. You will need a chemical stripper or solvent removal for oil-based paints. 

It should make the surface durable or tough from scratches and gouges. Wall painting paneling is susceptible to bumps and damage.

The gloss or sheen is important as it reflects your personality. When we say about the gloss, you can have it in different finishes aside from flat, which is the basic. You can have a finish in matte, eggshell, semi-gloss, gloss, and super gloss. 

But our experts recommend satin, gloss, and super gloss on a painting wall panel. These finishes can reflect minor scratches and damage.

Your wall paneling should be protected from water or moisture. Waterproof painting is highly recommended if you’re going to do painting outdoor painted surfaces. 

texture General Finishes Water-Based Milk Paint

If you’re not into spray paint and prefer the traditional paintbrush, look for one that has ease of application. A high-quality brush works perfectly with self-leveling paint. 

You should avoid the paint, which gives a yellow tone after application. Wall panel paint may come pre-tinted, while some types offer tinted ones but have yellow qualities over time.

So our top pick for painting wood paneling is the INSL-X Coat Enamel Satin Sheen paint (link)

It offers durability both for interior and exterior applications and has abrasion resistance which you need to keep your paneling in good condition. The INSL-X paint coverage is impressive, and the finish is durable. 

Recommend Primers to Use

Your paint will be in its superb result if you use recommended primers. Again, primers are essential to keep your panels a longer appealing look and to keep you from repainting them from time to time.

mixing oil-based primer


For water-based paint, you should use a latex-based primer or acrylic. Since it’s water soluble, it is less smelly, and you can rely on this primer with ease of application. Also, it can be easily cleaned and is versatile with any surface.

However, the moisture content of high-quality latex paint primers affects their adhesion with glossy paint. But you can look for some acrylic paint that can bond with glossy tile and faux wood paneling.


Oil-based primer or solvent-based is highly recommended by our experts because it offers water resistance and can go along with most surfaces. 

You can use an oil-based primer with outdoor wood surfaces to keep off the damage from extreme heat and cold weather.

But you have to take extra precautions while using oil-based primer due to its high toxicity levels. Most oil-based primer brands emit concentrated volatile organic compounds, which could make you nauseous.

Shellac Primer

If you’re going for a primer to hide the grooves and dry quickly, you should use a shellac primer. This will save you time on your project and eliminates the use of sanding and fillers. Although shellac primer costs higher than other primers, it pays off after use.

Zinsser Shellac

Avoid These Mistakes When Painting Wood-Paneled Walls

No one is perfect, so making mistakes when painting wood walls is understandable. So to keep you in check, here are the common mistakes that you should avoid: 

Buying the Wrong Type of Paint

With hundreds of thousands of shades and sheens of paint products, there is a higher chance of buying the wrong color of paint products.

Our solution is to ask for tester paint from the store so that you can see the actual color. Wait for a couple of minutes to soak the paint on the panel to see the color. 

Then try to look at different perspectives of the panel, so you have an idea of the paint’s color from all angles. 

Not Fixing Holes and Cracks Before Painting

How about the holes and cracks on the surface on it? Even if you paint over them, these imperfections are visible, and it gives a messy and unattractive appearance.

apply wood filler

Our solution, before painting, applying wood fillers is necessary to cover the holes, dents, and cracks on the surface. 

Painting the Wrong Color

If an area of the wall panels and its paint has been damaged, you need to repaint it with the same shades and sheen. 

Our solution is to choose the right color for solid wood paneling, and here are the essential guides. 

How to Choose the Right Color For Wood Paneling

Make sure that you know the sheen of your existing paint. However, the glossiness depends on the smoothness of the surface because the light reflecting the shiny part will highlight every imperfection.

Also, make sure the cans are labeled properly. A common mistake is mixing two different paint like matte, gloss, or flat. 

Forgetting to Use a Primer

Again, the best primer is the foundation of your paint, and if you skip this, the surface will have less adhesion to the paint. Since the wooden panel requires more coats, you have to put adequate, good, quality primer on the surface.

prime wall surface

Using the Wrong Type of Primer

Other than paint, the primer has many variations depending on the type of wood. Some woods like red cedar, redwood, and cypress have wood tannins that can stain the latex paint.

Our solutions use a stain-blocking primer with these types of wood. Some tinted primer products are labeled with tannin blocking. 

Can You Whitewash the Wood Paneling?

Whitewashing wood is your alternative for painting or easily paneling painting by lightening the color of the paint. It removes the top coat of the wood, which creates a natural, chalky, and rustic look. 

When you whitewashed the wood panel, you revealed the natural color of the wood. But make sure you use the right amount of solution, such as for dark colors; you can use thicker whitewashing and vice versa.

How To Make Wood Paneling Look Great Without Paint

Other than whitewash paneling, we recommend the following interior improvement on whether or not you paint wood paneling without sanding:

contemporary living room with hardwood floors

For the dark-colored panel, you can lighten the room by adding light-colored furniture and elements like rugs and pillows. 

You can also add some contrast with the horizontal wood paneling across the lower part of your wall. This will give an accent to your panel but make sure to balance every desired color with your panels.

If you want to give your room a dramatic effect, you can change the color around your wood paneling. Put cheap wood veneer to cover some areas of your window sills, trim, and fireplace, depending on the hues of your panels. 

Painting Wood Paneling Costs

But if you insist on painting it, how much should you spend? With the supplies you need, and for a 10ft x 12ft room, you will spend approximately $250 to $350. That cost will cover the paintbrush and roller, the primer and paint, and the painter’s tape. 

lady painting wall grey

For a low-end amount, you can paint your panel by spending $150 to $210. If you want to use high-end materials, you will need a hefty amount of $500 to $650. 

The costs depend on the type of material and the wood paneling (solid wood or fake wood paneling) to be fixed.

Next Readings


Can you paint directly over wood paneling?

No, you cannot paint directly over wood paneling because you need to prepare the wood surface first. You’ll have to de-gloss and apply shellac primers and ensure it’s completely dry before painting the wood panels. 

What is the best color to paint over paneling?

The best color to paint wood paneling is a neutral or light shade. These colors can be mixed and matched easily with your furniture, rags, and pillows. It is not complicated to arrange the accents and contrast in your room. 

Is paneling wood outdated?

Paneling has been part of interior design since the 1970s. So it is not surprising if our interior designers are looking at wood paneling as interior and exterior styles. According to reports, wood paneling became a trend in 2022 among specialists in wood design.


Now you know how to paint wood paneling without sanding, no need to doubt you’re planning to change their color or stain. For a tip, you can use liquid sandpaper or de-glosser and shellac primers before painting to give your wood panel a brand-new appearance. 

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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