How to Paint Over 1970s Paneling

In the 1970s, paneling was a popular look for walls. While there are benefits to paneling, including fewer upkeep requirements than painted sheetrock, many people no longer prefer the appearance of this sort of wall covering. If your home still has some lingering paneling, and you would like an inexpensive fix, fear not. Painting over dark wooden paneling, though a bit time-consuming, yields excellent results.

Vintage 1970's vertical wood panel
credit: dankellis/iStock/GettyImages
How to Paint Over 1970s Paneling

Prepare the Walls

To prepare the walls for painting, remove everything from the room. Put a drop cloth or plastic sheeting over the floor, and tape down the edges with painter's tape. If you use plastic, take care, as it can be slippery to walk on.

Remove any nails, screws, hooks, outlet covers or other hardware from your walls. Take down curtains and curtain rods until you have completed your painting project.

Fill any holes or cracks in the walls with spackle. Smooth the spackle out with a putty knife, and let it dry. Often, spackle is pink and will turn white once it has air-dried. After the spackle has cured, you should use a fine-grit sandpaper to sand it level to the wall. Wipe clean any debris from the spackling process.

In some instances, homeowners may wish to fill in the cracks in their paneling. This is an extremely time-consuming process, but it can yield a flat-wall look when completed. If you choose to do this, do not use spackle. Instead, use a high-quality joint compound and a putty knife to smooth over the cracks and fill them in. You will need to sand the edges of the joint compound to be flush with the wall once you have completed this step. Note that temperature and moisture changes in your home may cause paneling to swell and shrink over time, which can lead to cracking and splitting of any material you use to fill in paneling cracks.

Next, wash the walls with a solution of soap and water. You can also use a chemical called TSP, which painters often employ for this purpose. You can use a rough sponge to scrub the walls and remove any grit that has accumulated over the years. Let the walls dry thoroughly once you have washed them.

Using painter's tape, tape off the edge of the area you will be painting. This will protect the floor, ceiling and any molding that you are not painting.

Prime the Paneling

The next step in your room renovation project is to prime the paneling. It is very important that you use an oil-based primer. Latex or other common primers will not adhere properly to wood paneling. Brands like BIN or Kilz make oil-based primers for covering dark wooden paneling.

Take note that oil-based primer has a very strong smell. You should always ventilate the room you are painting, but you may need to air out a room in which you use oil-based primer for an even longer period of time. If you want, you may apply a second coat of primer to your walls to ensure excellent paint adhesion.

Paint the Paneling

Since you painted with oil-based primer, you can choose any kind of paint for the walls of your room, including latex. Stir your paint well before beginning. You can use a 3/8-inch roller for large portions of the wall and a brush for the edges.

Paint at least two coats, or until most imperfections in the paneling are no longer visible and the paint appears uniform on the walls. Let paint dry overnight in between coats, and examine your room at all levels of light to determine if you need to add a third coat. Generally speaking, lighter colors will not cover dark wooden paneling as well and may require additional coats.