What to Do With Outdated Wood Paneled Walls

Wood paneling doesn't suit the taste of all homeowners. While some may think it's cozy and stylish, others may view it as unfashionable and outdated. Luckily, many relatively simple options, including paint, stain, wallpaper and finishes, are available to renovate or cover wood-paneled walls.

Still life of retro style room.
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Paint, stain and wallpaper are some of the options available to conceal paneling.


Painting is a relatively simple way to immediately update the look of your paneling. Regardless of whether your wood paneling is solid wood or veneer, a fresh coat of paint is an easy fix. Select a crisp white paint to bring a brighter, more modern look to your space, or choose a louder accent color, such as a teal or red, to make a bold statement in your room.

Before , fill any existing nailholes with putty. Next, you need to remove any dirt and grime by thoroughly washing the walls. When the surface is completely dry, use sandpaper or a sander to scuff the wall and give it some grip for a first coat of primer. Remember to wear a face mask and wipe off the dust with a damp rag as you go.

Once the wall is thoroughly roughed up, apply your primer. If your paneling is solid wood, use a water-based primer, while a shellac-based primer is suitable for veneer. Two coats of stain-blocking primer are recommended for wood paneling.

When you're finished priming, it's time to apply your chosen paint. You can anticipate doing two or three coats of paint, and you'll want to lightly sand your wall surface between each coat. Use a foam sponge roller cover to avoid a dimpled, puckered texture on your finished wall.


Rich and chocolatey dark wood hues bring a sophisticated, more modern look to your existing wood paneling. Stain is an efficient, albeit a bit messy, way to deepen the tone of your panels.

To start the staining process, first wash down the wood paneling with a mixture of soap and water. Then, remove the waxy finish on the paneling by using a standard wax remover.

Once the wall is clean and prepped, you're ready to start staining. For wood paneling, applying a custom-mixed stain is recommended, a task you can achieve by yourself. Purchase an oil-based paint tinted to your desired shade; then, combine this paint with paint thinner to create your own stain. Pour 1 quart of paint into an empty 1-gallon can. Then, add 1/2 to 3/4 quart of paint thinner and thoroughly mix. If your wood paneling is extremely rough, use less paint thinner.

Apply your stain to the wood paneling with an oil brush, starting in the grooves and then spreading that stain to the adjacent panels. Use a rag to wipe down the stain after applying. Remember to work quickly, use even strokes, and always leave a wet edge to ensure a consistent, seamless finish.

Wallpaper and Fabric

Wallpaper or fabric can be used to completely cover existing wood paneling. Before hanging wallpaper or fabric, fill the grooves between the panels using caulk and remove any excess caulk with a putty knife.

When applying wallpaper to wood paneling, first create a rough surface for the wallpaper liner to adhere to. Use an acrylic-emulsion sizing to achieve this grippy texture.

Next, you're ready to apply your liner. A thick, heavy-duty wallpaper liner ensures that your finished wall is free of bumps and imperfections. Wallpaper liners are available where wallpapers are sold and should be hung horizontally on the paneling to ensure that the liner seams won't align directly with the decorative wallpaper seams. Finally, hang the decorative wallpaper vertically over the liner using the manufacturer's specified instructions.

can be used as an alternative to wallpaper, but you'll still need to fill the gaps between the panels and hang a wallpaper liner over the paneling before installing the fabric. Remember to choose a thick upholstery fabric, as it's tougher and designed to be stretched and worked with.

Drywall Finish

Applying a to your wood paneling gives it a smooth, polished look.

Skim coating the walls makes your wood paneling appear similar to drywall. To begin, wash the walls using a 1/2 cup of trisodium phosphate mixed with a gallon of warm water. Let the walls dry and then lightly scuff them using sandpaper. Next, prime the wood paneling with one coat of shellac-based or interior latex primer.

The seams between wood panels need to be covered to create a smooth, drywall appearance. Spread a layer of joint compound along the seam using a drywall knife; then lay on moistened drywall tape and smooth it with the knife. Immediately apply another layer of compound; scrape it flat and let it dry. Once dry, add one or two more layers of joint compound to the seams, scrape the surface flat, and feather the edges to create completely smooth seams.

Skim coat the entire wall by applying a thin layer of joint compound -- called mud by professionals, to the entire surface with a heavy-nap roller. Follow up by scraping a squeegee knife vertically along the surface to flatten the mud. Start at the top and pull it down to thoroughly smooth the mud. Your layer of joint compound should be extremely thin, no more than an 1/8 inch thick.

Let your first layer of joint compound dry, and then apply a second coat. This time, scrape the squeegee knife horizontally instead of vertically. The smoother you can get the wall, the less sanding you'll have to do. If imperfections remain after you apply the second coat, follow up with a third coat of joint compound, troweling in the opposite direction of the previous coat. Finally, finish the wall by sanding with a 120-grit paper.


Some homeowners may choose to completely , rather than try to renovate or cover it. Before removing wood paneling, ensure that you know what is underneath the paneling to get a solid grasp of the scope of your project.

To begin, remove all trim and moulding, including baseboards and ceiling moulding, from the wood-paneled wall using a crowbar. Once the trim has been removed, pick a corner of the room where you want to start removing the paneling. Wedge the end of your crowbar underneath the edge of the first panel; tap the end of your crowbar with a hammer until you see the panel begin to rise off the wall and repeat this motion down the entire length of the panel. Then, use your crowbar to pull away each loosened panel. Keeping your panels intact rather than in creating several small, splintered pieces makes for easier cleanup. Repeat this process you've removed all the panels are removed from the wall.

For a smooth surface, go back and pull out nails and sand down any rough patches. Use the claw end of your hammer to remove any leftover nails and then fill the holes with nail putty. If any adhesive remains on the wall, use sandpaper, a putty knife or adhesive remover to eliminate the excess glue.