How to Paint Wood Paneling Without Sanding

You don’t even have to tell us. We’ll guess – you also have that silly outdated 1970’s wood panel in your home. Back then the idea of having wood paneling was like living with the gods.

You couldn’t enter a house without finding some type of wood paneling lining the inside of a living room or mobile home. Now? It just looks old, ugly, and sort of depressing.

With winter knocking on your door, trying to sand your wood won’t go over well if you don’t have some way to keep your windows open and not freeze to death.

You also might be wary of getting a bunch of wood dust stuck in your carpet. Or maybe you’re looking to experiment a little. Whichever the case may be, stick around. We’ll show you how to paint wood paneling without sanding.

Things You Should Know Before Painting

There are probably a few questions you have before we get into the thick of this. As far as the basics of painting go, you should invest time in prep work.

That means moving any loose furniture and outlet covers, utilizing painting tape to cover baseboards, filling in any cracks or holes, and of course, wearing old clothes you don’t care to get paint on.

If you’re still wary about going that far and need more reassurance, don’t worry. We got you covered.

Should You Paint Wood Paneling?

The decision to paint or not paint wood paneling can go both ways. On one hand, the cheap wood veneer of the 1970s can be a real eyesore.

On the other hand, higher-quality, solid-wood paneling can look very nice and bring life to an interior space. Either way, the choice to paint wood paneling is a permanent one. Trying to sand paint from paneling is pretty much impossible, so changing your mind later is a no go.

On top of that, solid wood planks contract in the winter and swell in the summer, meaning hairline cracks can open up. That said, if you follow the proper steps and ensure it’s done right, that’ll be the least of your concerns.

Can You Paint Fake Wood Paneling?

Painting fake wood paneling isn’t any different than painting solid wood paneling. That is, it’ll require you to follow the same steps and procedures required for solid wood paneling.

The real question should be “Why not paint fake wood paneling?” Reality is, as outdated and cheap as it looks, you’re practically dying for an interior makeover.

What Kind of Paint Do You Use on Wood Paneling?

The real issue isn’t the kind of paint that you use on wood paneling, but rather the kind of primer. As long as you have the right kind of primer, the kind of paint is left entirely up to you.

When it comes to painting though, always utilize two coats of paint to get your desired color. One coat seldom does the job.

What Happens if You Don’t Prime Wood Before Painting?

At first, your paint job will look flawless and well-done. You’ll love it and show it off to all of your friends.

But, as the years go by, your paint job will start to flake and crack, leaving you with more work to do and no friends to show off to. Better to take the incentive, avoid skipping any steps, and get that primer.

How Can I Make Wood Paneling Look Good Without Paint?

There’s a variety of ways to make wood paneling look good without paint. You can add bookshelves to hide the wood, curtains, a gallery wall, or large art, and the list goes on.

Even better, if you don’t mind a little bit of sacrifice, you can opt to paint just the trim of your wood paneling, and buy furniture to match the trim. If you get creative enough, you can revitalize a wood-paneled room without needing to paint anything.

That said, we know what you’re here for. Let’s get into it then, how to paint wood paneling without sanding.

How to Paint Wood Paneling Without Sanding?

Though there aren’t a lot of steps in the process, be sure to follow each step thoroughly to avoid any mistakes. At the end of it all, you’ll be thanking us.

Step 1: Degrease the Surface

If you have the wood treated with a sealant or the good ol’ “fake” wood panels, this part is easy. In most cases, cleaning the surface only requires a light dusting and scrubbing.

If your wood paneling is sealed but particularly dirty or you have unfinished wood paneling, you’ll probably need a deeper cleaning.

Wood paneling can absorb oils and grease from fingerprints, foods, animals, and a lot of other substances. The last thing you want is any of that trapped under a layer of primer and two coats of paint.

In most cases, soap and water are more than enough to clean wood paneling. If you want to be certain you can also buy degreaser, though make sure to utilize proper protection when doing so. Once dry, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Prime Your Surface

Primer is a special type of paint that goes on before the actual paint. While you can skip this step and go straight to painting, primers serve as the foundation of your paint job.

Primers essentially make sure that the wood surface has a uniform texture so the paint can adhere to the paneling properly.

Like I mentioned before, it also helps prevent stains in your top coat of paint and can even eliminate problems with cracking, crumbling, or surface damage.

Much like a coat of paint, it’s good to apply two coats of primer to ensure the wood paneling is fully covered, as well as hiding any imperfections.

If you want a way to get ahead, ask for some tinted primer the same color as your finished walls.

Doing this means your primer is half as dark as the top coat of paint, which helps to hide a lot of imperfections as well as boosting color accents, making for an all-around better-looking job.

Step 3: Painting Your Surface

While applying paint to your wood panels, pay attention to the panel grooves. As you’re painting, it’s easy to get excess paint stuck inside, which can lead to thick and tacky dry paint.

Though it’s possible to get away with just one coat of paint, don’t be too surprised if it takes two or three before you get to your desired color. When painting, also make sure to leave adequate time between coats so your walls can dry.

Best Primer to Use

The type of wood paneling you’re working with determines what kind of primer you should be using.

There are three basic types: latex-based (known as water-based), oil-based, and shellac-based.

Nowadays, most of these can be easily searched for and found on Amazon, if you’re too busy to stop by Home Depot or Lowes.


Latex-based primers are water-soluble, making them easy to clean, and are often considered to be a healthier alternative to oil-based and shellac primers.

They’re also less brittle than oil-based primers, making them less likely to peel or crack. With no odor, the application of this primer is almost too good to be true.

However, Latex-based primers are better suited for softer wood, in addition to brick, drywall, or concrete.

This is because even though latex-based primers can seal in minor stains, it’s nowhere near as effective at covering stains when compared to oil and shellac-based primers.

Here’s a great example of a latex-based primer on Amazon.


Oil-based primers serve as an industry standard. These primers are extremely versatile and can be applied to wood, as well as steel, and already painted surfaces. Oil-based primers are especially great for when you want to make those stains disappear entirely.

The great thing about oil-based primers is that they also stop the release of tannins. This is due to the ability of oil-based primers to seal the porous surface of the wood, which also allows the paint to better cover the surface. If that wasn’t enough, any paint peeling or cracking is slowed down.

The downside to using oil-based primers is that they take a long time to dry. Another important thing to note is that they can release volatile organic compounds, which can cause harm when exposed to a high concentration of it.

You also have to use strong thinners and solvents to properly clean any brushes and tools, as well as proper disposal of the primer.

This oil-based primer is one of many made by KILZ, a reputable company on Amazon and in-store.

Shellac Primer

Shellac-based primer tops oil-based primer in terms of usage, going back centuries as a sealant for wood and other surfaces.

This type of primer is considered the best when it comes to stain-blocking. Not only does it entirely prevent normal stains like water or smoke, but it also works well against wood tannins and can even cover up more severe water and smoke damage.

A major issue with shellac primers is that they give off far more fumes than latex-based or oil-based primers. They’re also far less versatile, and cleaning requires denatured alcohol and gloves for safety.

Slightly pricier than the other two, this shellac primer is guaranteed to get the job done.


With enough foresight and preparation, that wood paneling doesn’t have to show its ugly mug ever again.

If you managed to dress it up without much or any paint at all, that’s a plus. Otherwise, it’s time to get out there and make those wood panels look like a million dollars.