Painting Wood Paneling Without Sanding – 4 Quick Steps

Wood paneling is a versatile and attractive piece of decor, but without proper care, it can start looking a little worse for wear.

Wood paneling tends to get bumped and brushed up against, and scratches and scuffs can transform your gorgeous paneling into a shabby mess.

Painting Wood Paneling Without Sanding [4 Quick Steps]

But it takes so much effort to repaint paneling, it hardly seems worth bothering with. Right?

Wrong! If you’ve been putting off painting your wood paneling because you don’t want to deal with the effort of sanding and prep, you’ll be happy to hear you can paint wood paneling without needing to sand the surface.

It’s less work upfront, and less cleaning afterwards!

In this guide, we’ll cover how you can prepare and paint your wood paneling without having to sand.

We’ll also help you pick a paint and primer, and provide some tips on dealing with those tricky wood paneling grooves. Read on to find out more!

Can You Paint Wood Paneling Without Sanding It First?

Tradition dictates that wood paneling needs to be sanded down before you can start painting.

This is a long and frustrating process, so we don’t blame you for wanting to avoid it.

It is possible to paint paneling without sanding the wood first, you simply have to create a clean surface for the paint to stick to.

This can be done by cleaning the wood, applying a de-glosser, and using a primer.

Painting Wood Paneling (Without Sanding)

You can paint wood paneling without sanding, but that doesn’t mean you can just apply paint to the existing surface.

The fresh paint won’t adhere correctly, and will start to peel away in no time at all. 

If you want to paint wood paneling without sanding, you have to use the correct tools, and the right procedure. In this guide, we have all you need to know about both. 

What You’ll Need

  • Your chosen paint
  • Primer
  • De-glosser
  • Soapy water
  • Painting tape
  • Gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint roller
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Clean rags

With your supplies to hand, you can begin painting your wood paneling.

Prepare Your Workspace

Painting wood paneling can be messy, so the very first thing you need to do is prepare the area.

The best place to paint is outdoors, but this might not be possible with wood paneling. If you have to paint indoors, cover the floor with cloth, and remove or cover any nearby furniture. 

The next step is to clean the wood paneling thoroughly with soap and water.

You need to remove any dust, dirt, and grime that has a habit of accumulating on surfaces.

Don’t skip this step, as the primer and paint won’t adhere properly to a dirty surface. 

Avoid soaking the wood paneling when you clean, as this can lead to warping. Instead, use a lint-free cloth to scrub the surface.

When the panel is clean, mop up any excess water with a clean cloth, and leave to dry.

With the paneling clean and completely dry, you can apply your painting tape. This tape should be applied to the edges of your wood paneling.

It will prevent paint from splashing where it isn’t wanted, and provide a clean and professional edge to your painting. 

The last thing to prepare is yourself. We recommend wearing disposable or work gloves while you paint, to avoid getting your hands and nails messy. 

De-Gloss The Wood Paneling

Sanding is typically necessary when painting wood paneling because the surface of the wood is smooth.

This is likely because the wood has been sealed. Primer and paint can’t stick properly to the sealant, so it needs to be removed.

But even unsealed wood can become slippery overtime.

A buildup of grease and oil from various activities around the house will leave a slight patina to the wood.

Sanding would traditionally remove this top layer, exposing a rougher surface underneath that primer and paint will cling to.

However, if you want to avoid sanding, you can use liquid de-glosser. This will strip away the top surface without the hassle and mess of sanding.

How To Use Liquid De-Glosser On Wood Paneling

Before you begin applying the de-glosser, make sure the wood paneling is dry. Always wear safety goggles and gloves when working with de-glosser. 

Soak a rough lint-free cloth with the liquid de-glosser. Apply across the surface in even circles.

Make sure you cover all the wood paneling, so the paint will apply evenly. Dampen the cloth regularly as you work.

After the first coat, leave the wood paneling to dry. You may need to apply a second coat, depending on the brand of de-glosser used. Check the label to be sure.

By applying the de-glosser, you remove the top layer that comes away with sanding. It will strip away any gloss, and leave a textured surface the paint can better stick to.

De-glosser can be used to remove common wood finishes such as lacquer, polyurethane, varnish, and stain. 

Having used the de-glosser, the wood paneling is likely to be looking dull, and there may be a foggy residue. Don’t worry, this will all be covered by the paint.

Apply Your Primer

Using de-glosser will create a decent surface for your paint to adhere to, However, if you want to ensure your paint job has longevity, you need to use a primer.

A primer is the ideal base layer for paint, as it covers areas of light surface damage.

Primer isn’t a stage you should skip, and the right primer can make all the difference to the end product. 

Apply the primer using a paintbrush and roller.

We recommend using a roller for the bulk of the surfaces, and switching to the paintbrush for joints, and other tricky areas.

Apply in even strokes, and cover the entire area of the wood paneling.

We recommend applying two coats of primer, for the best coverage. Once you’ve applied your first layer of primer, leave it to dry completely.

Check the instructions to find out how long to wait between layers.

Apply The Paint

With your primer dry, you can move onto the paint. Make sure the base of your paint matches the base of the primer.

An oil-based paint needs an oil-based primer, and a water-based paint adheres best to a water-based primer.

Apply using a roller, paintbrush, or use a paint sprayer. Use even strokes to ensure complete coverage, while avoiding excessive paint build up.

Be particularly careful around any grooves and joins. When paint gathers in the grooves, it can take a long time to dry.

Leave the first layer of paint to dry completely. Check the instructions on the label to see how long it needs to dry. Then, apply a second layer. 

The combination of cleaning, de-glosser, and primer should mean your paint adheres completely to the surface.

Can You Paint Wood Paneling With Grooves (Without Sanding)?

Grooves can be a nightmare when you’re trying to paint wood paneling. They can ruin your smooth surface, and greatly increase the drying time.

Typically, grooves are packed with wood filler, which can then be sanded flat when the surface is sanded.

However, if you want to avoid sanding, you might be wondering how to deal with grooves.

It is possible to paint wood paneling with grooves, without needing to sand. The method for doing so is very similar to the steps we’ve outlined above.

Begin by cleaning the wood paneling using soap and water, taking particular care to get into the grooves.

Dry with a clean rag. Again, pay particular attention to the grooves.

Apply the de-glosser, and leave it to dry.

Using wood filler, fill the grooves and nail holes in your wood paneling. Use a spatula to pack the wood filler in, and then even out the surface with a putty knife.

The filler must be flush with the surface, otherwise it will need to be sanded. When you’re happy with it, leave the wood filler to dry completely.

Apply your wood primer, leave to dry, and finish with the paint. 

Do You Need To Prime The Wood Paneling Before It’s Painted?

It is necessary to use primer on wood panels before painting. The primer helps the paint to stick to the surface, and prevents peeling and wear.

If you don’t apply primer, you might find paint doesn’t last as long as you might hope.

Applying and waiting for two layers of primer to dry might seem like an unnecessary time waster, but this is a step that works out in the long run.

Primer can prevent painted surfaces from peeling, flaking, or cracking. Without primer, you’ll have more work stripping and painting the paneling after just a short space of time.

Primer also adds some protection for the wood itself, creating a barrier between the paint and the wood.

Painting Wood Paneling Without Sanding [4 Quick Steps] (1)

Best Primers For Wood Paneling

Just as you put time and thought into choosing your paint, you need to think carefully about your primer.

The right primer in a good quality can add an extra layer of finesse to even a poor paint job. However, even high quality paint can’t be saved from a bad primer.

As well as quality, another key consideration is compatibility. Your primer has to work with your paint, not against it.

When To Use Oil-Based Primer

Oil-based primer is best used for wood paneling in an area where it’s more likely to suffer damage.

Oil-based primers create a tight seal, and the hard texture of the finish prevents water or moisture from causing damage.

Oil-based primers can also lock in stains and damage, so they don’t affect your final paint job.

Oil-based primers provide excellent coverage. They’re the best choice for use outdoors, as they can withstand wear and tear.

Start with an oil-based primer if you plan on using an oil-based paint.

The biggest downside to oil-based primer is the level of toxicity and the bad smell.

Oil-based primers contain higher levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than other primers.

Inhaling these for a long period of time can be dangerous. If you plan on using oil-based primer, make sure to wear a face mask and apply in a well ventilated area.

Oil-based primers can have a powerful smell, which many find off-putting to work with. Proper ventilation can reduce the impact of the smell.

Oil-based primer also takes longer to dry, which can be a hindrance if you’re using it indoors.

Our favorite oil-based primer is the Zinsser High Hide Cover-Stain White Primer Sealer.


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When To Use Shellac Primer

Shellac primers are ideal to use if your wood paneling has suffered some serious damage.

Shellac primer is seen as the best primer for covering stains and providing a protective surface on water damaged wood.

Smoke damage can also be well covered with shellac primer, and it can even hide bad smells by trapping them in the wood.

Shellac primers also prevent damage. A shellac primer can prevent water and rust from affecting the wood.

A layer of shellac primer can also prevent wood tannins from bleeding through, and ruining your new paint.

Shellac primers can be used with oil-based and latex paints. Fast-drying and adhesive, shellac primers can provide a wonderful base for your paint.

However, shellac primers do give off a lot of fumes, which can make them difficult to use indoors. If you use a shellac primer, be sure to wear a mask and safety goggles. 

Applying a shellac primer can also be a lot of effort.

They need to be thinned with denatured alcohol, and any applicators used will have to be cleaned with denatured alcohol as well. 

We recommend Zinsser B-I-N Pigmented Shellac Primer-Sealer & Stain Killer, for a thorough job. 


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When To Use Latex-Based Primer

Water-based latex primers are best used alongside water-based paints, latex paints, and acrylic paints.

They’re very easy to use, have little smell, and are quick to clean. Latex-based primers are also pretty versatile, and can be used on various surfaces.

Latex-based primers are flexible, and they dry quickly. Because of this, they don’t dry brittle, so are less prone to cracking and flaking.

There are many low VOC latex-based primers available, making them good for use indoors and around children.

However, latex-based primers aren’t as good at sealing in stains and odors. They can cover minor stains, but won’t provide as good coverage for serious damage. 

Latex-based primers aren’t recommended for raw wood, as the moisture in the primer can swell the wood below.

Latex-based primers may not be ideal in all circumstances, but for some projects, they really are the best choice. We like the INSL-X Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer.


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Best Paint For Wood Paneling

There are plenty of paints that work well on paneling (especially if you’ve chosen a good primer).

This gives you a great range to choose from, and you can be sure to find a paint in the perfect tone and texture for your project. 

We recommend using latex paints for interior wood paneling. Latex paints have good durability, and a flexibility that’s less likely to crack than brittle paints.

And because latex-based paints are created with water, they can be wiped clean with water.

So, you don't have to use complex alcohol based solutions whenever you need a quick clean.

The Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Latex Paint is our favorite for wood paneling, delivering consistent results with good coverage. 


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Common Mistakes When Painting Wood Paneling

A poor finish to wood paneling can look immediately obvious, and there are a few common mistakes that can result in a less-than-perfect paint job. 

Below, we’ll cover some common mistakes made when painting wood paneling, and provide advice on how to avoid them.

Even DIY beginners can create a neat finish on wood paneling without the need for sanding. 

Overlooking Cracks And Holes

The combination of paint and primer can mask some surface damage on wood panels, but it won’t help cracks, splits, and holes.

Some novice DIYers think that they can simply pack these marks with paint for a level surface.

However, the paint in these cracks will take a long time to dry, and can result in air bubbles and peeling. 

After you’ve used your de-glosser, pack holes and cracks with wood putty, and use a knife to smooth the edges.

Then, you can apply your paint and primer to an even surface.

Not Using A Primer

Applying two layers of primer and waiting for them to dry adds time and money to a project, so you might think about skipping this step.

But the long-term benefits of applying a primer far outweigh the initial effort.

Primer helps the paint to adhere to the surface of your wood paneling. The result is a neater finish and a longer lasting paint.

Skipping the primer might help you finish quicker, but it will also mean you have to paint sooner.

Or Using The Wrong Primer

Although it is important to use a primer, any primer won’t do. Instead, you have to pick a primer that works with the surface, and with your paint.

A bad primer is even worse than no primer at all, because you’ll have spent money and effort only for your paint to start peeling after just a few months.

In fact, if you use the wrong primer, you might regret it almost immediately. Some paints just won’t stick right if the wrong primer is underneath.

So, it’s worth properly researching your primer before purchase.

Using Cheap Paint

DIY enthusiasts are often looking for cost-effective ways to accomplish difficult jobs. While we agree that saving money is often a good idea, it pays to use quality paints.

A cheap paint might look good initially, but it will start showing wear and tear after just a few months. Then, you’ll be paying to paint again. 

Cheap paint can also give an uneven finish, meaning you have to strip the paint immediately, and start over.

Picking A Bad Color

Even experienced DIYers can make the mistake of not considering color when choosing a paint.

If the paint doesn’t match the decor, then even the neatest finish will look bad. Make sure to consider the color when purchasing your paints, or you’ll never be happy with the end result.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Whitewash Wood Paneling Without Sanding?

Yes, you can whitewash wood paneling without sanding it. Whitewashing adds a rustic finish to wood, and can restore even low quality paneling with charm.

If you don’t want to sand before whitewashing, clean the wood paneling with soap and water, then apply a de-glosser.

This will give you the preferred surface for your primer and white paint.

Is Wood Paneling In Style?

Wood paneling is an adaptable style feature, and still common in many homes. A fresh paint job can revitalize old wood paneling, and give it a modern look.

Dark tones and neutral grays are popular choices for wood paneling.

How Do You Paint Fake Wood Paneling?

Fake wood panels can be painted in the same way as traditional wood paneling, although it may be necessary to use sandpaper.

Begin by cleaning the paneling with soap and water and de-glosser. If the surface is still glossy, use a medium-grit sandpaper to add texture.

Then, clean the paneling, and apply two layers of primer. Finish with two layers of paint.

What Color Should I Paint My Wood Paneling?

White or neutral tones are the best colors for wood paneling, as they adapt to different decors. 

How Can I Refresh Wood Paneling Without Painting It?

Wood paneling can be given a quick update with a thorough clean that will remove any dirt and grime clinging to the surface.

Update the appearance of old-fashioned wood paneling with modern metal furniture, and bold fabric choices.

Final Thoughts

Painting wood paneling without sanding is easy if you use the right tools and methods. Make sure to provide a clean surface with some texture, and don’t skip the primer.

With just soapy water and a de-glosser, you can prepare your paneling for painting, without the time and effort needed for sanding.

By following these steps, you can create a quality finish that will last for years. 

Choosing Your Next Project

Updated your wood paneling? Put your skills to the test by refreshing other pieces of wooden furniture, such as kitchen cabinets, with a new coat of paint. 

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