Paneling contains a stain or glossy finish that repels or shows through paint.

How to Sand and Prime Paneling for a Light Color Paint

by Jessica Westover

Wood paneling darkens a room and gives it an outdated, close feeling. Painting the paneling a light color transforms the space into one of air and light, immediately giving it an open appearance. Although this project proves less expensive and complicated than swapping the paneling for drywall, it will require some preparation in the form of sanding and priming. These important steps will ensure that the paint sticks and hides the paneling completely, turning your do-it-yourself efforts into professional quality refinishing.

Pour 3 to 5 drops of dish soap into a mop bucket. Fill the bucket one-half to three-quarters full of warm water and use it to wipe down the paneling's surface with a sponge mop to remove any dust, grime or grease. Leave the wall to air dry.

Cover the floor below the paneling with sheets or drop cloths. Drape additional cloths over nearby furniture and appliances to prevent them from getting dusty or splattered with primer.

Put on a dust mask and safety glasses to prevent dust from getting in your lungs or eyes. Rub a piece of 120-grit sandpaper back and forth on the paneling's surface to remove its finish. Move the sandpaper in the direction of the paneling's grain to avoid damaging the wall. Change sandpaper when its gritty side becomes worn.

Fold the sandpaper in half. Stick the folded edge in one of the paneling's grooves. Move it up and down to remove the finish from inside the groove. Repeat this process with each groove to prepare it to receive the primer.

Wipe down the paneling with a damp rag to remove clinging sawdust, rinsing the rag out occasionally.

Fold the rag in half to create a straight edge. Insert the folded edge into the top of one of the paneling's grooves. Drag the rag downward to clean the sawdust out of the groove. Repeat this process to clean each groove. Leave the wall to air dry.

Fold the sheets or drop cloths resting on the floor below the wall in half. Take the cloths outdoors. Unfold the cloths and shake them out to remove the sawdust. Take the cloths back inside and spread them out below the paneling once more.

Apply a strip of painters tape along the right and left vertical edges of the paneling to protect the adjoining walls from the primer. Tape off any baseboards or molding that you don't wish to paint. Push down firmly on the tape's edge that runs against the paneling to ensure it lays flat against the wall, baseboard or molding.

Stir a can of stain-blocking latex or acrylic primer with a paint stick to mix in any separated liquids.

Pour one-fourth of the primer into a paint tray. Dip the end of a paint brush into the primer and scrape off any excess on the tray's side.

Begin by painting one of the paneling's groves with the primer, using long, even strokes to ensure complete coverage. Pull the brush out of the groove and place its end flat on the paneling's surface, over top of the groove, and wipe up any primer drips on either side of the groove. Repeat this process to prime each of the paneling's grooves.

Pour additional primer into the paint tray as needed. Roll the soft end of a paint roller into the primer, coating it completely. Place the roller flat against the paneling's surface. Move the roller up and down in long, even strokes to coat the paneling's surface with primer. Repeat this process to coat all of the paneling completely with an even coat of primer.

Pour any excess primer out of the paint tray into the primer can. Replace the lid on the can. Rinse out the paint brush, paint roller and paint tray. Leave the wall to dry completely before painting.

Items you will need

  • Dish soap
  • Mop bucket
  • Warm water
  • Sponge mop
  • Sheets or drop cloths
  • Dust mask
  • Safety glasses
  • 120-grit sand paper
  • Rags
  • Painter's tape
  • Stain-blocking latex or acrylic primer
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Paint stick
  • Paint tray
  • Paint brush
  • Roller


  • Fill in the paneling's grooves with joint compound after sanding the wall, but before priming, if you wish to create the look of a smooth wall. Let the first layer of compound dry and then sand it down with 80-grit sandpaper. Apply a second layer of joint compound, let it dry and then sand down.


  • Always wear a dust mask and safety glasses when sanding to avoid breathing in airborne particles and getting dust in your eyes.
  • Open nearby doors or windows when applying primer to ventilate the area.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images