How To Remove Wood Paneling

2-5 hours, depending on the size of the wall
Ditch that 1970s Decor!

wood paneling1

Is that Groovy 1970's paneling starting to get to you? Are you afraid to tear it down because you're not sure what lies beneath, but you just can't take it anymore? The answer is simpler than you might think! Forget tearing it down - you can fill in and paint the paneling!

Filling in the paneling with Spackle is a relatively easy way that you can make each panel look flush, creating the appearance of flat walls. It can give the sense of a more open, airy environment. Most importantly, it can save you the daunting task of discovering what may lie beneath and can update that look that you have grown to hate.

Project Steps


Clean the surface area of the walls. You can use a sponge or mop to do this. Use water and some dishwasher detergent or a heavy duty de-greaser like TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) followed by water. Make sure you rinse the walls well as it can cause the paint not to stick. Don't be afraid to scrub. This process helps the paint adhere to the paneling better. The build-up of dust and grime over the years, not to mention the spider webs, don't mix very well with paint.

Now that it's clean, you need to find out what your paneling is made of. In the past few decades some decorators decided to put up a "wood-like" paneling that simulates the look of wood which is adhered to a piece of plywood. A good way to test this is to sand off a small patch in an inconspicuous place. If you expose plywood or press board then you will have to be extra careful when painting and sanding. If you have "faux wood" (formica-like) then I would suggest using two coats of primer before beginning. If you have real wood then one coat of primer should be enough.

The Janes used this project in TV Host &Actor Ty Treadway's dressing room for ABC SoapNet's "SoapTalk"!

The 9 Steps for the Spackle Method:

Step 1

woodstep1 Remove all of the electrical outlets (faceplate only) in the area you will be working. If possible, also remove any wall sconces (its much easier than trying to tape them).

Step 2

wood2 Tape off areas you don't want painted (ceiling line, side walls, doors or wall light) and cover the floor with a drop cloth.

JANE TIP: If you plan on covering your paneling with an oil based paint, make sure to use green painter's tape instead of blue painters tape as it is made for oil based paint where the blue is not!

Step 3

wood3 Fill in any damaged areas (e.g. dents or holes) with Spackle.

Jane Trick of the Trade: If you have a bright light, such as a free-standing floor lamp (remove the cover) or flood lamp, bring it into the room and shine it onto your walls. We found this helps you to see the flaws on the wall better.

Step 4

wood4 Briefly - and lightly - rough up the areas to be painted with a fine grade sandpaper. We recommend that you pick up a Palm Sander, they're inexpensive and incredibly efficient! (There are many different makes &models - expect to pay about $30 - $70). But just be sure to sand the paneling lightly - you don't want to sand the paneling off!

JANE TIP: Whenever you sand, make sure to wear protective eye wear! Take it from me, sawdust and contact lenses don't mix!

JANE TIP: Make sure you don't wear lip gloss when using any tool that creates dust of any kind. The stickiness of the gloss combined with the sawdust makes for an interesting type of exfoliation-one we wouldn't recommend! Also, make sure to cover your hair. When wood particles get around your hair follicles it can dry out the strands and cause serious dryness. But don't worry - it's nothing that a good moisturizing hair mask can't fix!

Step 5

Now you're ready to apply a coat of primer. Some paint companies make a primer specifically for paneling. It is worth paying a few more dollars up front for it because in the end you will save money in your paint costs due to the fact that you will need less of the final color to cover a primed wall. An all-purpose primer can be used on both real wood and wood-like paneling.

JANE TIP: When you purchase the primer, ask to have it tinted with 50% of the actual color of the wall. This will allow for better coverage when you apply the wall color and decrease the amount of paint needed.

Step 6

wood6 Here's where the detail work begins-filling in the paneling with Spackle. There are a few different ways to do this, and throughout your project, I suspect you'll end up varying your technique.

The majority of it will be applied with a putty knife or a trowel, though at times you may want to use your fingers (with gloves, of course). The first coat probably won't be enough, so once it is dry - anywhere from 30 mins to 5 hours (best to buy the fast-drying kind) - gently sand the wall and then re-apply. This can be applied more generously in problem areas, so that after it is dry you can sand the wall smooth using fine grade sand paper. Your fingertips will be the best judge for this.

Jane Trick of the Trade: Placing a fan in the room will help the spackle to dry faster and allow you to finish quicker!

When we did this we found that there are two types of Spackle on the market for this job:

  1. Muddy, thick spackle - known as a "Vinyl Spackle"
  2. Light, airy &fast drying spackle (or as we like to call it, "Fluffernutter!"). Think whipped cream cheese.

The Vinyl spackle takes longer to dry and is a bit messier, but can be easier to fill with. If you have the ability to get both, we suggest you do. It just increases your options in case one isn't doing the job.

Step 7

Once spackle is completely dry, sand off the excess spackle and smooth the wall. This can be done with a dry palm sander, regular fine grain sandpaper (220 grit or finer), or a scrub sponge. Although there is less mess with a wet sander, it takes a lot longer and a lot more elbow grease and you'll have to wait for the wall to dry again before you can begin painting.

Step 8

Time to Prime! First, dust the walls with either a duster, damp rag, or a tack cloth and be sure to remove all dust. Once the walls are clean &dry, apply the coat of primer. TIP: Be sure you are happy with the texture of the walls before you apply this coat because it will set the wall for you and will make it much for difficult to sand once the primer is dry.

Step 9

Now for the best part: Paint your favorite color on the walls! If the texture of the wall is not perfect, you can try to touch it up by repeating steps 6 and 7, or try camouflaging it with faux painting technique - it can cover a multitude of flaws. If only we could faux paint all our flaws!

Get help choosing the right paint.

Now relax, and enjoy your new walls!