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The first question EVERYONE asks when they start pondering an RV makeover is if they can paint RV wallpaper. Trust me, when I first joined the RV life, it was one of the first questions I asked the internet, too. And the answer is YES!
The best part of painting RV wallpaper is that you don’t have to scrape it all away like you do on drywall, either! In fact, you SHOULD leave it up and just paint over it. (You don’t want to ruin the integrity of your already thin walls or see what’s under it anyway, now do you?!?)
For those of you who are still skeptical about whether you can paint RV wallpaper, have you ever been through the paint section in a craft store? There are way more paints than just oils and acrylics … there is glass paint, multi-surface paint, enamel, chalk paint, furniture paint, distressing paint … and the list goes on. So basically, you can paint ANYTHING with the right supplies, including RV wallpaper!
Painting RV wallpaper example, before and after. Note how priming hides those bright colors and texture even with lighter-colored paint. Photo by: The Wandering Wilsons.
Of course, not all of these miracle paints come in cost-efficient larger quantities (i.e., quarts or gallons). So the real secret comes down to surface prep. Once prepped (and primed), you can paint your RV wallpaper with regular ol’ latex/acrylic paint just like any other interior wall.
Painting RV Wallpaper? Remember the 3 P’s
Painting your RV’s wallpaper involves three steps: PREP, PRIME, PAINT.
STEP 1: PREP RV WALLS
Unfortunately, prep is the least fun, and also the most important part of painting. It also always seems to take the most time. Come to think of it, maybe that’s true for ALL projects, not just painting. What a philosophy to live by, huh? 😂
Anyway … when it comes to prepping your RV wallpaper to paint, here are some important parts of the process:
Check For Damage & Make Repairs
First check for any holes, damage, soft spots, and peeling edges. Most RV walls are made of luan plywood with a wallpaper-like texture permanently adhered to them. So DON’T try to pull it off. (Any borders that are raised and clearly separate from the rest of the wallpaper ARE removable, but more on that later.)
You can use 3M spray adhesive, Gorilla Glue, or wood glue to re-adhere any worrisome areas in your RV wallpaper. If you find any extra-peely or soft spots, then cut away loose particles with a good utility knife and patch those areas with paintable wood filler.
Keep that wood filler handy because now you’re going to use it to fill any nail holes or other noticeable damage on your RV wall surface.
Spot Sand & Clean Walls
Once repairs are made, you can sand and smooth all of your repaired spots at the same time.
After you have made a nice mess, you will want to thoroughly vacuum and/or dust your RV walls, especially along ceilings, floors, and corners. Then, give the walls a good scrub with a heavy-duty sponge and soapy water. (Dish detergent works well, or opt for a more powerful degreaser like Simple Green, if you prefer.)
Refill your cleaner bucket with plain water and use your sponge or a small towel to give your RV walls a nice rinsing wipe once you’re done cleaning them.
Tape Off & Cover as Needed
After your RV walls are repaired, cleaned, and dry, then it’s taping time! Personally, I don’t use painter’s tape. But I’ve been painting detailed interiors for over 10 years. So it’s a “do as I say not as I do” kind of thing here. 😉 My friends tend to prefer green Frog painter’s tape.
At this point, you should tape off and/or cover anything that you don’t want to accidentally get paint on. This includes light fixtures, outlets, switches, sides of cabinets, edges of ceiling, nearby furniture, floors, etc.
Now that you have done all of the prep work, I know you’re ready to get something fun and sleek on those RV walls. BUT if you want your paint job to look great and last a long time, then we simply must prime.
STEP 2: PRIME THE RV WALLPAPER
Most RV wallpaper has at least some minimal texture, so I definitely recommend a solid coat or two of primer. Even with the paint + primer in one stuff, I still recommend an initial primer-only coat. There’s no need to waste coats of colored paint when primer is about half the price!
Plus, the primer helps fill in a lot of the layers of texture and quickly covers random areas of darker colors (or stains). Plus, it adheres to challenging surfaces better than paint alone. Go ahead and purchase an extra paint tray liner and roller cover for primer at the outset. It will save you a lot of time, labor, and paint.
To prime your RV walls, I recommend a roller cover with ½” nap (the thickness of the roller cover). I like to use a short-handled 2” angled paint brush around the edges and taped areas. But don’t be afraid to use a long-handled 1” brush if you need to reach into weird nooks and crannies.
Tips for Cleaning Your Painting Supplies
Be careful not to ruin your brushes (or your spirit) with a heavy, smelly, impossible-to-clean oil-based primer (like Kilz Original with the red label). And make sure you choose a water-based one, like Kilz 2 (with the blue label) for priming RV walls. I especially like Kilz 2 because you can paint over it within two hours … just enough time for a lunch break and a nap!
Remember that if you want to re-use your brushes, you’ll need to clean them before your nap with soap and water until the water runs clear. (You can do the same with roller covers. But they’re much more difficult to get clean, and much cheaper than a good paintbrush. I usually just toss those.)
STEP 3: HOW TO PAINT RV WALLPAPER
Finally! Get your stirring sticks, paint trays, and oopsie rags ready because it’s time to put your carefully chosen color(s) over those prepped and primed RV walls!
I prefer an eggshell or satin sheen paint and at least ⅜” nap roller cover for painting RV wallpaper. (Remember there is probably residual RV wallpaper texture. So the surface is really not smooth enough to justify a shinier sheen or finer-napped roller cover.) However, if you purchased a multiple pack of ½” nap at the prime stage, those will definitely work for painting color, too.
PRO TIP: To avoid roller lines, you should paint in “W” shapes. In those areas too narrow for a roller, paint in criss-cross “X” motions with your 2” angled brush. These “feathering” touches will ensure that your paint lines blend together evenly, creating a wonderfully smooth finish.
For best results in painting your RV wallpaper, you will need to let your first coat of paint dry for at least 12 hours. Then apply a full second coat. Let the second coat dry for an hour or two, and then remove all the painter’s tape.
The secret trick to painters’ tape is to remove the tape before your paint is dry (because then it pulls your fresh paint off with it). But do this after the paint has been set up a bit (so it doesn’t run into the taped areas). After you clean up and return your RV to livable status again, the only thing left to do is ENJOY (and decorate)!
What About RV Wallpaper Borders?
Some RV wallpaper includes borders to mimic chair railing or backsplashes, so how do you eliminate that obvious line? Well, it turns out that the raised borders are separate from the actual RV “wallpaper” that is permanently adhered to the plywood underlayment.
These are pretty easy to remove with the help of a blow dryer or heat gun. You will just have to take some extra time to clean off any sticky residue before priming and painting. OR you could leave the border up, and use it as an easy guide for either (1) painting a colorful accent stripe, or (2) a peel-and-stick tile mosaic (or any horizontal embellishment, really)!
Now that you know how to paint RV wallpaper, you just have to pick your preferred paint colors! Check out this article for some colorful RV interior paint inspiration!