9 Tips for Painting RV Walls and Cabinets
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Here are some things to consider before beginning an interior painting project in your camper or motorhome to help make sure you get a result you are happy with.
1. Don’t compare apples to oranges.
While blogs and social media can be a great resource for learning about other people’s experiences, keep in mind that there are multiple factors to consider when choosing the right products and methods for a paint project, and just because a certain product worked for one person doesn’t mean it’s necessary or even right for your project.
Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are bound to fail because you didn’t do things exactly the way they did; there are multiple products and methods that may work equally well. Gather and compare information from as many sources as possible, including a paint expert your local paint store, before making a final decision about which methods and products to purchase.
2. Choose the right paint for the surface.
The most important consideration when choosing paint and/or primer is what type of surface you are painting. Generally, you want to look for paint that will adequately cover and adhere to whatever surface you’re painting. Primer is used to prepare a non-ideal surface for paint. Talk to a paint expert to determine what you need for your situation. I also go into more detail about what kinds of paints and primers are ideal for various surfaces in my e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Painting Your RV Interior.
3. Read all labels and instructions.
Carefully read the label of any primer, paint, or preparation product you plan to use, both before purchasing and again before using, and make sure you follow the instructions.
For example, Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) is a heavy-duty degreaser commonly recommended in Facebook groups for cleaning walls prior to painting, but this chemical can actually react with some types of paint and prevent it from adhering properly, and some paint labels say not to use TSP; if cleaning is needed, there are other products that may work just as well and won’t cause this problem.
Paint labels also tell you the ideal temperature range for using the paint. Painting in an environment that’s too cold or too hot can keep the paint from drying evenly.
Related article: RV Owners Who Painted Their Cabinets
4. Don’t skimp on the prep work.
It’s so tempting to dive into the “fun” part of a painting project to start seeing results sooner, but the more thoroughly you follow the instructions for preparation, the better your chances of getting results you’ll be happy with.
It might be worth investing a little more in tools that make this stage of the project easier. For example, if you have a lot of sanding to do, consider purchasing (or renting) an electric sander, or using a chemical stripper or deglosser to loosen old paint or varnish and make it easier to scrape off.
5. Test your colors.
Paint colors can look completely different on your wall in different lighting than they looked on the card in the store next to all the other colors. Grays can appear blue, browns can appear purple, and colors can end up looking lighter or darker than you expected.
To avoid investing a lot of money and effort into a project only to end up hating the color, test your top color choices. To do this, purchase a small test amount of each color you’re considering, and use it to paint a sample area or a few sample areas inside your space.
Of course you will be painting over this later, but if you’re worried about painting the actual surface (or if the surface hasn’t yet been adequately prepared for painting), you can instead paint a piece of poster board and move it to different areas. Look at the colors in different types of lighting–during the day and at night–and compare it to fabrics, flooring, and other elements in your house to see if it matches.
Paint stores will happily sell you a small test amount of multiple paint colors, usually for less than $5 per container. Lowe’s (and probably Home Depot too) often runs half-off sales on these, often around Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend I’ve noticed.
6. Use the right tool for the job.
Cheap paint brushes and rollers can leave bristles and lint behind in your paint and cause brush strokes to appear. Spending a little extra on a quality, soft-bristled paint brush and better quality rollers will help you achieve a more professional looking result with less effort.
For example, for cutting in next to trim and along the ceiling, a cheap paint brush can be difficult to control and can cause you to make mistakes, but a quality angled brush (I like Purdy brand myself) holds just the right amount of paint and easily glides along the surface. With proper care and cleaning, a quality paint brush can be used for multiple painting projects.
Related article: 12 Painting Mistakes Made By RV Owners (and How to Avoid Them)
7. Plan on multiple coats.
Some paints are advertised as only requiring a single coat, but I never allow myself to get my hopes up that this will actually be the case. Laying the paint on too thickly or re-painting areas that have already begun to dry to try to finish the job in one take can interfere with drying and bonding. Go ahead and plan on a second coat in case it’s needed; then you can be pleasantly surprised if you find that a second coat actually isn’t needed.
If you’re worried about buying more paint than you need, you can just buy enough for one coat and then plan to buy more for the second coat. In my experience the second coat sometimes takes less paint anyway.
8. Prepare for mistakes.
Even though we might try to be careful, mistakes do happen. Cover everything you don’t want painted with plastic. Keep a rag nearby (damp with water for latex paint and paint thinner for oil-based paint) to wipe off mistakes as soon as they happen. Use a razor blade to gently scrape off mistakes that have already dried. Paint that has already dried will become more difficult to remove after a few days because the paint will have cured.
9. Allow plenty of time for drying and curing.
Each coat of primer or paint needs to be completely dry before another layer is applied on top. Read the label on the can to see exactly how many hours you need to wait; usually overnight is the minimum.
After the project is completely finished, it will take several days or even a week for the paint to cure, so take care when moving furniture during this time as the paint can be easily scratched. This is normal! If the paint does get scratched accidentally, just sand the area and touch it up and allow a little more time it to dry and cure.
Free painting guide
To help you get a general overview of the basic process and materials needed for an interior painting project, I’ve created “The Quick Start Guide to Painting Your RV Interior”, a free PDF download that you can use as a reference to guide your research and help you know what questions to ask. You can have a copy emailed to you by filling out the form below.