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Painting your RV walls and cabinets can be rewarding, but it can also be pretty discouraging when things don’t turn out like you had planned. In this article I share some painting problems encountered by other RV owners so you can hopefully avoid these frustrating experiences when painting inside your own camper or motorhome.
1. Inadequate surface prep
Preparing a surface for painting is a tedious and time-consuming job that many people want to figure out a way around. Although there are several different ways to accomplish the task of surface preparation and even a few products that claim to allow you to skip it altogether, your safest bet is to use a time-tested method and good old-fashioned elbow grease. One RV owner learned this lesson the hard way when she tried painting her laminate cabinets, shown below, without priming first, and the paint started peeling off later.
To avoid this problem when painting RV cabinets or walls, you need to make sure the surface your painting has a texture the paint can “grab on” to. The best method for creating a surface paint will adhere to depends on what type of material you’re painting, which leads me to another common mistake….
2. Using paint or primer that’s wrong for the surface
I remember an incident when was younger where I accidentally used interior latex paint on some exterior trim on our house. My dad told me it would need to be sanded and repainted, but I couldn’t see what the problem was…until a few months later, when the paint started cracking and flaking off. That experience taught me how important it is to use the right kind of paint for whatever project you’re doing.
You can find lots of great information online that can help you determine the best paint for RV cabinets, as well as which primers and prep methods are best, but to save you hours of searching for advice on Google or Pinterest, I’ve also created a PDF guide to help you figure out the best way to approach your painting project.
3. Not reading the instructions for the products being used
One RV owner I know had read a blog post that said she wouldn’t have to sand her cabinets as long as she used a certain kind of paint. Unfortunately, the paint ended up peeling off her laminate (fake) wood cabinets, and she ended up having to strip and sand it all off and redo the whole project.
Later, she found out that the paint company’s website actually did say to sand first! Lesson learned: while blogs and Facebook can be a great resource for gathering information and learning from others’ experiences, it’s no replacement for reading and following the product’s instructions! Also, what worked for one person might not work for you because you might have a different situation in your RV.
4. Using cheap paint brushes
You can get a value pack of several paint brushes for about the same price as one quality paint brush, but using a cheaper brush can result in brush strokes showing or bristles falling out and sticking to the paint. Personally I like Purdy brand paintbrushes, but I know a lot of people like Wooster brand as well, although I’ve never tried that brand myself.
5. Planning to fix mistakes later
Some paint got on this trim piece when we were painting our RV walls, but we noticed it was easy to scrape off so figured we would just worry about it later. A few months later (ha!) when I finally got around to it, I discovered the paint wasn’t quite so easy to scratch off! It’s going to take some serious work now to fix this mistake, and I still haven’t gotten around to it yet!
6. Not waiting long enough for the paint to cure
As you can see from my experience described above, paint scratches off pretty easily the first few days after painting and becomes more durable after it has cured for several days or weeks. Try to avoid doing anything that might scratch the paint (like moving wooden furniture through a narrow hallway – don’t ask me how I know not to do that!) until it has had plenty of time to cure. And if your paint does scratch within the first week or so, don’t despair or feel that your project is a failure! Give it at least a week before determining whether there is actually a problem with paint adhesion or if the paint just hasn’t cured long enough.
7. Painting when it’s too cold, too hot, or too humid
After accidentally leaving a space heater on in her RV while this paint was drying, the owner of the RV pictured below came back a few hours later and discovered the paint had developed a splotchy appearance while drying. Another RV owner reported a similar experience when condensation built up on her RV walls when she was painting during the winter with the heater running.
Fortunately the residue visible in this photo went away after the RV owner wiped down the walls with a damp rag. She still isn’t sure exactly what caused the problem, but one way to avoid problems caused by heat and humidity is to read the instructions on the can of paint or primer to find out the optimal temperature and humidity level for your project. You may need to run a dehumidifier while painting in some climates.
8. Using homemade chalk paint
One RV owner I know decided to save money by making her own chalk paint using a recipe she found online. She had used homemade chalk paint successfully before when painting furniture, but when she used it to paint her RV cabinets, it ended up peeling off. Because she made it herself, she doesn’t know exactly what caused the problem, and she ended up having to sand it all off.
I’m not saying homemade chalk paint will never work. You might get lucky, and maybe you’re on a tight enough budget that the extra risk is worth it to you. But if you are at all worried about your paint project not turning out well, using a highly recommended name brand can remove some of the risk factor and increase your chances of ending up with a result you love. Additionally, if you do have problems, you may be able to get a refund (I actually got a refund once on some spray paint that came out drippy and uneven), but it’s unlikely that a paint company would guarantee their product if you use it in some way other than how it was intended.
9. Painting over seams that may shift during travel
I don’t actually consider this to be a mistake since I’m not sure it could have been anticipated, but it was a problem faced by RV owner Christina. The first time her RV was moved after the cabinets were painted, the paint covering some of the seams between cabinets and wood trim bubbled up as the RV shifted during transit. To prevent this problem, Christina suggests scoring seams with a razor blade after the paint has dried and before the RV is moved. Christina has written more about her experience with RV painting on her blog.
10. Not testing colors first
I was going for a light gray when I chose the paint color for my walls, but it ended up looking almost white in the direct sunlight on the wall inside one of my slides. I also have a friend who recently painted her living room, and what she thought was a warm taupe ended up looking more mauve on the wall. That same friend also once painted a bathroom a color that was supposed to be gray but ended up looking baby blue.
One way to avoid going to the time and expense of painting only to be disappointed with the color is to buy a sample size of the paint first (available from any paint store for just a couple of dollars) and paint a test area or paint a poster board and hold it next to the rest of your decor in different types of lighting.
11. Waiting too long to remove painter’s tape
If you remove painter’s tape while the paint is still wet, you might accidentally smudge the paint, but if you wait until it’s completely dry, the tape might peel the paint off with it, which is what happened in the RV pictured below.
By removing the tape while the paint is still tacky but not completely liquid, the tape can easily break through the paint but won’t cause it to smear. If you do notice that the paint is coming up with the tape, use a razor blade to score along the edge of the tape so the tape can be pulled off without bringing a layer of paint with it.
12. Trying to do it all in one coat
When you’ve bought a type of paint that was advertised as requiring only one coat, it can be frustrating to see the old wall color showing through, but that doesn’t mean you should just roll the paint on thicker. A thick layer of paint, or going back over painted areas before they are fully dry, can interfere with drying time and result in an uneven finish or leave visible brush strokes or marks from the paint roller. In my experience, it’s better to just plan on having to do two coats. Then if you find you only need one, you will be pleasantly surprised!