How to Paint the Walls of Your RV
This post was originally posted in 2017, but updated in 2023.
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Not gonna lie, painting the interior of our RV pretty much SUCKED.
I think there were numerous times that I told Eric if we ever have to paint the inside of an RV again, we’ll pay someone to do it.
Yeah, it sucked that much. Then again we painted all of the cabinets too and some of them more than once after discovering the water leak in the ceiling.
But you know what? We would probably still paint the interior ourselves because as much work as it was, the payoff was soooooo worth it!
In fact, I would say painting the RV walls, ceiling, vents, and cabinets gave us the biggest bang for our buck, being that it completely changed the overall feel of the space.
How to Paint the Walls of your RV
While I admit painting the interior of an RV can be tedious and tiring, it’s also an affordable way to change the overall feel of the space. In other words, it’s worth it!
Most RV interior walls are constructed from luan plywood sheets with a wallpaper texture adhered to them, which you don’t want to remove, but can paint over.
However, other areas, like your kitchen or bathroom walls may have an additional wallpaper border added on top of this, which can be removed. This seems to be the case in most RVs, especially older models.
My advice for painting the walls in your RV is to make time to prep the areas first, as this will help ensure a quality paint job that will last. Be sure to make any repairs beforehand, and then clean all surfaces with a degreaser such as TSP or Simple Green, which may help eliminate the need for scuff sanding. And because your RV walls are likely made of vinyl-covered plywood or wood veneer, using a bonding primer, such as PPG Gripper, before you paint is highly recommended. Afterward, you can add your final paint color. I recommend two coats for the best results.
Here are the supplies you’ll need to make your own burlap roller shades:
- Sandpaper – for scuff sanding
- Spackling – to fill in nail holes or use in repairs
- Degreaser such as TSP or Simple Green
- Gloves/Eye Protection/Safety Gear if you plan to use TSP, TSP substitute, or paint sprayer
- Painter’s Tape
- Bonding Primer: Popular Options include PPG Gripper Primer, Kilz Bonding Primer, Stix Bonding primer, and Glidden Gripper Primer.
- Top Coat Paint in the Sheen you want
- Paint Tray, Rollers, and Brushes: I HATE getting bristles or little furries in my paint – Purdy and Wooster Brushes and Rollers are my favorite.
- Paint Sprayer/protective gear- optional, but if I ever paint another RV interior white I will go this route!
Before you do any of the steps below, I recommend getting your favorite music station or podcast station set-up, as well as your beverage of choice. It makes the painting process so much more enjoyable.
Step 1: Remove Wallpaper Borders
First thing’s first, remove any wallpaper borders you don’t want to keep up. However, keep in mind that there’s a MAJOR difference between the wallpaper texture all of the walls have, and the bordered wallpaper added on top of that. The interior walls of your motorhome are likely made of some sort of luan plywood that has a wallpaper texture adhered to them which is NOT removable, at least as far as I know. We just painted over ours using the steps below.
This seems to be the case in most RV’s and campers, but I’ve seen some with wallpapered accent walls, so I would just look closely before attempting to pry it off. We removed the borders, but not the actual “wallpaper” that’s adhered to the walls of the RV — you don’t want to try and tear that off. This is why bonding primer comes in handy, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Step 2: protect surfaces
If you haven’t done so already, make sure you’ve removed anything you don’t want to be painted, like outlet covers and tape around edges you don’t want to be painted, such as window frames (we may or may not have done this, but it wasn’t anything a magic eraser or rubbing alcohol couldn’t take care of).
Don’t forget to cover the flooring with tarps, or any furniture you don’t want to accidentally splatter with paint.
Step 3: Repair/Scuff Sand
Repair any wall damage and fill nail or screw holes with a paintable wood filler or spackling. Afterward, lightly sand the area and any other imperfections.
You can take this one step further and lightly sand all of the walls in the RV that you plan to paint. The point of sanding the walls is to create a smooth surface, remove shine, and give the paint something to grab onto, though a degreaser will help with some of these issues.
However, unless you’re trying to smooth out a highly textured or recently repaired area, this will be a speedy, gentle job using medium grit sandpaper. Don’t overthink this. In most cases, you will only be spending a few seconds on each surface.
And yes, you can even do this on non-wood surfaces. You may even want to consider using a pole sander to speed through the process, though it’s not necessary.
Step 4: degrease/clean the walls
Next, you’ll want to clean the walls with a degreaser to prepare them for paint. The most popular option for this seems to be TSP or TSP substitute, which is a degreaser and cleaning agent often used to prep walls before painting.
However, both are pretty toxic so be sure to wear gloves and eye protection if you go this direction.
To be honest, I had never used either of these products prior to owning an RV, but we went with TSP substitute because that’s what I kept reading about. I later realized that there are a ton of natural alternatives that you can use instead, including water/vinegar mixtures or even Simple Green Cleaning solution. If I were to do this again, I’d probably go that route, especially because you don’t have to wash it off afterward.
Basically, you’ll want to clean the walls and let them dry fully before painting, otherwise, your paint may not adhere properly.
Step 5: Prime
Once your walls are clean and dry it’s time to prime. Again, your RV walls are likely made of vinyl-covered plywood or wood veneer. And this is why using a bonding primer before you paint is highly recommended in RV’s.
Not all primers are created equal. Using paint with a primer mixed in is not the same as using a separate bonding primer, at least not when it comes to painting your RV interior.
Bonding primer sticks to a variety of challenging or slick surfaces, including vinyl, laminate, Formica, fiberglass, and wood paneling, and it comes in both water and oil-based options. The consistency is thicker than your average can of primer, so it can be slightly more challenging to work with, but the coverage is much better. This can also help smooth out any texture imperfections in the surface you paint.
Not only does primer remove funky smells, cover stains, and provide a smooth, even surface for your final paint color, but it gives the surface a consistent base and the paint something to adhere to. This is key! In other words, it can prevent your paint from peeling, cracking, or chipping later on down the road.
It can also help neutralize any sticky residue left behind after removing wallpaper (like those pesky borders), although I haven’t tried it before.
However, before you choose the type of primer to use, you’ll need to decide if you’ll be using an oil or water-based paint. While you can generally use a water-based paint over an oil-based primer, you don’t want to apply oil-based paint over a water-based primer. To keep it simple, a good rule of thumb is to stick to either water or oil-based primer and paints. For the best results, follow the manufacturer instructions and guidelines provided on the primer and paint purchased.
You’ll generally want to use two coats of bonding primer before applying two coats of paint (and if you plan to paint any surfaces a dark color, consider using a tinted primer.) Make sure you read the instructions for dry/cure time and that you are painting under optimal temperature conditions.
Popular bonding primer options amongst RVers include PPG Gripper, Kilz Adhesion Primer, INSL-X Stix Bonding Primer, and Glidden Gripper. In the last couple of years we have used PPG Gripper bonding primer, and the coverage is like night and day compared to the standard, water-based primer we previously used.
Step 6: Paint
It’s finally time to paint, yay! If you’re using a darker color you may only need one coat, but we went with Ultra Pure White in satin and did two coats.
If you plan to paint your walls white you may want to consider painting your ceiling white as well. Once our walls and cabinets were painted it looked like our ceiling, which seemed white before, now looked more beige. So we painted the ceiling using the same steps as above, and it made a HUGE difference in brightening up the space!
That’s pretty much it! I had no idea painting the walls in our RV was going to be a bigger task than painting the walls in our previous homes, especially considering how much smaller it is. I blame it on the need for extra coats of primer and getting into all the awkward nooks and crannies. The good news is everything has held up great since we painted and it was soooooooo worth it!
If you’re looking for an affordable way to make a HUGE impact in your RV, paint will definitely do just that!
What we would do differently
If we ever find ourselves needing to paint the interior of a camper in the future there is one major thing I would do differently…I would use a paint sprayer.
Yup. We even had two on hand during our reno, but to be honest, I was too lazy to cover everything up and didn’t realize painting was going to be so time-consuming. If you don’t have a sprayer and don’t want to splurge on an expensive option, you can always rent one. We definitely plan to use a paint sprayer next time around!
If you’re planning to paint the inside of your RV I hope you found this post helpful!
And if you’re looking for a more detailed guide on painting your RV interior (along with other RV interior tips and inspiration), be sure to check out my eBook, The Nomad’s Guide to Decorating!