What surfaces can I paint over?

What surfaces can I paint over?

When I walk into a bid appointment, one of the questions I always expect to hear is, “Can I paint over this?” Knowing your home and which surfaces can be painted over is important—and not knowing can cause some serious issues. 

Wallpaper

Let’s start where no one wants to start – wallpaper. When your wallpaper is no longer all you had hoped and dreamed, painting over it can seem like a good quick fix. 

Removing wallpaper can be difficult and expensive and there’s virtually no way to know the wall condition once the paper is removed. Even after removal, the space will still need to be prepped and painted, at the very least, and may need patching or re-texturing. 

Even though it is possible to skip the removal process, for best results we always recommend stripping away the paper before painting. However, because of the expense and time commitment required, many people opt out of the removal process. 

If this is what you choose to do, be aware of the biggest downside: a less than perfect finish. Painting over wallpaper can result in visible seams and texture, even after more than one coat of paint. 

If you still are set on painting, and don’t mind some added expense, you can get that flawless look by following these steps:

1. Start by adding a sealer over the wallpaper (we use Z-Prime).
2. Skim coat with drywall compound and texture to match the rest of the house. 
3. Apply a primer and two coats of paint. 

This process is seamless and will result in a beautiful finish, though it’s more costly.

Vinyl siding

The next painting struggle we come up against frequently is vinyl siding. The idea that vinyl siding will last a lifetime has proven false. Even if you wash your vinyl siding regularly, UV rays will fade the color and the siding will eventually start to look drab. 

Replacement is often the best solution, but it is very costly. The good news is that vinyl siding can be painted when these steps are taken:

1. Clean your home with one of the detergents safe for vinyl siding, such as Benjamin Moore’s Clean or multi-purpose cleaner 318.
2. Once the siding is clean, your painter should apply a coat of an adhesion primer.
3. Following the primer, two coats of paint containing vinyl safe colorants such as Benjamin Moore’s Ben, Regal or Aura color should be applied. When ordering the paint, it is extremely important to order a vinyl safe formula to avoid a bucking effect on the siding.

Once vinyl siding has been painted using this process, it can be repainted just like any other siding. We recommend repainting every seven to 15 years, depending upon quality of siding and weather conditions.

Aluminum siding

The next problem area is aluminum siding. The most common problem we see when painting this siding is what I describe as “chalky” siding, caused by oxidation of the aluminum. 

The white, powdery oxide needs to be completely removed prior to painting in order to avoid adhesion or chalking issues on the new paint surface, making the preparation more involved.

We have successfully painted over aluminum siding by following this process:

1. Apply detergent to the siding and scrub by hand, using brushes to remove the oxide.
2. Once the surfaces are dry, check them by running a hand over the siding like checking for dust on a mantle. If any chalky substance is picked up, the siding needs to be re-washed. Any rusty surfaces must also be sanded with steel wool and coated with a rust inhibiting primer.
3. Proceed with one coat of adhesion primer followed by two coats of paint.

Laminate

Finally, let’s look at painting over laminates. Although durable, even a laminate can start to look dated. Painting laminate is possible, but requires adequate preparation. 

Here are the steps we follow to prepare and paint a laminate surface:

1. Scuff sand your laminate.
2. Clean the laminate using a solvent, such as lacquer thinner.
3. Be careful to rinse laminate thoroughly before applying an adhesion primer.
4. Once primed, apply two coats of enamel paint.

In every instance, you’ll notice that the cleaning and preparation process is in-depth. This degree of detail is necessary to ensure that the final paint job is exceptional in appearance and longevity.

We also suggest investing in the best quality primers, which allow the paint to bond effectively to the painted surface. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact a painting professional for assistance.

About this Angie’s List Expert: Nancy Long is co-owner of Sisu Painting, providing painting services in Portland, Ore. Since 1995, Sisu Painting has specialized in interior and exterior painting, minor wall repairs, wallpaper removal and cabinetry woodworking. They are a recipient of the 2012 Angie’s List Super Service Award.

As of October 16, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.


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Taking the appropriate steps to remove the current paint on the outside of your home can help simplify the painting process for your home's exterior.

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