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Ask Dave: Can I paint the inside walls of my motorhome?

Dear Dave,
Can you paint the inside of a motorhome, even if it’s over wallpaper? Or can you put new wallpaper over old wallpaper? —Janet, 2007 R-Vision Town & Country

Dear Janet,
Most of the interior paneling used by RV manufacturers has a vinyl material as the final wallpaper and you can paint over it with the proper preparation and materials. Just recently the RV Repair Club renovated a 1997 Forest River Salem trailer and painted the inside. You can see a video of the process here.

How to tell if the finish is vinyl or paper

You can tell if the finish is vinyl or paper by trying to peel a small bit in an out-of-the-way place such as a shirt closet. Vinyl will pull away like tape and paper will easily tear. The difference is in the preparation and type of paint.

First, you need to sand the surface with 120 grit sandpaper. We used an orbital sander and lightly sanded the surface. Some of the vinyl will have a slight texture to it or a rough surface. Don’t sand too heavily as it will tear the paper away from the actual wood panel. You can touch up any scrape or nail holes with wood putty. Then clean the entire surface with TSP mixed in water and a soft microfiber towel or sponge.

Painting the walls of a motorhome

The first coat should be a water-based primer such as Zinsser 1-2-3, which is my go-to primer for tough surfaces. You can find it at most home improvement stores or Amazon here.

Where the panels meet each other there will be a seam that needs to be addressed. Some manufacturers use a pattern matching tape to cover the seam, others use a vinyl-wrapped batten strip, which is a piece of wood. The wood sticks out and is more noticeable, however. I would not recommend trying to fill the seam with wood putty or drywall compound as the temperature changes and twisting from road vibration would most likely make it crack sometime later. My preference would be to replace the batten strip with bare wood strips painted to match the new paint.

When painting the walls of a motorhome, use a good quality paint such as Benjamin Moore and stay with a non-gloss finish. A shiny, glossy paint will show all the waves and imperfections on the wall. We used the Regal Select brand as it is acrylic paint. According to the BM rep, the acrylic is more water-resistant and is more elastic. We felt this was better for a unit that would be exposed to extreme temperature changes when not being used, and the rigors of the road, as mentioned earlier.

Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and the author of the “RV Handbook.”

Read more from Dave here

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Don
11 days ago

What the heck is TSP? Never heard of it…

Leslie
11 days ago
Reply to  Don

TSP is Trisodium Phosphate. Maybe it’s an ‘old school’ cleaner but was always suggested to use to clean walls, especially bathroom walls which had a tendency to be glossy, and dirty. A quick google search will get you dozens of sellers, including Amazon, of course.

Bill Coady
10 days ago
Reply to  Don

Leslie’s correct on TSP but I’m not sure it is too “old school”. It’s been around a long time and is still a go to cleaning solution to prep walls for painting. There are two types: Original formulation that is a powder you mix with water. After cleaning the walls you need to also rinse with plain water per the directions on the box. There is also a somewhat newer “no-rinse” liquid concentrate. I’ve use both and see no difference in cleaning results and it sure is nice to not have to rinse the walls with the “no-rinse” version.

Keep in mind that if you have a high gloss surface you might need to use a deglosser since TSP isn’t really a “deglosser” but rather a good cleaner.

Any paint store or good hardware store that sells paint will have all of this material.

Bob M
11 days ago

I painted over the wallpaper in my house. 1st I used a good primer, than painted over the primer with a good quality paint.. Seven years later no problems.

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