If you’re thinking about painting your vinyl-covered RV walls, but are concerned about getting paint to adhere to them – you’re not alone. Both vinyl and wood veneer walls are trickier to paint than standard wallboard, due to their slippery nature. They’re great for easy cleaning, but not so good for long-term paint adhesion.
Our RV Interior & Painted Walls
In this article we’ll share seven tips to successfully paint your vinyl RV walls. But first, since you can’t undo your work when you paint over your vinyl walls, let’s look at the pros and cons for painting them.
- Our RV Interior & Painted Walls
- Pros & Cons – To Paint or Not to Paint Your RV Walls:
- Step 1: Select which walls you want to paint
- Step 2: Select your color scheme
- Step 3: Gather Paint and other supplies you’ll need
- Step 4: Prepare the walls
- Step 5: Prime the walls
- Step 6: Paint the walls
- Step 7: Cleanup & finishing touches
Pros & Cons – To Paint or Not to Paint Your RV Walls:
There are easier and less permanent ways to add a personal touch to your RV than paint. When we first got our RV, we looked at other ways to streamline the appearance without painting over the washable vinyl.
First, we gently removed the dark brown and blue ‘chair rail’ accent trim that ran horizontally around some of our walls. This made for a much cleaner look.
Second, our RV valances were covered in a bold dark-brown-and-blue geometric pattern that stood out against our light walls in our small space. After comparing some fabric swaths, we decided on a linen fabric that blended well with the lightly-patterned vinyl walls. Once recovered, we realized that not only did the new linen valances recede into the walls, but they actually make the walls look more like linen, too. This wasn’t easier than painting, but it is much easier to undo! Read more about our RV Valance project
Third, we added framed and matted artwork to most of the walls in our RV. We used thin, lightweight, inexpensive frames that included matting. We replaced the glass with sheets of anti-glare plastic (sold at Home Depot or Lowes), and we used Kathy’s art and some of my better photos printed on photo paper in the frames. Finally, we attached them to the vinyl walls with double sided foam tape. This personalized our RV and cost only around $20 per picture.
That said, none of these updates made as large an impact as paint. Which is why we ultimately decided to paint several interior walls in our RV.
Popular reasons to paint an RV’s vinyl or wood veneer walls
- To customize your RV so it reflects your personal style. Like any home, you may want to express your personal style in your home-on-wheels. Even painting just a few accent walls to match your decor can make your home feel more cozy.
- To update the look of your RV. Regardless of age, many RVs come with vinyl walls that resemble a dentist’s office from the 80’s. A fresh coat of paint can do wonders to contemporize your RV’s appearance.
- To cover water, smoke, or other stains. Over the years, RVs can take a lot of abuse. When properly applied, a fresh coat of paint will cover a number of sins like smoke, water damage, and other stains.
Reasons to leave your RV’s vinyl or wood veneer walls unpainted
- Vinyl walls are easy to clean. This is especially handy considering that most RV ‘resorts’ or parks are set in nature which means inevitably bringing dirt into your RV.
- Vinyl is more durable and lower maintenance than paint. Vinyl is more durable against nicks and scratches than paint. Of course you can reapply paint, but that involves afternoons spent painting instead of biking, hiking and enjoying the great outdoors.
- RVs have a lot of tight corners, which makes them hard to paint.
- An RV with fully-painted walls could hurt its’ sales price. By keeping paint fresh and colors neutral this may not be an issue, but its’ worth considering.
Please note that if you decide to paint your RV’s walls using our suggestions below it is difficult or impossible to restore your RV’s walls to their original appearance. Bonding paint to factory finished vinyl walls requires light sanding and (ideally) a chemical bond, so removing the paint will most likely require replacing the vinyl.
Okay, I’ve given you enough warnings about painting your RV’s walls! If you’re still reading chances are you’ve already thought it through, and still want to paint them like we did.
Bear with me, as I’ll spend some time discussing what walls to paint, color selection, and wall prep, than the actual painting. If you just want the basics, skip to step 3. Most people know how to paint with a brush or roller, and good preparation is the key to successfully painting anything – especially RV walls.
Step 1: Select which walls you want to paint
Some people want to go hog-wild and paint all their interior walls, while others only want to add a few accent walls (like us). It’s important that you are sure you want to move forward before you touch paint to wall for the reasons noted earlier.
First Option – Paint accent walls only
We recommend starting with an accent wall. That way if you don’t love it, you can always paint it a neutral color and it won’t be noticeable. It’s also a lot less work and much easier to manage than painting an entire RV -especially for your first time. If all goes well and you want to paint the rest of the walls at that point, you can always go for it.
To get started, look at your walls with a critical eye. Which walls look like they could benefit from painting? Where could you use a pop of color? Which wall would you like to minimize?
In our case we painted four accent walls in a dark brown. We had several walls that were covered in wood laminate. We felt this ‘faux wood’ cheapened the look of our home, so we painted two of those walls. Then we painted a nook in our bedroom where the TV is mounted, which we wanted to minimize. We painted a fourth wall that contained two big, black ‘tank level’ panels, and the brown paint helped the panels recede.
Depending on the size of your RV, you can paint anywhere from 1-6 accent walls. Here’s a good article that talks about accent walls.
Second Option – Paint all the walls
For months we debated about painting all the vinyl walls in our RV. Eventually we decided to paint a few accent walls and go from there. We ultimately decided to keep most of the easy-clean vinyl on most of the walls, plus I’ve painted enough to know that our smaller RV would be challenging to paint well with all its tight corners.
That said, some RVers have invested the time and energy to paint all their walls, with great-looking results! It’s a personal choice and if you have more time and patience than we did (and less projects) that helps.
Step 2: Select your color scheme
As I’m a web designer/developer, I work with color a lot and I had a good idea of how I wanted the RV to look. That said, finding a good color scheme for the interior of an RV is tricky. RV’s can be dark, so colors you think look good in the light of day, don’t look the same inside your RV. Get lots of samples!
Color selection is both fun and challenging for most of us, so I recommend you take your time in selecting your colors. Sherwin Williams has this great ‘color visualizer‘ that may help you more easily select a color scheme for your walls.
Color selection could take up an entire article, but here are a few guidelines:
- Choose a color that will work well with your floors, cabinets, and home decorations.
- I recommend neutrals like tan, cream, off-white, taupe, etc. to most people as they’re very forgiving. Brown can be used, but I only recommend it as an accent color as it’s dark. Black is too dark, and while white really brightens the interior of an RV, it will look dirty quickly if you live full-time in RV campgrounds like we do.
- Avoid colors that are too close together on the color wheel. For instance, if your ceiling is white, don’t paint your walls off-white. The colors either need to clearly contrast, like brown and cream – or match exactly.
- Avoid bright colors. It’s easier to add a pop of color in your RV through accents like pillows, art work, and throw blankets. This will help ensure that your wall colors aren’t too ‘taste-specific’ should you decide to sell your RV later.
- We chose to use colors that match and complements the outside of our RV. Ours has browns, creams, and tans on the outside. We liked those colors, so we carried the brown paint inside. It’s just one option, but it worked out really well.
Once you’ve narrowed in on some colors, pick out lots of sample color chips. From your top 6 colors, narrow color down even further by buying and testing out several samples. To do this, paint colors onto pieces of 14×22 foam board or poster board, so you can move them around the room and check them out during various times of the day, to see how natural light and interior lighting affects them.
Once you’ve made your top selections, look closely at your entire color scheme. How does your new paint look with your walls, floors, throw pillows, bedspread, and other home decor? We bought a new duvet cover and pillows, so this helped us make sure our new brown walls matched the bedding.
Step 3: Gather Paint and other supplies you’ll need
Congratulations, you’ve decided on a color scheme! I’ve made a list below, but first let’s talk about what paint and primer to use.
When thinking about what type of paint to use, I ask the experts at any good Paint center. This way you can tell them exactly what surface you’re painting over, and they can advise you on the best product.
That said, a high-quality water based paint in an eggshell finish should work just fine. I used to run a sign painting business, and thought that all paints should be oil-based. But due to major breakthroughs in paint production techniques, I’ve changed my mind. With proper surface preparation and priming, I’ve found the water-based paints to hold up extremely well.
Using Gripper Primer is Critical to Your Success
Along with the proper paint, the most important thing is the primer. In this case, hands down, we recommend a product called Glidden Professional Gripper. As its name implies, Gripper GRIPS the wall like glue! It’s a primer and sealer, and it has ‘teeth’ so it sticks to vinyl, wood veneer, and any slippery surface you can imagine. (I’ve used BIN for years, but for RV walls, nothing beats Gripper’s texture and gripping power)
If we had used Gripper the first time around, we would could have avoided a big mess. I’ll share more in Step 5, Priming the Walls. Meanwhile, when you make your list – put Gripper at the top!
Update for 2019 – Kilz Adhesion Also Works
Not to be outdone by Glidden, Kilz also has their own sticky primer that’s designed to be used on hard-to-paint surfaces. Kilz Adhesion uses a high-bonding formula that’s perfect for priming RV wood veneer and vinyl walls, so if you can’t find Gripper, use Kilz Adhesion instead.
List of Recommended Supplies:
- 1 quart- Gripper Primer-Sealer or 1 quart Kilz Adhesion → – note: Gripper can be tinted which is recommended for dark accent walls
- 2 quarts+/- Eggshell Paint – (quantities depend on how large your RV is and if you can buy more paint later should you need it)
- Assorted Paintbrushes – 5 Pack Pro-Grade Wall/Trim Paintbrushes →
- Optional Small roller and roller pan – Bates Mini Paint Roller Set →
- 1 bottle – grease-cutting cleanser. Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol works well.
- Scrubbing sponge or scrub
- Medium-grit and fine-grit sandpaper – 36 Pack Assorted Sandpaper →
- Hand-sanding blocks – 8 Pack Sanding Blocks →
- Tack cloth for cleaning dust from walls – Supertuff Tack Cloth →
- Utility knife for cutting painter’s tape – Stanley Fatmax Utility Knife →
- Painter’s tape – ScotchBlue Painters Tape →
- Drop cloth or plastic sheeting – 1.5 Mil Plastic Drop Cloths →
Step 4: Prepare the walls
Clean the walls: – You’re now ready to start your work of art! First, make sure to ventilate your RV to minimize fumes. Vent fans are perfect for this. Also, lay down a drop cloth and put on some comfy clothes. A little music, and some refreshment might make the time go by more easily too!
Next, with a screwdriver, take off anything that shouldn’t be on the walls. For instance, you should remove switch plates, vent covers, pictures, hooks, etc. I actually tried painting carefully around the switch plates and it’s much better to take them off.
Then it’s time to clean and degrease the walls. Some people skip this step, and simply start sanding the walls first. However, I find it best to take off any initial sticky substances, grime, or dirt before I sand.
In terms of a wall cleaner, I keep a spray bottle of diluted white vinegar and water. (About 50% vinegar and 50% water.) You may have other preferred cleaners, or you can check out this article that talks about various cleaners you can use for specific situations. (For cleaning mildew use bleach diluted in water and rinse with clean water afterwards.)
Whatever you use, rinse it off with warm water to remove any residue before sanding.
Sand the walls: – Most vinyl or wood laminates have a texture or grained pattern to them, so your finished surface will retain some of this pattern. For instance, if you’re painting over a wood grain surface, your finished paint will retain some of that character.
(Note: The Gripper I describe in Step #4 will help smooth it out but won’t take away all the texture of the surface you’re painting on. We haven’t found this to be a problem, as it’s minimal.)
To avoid sanding the vinyl wallpaper completely off, make sure to sand lightly. Your goal is to rough up the surface a bit so that the Gripper bonds extra well. Take a sanding block and lightly run over the entire surface in moderate-sized circles.
Once you’ve sanded the walls you’ll want to clean the sanding residue off with warm soapy water, and end with a final rinse of clear water. Once dry, use a tack cloth to remove any final particles.
Taping Trim: – Some people attempt to paint their walls without taping the trim. I’m have a very steady hand, and have been guilty of this myself! While you can get away with using an angled brush and ‘eying’ it, you’ll always come out with more crisp, clean edges if you tape.
We use Frog Tape brand painter’s tape. We like it because it’s made for latex paints, and is designed to avoid ripping your paint off the edges as you pull your tape from the wall.
Step 5: Prime the walls
I’ll say this again here. Use Gripper Primer & Sealer on any vinyl or wood veneer wall, period.
Two years ago, with our first attempt at painting over a wood veneer wall, we didn’t use Gripper. Consequently the paint came peeling right off our walls, making a big mess in the process! I spent about six hours gently scraping and sanding the entire wall again before finally applying Gripper. Once the Gripper primer was on the wall the paint bonded perfectly, and it has stayed in perfect shape ever since!
If you’re going to paint a dark color over your vinyl, you should have had the paint department tint your Gripper. It won’t be as dark as your paint color but if you have them tint it for you it will be correct for your color. If you’re painting a light color on your wall, just use it straight from the can.
Be sure to stir your Gripper well before applying. For application, either paint brushes or rollers are fine. I tend to use rollers on larger walls and brushes on smaller walls, or if I’m painting over a wood veneer, but it’s just a preference. If you do use rollers, I’d use the small sized ones, since a large roller is too clumsy in most RVs, and you may splash primer onto places you didn’t intend to hit.
Simply brush or roll your Gripper on, noting that it may feel a bit on the thick side. (Do not thin Gripper out, since it requires this consistency to do its job.) Here’s a product guide for Gripper, should you have any questions.
You’ll probably be fine with only one coat of Gripper. For extra coverage feel free to add a 2nd coat if you wish, waiting at least 1 hour between coats (Gripper says for optimal results you can wait up to 4 hours.) Gripper cleans up with soap and water, so cleaning is easy.
Step 6: Paint the walls
Once the Gripper has dried sufficiently, you can begin painting with your small rollers or brushes. As noted earlier, I used a quality eggshell-finish latex paint for all interior walls.
Stir paint thoroughly and you’re good to go. When painting, work in a small area at a time, so you have a smooth finish. If you use a roller, you’ll want to have a long-handled brush for those hard-to-reach places.
Let the paint dry thoroughly, then apply a 2nd coat if needed. Hopefully you’re feeling good about your color choice and the overall look! In the event that your color isn’t what you hoped, you can always go back and put another color over this one. We ended up modifying our color like this and are very happy with the final color.
Step 7: Cleanup & finishing touches
Once your paint has dried thoroughly to the touch, you can pull your trim tape carefully from the walls. Ideally the best time to take your trim tape off is a few hours after painting. If the tape sets into the paint for days or weeks it can become embedded and make it challenging to pull a clean line. Here’s a link to the FrogTape Q&A web page if you want to learn more.
Once you’ve cleaned up your supplies and admired your work, that’s it! You should have a fresh coat of paint that will give you years of good service. The Gripper will help paint form a chemical bond to the vinyl (or wood laminate), so you won’t have any of those nicks or scratches in your paint. We’ve had our walls painted for over two years and it’s held up perfectly, even in the high traffic entry where we hang our coats.
Now it’s time to enjoy the new look in your RV! Give yourself a few weeks to sit back and decide if you’re fully satisfied with your color scheme, since it takes awhile to get used to any new colors.
If you’ve had success painting your walls, we’re happy to hear your comments or ideas. For first-time RV painters, good luck to you and happy painting!