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.


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.


  • 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!

Our entry wall before and after
Our entry wall before and after

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.

Gripper
Gripper is the primer we used

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.

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

Without Gripper | With Gripper
Without Gripper | With Gripper

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.

Our painted bedroom alcove
Our painted bedroom alcove

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!

Author

Hi, I'm Rich - Perpetual traveler, photographer, writer, and web designer. Thanks for reading, and happy trekking!

58 Comments

  1. Kelly Wagner Reply

    This article and accompanying video are so informative! I would like to compliment you on mentioning the impact of painting a vintage camper…I just bought a 1995 Winnebago Brave. It is all original and in very good shape considering it’s age. The vinyl wallpaper looked stained but on closer inspection, it is the color and design of the paper. Paint would definitely light up the interior but I am hesitating to touch the original wood and paper for historical reasons.

  2. Hi Kathy, we own a vintage travel trailer. The walls have printed contact paper. The contact paper is peeling off in some areas. Instead of trying to glue back up we want to pull it off and paint underneath. I believe the underneath is wood laminate. Will your recommendations on how to paint work for that surface. Thanks for the info.

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Kathy – Kat is in France at the moment, but I can help. We painted over lots of the wood laminate in our RV – including right inside the door and several other panels – using this method. Gripper is the key – that stuff will stick to anything and creates a really strong primer layer for any paint. Good luck!

    • Hi Jeanie!
      We are in the process of renovating our camper, and we just started the painting process yesterday. We did end up painting the ceilings – and it was MUCH easier going than I imagined. We did the same process as the walls (described above) – cleaned, sanded, then used Gripper on the ceilings. Paint goes on next weekend, but already the difference is night and day! Our ceilings were extremely textured, so the texture still shows through, but the gripper went on without any issue and already has brightened up the space a lot.

      My only advice – we removed everything in the ceilings (lights, speakers, A/C unit cover) and taped over the hanging wires to avoid getting paint on them. Much easier (in my opinion) than taping and painting around each individual piece. Also, we did the ceilings FIRST, so if they dripped onto the walls it wasn’t a big deal, as the walls were next.

      I hope this helps!

  3. SHERREE THOMPSON Reply

    How do you cover up water damage stains on the ceiling? Is that carpet stuff paintable

    • Hi Sherree,
      I use Kilz primer-sealer for covering any type of stains, including water stains. Not sure if you’re referring to water damage on carpet or on a hard surface, but I haven’t tried it on carpet. I’d ask your paint store person to make sure you can use Kilz on fabric/carpet materials.

      In terms of carpet and carpet-type materials being paintable, check out this great article. I haven’t painted carpet myself but if you follow these directions it sounds like you’d have great results.
      Good luck to you!

  4. Marlena Pegues Reply

    Hi,
    We are buying a 2012 class c and we want to paint the walls and cabinets. My husband has been reading that if you use a latex primer over the wallpaper, it could make the wallpaper bubble and that we should use an oil based primer. I wanted to get your advice on this. How are your walls holding up since you’ve painted them? Thanks!

    • Rich Reply

      HI Marlena – our paint has held up extremely well. It looks perfect after 5 years of full-time use. I think the key is that we used gripper as a primer. That stuff is great. Good luck!

  5. I don’t have an RV, but a preschool. The previous owners covered the bottom half of the walls with the vinyl wallboards used in RV’s. It needs updating, so I am considering painting. I was just wondering how your painted walls held up to cleaning? Since it is a preschool, I need to be able to wash the walls with at least soapy water. Do you think this would last through that, or would the paint come off?

    • Hi Karen, Our painted walls have held up very well over the past 4 years. No chipping or peeling, and they’re just like they were when freshly painted. We have washed them with soapy water many times. Also, one of the walls is in a high-traffic area (entry wall where we hang our coats) and still no issues. The only concern I’d have with your situation is that with your RV walls on bottom half of the wall and pre-schoolers. They may be extra tough on the walls, such as chairs bumping against them and whether they would hold up to that type of wear. That said, if you follow the steps I outlined in this article – the Gripper will form a chemical bond to the RV wall. Chemical bonds are the best kind of bond, where the RV wall and the Gripper become ‘one.’ So with Gripper on it the paint should then hold up as well as any painted wall. You could always test out 1 wall for 6 months, treating it as an ‘accent’ wall. Then if it holds up as well as you like, you can paint the rest of the RV walls. Hope this helps and good luck to you!

  6. Great article and video. I noticed you said you removed the “chair rail” wallpaper. Doesn’t that make such a difference visually??

    My problem though is that I can’t get the tacky leftover glue off the walls! I’ve tried many things to no avail. (Unfortunately the only successful item to work, lighter fluid, actually slightly damaged the vinyl. I obviously had to not do that anymore!) What did you use?

    • Hi Sally, Thanks, glad you enjoyed them. Yes I agree that taking the wallpaper border/chair rail off makes a big difference. I find that in a small space like an RV you don’t want any visual dividers. I suppose we were lucky in that the glue under our border came off pretty easily. In terms of the glue that remains on the wall, you might have luck with GoofOff. I’d test it a small area first. If that doesn’t work, check out this article, as they suggest using fabric softener in a spray bottle. One other thought is to use a Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, rubbing very gently. You could always check with Lowes or Home Depot paint departments, as I believe the sell a wallpaper stripper. (You might leave it on for less than the recommended time, since the border is already off and you don’t want to damage the vinyl.) In terms of the damage you did, you could always buy a few small tubes of paint and mix them onto the damaged spot, gently blending them with a sponge. I say this assuming your vinyl walls have a mottled effect to them like most RV walls. Hope this helps and all the best to you!

  7. Leah Harris Reply

    If my camper is being kept outside, should I use outdoor paint inside the camper for weather fluctuation?

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Leah – you should never use outdoor paint indoors (including inside a camper) as outdoor paint has more VOCs and outgasses chemicals for much longer than indoor paint. Especially not good and not healthy in a small indoor space like a camper! Decent indoor paint works fine with temperature swings as long as you use a good base coat like gripper. We’ve stored our RV in full Sun and heat in Georgia for a couple weeks with zero issues. Good luck!

      • Rhonda Williamson Reply

        Thank-you for a very informative post.
        I have a 1977 Class B+. I only have 3 smsll wall sections that I plan put backsplashes on. I woll be painting the cabinets with white over Gripper. These cabinets are composite board with a wood grain cover (vinyl?)
        Your steps should work perfectly. I do wonder, however, if eggshell wpuld be the appropriate finish for cabinets. Thoughts?
        Thank you for your time

        • Rich Reply

          Hi Rhonda – eggshell on top of Gripper is perfect in my opinion. Most RV cabinets are some type of composite board with a vinyl type cover – and gripper works perfectly on that surface. Good luck!

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