Removing Paneling from Walls

Paneling often fades and gets damaged after several years. You may need to replace your wall paneling or get rid of it all together. Maybe you are just tired of that old look you gave your house in the 70’s or 80’s. Whatever the reason, removing paneling from walls is a fairly simple task. In fact it is usually the easy part of the job.

The harder part is usually repairing what lies beneath that paneling or installing new sheetrock in its place. Before you decide to remove paneling from your walls, you need to know what type of surface is going to be under the paneling. It could be drywall, plaster or plain studs.


To properly prepare for the job, you want to know what is beneath the paneling. If you cannot find out any other way, pry a small section in an inconspicuous area away from the wall to see. You can do this most easily where two panels meet instead of in a corner.

Just remove the brads, nails or screws from about a 3 or 4 foot section up and down and use your small pry bar to lift up the edge and use a flashlight to look underneath and determine the surface beneath the paneling. If it is plaster, pulling the nails out can cause clumps of plaster to separate from the wall. If it is drywall then the nails will usually come out easier and only leaves the nail holes to be filled.

If there are only studs, then you will not have to worry so much about damaging the surface because there will be none. Okay, now that we know what we are getting into, you need to decide if removing the paneling is still your best option.

When to Remove and When Not To

If you have what seems to be drywall that is in good shape under the paneling then that is probably the best reason to go ahead and remove the paneling because the drywall can easily be patched and painted to make a nice new wall. Many walls that have paneling were covered over 20 or 30 years ago and are very likely to have plaster walls underneath that are old and out of shape.

Since pulling the nails out of the plaster and removing any adhesive will cause even more damage, you may want to look at other options other than removing the panels. Also if there is no wall underneath, you need to think if you can afford to put in new sheet rock. If you do not want to get involved in a time consuming and expensive project, there are several alternatives to removing paneling.

Alternatives to Removing Old Paneling

If you do have an unfavorable condition for removal of the paneling, you should consider either painting over the old paneling, staining it, wallpaper or even putting another material over top of it. The most practical and economical of these options is most likely going to be staining over the old paneling.

The next most cost effective method would be to paint over it with an interior latex paint. If the paneling is textured or has grooves in it, you will need to resurface it. You can always use spackling to smooth over any inconsistencies.

Then lastly, you also have the option of wallpapering over the paneling. This method is normally going to require the application of a wallpaper smoothing coat first. If none of these methods really work for you and you are still committed to tearing off the paneling and creating a new look for your room, then go ahead and start tearing off the old paneling. We will walk you through the basic steps below.

How to Remove Paneling

    1. Gather your tools. You will need a flat head screwdriver, small pry bar, large crow bar, putty knife, scraper, claw hammer, chisel and proper tools for removing whatever types of fasteners were used.

    2. The first step is always to check to see what is underneath the paneling. (See above).

    3. Remove both the base board and crown molding from the entire area. Use a flat screwdriver and small pry bar to carefully remove all the molding. Be careful not to damage anything as you are most likely going to reuse it.

    4. Using a pry bar, claw hammer or screwdriver, remove all of the brads, nails or screws from the panels.

    5. Starting close to one side, use your chisel to split the paneling from top to bottom.

    6. Use a putty knife or scraper to remove any glue and carefully remove the paneling from the wall. Be careful not to pry to hard. If it doesn’t want to come, find out whether it is a nail, screw, glue or an obstruction holding it down and take care of it carefully.

    7. Use your crowbar to remove the rest of the paneling from the wall.


That is all there is to taking it off, but chances are the majority of your project still lies ahead. Hopefully you have a decent layer of drywall underneath and it did not get too damaged during the removal process. If so all you may have to do is patch it and apply a fresh coat of paint.

Electric outlets and light switches may need special attention due to the difference in the surface. So, whether you have a light painting job or a complete sheetrock job ahead of you, you have the paneling off and you can continue.