There’s no rule saying you have to settle for the dark and dingy interior of your RV! Regardless if your RV is a big rig motorhome or a small travel trailer, brand new or 50 years old, you can paint your RV to lighten, brighten and personalize it with these easy-to-follow painting tips. Once this part of your RV remodeling project is complete, your motorhome or camper will be brighter, look and feel more like home!
After planning your RV interior renovation, it’s time to get busy with painting your RV interior. The prepping and painting process is fairly easy. However, there’s certain products and procedures you’ll need to paint your RV.
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How to Paint Your RV, Camper or Motorhome Interior
Did you know the reason why RV manufacturers use beige and brown wallpaper? One reason is beige and tan are neutral colors that coordinate with any decor. And, those dingy colors hide imperfections made during manufacturing.
What pushed us to rethink our own RV interior decor?
In January 2017, we met David and Cheryl of Landmark Adventures. One morning, they invited us in for morning coffee and chat. The minute we stepped into their fifth wheel (also a Heartland Landmark), I was instantly smitten and I could see the gears turning in Dan’s head. David and Cheryl’s fifth wheel looked less like an RV and more like a home.
There were no more drabby beige walls! Their RV interior was beautiful, bright and cheery. Their bright yellow walls put a smile on anyone’s face who entered. And, they certainly put a smile on ours! I shot that ‘I got an idea’ glance to Dan. And immediately read my mind and was totally onboard with doing the same to our own fifth wheel.
Before we even picked up a single paint brush, we had to decide which interior primer and paint we’re going to use. Unlike regular homes that have drywall wall surfaces, camper and RV interior walls are covered with a slightly textured and low-sheen wallpaper. So, that in itself led us to provide you a good tutorial on how to paint your RV properly.
Prepare your work area
Anytime you paint, you’re going to want to properly prepare your area first. Painting can be a messy job. So, use plastic tarps to cover your furniture and carpet. You can also use it to wrap around light fixtures, tape up on cabinets, etc., using good quality painter’s tape.
Speaking of light fixtures, you’ll want to unscrew them from the walls and disassemble if possible to make painting easier. My suggestion first is before unhooking any electrical lighting, take a photo of the assembly of the wiring first so you know exactly how it goes back together.
Also, you’ll want to remove all light switch covers and electrical outlet covers so you’ll have smooth transitions and get a more professional appearance after your painting project is complete.
Project Prep Supplies
- Screwdrivers – for removing fixtures
- Plastic Painting Tarps
- Painter’s Tape
Prepare surfaces that will be painted
Depending on the texture and finish of your existing wallpaper, you may want to lightly scuff the wallpaper surface with a fine grit sandpaper. This will help the primer and paint to adhere to the wallpaper.
If there are any tears or bubbles in the wallpaper or evidence of moisture damage, you need to take care of those before proceeding.
Clean all surfaces
Before you prime or paint your RV, you’ll need to clean all surfaces thoroughly to remove any dust, dirt, grease, cooking residue, and glue smudges (from the manufacturer). Otherwise, your primer and paint may not properly adhere to the surface.
With clean soft cloths and a 50-50 ratio of vinegar to hot water mixture, wipe down all surfaces. You do not want them sopping wet. So, make certain you wring out your wet cloths.
If your RV is older, you may want to repeat as necessary until your cloth shows no dirt. Allow all surfaces to dry completely.
After properly preparing and cleaning the surfaces, you’ll need to caulk, from ceiling to floor, every crack, crevice, nook and cranny. Otherwise, imperfections will be unattractively visible. Trust me, you’ll now realize why RV manufacturers install dark cabinets and that dark textured wallpaper. Those dark finishes are intentional as they hide crooked mistakes and flaws made during manufacturing. Trust me, you will notice several!
You’ll want to use a good quality paintable silicone caulk around all windows, mouldings, door trims, where cabinets meet the wall, ceiling, slide trims, and around light fixtures. In other words, caulking is the most important element that is essential in bringing out a flawless finish.
- Clean cloths
- 4 tubes of paintable silicone caulk
- Caulk gun
- Insert the tube of caulk into your caulking gun
- Slice off the tip diagonally with a sharp knife to get a good angle for optimum application.
- Slowly, lay a running bead of caulk along the edge, crease or crevice. Be careful not to drip or smear the caulk other than where you want it to go.
- Grab a damp towel and wipe your finger on it to wet your finger.
- Immediately run your wet finger over the caulk slightly to force it into the crease or edge and smooth out the edges.
- You may have repeat this process a couple times on the edges of the caulk so there are no bumps or smears left on the wallpaper surface.
- Allow caulk to dry thoroughly; typically 24 hours before priming or painting.
Once Dan finished preparing, cleaning and caulking the walls and ceilings, he was ready to apply the ceiling and wall primer. But first, let’s talk about why you need to use primer before painting your RV interior walls.
Primer coats and seals the surface that may resist the paint; enabling your paint to go smoothly without lifting or peeling.
There are three major interior primer manufacturers. They are all presumably similar and have similar coverage of stains, dark colors, various textured surfaces and finishes.
Based on our research and listening to and reading personal experiences, we chose Glidden Gripper (2017). It’s a surface primer that can be rolled on or brushed onto most any wall, ceiling, or other surface. It offers a smooth and even preparation finish for top coating. It’s easy to apply as regular paint; only a little thicker because of the bonding agent.
However, since rewriting and updating this article, I noticed that Glidden no longer makes their Gripper primer. It’s now called PPG Gripper. Considering I’m not familiar with their new branding, I can’t, in good faith, give testimony that it’s the same thing. But, there other other products such as Kilz and Zinsser Primer. One can is claimed to cover approximately 300-400 square feet per gallon. So, you’ll need to plan accordingly; especially if you’re having to adhere multiple coats on surfaces.
But whichever wall primer you choose, always follow the manufacturer’s directions in regards to coat coverage, time between applications, curing time prior to painting, etc. Also, surface primer has a distinct unpleasant odor. So, it would be best to move your children and pets out for a few days during this part of your RV renovation project.
RV Painting Suggestions
If I can offer a bit of prudent advice before applying any primer or paint. Test a small patch in an inconspicuous location (inside a closet or pantry) of the complete process before priming and painting all of your walls. It would be best to find out something went wrong on that small patch instead of the whole interior or your RV that you’ve painted.
Seriously, DO NOT cheap out on primer! Even though it’s a little more expensive, go for the high-quality primer with a high-bonding stain blocker. You’ll thank me later.
Also, There are interior surface primer manufacturers that make an all-in-one primer and paint. Again in good faith, I personally DO NOT recommend it, particularly for RV walls that have a wallpaper covering. I’ve read several accounts where it did not adhere properly and the paint peeled.
And lastly, be aware that primer has a thicker consistency than regular paint because it has an adhesion compound in it. Make certain to stir it throughly. Also, it’s important to cover the primer can immediately after filling your roller pan so the primer won’t dry out or clump.
Our fifth wheel painting project
The original ceiling of our Landmark fifth wheel was the same dull, beige textured wallpaper as the walls. There was also a hideous (our opinion) plastic resin wood-grain light fixture thingie (or whatever they’re called) that had mirrors.
Personally, I wanted that whole indescribable light fixture thing gone, However, that would require extensive light fixture and ceiling modification. Since that just wasn’t going to happen, we agreed to just paint it along with the ceiling and hope it would come out looking better than okay.
BUT, we did something first! And I admit, we cheated on the ceiling, but hear me out. Instead of priming and then painting, we did both with just the primer. Yes, we actually had our primer tinted the color we wanted our ceiling to be. To get the optimum color and a seamless appearance for our ceiling, we took one of the ceiling air conditioning vent covers with us to color match so the vent covers blended right into the ceiling color.
Be aware, we could only do this with the white ceiling color and not the bright wall colors (we’ll get to the color later). Wall primer typically comes in a white or very light gray base. So, it is tintable in whites and very very light grays only.
First, Dan prepared the surface with a good cleaning and caulked every joint, crack and crevice. He allowed the caulk to cure and dry for 24 hours before painting.
The next day, Dan primed the ceiling first and then moved onto the wood tone race track and that light fixture. Those both took three coats of primer because it was such a dark color. He wanted to make certain the paint would adhere correctly and not get any holidays (unevenly painted areas). As you see below, they all blended perfectly and it now looks like a craftsmen ceiling instead of a cheap camper ceiling.
He only had to apply two coats of primer to the walls because they were going to be top-coated with actual paint colors.
Picking our paint colors
Once we decided on our wall colors, we measured the wall surfaces to figure out how much paint we would need; allowing for two coats. We not only measured our living area and galley but we also included the hallway and bedroom for later painting. Realize, these amounts below are indicative to OUR space that was being painted. Your calculations and supply amounts may differ. But either way, always add in 10% extra for touchups later.
We chose two different Sherwin Williams colors even though we were using Glidden premium paint. Even though they were another paint manufacturer’s color, the paint mixologist color-matched them using their computerized color-matcher machine. This is how they also color matched our Air Conditioner vent covers to the primer color for our ceiling.
We chose two different colors to add interest to our living space; Cooled Blue SW6759 which resembled a light aqua blue which would be the wall color inside the slides. And, Frolic SW6703 a light lime-yellow margarita color that would be on the other outside walls.
In staying consistent with brands, we bought Glidden latex paint in the eggshell finish. By staying brand-consistent, it would ensure proper adhesion to the Glidden Gripper Primer and have ultimate finish.
Why you should paint your RV walls in eggshell finish?
We suggest an eggshell finish (non-glossy sheen) as surface imperfections will be less noticeable such as small flaws, wallpaper tears, pinholes, tape overlaps, surface rubs, etc. An eggshell finish will provide a cleaner and more professional finish appearance.
One caveat though, we are careful adults that don’t fingerprint our walls. You may want to consider a satin finish finish if you have bouncy children or messy pets. However, realizing surface imperfections will be more pronounced because of the glossier finish.
Paint Supplies (what we bought for OUR RV)
- 2 Gallons of Glidden Gripper (for our ceiling and walls)
- 1 gallon of paint – Cooled Blue
- 1 gallon of paint – Frolic
- 2″ angled paint brush
- 6″ paint roller kit
- Clean cloths
- Painter’s Tape
- Paint stir sticks
- Bring caulk, primer and paint into your RV to acclimate them to room temperature for optimal application; at least 24 hours prior to applications.
- For optimal painting results, only paint in low humidity and constant temperature.
- Refrain from drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverage that may give you the jitters. Otherwise your painting will look atrocious!
- Don’t buy the big paint rollers. As listed above in our supply list, the 6″ wide skinny rollers with a ⅜” nap are much easier to handle. They are easier to negotiate in tight spaces, behind toilets, under or over cabinets, behind furniture, etc.
- Use a good quality, long-handled, angled paint brush. This makes it easier to apply paint using the pointy end to paint in corners and crevices.
- Hold your paint brush towards the base of the brush near the neck and metal banding for best control.
- When using painter’s tape, make certain your caulk, primer or paint is completely dry before taping over (typically 24-48 hours). Also, when applying the tape, make certain you press firmly over the edge to prevent paint bleeding underneath.
- Before removing painter’s tape, take a sharp craft knife and score the edge of the tape so it comes off cleanly without taking the paint with it.
- Allow 2-3 hours of cure and dry time between coats.
- Don’t toss your leftover paint. You can purchase empty paint cans to transfer leftover paint and label.
- Store leftover caulk, paint or primer at room temperature. Never subject any to freezing or high temperatures over 80 degrees.
Wrapping up our how-to paint your RV tutorial
As you can see by our photos, we couldn’t be more pleased with the results of our interior painting project! Our fifth wheel interior is amazingly bright and beautiful! Because Dan took his time to do all of the steps in our RV remodeling project, we ended up with a fantastic personalized home (on wheels).
The finishes are exactly what we expected and are extremely happy at the result all way around. We’ve given tours of the inside of our RV and have received nothing but compliments on this amazing transformation and makeover.
So, are you ready to paint your RV interior? We hope this tutorial and our painting tips help inspire you to transform your drabby camper interior light and airy!
Read more about our RV renovation:
Our 5th Wheel RV Interior Makeover
Our Bathroom Interior Makeover
12 Replies to “How to Paint Your RV, Camper or Motorhome Interior”
Hi! Enjoyed your article. I own a 2016 Heartland Bighorn and we have talked about painting the interior. My question is, after all your work, how is the paint holding up? How long has it been? I am worried about chipping, flaking and any other post painting problems on wall paper! Thanks. Tom
Tom, we are happy to report that our painted surfaces have done fabulous in extreme heat at 115 degrees as well as cold at 22 degrees. Since it’s just ‘us’ (not being subject to kid or pet wear and tear), we’re happy with the result and would encourage anyone who is looking at changing the colors in their RVs and Campers to not be afraid of doing it. We do however, recommend taking the exact steps for the same results. Make certain your walls are clean. Oh, and it’s so much easier if you only have one person doing it. That way, you’re not tripping over each other or having accidents because the spaces are so much smaller than moving around in an empty room in a S&B.
Make sure you take before and after pictures from the same angle, so we can see the improvements and delight! HAPPY PAINTING!! -Dan & Lisa
Great article, “blog”. A lot of awesome information. I am a big fan of painting but did not have a clue of where to start with my new to me RV, cannot wait to apply your ideas. Thanks so much.
Renee, it does our hearts well to know we’ve inspired you. Take your time in all of your preparation and don’t rush it. Good things come to those to wait. Enjoy your project! You must share it when you’re done! -Dan & Lisa
What is an S&B??? I read your entire article and never once saw that spelled out. Google is no help.
Hi Richard! S&B stands for ‘sticks and bricks’ – a term of endearment of houses/homes. Thank you for reading! We appreciate your support.
I think your blog is full and it also has a lot of useful information. I really like your blog and I will read more your posts. Thanks so much for your post!
So glad you enjoyed it and it’s a helpful resource to you, Samantha!
Hello, Wondering after washing the walls and cupboards down, do I need to wipe down with water to get the vinegar solution off? And as I read this I didn’t see anything about sanding? Thanks so much, Lona
Hi Lona, thanks for taking the time to read our blog article. You do not need to wipe down after the vinegar solution. We did not sand any surfaces. Be aware that if you sand ‘spots’, your primer and paint will not lay down the same and imperfections in the surface will be visible after paint. If you have to fill in holes from nails or such, carefully fill just the hole and wipe the spackle or hole filling substance immediately. HTHs, Lona
Did you paint over the existing wallpaper? Did you you have any areas where the wallpaper was not perfectly flat?
Hi Nick, yes, we painted over the existing wallpaper. We recommend NOT to remove the wallpaper as it is an integral part of the wall board of the RV. If you remove it, you will have issues, so just paint over it. We did not sand or prep the wall except for wiping it down with clean vinegar based water and clean cloth. After completely dry, we primed the walls with 2 coats of Glidden Gripper; 30 minutes between each coat. Allow to dry 24 hours before applying paint. As far as walls not being ‘perfectly flat’, we didn’t have that issue so we’re not understanding what you’re meaning by that. Please explain. -Dan