How to Paint Your RV Interior Walls and Ceiling

So many RV manufacturers build their motorhomes and campers with dingy beige walls that look dirty or darken the room. So why not lighten, brighten or freshen up your RV interior by painting the walls in your motorhome or camper? By following these simple steps, you can prep and paint your RV walls easily. You’ll be astounded by the results!

This article is part of our RV Interior Design and Decor series. Our first segment was about planning your RV interior renovation or remodel. Regardless if it’s a motorhome, travel trailer, fifth wheel or even truck camper, the process is mostly the same. In this segment, we’re going to go into depth about how to prepare and paint your RV interior walls the correct way.

Painting Your RV Interior - Always On Liberty

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RV Renovation: How to Paint Your RV Interior Walls and Ceiling

How to Paint Your RV - Supplies
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The reason why RV manufacturers use beige and brown wallpaper is it hides imperfections and alterations. But also, because the color beige is neutral and goes with any decor. Or, so they say!

In January 2017, we met David and Cheryl of Landmark Adventures. One morning, they invited us in for morning coffee and chat. The minute I stepped into their fifth wheel (also a Heartland Landmark), I was instantly smitten.

There were no more drabby beige walls! It was brighter and more cheery. Their walls were a bright yellow that was enough to put a smile on anyone’s face who entered. And, it certainly did mine!

The inside of David and Cheryl’s RV fifth wheel looked more like a sticks and bricks home and less of the typical dark and crabby camper interior. I immediately shot that ‘I got an idea’ look to Dan. And, seemingly, he was onboard with improving the interior vibe of our own fifth wheel.

Before we began our prepping and painting, we researched which wall and ceiling primer and paint is best used on RV wall surfaces. Unlike regular homes that have drywall, the walls in RVs and campers are covered with a slightly textured and slightly glossy wallpaper. This is precisely why it’s important to ensure you prep your walls properly and use specific primer and paint made for these surfaces. We also had to sit down and make our shopping lists of supplies we’re going to need to complete our wall painting project.

Prepare your painting area

Anytime you paint, you’re going to want to prepare your area for painting. Because it can be a messy job. So, using plastic tarps, you’ll need 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.

Also, speaking of light fixtures, you’ll want to unscrew them from the walls and disassemble if possible to make painting your RV easier without complications or things getting in the way. My suggestion first is before unhooking any electrical lighting, take a photo of the assembly of the wiring first so you know how to hook it back up after your finished.

Don’t forget to remove light switch or outlet covers so you’ll have smooth transitions and get a more professional appearance when you’re painting is complete.

Project Prep Supplies

Cleaning wall surfaces

First, we wiped down the walls with clean soft cloths and a 50-50 ratio of vinegar to hot water mixture. This removes any dirt and residue from cooking, dust and dirt. We also removed any glue smudges. We made sure the cloth was only damp; not sopping wet. We allowed all surfaces to dry completely.

Cleaning Supplies

By doing wiping down the walls first, you’ll get a good look to see if there are any imperfections or issues that need to be rectified before even getting started to paint your RV walls. If there are any tears, bubbles in the wallpaper or evidence of moisture damage, you need to take care of those before proceeding with the wall priming process.

Now, depending on the texture and glossiness of your existing wallpaper, you may want to lightly scuff the wallpaper surface with a fine grit sandpaper. This will help the primer to adhere to the wallpaper better. But, you’ll need to wipe down your walls thoroughly after sanding twice to even three times to make certain there is nothing to impair the wall primer from sticking.

Caulking

It’s important to caulk every crack, crevice, nook and cranny; ceiling to floor. Otherwise, you’re going to see immediate discrepancies and imperfections which is what you’re trying to alleviate. This important step, we realized why RV manufacturers install dark cabinets and that awful dark textured wallpaper. It all hides their manufacturing mistakes, crookedness, and flaws with their shadows.

Anyway, using a good quality paintable silicone caulk, Dan would caulk around all cabinets, window and door trims, where the wall meets the ceiling, slide trims, and around light fixtures. In other words, caulk is the most important element that will bring out the best look when the painting project is complete. 

Caulking Supplies

Caulking Procedure:

    • 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.

Wall Primer

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.

What is PRIMER?

Priming your wall surfaces actually will seal at the surface that would normally resist the paint. Wall primer also coats the wall enabling the paint to go smoothly without lifting.

There are three major wall primer and sealer manufacturers. They are all presumably similar and have similar coverage of stains, dark colors, various textured surfaces and finishes.

Paint your RV - Wall Primer
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Based on research and personal testimonies, 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.

My Advice and 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.

And, don’t get the cheap stuff. Go for the high-quality primer with a high-bonding stain blocker even though it’s a little pricier. You’ll thank me later.

Also, There are interior surface primer manufacturers that make an all-in-one primer and paint. I, again in good faith, DO NOT recommend it, particularly for RV walls with the wallpaper covering. I’ve read several accounts where it did not adhere properly and the paint peeled. So, trusting those testimonies, do it right the first time even though it may take a extra step or two.

And lastly, be aware that primer is going to be a thicker consistency as regular paint because it has an adhesion compound in it. Make certain to stir it throughly; even if you’ve just purchased it hours prior to priming your surfaces. When you’re finished filling your roller pan, cover the primer can so it won’t dry out or become clumpy.

Wall Primer Supplies

Priming AND Painting OUR fifth wheel ceiling

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.

Paint your RV Ceiling
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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.

Paint your RV ceiling finished
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He only had to apply two coats of primer to the walls because they were going to be top-coated with actual paint colors.

Painting

Picking our 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.

Painting - Paint Chips
The colors in this photo are not indicative of the actual colors. They are much brighter. Always On Liberty©

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.

Paint Your RV - Paint
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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 paint your RV walls in eggshell finish?

We chose the eggshell wall paint finish because you’ll noticed less surface imperfections and sheen from the finish. Look at it this way; the shinier the sheen, the more you’re going to see imperfections (ie. small pinholes, wallpaper tape overlaps, surface rubs, etc.)

An eggshell finish gives it a cleaner and smoother appearance. That said, we are just two careful adults that don’t fingerprint our walls. You may want to consider a satin finish or even semi-gloss finish if you have bouncy children or messy pets. Again though, the shinier the finish, the more you’ll see wall imperfections.

Paint Your RV - Painting Supplies
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Paint Supplies (what we bought for OUR RV)

Painting Tips

    • 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.
Home Improvement Store-Paint
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Wrapping up how to paint your RV interior walls and ceiling

We are pleased with how our RV renovation went! Our fifth wheel interior is bright and beautiful! Because Dan took his time to do our fifth wheel remodeling project, he obtained the best result we could ask for.

Fifth Wheel Landmark - Living Area - After
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Always On Liberty - Wall Paint
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Always On Liberty - Painting Finished
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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 tips help inspire you to transform your beige and blah camper or motorhome into sassy and spectacular!

Paint Your RV Interior-Always On Liberty

Read more about our RV renovations:

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12 Replies to “How to Paint Your RV Interior Walls and Ceiling”

  1. 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

    1. 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

  2. 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.

    1. 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

    1. Hi Richard! S&B stands for ‘sticks and bricks’ – a term of endearment of houses/homes. Thank you for reading! We appreciate your support.

  3. 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!

  4. 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

    1. 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

  5. Did you paint over the existing wallpaper? Did you you have any areas where the wallpaper was not perfectly flat?

    1. 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

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