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How Important Is Priming Before Painting In An RV? 

Painting in an RV makes a huge difference but it is extremely time consuming and requires a lot of prep work.  

Most people deciding to DIY an RV paint job tend to: 

  1. Do the research before realizing they would rather hire a professional.  

  2. Start painting in an RV and either quit because it’s difficult and takes a lot of time or, they suffer through it and love the results! Or, 

  3. Try painting an RV like you would a house and end up with issues such as peeling and cracking within months of their hard work.

Is It Really Necessary To Prime In My RV Before Painting?

Why is priming/painting an RV so difficult?  RVs are not constructed like your typical “sticks & bricks” homes. Each RV is different but none of them are built with drywall like a brick and mortar home.  They use different types of pressed board (typically lauan–yes, this is actually the correct spelling!) that is then covered in vinyl wallpaper.  This is also not the same as traditional wallpaper.  To add an additional challenge, there are very few (if any) perfect 90 degree angles/corners.  Therefore, paint can’t be slapped on; it won’t stick.  

Do RV Cabinets Require Priming?

The same goes for cabinetry as they’re made out of pressed board or MDF and covered in vinyl or wood veneer.  High-end RVs and some much older campers do use real wood but nevertheless, those still need a light to medium sanding (and cleaning) before primer and paint.

Disclaimer:  RV manufacturers use different products to build RVs and while things change over time, they consistently use non-paint-friendly products.  It’s almost as though they don’t want us to paint our RVs!

However, painting our RVs can be done if you spend time on the most imperative step when painting an RV…the PREP.  I will spare you the steps/details on painting itself because that’s the “easy” part.  Below, I will share the “surefire” steps you need to take to complete your RV’s painting project like a professional. 

As much as I wish I could say there’s an easier way to do this, I cannot in good conscience advise you to skip any steps. To provide some insight, it usually takes me a week + to completely prep for a Full RV paint job.  Now, obviously that time is shorter if you’re only painting a small portion of the RV, such as an accent wall. 

I’m sure there are some folks out there that have luck using other products and/or skipping a couple steps. However, skipping steps is a risk. For DIY-ers, the risk may be worth it to save time, sweat and tears, but that’s your choice.  When skipping steps, there’s a higher chance of peeling, shorter longevity, and additional paint coats may be required, etc.  Therefore, you may be back at square one, needing to repaint all over again a couple years later.  As a professional, I do each and every (exhausting) step so I can guarantee a high-quality end-product that will hold up for years to come for my clients.


Primer is the base coat used to treat surfaces before applying a topcoat (paint).  Not only is it created to ensure maximum adhesion but it also acts as a stain-blocker and a sealer for porous surfaces.  Without primer, a porous surface will absorb a lot of paint requiring many additional coats.  In addition, better paint adhesion means your paint job lasts longer which is extremely important with vinyl wallpaper and wood veneer that paint doesn’t adhere or bond to in an RV.

What about Paint + Primer Combos Instead of Priming Separately?

Most people think buying “Paint + Primer” (all-in-one) is going to save them time and money but this is absolutely not true.  Especially in an RV!  Almost all quality paint made in the last 10 years is self-priming and quite frankly, vendors who advertise “Paint and Primer in one” are simply using that as a marketing ploy to sell you an expensive paint.  Yes, these paint + primer products will easily bond to previously painted surfaces but that’s not what you’ll typically be painting in an RV.


Did you know that you can have your primer tinted to match your desired paint color?!  This is a great option for a few reasons:  1.  It will help the paint retain its color better.  2.  It will greatly improve the look when painting a light color over a dark shade (such as RV cabinetry).  Keep in mind, this works best if you’re only painting one project (either the walls or the cabinets) as people don’t typically paint both the same color.

Below is a step-by-step guide of how I prep and prime as well as MY preferred materials as a professional RV Renovator.

Best Primer To Use:

Bulky RV Furniture


How to Prime Your Cabinets and Walls Like A Professional

  • Remove all cabinet doors and drawers, hinges, knobs and anything on the walls.

  • Scrape and patch any holes with wood putty from the nails/screws/staples, etc that you remove.

  • Use a DA orbital sander with 220 grit to sand every inch you’re going to paint.  Put some muscle in it & wear a mask!  Pro Tip:  I use 180 grit for the cabinets. 

  • There will be some areas the DA orbital sander can’t reach. Therefore, you will need to sand those areas manually by hand.

  • Use TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) mixed with warm water per the instructions on the box to wipe all the areas you sanded with a sponge.  Wear gloves and rinse the sponge out as you go.  

  • Go back over the same areas with clean warm water and a sponge, while rinsing in between.  NOTE:  As stated on the Kilz (the primer brand I use) website:  “All surfaces must be clean, free of dust, chalk, oil, grease, wax, polish, mold and mildew, loose peeling paint, rust and all other foreign substances.”

  • In order to prime, it needs to be 50-90 degrees.

Best Practices for Priming

  • I use an industrial spray gun (Graco Magnum 262805 X7 Cart Airless Paint Sprayer) to prime & paint but you can use a roller (or brush) if you don’t have access to a sprayer. Using a brush is my least recommended method unless it’s a super narrow space.  The benefit of using an industrial sprayer like mine is it allows you to prime quickly and effectively throughout the entire camper. 

  • If using a sprayer, cover the windows with kraft paper or plastic and tape with frog tape.  If using a roller or brush, tape the window frames.  Pro tip:  If you’re not the best at taping, you can tape and then use a razor blade to cut the tape to the exact edge of the window frame…just don’t cut into the walls or damage the window frames!

  • Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…it’s PRIME TIME!  Get your sprayer, roller or brush out and start priming!!   Remember, primer does not take long to dry; it can be dry to the touch in 30 minutes and ready for another priming coat or paint in an hour.  However, this can vary depending on the temperature, humidity and ventilation in the RV as well as the coat thickness you apply to the surfaces.  I used to prime similarly to the way I paint– thick coats with no “see through” spots.  This is absolutely not necessary.  The idea behind primer is to put a bonding agent on the walls and cabinets for the paint to stick to effectively.  Meaning, your walls and cabinets don’t need to look pristine with the white primer.  Nowadays, it looks less intense when I prime but I can’t forget that priming too lightly will take more coats of paint to cover your surface. 

How To Prime An RV Interior

After priming, you can get to work on PAINTING, but that's not what this article is about. However, I will show you how this kitchen turned out since I know you're just dying to know, ha! If you are interested in learning more about how to paint in an RV, please read our article, You're The Paint To My Brush

Prime and Painting RV Results

Happy RV Priming, folks!

Alice Zealy,

Owner and Renovator of rain2shine ventures

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