Interior Painting Tips – Handling Peeling and Flaking Paint


If you see peeling and flaking paint anywhere in your home, it may be an indication that someone took short cuts in pre-paint prep work. Or it could be a sign that the wrong type of paint was used. First, you have to get to the bottom of why the paint is peeling.

The Wrong Choice of Paint

One serious issue that must be considered is paint incompatibility. It’s a common issue on old homes that have many coats of alkyd/oil-based paint on them. The reaction between a new coat of latex paint and the old paint can cause catastrophic paint failure through every layer. Paint that has stuck to the home for over 50 years can peel off, exposing bare wood.

The cause of the problem can be attributed to the fact that alkyd paints continue to oxidize permanently. That’s why the paint eventually becomes brittle and is unable to expand and contract as the wood underneath it expands and contracts.

Acrylic paint on the other hand, cures in about 2-3 weeks. When curing is completed, the acrylic remains flexible. It’s this very flexibility that causes problems. This problem is seen most dramatically on a wall that faces afternoon sun. The latex paint and the wood expands as the temperature rises. The alkyd paint trapped between the wood and the paint doesn’t. The alkyd paint separates from the wood below and the paint peels.

How do you handle peeling and flaking that occurs due to paint incompatibility?

Peeling old paint on a wide window sill.
Remove any loose paint. You may find that enough paint has been removed that it makes sense to go all the way and use a heat gun to strip the wall down to the bare wood or masonry. This will ensure that you won’t have problems in the future with areas that didn’t peel already.

Poor Pre-Paint Preparation

If the surface was dirty, wet or shiny before the new paint was applied, poor adhesion may occur. When this happens it’s quite common for the paint to peel up and leave the old paint behind.

How do you handle peeling or flaking caused by poor pre-paint preparation?

Peeling paint inside enclosed porch.
Use a scraper or putty knife to remove any loose paint. If you find that the surface is shiny, sand the wall or trim with a fine grade of sandpaper. Then vacuum the wall so that no dust remains. You can also use a lint-free rag. If you prefer, you can use a chemical deglosser. But be sure to wash the wall down to remove any residue. Rinse the rag frequently with fresh clean water. The residue can prevent adhesion.

You will then want to apply several paper-thin coats of drywall compound, to eliminate any hard edges where paint doesn’t come up. Sand this smooth with a drywall sanding block. Vacuum the wall, then wipe it down with a clean, damp cloth.

Paint the wall with a primer before proceeding with your finish paint.

Moisture Problems

Moisture, especially in bathrooms, is another cause of peeling paint. If moisture gets beneath the paint, it can cause separation. In this case, applying primer isn’t going to solve the problem. The source of moisture must be eliminated.

How do you handle peeling and flaking paint in high-moisture areas so the problem doesn’t return?

First, find the source of the moisture build-up. It could be a vent that is disconnected, allowing hot moist air to condense in the ceiling. It could be the lack of a vent that exhausts steamy air away from the bathroom. It could be a leak behind the shower, bathtub or toilet.

Once the source of moisture has been located and fixed, it is vital that you let everything dry out completely. If you apply primer then paint over a surface that has moisture in it, you will trap the moisture in, and it will continue to cause problems.

Once things are dry, scrape any loose paint away. Apply several paper-thin coats of drywall compound, to eliminate any hard edges where paint doesn’t come up. Sand this smooth with a drywall sanding block. Vacuum the wall, then wipe it down with a clean, damp cloth.

You are now ready to apply primer. Once that has dried completely, use paint that is formulated for bathroom conditions.

For more information check out Interior Peeling Paint-Common Causes and Ideas About Prevention.

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