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Paint Peeling? Know The Causes and How To Fix

Paint Peeling? Know The Causes and How To Fix

If you’re painting a new home, or currently in a home and see bubbles on your wall- there’s a good chance that you’re witnessing the paint peeling.  Believe it or not, this is actually a common issue I get calls for at Patch Pros.  Today, I want to share the cause, and how to tackle paint peeling.

What Causes Paint Peeling?

In my experience, there’s three common reasons for paint to be peeling from walls.  It’s important for you to understand each before you take on the project.  Paint peeling is a symptom of either moisture, no primer, or improper prep before painting a surface.

Leaks causing paint peeling

Many times, even a small leak can start the process of paint peeling.  The reason for this is that drywall is very absorbent.  Though it’s not “paper towel absorbent”,  it can and will hold any moisture for long periods of time.  Since drywall holds moisture, it causes the paint to bubble out over time.  If there is a large amount of moisture, this process of peeling will be faster.  This is because the moisture gets trapped and has no where to escape.  When moisture gets trapped within a painted surface, it causes the latex paint to lift from the surface – so the moisture has somewhere to go.

Finding the leak causing peeling paint

There’s different ways to go about fixing paint peeling due to moisture.  The first thing I would recommend is finding the source of the moisture first.  I would be doing a disservice to you by walking you through a repair only to have it come back.  If you aren’t quite sure what is causing the moisture, you should hire an inspector to assess for leaks.  However, most of the time these are cause from high moisture areas, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and basements.

If you have peeling paint around any of these areas, check if you are getting them wet.  If this is moisture in a basement, it’s recommended to use a dehumidifier.  You want your basement humidity to be at a low level to prevent mold growth as well.  If you have noticed that water is dripping out of the bath or shower, there’s preventative measures you can take.

Paint Peeling Around Bathtub or Shower

The first plan here is to stop, or redirect the water slipping out of the bath or shower down the wall.  Stopping the water is not always easy because it’s not very common to check and see what areas are getting wet after we bathe.  Most of the time, a shower curtain or door is not properly keeping water out of it.  You can fix this by using a shower curtain with suction cups on the walls.  If you have a bath and shower combo, you can purchase a splash guard.  These prevent water from sneaking out of the bath and onto your walls.

How To Properly Repair Peeling Paint

If you’ve fixed the moisture problem, next comes the repairs.  All paint peeling repairs are generally the same, except if there is noticeable mold.  If that’s the case, I’d hire a licensed mold assessor to remedy that first.

To begin repairs on paint peeling around the kitchen or bath, you’ll need a few items.

  • A Sheetrock knife
  • A taping knife
  • Oil based primer (for small areas get spray oil primer)
  • Joint compound or spackle
  • A sanding block
  • Optional: caulk (for shower/bath)

Step 1
Cut an area out of the peeling paint, just enough to get only the layer of paint off.

Step 2
Using a joint knife or putty knife, gently scrape away any loose paint.

Sometimes this step can cause a lot more paint than expected to come off.  This is normal.  Remember if it comes off that easily, it will be a future problem.

Step 3
Inspect the drywall. If the drywall crumbles, you’ll need to do a minor patch to the area.

Step 4
Use joint compound or spackle to fill in a thin layer where the bubble was removed.

Step 5
Prime and paint the area.

Basement Humidity Prevention

The simplest way to fix a humidity issue is to purchase a dehumidifier.  However, if your basement frequently gets water seeping in from the ground, you should invest in a sump pump.  

A sump pump is installed by removing a small area of the foundation and installing a “pit” for water to go.  Once water accumulates, there is an automatic switch that will eject the water outside or into the sewer lines.

Once humidity or water is under control, you can begin repairing any affected areas.

Repairing Peeling Paint In A Basement

A majority of the time, these repairs do not require an entire demolition of the wall every wall.  Most repairs for peeling paint in a basement require some of the drywall to be removed and replaced.  The amount of drywall needed to be removed can vary depending on the mold growth.

If you have to remove the drywall, most repairs can range from 6” above the floor to a 4 feet.  If water has been sitting behind the drywall for quite some time, there is a good chance that mold has spread on the back side of the drywall.  That is typically how I gauge how much drywall to cut out.  There’s really no way of knowing until you begin the repair.

To begin the repair, I recommend a few items: 

  • A chalk line for measuring a straight cut
  • A measuring tape
  • An oscillating tool to cut the drywall
  • 3m Mask or Respirator
  • Hammer or drill for replacing old nails/screws
  • Drywall screws or nails
  • Joint Tape
  • Joint Compound
  • A dehumidifier

Steps To Repair Basement Drywall After Flooding

Step 1
Find the Height of where you would like to begin your cut.  If you prefer to not patch a small area and would rather have a full sheet of drywall, you’ll be marking 48” + 2” (50”) from the floor.

The reason I recommend adding two inches is in case of a future flood or leak.

Step 2
Using a chalk line, snap a line from each mark (easiest with second helper).  Once you have your mark from wall to wall, you can begin cutting.

Step 3
Using the hammer, hammer through the drywall and begin pulling it off.  Once you get to a certain point, you may be able to pull the drywall off by hand.

Step 4
Remove any nails or screws from the studs. 

Step 5
Use a dehumidifier next to the wall overnight or multiple days to allow the area behind to dry out.

Step 6
Install the new piece of drywall.

For tips on patching or installing drywall here are some guides I’ve written:

>>> https://drywallcentral.com/drywall-repair-how-to/

Lack Of Primer Could Cause Paint to Peel

I’ve had two separate recent jobs where paint peeling was an issue.  One was a man moving into a home who began painting his living room.  He had painted the entire ceiling before looking back at where he started, only to see bubbles forming in the paint.  He allowed the paint to dry first, then began scraping the paint off.  All of the paint peeled off easily because it had never actually adhered to the surface.  This was due to him painting over an existing surface without using a primer first.

The way I see it, primer fills the gap between drywall and painting.  Drywall is naturally a porous surface so it absorbs a majority of the first coat of paint.  This is why we use primer.  When painting over an already painted surface, it’s always a good idea to use primer first.  This way the new paint has something easier to stick to.

Another recent job with paint bubbling was an older apartment that had been rented out for a very long time.  The walls were all plaster.  I began removing the bubbling paint and it never ended.  The entire wall came off.  The wall had multiple coats of paint, and two layers of wallpaper from who knows what century.  Out of all of the layers I had gone through, none of them had been primed.  If I were in the shoes of the painter when they went over the wallpaper, I would have first used an oil based primer and sealer. Oil based primer will keep moisture away, and give an excellent surface for paint to adhere to.

After I removed the bubbling paint, I first sealed the surface with oil based primer.  After the primer dried, I skim-coated a thin layer of joint compound over the surface.  And finally, I sanded the surface smooth so it was ready for another coat of primer, and then paint.

Improper Prep Could Lead To Paint Peeling

The final thing that can cause paint to peel from a wall surface is improper prep.  Since we already covered the importance of primer, the last issue is not cleaning the surface before painting.  If you’re doing a brand new room or addition and have fresh drywall, you hopefully sanded the walls.   A lot of dust still remains on walls after sanding drywall.  You should either use a broom to dust off of the walls, or a slightly damp rag will do.  This of course depends on how well you do with the dust from drywall.

Key Paint Peeling Prevention

  1. Repair leaks quickly
  2. Redirect water from sources.
  3. Dehumidifier.
  4. Use an oil based primer before painting.
  5. Use a latex paint with a satin or semigloss sheen.

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