Interior Peeling Paint – Identifying the 10 Most Common Causes


The root of all interior peeling paint is poor adhesion to the previous surface. Here are the ten most common causes of poor adhesion.

  1. Peeling often gets a foothold from water getting under the paint. Bathrooms are a major place to look for the water’s source, but there may be other issues with the house such as excess humidity or a leaky roof. Water is the cause of most peeling issues. Even if water damage cannot be seen, moisture could still be wreaking havoc.
  2. Interior Peeling Paint - Paint loosing adhesion and starting to peel on interior wall.Inadequate cleaning of surfaces before painting will cause paint to peel. A coat of paint applied over a dirty wall is almost guaranteed to peel or crack down the road. Latex is especially vulnerable to dirt.
  3. Incompatible paint layers will cause peeling paint. For example, when latex-based paint is used to cover a previous paint job that used oil-based paint, peeling will occur. (It’s usually okay to paint over latex with oil-based paint.)
  4. One possibility is simply age – paint does not last forever.
  5. Sometimes an incorrect primer is used, or the problem could be no primer at all.
  6. Sometimes paint goes bad before being used. For instance, if left in an unheated garage over winter, paint could freeze. After thawing, it won’t have the same performance abilities.
  7. Some painting experts contend that inferior paint brands can prematurely fail. Others say that while professional painters have their own brand preferences, all major brand-name paints meet quality standards which are quite adequate when applied properly. Personally, I don’t think all brands are the same even when some are expensive. Research your paint before buying and get the best you can afford.
  8. When too many paint coats are added to a wall over the years, the weight of all the paint can cause stress, and gravity eventually pulls everything down and off.
  9. Sometimes paint over new wood, even if you think it’s dry, will prematurely peel because the paint degrades from interaction with the wood’s natural oils leaching out. Cedar is especially vulnerable to this. Wood that is not cured enough can also have too much moisture present for good adhesion.
  10. While water and moisture are the most common causes of peeling, the opposite can also be true – excessive dryness can lead to peeling paint.

These are the 10 most common causes of interior peeling paint. Knowing this information can help your next paint job go much better for you.




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48 Comments

  1. Greg

    Will interior painted walls (latex) that have dried for several years, peel or crack if left to freezing temperatures for several months?
    I ask this because we live in Michigan but will be spending winter in Florida. I plan on draining all water pipes and winterizing traps so that won’t be a problem, but I have heard differing opinions that the paint on my walls will crack and peel off if I allow interior temps to fall below freezing.

  2. I have walls in every room of my house the paint peels no matter how many coats of primer I use and what kind of paint I use it still have the same problem after awhile just a few months peels off in chunks.

    Is it the drywall wall or is my house just too dry or too wet and that is why the paint cracks and peels? In my bathroom you can just pick the paint off like peeling skin on a sunburn and it goes all the way down to the drywall and the paint has turned rubber like when it comes off. In my bedrooms the paint cracks and peels off in hard chunks.

    What am I doing wrong? I prime, sand and paint with 2 coats of paint.
    Is it my drywall or my paint?
    Thanks

    • From what you described I think the problem is with the underlying drywall. Peeling can occur where there is a contaminate on the surface before painting but peeling will stop at this contaminate. You have peeling down to the original drywall surface. How old is you house? Some “newer” homes had Chinese imported Drywall sheets installed, these have been shown to be of the lowest quality and have known health hazards.

      Check for problems with the underlying wall framing; excessive water vapor in the walls and/or ceilings can cause peeling.

      Opening up a problem wall might give answers.

  3. Roger

    I recently purchased a brick home, built in 1957, and all the rooms had been freshly painted with latex paint…..Three years ago, I had USA installation come in and apply foam installation for the entire house hoping to lower the heating cost….The following winter, the paint started peeling off the several of the bedroom exterior walls such that you could tear off large sections with your bare hands…….This year it’s even worse in that the living room and dining room are having the same problems…..I have been to several paint stores with the peeling samples, but no one has suggested a real solution….Can you help???

    • One possibility; Trapped Moisture. The new foam insulation could be acting as a vapor barrier and trapping moisture that is migrating from the inside of your home to the outside through the walls. Before this moisture would just slowly pass through.

      Some important questions;

      • Are your walls finished with plaster? Old plaster can react with moisture to produce localized peeling.
      • What region is your home in? Is this an area with high humidity? Possible source of moisture.
      • Is all or most of the peeling on the same side of your home. Does it start close to the ceilings then spread? Could indicate a possible problem area(s) of your home.

      You should contact the insulation company and try to find out if this has happened before. They might have some ideas but might not be very cooperative due to possible liability issues.

  4. Brandi Strickland

    What is the best way to remedy this issue? My ceiling paint is chipping badly in many areas. In some areas the paint will scrape off while other areas cannot. It appears to be latex paint on top of oil based paint. How can I remove all of this chipoing paint?

  5. Tony Bimonte

    We are experiencing alligator cracking on the ceiling of only one room in our home and no one can explain why it happened. A second coat was applied by a professional painter about 20 years ago and that’s the paint that’s cracking and actually pulls away from the bare drywall in some spots. ( You can see the original drywall surface) The cracking gradually started to appear in one section of the ceiling and over time spread into other areas of the ceiling. We don’t have any moisture problems – we tested for moisture. The original coat of paint done by the builder didn’t have this problem, but yet when we pulled the paint off of the drywall, that coat of paint also pulled away from the drywall surface. The painter who applied the second coat is puzzled since he used good paint and this problem hasn’t showed up in the other rooms he painted, or in other homes he has worked in. He even had the Paint Rep come look at it and he’s also puzzled by the condition and referred the problem to his technical group – currently awaiting their response. There’s no pattern to the paint cracking. It’s just in areas around the ceiling. No one suspects the paint, but they suspect something with the drywall surface. Now we’re thinking of having a drywall professional look at it and see if he can identify any problems with the drywall. We’re at a loss. Can you help?

  6. The drywall (wallboard) surface could be the problem. The actual problem could be with the wallboards paper surface or drywall mud used for taping-floating and texturing. Some kind of contamination is messing with the paint. Has anyone tried a primer? Oil base or shellac primer might help.

    • Tony Bimonte

      Should we have a drywall contractor look at the situation? what can we do to resolve the problem so that we can repaint the ceiling?

      • In the past I have seen something similar happen from the use of spray air fresheners, must be either the oils or propellant used, and this reacted with the paint. This caused some bubbling of the paint.

        Right now I would wash to remove any surface contamination then apply a shellac primer to the ceiling. After the primer dries try repainting and see what happens. I don’t think a drywall contractor could give any additional answers but as a last resort give them a call.

  7. Henry Hart

    Some one called me with a complain that the emulsion paint is peeling off from the wall, though it’s a renovated building with old and new walls, but he’s mad at me because I manufactured the paint myself and it’s only been months. Please what could be the cause?

  8. Ray Turner

    Pealing paint on woodwork. Not sure if original paint but second repainted is latex enamel that is coming off in sheets. How do I prep trim for repainting and should I paint with latex or oil-based paint?

    • Could be latex over oil base paint without a coat of primer. The only way to fix is to remove all loose paint, carefully scraping and sanding, then prime with a good universal primer. An oil base primer is preferred, like Zinsser Cover Stain, but many acrylic primers stick very well to hard and shiny surfaces.

  9. Ashley

    What should I do when the paint is cracked due to old age or improper type used?

    I am not sure what the previous owner used, but the walls in our daughters room has started to crack.

    • You have a couple options, choose one that best suits your situation.
      1- For peeling paint; Scrape off anything that is loose. Prime the affected areas then patch any damage. Repaint.
      2- For tight paint not peeling but showing cracks; Look for anything that is loose and remove (scrape). Apply a penetrating binding primer to seal up and glue down the old paint. Peel Stop emulsified latex is good for this, can find at your local paint store or hardware store. To hide the cracks skim over the areas with drywall mud and retexture where needed. Repaint.

  10. Jane

    I had my apartment painted for the first time in 7 years by a professional painter. The previous paint had absolutely nothing wrong with it except for the colour which was just a bad choice. Not even 6 month after it was done, during the winter month of Montreal, I noticed an ever expanding brown patch near the vertical window edge. This has continued to grow until it finally started growing out of the wall, like a bad pimple basically, and the tip of the volcano head is peeling, revealing the several layers of paint under it. The strange part is that I never had any water infiltration issues. Could be a coincidence that after the paint there is water infiltration or it is a problem related to the craftsmanship of the painter?

    • Most likely water getting behind the paint film. Could be from condensation on the window getting into the wall, caulk the window frame next to the wall. Or the water is coming from the outside, caulk around the window frame to seal.

      After sealing the area will need some repair and repainting (touch-up). Then wait and see how it works out.

  11. Doug Cousins

    My wife just painted our walls. The house built in 1963. The paint on on wall just peeled off down to drywall. The paint feels almost like a vinyl or wall paper. Never seen this before. What might have caused this?

    • Jennifer

      I’m having similar issues with I 1960’s house I just took possession of on Monday. I’ve been scraping away the peeling/chipping paint and patching with drywall spackle. I’m hoping it won’t continue…but I keep finding more “air pockets” which are what’s causing the paint to crack. Not too sure what to do about this. Do I just keep repairing the cracks and hope eventually it stops?

  12. Kelly Laws

    I have an old home in which we are remodeling. We painted our dressing room a couple of years ago, and the paint is starting to bubble and peel. This is happening at the ceiling area. Why?

    • Water condensing in to the wall or ceiling can cause bubbling. Also check for roof leaks, missing or damaged flashing or plugged up gutters. All of these can create a situation like this.

  13. Emma

    We have recently had our stairs and hallway plastered. After 2 weeks we applied 2 coats of primer/base coat then applied 2 coats of dulex. When taking off masking tape the coloured paint peeled off! We have now peeled off all the coloured paint. What do we need to do to ensure the next paint does not do the same??

    • Standard plaster needs 30 days cure time before painting, fresh plaster’s PH is too high. Right now allow the plaster to cure then get an acrylic masonry primer. Allow the primer to dry over night then paint. Test a small inconspicuous area before committing to the entire project just to make sure everything is OK.

  14. Barb Ramirez

    HI, like many other posters, I have sections of paint that are peeling, it comes off in huge sections and is rubbery. My problem is that this is a brand new home, built this year, 2017. Throughout the house, where any thing has leaned against the wall, or pushed against the wall at all, the paint peels, like its rubber peeling away from the wall. The areas around the actual paint hole is all bubbled out like the paint was pulled away from the wall, then let go.

    This is a semi custom built home, not part of a master planned community. Is this something I should tell the contractor he has to fix? I’ve been in the house 3 months. And if he has to fix it, will that mean he needs to peel the paint off of every wall in all the rooms??

    • I would definitely mention it. Fixing might not be possible. Here’s why; Sounds like the current paint isn’t fully adhered to the wall surface. One possible reason is no wallboard primer used to seal the walls before painting, another one is cheap paint used. Either way fixing it now isn’t really possible. A band-aid solution is to repaint or apply another layer of better and maybe harder paint over your existing paint. Might or might not work but could be worth trying.

      Yes, do mention it. Give the contractor the opportunity to inspect the problem and come up with a solution. It is possible something very different is going on, having a professional personally inspect the situation will allow for better solutions.

  15. Taz Miller

    Paint peeling off doors and trim. Scrapped paint off in small area. Did the denatured alcohol trick . Peeling layer came off . But the layer under it also came off. House was built in the early 90s.

    • You basically have 3 choices;

      • Live with it. Repaint when needed to fix the areas that peel or is easily damaged. Scrape and sand, spot prime then repaint.
      • Strip off the old paint then prime and repaint. This is the most labor intensive way to deal with this problem.
      • Replace with new. New trim and doors will be a permanent solution but expensive.

      Repairing were needed then repainting is the best way to deal with this. It’s unfortunate but there isn’t any easy way to deal with this problem.

  16. Rose

    Had plastering done, then did a kill primer, then tried to paint and some paint took the other is just peeling off as being painted. Thinking of sanding that area down then painting with a brush, would that help

    • Sand the area, might need to apply a little Spackle or other patching compound to cover up the repair, then reapply the primer by brush. Allow to dry well before painting or touch-up.

  17. Will

    We just applied a coat of white latex exterior paint to the inside of our garage using a roller. Although the old paint had been scraped prior to painting, which removed several chunks of peeling paint, additional large pieces of old paint would loosen onto the roller and create a globby mess. We used the thicker exterior paint due to the extreme temperatures that garage would be exposed to during summer and winter. I’ve had rescraped the ceilings and walls with some drywall surface exposed and some old paint still adhered. Need to know what we should do next. I’ve considered using a power spray painter instead of a roller, which seems to exacerbate the peeling. Help, please.

    • Spraying would be best. If you have a paint sprayer or access to one go a head and spray the ceiling and walls. If rolling is your only option make sure to prime the affected areas prior to painting and thinning of the primer and paint would help.

  18. Lu

    My front double door, which was painted with lacquer paint about 8 years ago has just begun to peel in huge sheets. Over a period of about 3 days this has happened, and while it is below freezing outside, the inside is obviously warmer and no water issues that I can see. What could be causing this all of a sudden?

  19. Michelle

    This house was built in 1940 and I bought it in 1999. The kitchen ceiling has not been painted in 19 years. The paint is peeling so I scraped, patched, and sanded those areas. I applied Killz primer and within minutes other areas began bubbling up. It is a somewhat damp day. Outside temp is 25. Inside about 65. Could it be the weather or do you think the old paint is just too heavy? If too heavy, do I have to sand and scrape the entire ceiling?

    • Sounds like the old paint is failing. You will need to scrape and patch were needed prior to priming and painting. If the Kilz is the original oil base then try an acrylic primer and see if this helps.

    • Glen

      If it is that extreme of a temperature difference between inside and out, the first concern I have is to the effectiveness of the ceiling (attic) insulation and moisture barrier, which must always be well applied on the winter-heated side of the insulation, whether it’s in the ceiling, walls, or under-floor. Consider consulting a reputable insulation contractor, as a cold, under-insulated surface will often be suspect.

  20. Farhat

    Hi
    We have a newly constructed house. Within 6-8 months the paint in a bath room and almost all the areas where ceiling and wall meets paint is cracking and chipping. Also the wood moldings are separating at the joints. I called the builder and he did try to fix and now 6-8 months into that again the same problem at the same places. I do not know how to solve this problem and do I seek legal advise as the builder is not cooperating. He is just not willing to pay for the repair or repaint.

    Also I live in St. Louis. Do you have any recommendations for an expert to look into my problem.
    Thanks
    Farhat

    • The best course of action now is legal advise and contacting your local BBB. Plus contact the paint supplier used on your home; Look at the touch-up paint cans and contact the manufacturer, explain what is happening and request an inspection.

      The Better Business Bureau will have better recommendations and could be a first contact to get this resolved.

  21. evan

    Help! We recently purchased a 1974 home that needed paint/floor updating. We cleaned and primed bedroom walls and ceiling. The ceiling started peeling within a week or two and within a month large portions of the ceiling were peeling badly–hanging off in medium sized pieces. At this point, it’s at least 30-40% of the ceiling. I’m not sure what the ceiling is made of, it seems thinner than drywall. A few large patches on the walls as well, peeling from bigger cracks. One of the walls was primed-over plastic paneling, and the paint is still perfect on that wall, so a friend suggested that maybe the original drywall on the other walls and ceilings was poorly prepped. Does that make sense or could there be another issue? What would we have to do to fix it? Thanks!

    • Is the peeling just your primer and paint? Not the previous or original coat of paint? What did you clean with? And, what primer was used?

      Some possibilities; Surface contamination, possible soap film, interfered with adhesion. The original paint could loose adhesion to the original surface through oxidation and moisture penetration. Glues or resins in the original wallboard breaking down. The possibilities are somewhat endless.

      At this point you will need to scrape off all loose paint. Try to be careful as scraping will cause additional damage to the surface.

      Prime the surface with an oil base bonding primer or shellac primer. Sometimes additional peeling can happen when rolling on the primer.

      Repair the surface. The powdered drywall mud available at your local home improvement store sticks really well to many surfaces and is good for repairs. The 90 minute powder will work well, better than spackling compounds. Tape and float out all cracks. Texture as needed.

      At this point roll on another coat of primer then repaint.

  22. Suene

    Really frustrated. We have a historic home. It was freshly painted before we bought it about a year ago. At first paint was starting to peel outside mostly under the overhang of the roof. Not too long after I saw some bubbling at baseboard in master bedroom, then paint started cracking around window trim. Now the paint is basically peeling off all over room. I see other places in the house doing the same thing. The kitchen ceiling and around kitchen windows. The paint in kitchen is taking on a weird brown blotchy color in places and is cracking and peeling. Is this because latex paint was used on likely oil paint or could it be a much bigger problem?
    Thanks

    • Could be latex over oil paint but the exterior peeling and interior discoloration could indicate that moisture is entering the walls, coming out wherever it can and causing the bubbling and peeling.

      A fresh coat of interior paint can be exacerbating the problem, trapping the moisture in the walls. Cheap paint can also contribute to these issues. At this point have your roof inspected and look carefully at the exterior surfaces. Look for peeling paint, split or cracked caulking, rotted wood, etc.

      It is possible this is simply a cheap paint job falling apart or could be signs of bigger issues.

      Signs of cheap paint; Use a clean white rag or cloth and wash a small area. Does the paint come off easily? Or does the sheen change? Scratch at the wall surface with your fingernail, does the paint come off easily?

  23. Joe

    I’ve read through the posts/responses, and I think I have my answer but want to hear it from you. We had a painter come in and paint the home when we first moved in (home built in 90s). It doesn’t appear that he prepped any of the surfaces. He used a airless sprayer, the wall paint seem to be fine, but the trim paint easily peels if anything brushes against it. I can easily scratch it off with my fingernail without applying pressure.

    Home built in 90s, we bought and had it repainted in 2015.

    Not sure what the original house paint was (oil vs latex) before buying home. But based on your previous responses, I need to: scrape, clean, prime, repaint? Correct? We bought latex paint from Sherwin Williams to redo the trim.

    • You are correct. All loose paint must be removed, ten primer applied then finally paint.

      Scraping and/or sanding can be very time consuming depending on type of trim. Often it can be cheaper, from a pro’s point of view, to replace the trim (or some of it) with new and start over. Something to consider.

  24. I needed this information! We have localized peeling in the laundry room of a newly renovated house. Thinking it’s a combination of dirty walls, lack of primer, and incompatible paint bases. Thanks for the info!!

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