I am having trouble painting plaster walls of an entryway/kitchen. The paint crackles like reptile skin as soon as it dries. See photo.

enter image description here

What I’ve done: I washed the walls prior to painting (they are currently painted with an old oil based paint over top of several layers of lead paint) I vacuumed the walls and then washed in sections by spraying water mixed with a few drops of dawn dishsoap, rubbing with a sponge. I had a bucket of clean water with a washcloth to rinse and I dried the wall with no lint cloth after rinsing.

About 6 hours later I applied a primer coat. It crackled when it dried. I lightly sanded, applied a little spackle, caulked the joints/gaps, washed again the same way, and painted with (thoroughly stirred) Behr premium plus paint. 24 hours later and I have alligator walls again. Has anyone dealt with this before? What is going on?

This is the paint I used, I applied it with a roller and brushes. enter image description here

Other possibly relevant details:

The other side of the wall is a poorly ventilated bathroom. But the wall is nearly 7 inches thick. The house is 120 years old.

UPDATE: Last night I was scraping the same wall a little further down (where it transitions to drywall) to prep it for repainting and my blade sliced right through the wall. I discovered this: enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here I think I will need to create a new question to handle this. There appears to be moisture, maybe some mold, and/or possibly some kind of insect droppings??

UPDATE 2: I had some plumbers out today to check out all the plumbing and they told me that there’s no active leaks but showed me where repairs had been made recently. (Probably before they sold me the house). He said it looked like they’d fixed it without cleaning up the water. The moisture meters read that the walls were dry.

Update 3: enter image description here I painted over a patch with a semi-gloss paint. When it cured I painted over it again with the same paint as before. No more cracking!

  • Are you putting the paint on thick(just slapping it on) or brushing/rolling it out?
    – crip659
    Jul 24, 2022 at 19:42
  • I don’t think I put it on very thick (although the paint itself is fairly thick) I am using 3/4 nap “premium woven rollers professional grade for one coat latex paints” and Purdy brushes for the cutting in. Also the caulk was DAP Alex plus. Jul 24, 2022 at 19:59
  • 1
    some paints do that by design ... maybe that is what you bought
    – jsotola
    Jul 24, 2022 at 22:54
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    Are you using a separate primer? Regardless of how many paints claim to be "primer + paint" these days, some wall surfaces just need a purpose-made primer to seal them.
    – JPhi1618
    Jul 27, 2022 at 16:36
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    Putting a water-based finish over oil-based, or an oil-based finish over water-based, is always a bad idea. There must be an existing answer which addresses that, and which points out that if you absolutely must do so the fix is to put a layer of (alcohol-based) shellac between them since it adheres well to both and vice versa.
    – keshlam
    Dec 25, 2022 at 8:51

2 Answers 2


From the OP's answer provided in the question body:

I painted over a patch with a semi-gloss paint. When it cured I painted over it again with the same paint as before. No more cracking!


The one thing you didn't do is the one thing you always need to do when painting over pre-existing paint.

Sand lightly.

600 grit sanding sponge, steel wool, or even scotchbrite. it just needs a slight roughness to help the paint stick.

Now the spackle is absorbative and the primer is not so that will show through to the surface, get the surface flat with more spackle, sand, prime again, sand for flatness of the primer, then start your finish coats.

  • You’re right - I didn’t. I knew I needed to and started to on an adjacent wall - I sanded off some bumps of what turned out to be mold. And it won’t die. No amount of bleach, vinegar or scrubbing will kill it, it comes back through Killz…it’s been a headache! I have reason to believe many of the walls are hiding this issue will need be removed entirely (once I’ve qualified for the financing). I just needed a temporary fix, something to stabilize/seal the surface and allow for more frequent washing and monitoring. The old paint was dark (nearly black) and did not wash easily Jul 28, 2022 at 4:56

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