We have moved into a house where the drywall walls were painted about 15 years ago.

When I paint over these walls, the existing paint develops patches of bubbles and peeling.

So, I don't know whether the cause is walls that were poorly primed in the first place, but I guess it doesn't matter so much as what I need to do now to repaint. Clearly I can patch the specific areas which have peeled but I would like to avoid this as much as possible.

Is the best thing to do to re-prime before painting? If so, should I use diluted PVA or is there a better alternative?

Many thanks!

5 Answers 5


Ooh. this problem is one not easily answered without more info:

Heat Blisters:

  • Paint bubbles can show up pretty quickly, from within a few hours to a few days after application. The blisters are only in the top coat of paint and appear most often in oil-based paint. A quick rise in temperature, like sunlight shining directly on the newly painted wood, causes a thin skin to form on the outer surface of the paint. The skin traps inner wet paint that produces vapor when it heats up. The vapor expands and causes the paint to blister from underneath. To repair blisters, scrape them off, smooth the edges, and repaint, being sure to avoid direct sunlight while the coat dries. Experts suggest establishing a painting order that follows the sun around the project. Thick coats and dark colors are more likely to blister than light colors and thinner paint.

Water Blisters:

  • Moisture causes problems for paint. Rain, dew, ice, and snow on the outside or vapor and moisture buildup from the inside can cause problems with exterior paint. When moisture penetrates the paint, blisters can form and paint can peel. Moisture blisters, unlike temperature blisters, go through all coats of paint down to the wood. To stop moisture blisters, you must locate the source of the moisture and repair it. Improper construction techniques and lack of flashing can cause outside water to pool at joints, on window sills, frames, or on the end grain of the wood.

Intercoat Peeling

  • Another type of peeling occurs when a newer coat of paint separates from the coat underneath. An inadequately prepared or dirty surface is one cause for a weak bond. Another is that the two paint layers are incompatible. For example, an oil-based paint may have been applied over a latex-based paint. They are incompatible and can peel away from one another.

    Peeling can also occur when too much time has elapsed between applications of the primer coat and the top coat. If more than two weeks separates the primer application and the paint coat, the primer’s surface can begin to break down and prevent proper bonding with the paint. To correct the problem, you must remove the paint and properly clean the surface.

Cross-Grain Cracking or Crazing

  • Too many layers of paint or one layer that is too thick can result in an interconnected, uneven pattern of cracks. The thick paint is unable to expand and contract with the wood, so breaks result, starting in the outer layers. If the problem is not corrected, moisture enters the paint layers, causing deeper cracking and deterioration.

    Surface cracking may require sanding and repainting. Deeper cracks will require a complete removal of the old paint. Once the wood is bare, clean it and treat it with a paintable, water-repellant preservative. Once the preservative has dried, apply a primer and top coat at the recommended spread rates.


  • Some exterior paint has a powdery coating. Chalking comes from the disintegration of the paint resin due to exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. This gradual deterioration is how paint is supposed to age. Too much, however, can cause discoloration of other painted areas below as rain washes off the chalk. It also signals that the paint is rapidly deteriorating.

    Chalking was more of a problem with older paints that contained excessive pigment for the amount of binder, but other triggers include the failure to properly prime and seal exterior wood, spreading the paint too thinly, or thinning the paint too much. To correct excessive chalking, the surface must be cleaned and repainted.


  • A stain is typically caused by moisture. The most common source is rusting metal nails or anchoring devices in the wood. The second cause is a chemical reaction between moisture and wood, such as red cedar, which results in color buildup on the surface.

    Rusty nails can be hand sanded and coated with a rust inhibitor and finish coat. Unless the wood is too fragile or the exposure of the nail head is related to the original construction system, it’s best for nail heads to be countersunk, primed, and filled before painting. Stains from wood extracts need to be cleaned, rinsed, dried, and primed with a stain-blocking primer before applying the finish coat. Check with a knowledgeable local paint retailer for the best cleaning mixture.

Incompatible Paints

  • If you are using two incompatible paints. Generally, paint manufacturers like to match primers with top-coats This is more applicable when painting metal surfaces (enamel paints). The reason for this is that there are a few acidic or highly alkaline or soluble salts primers, which could be water based, oil based or acrylic some combinations don't play well!. generally sticking with a certain type is ok i.e water based primer with water based top coat.

source: Dictionary of causes of paint blisters

  • I suspect the bubbling is from incompatible paints. Primer should fix it.
    – jiggunjer
    Apr 21, 2015 at 20:33
  • 5
    TL;DR; version: If it is peeling, you need to remove it. There is no fixing, just scraping.
    – diceless
    May 5, 2015 at 15:33
  • @diceless why? What about sanding and washing if you have chalking? Or maybe a different paint that dries slower or has a different base.
    – jiggunjer
    May 7, 2015 at 10:16
  • 1
    @jiggunjer chalking is not peeling. With chalking, if you wipe your finger across the paint you will get a powdery residue on your finger. Chalking paint is still bound to the wall, just the surface of it is deteriorated. Very different from peeling. With peeling, there is no way to reattach the paint to the wall and if you just put more paint on top, that will just hold on to the peeling paint. And the peeling paint will continue to peel, but now with another layer of paint on top.
    – diceless
    May 7, 2015 at 15:20

It's hard to say what exactly is causing the problem. I have seen it happen when wallpaper was removed and some glue was left on the walls and painted over with latex.

The best solution is to prime with a oil based primer such as Kilz to avoid future problems. Scrape whatever is visibly cracking or peeling, then apply the Kilz to the entire room. Repair the cracked areas with spackle or drywall compound. Now you can finish with latex paint. This should solve the problem regardless of the cause.


I just had a similar problem. My ceiling paint was peeling off in patches after I applied a water based primer. It peeled down to the drywall paper. It appears to me that the contractor either did not prepare the surface correctly to get good paint or primer adhesion, or he did not use a proper first/prime coat.

I have taken to scrapping all of the bubbled and peeling paint. My next step will be to lightly sand the newly exposed drywall paper and re-prime. Unfortunately, it is difficult to make the surface smooth because of the line between the remaining adhered paint and the spots that I scraped. I suppose a lot of careful sanding can smooth these transition lines.


Best, well actually only solution is to remove old pain and primer completely. When you finish this then you apply new primer and wall paint. Don’t get into the reasons why blisters appear because it is not relevant.

  • Can you please explain me why down vote?If you think something is wrong with my answer I would like to edit it. May 7, 2015 at 7:16
  • Only? What about a plaster skim coat? Or a sealer coat?
    – jiggunjer
    May 7, 2015 at 10:04
  • According to my experience all those things aren't 100% sure, and they depend on the layer beneath them. And if you aren't sure about the condition of the surface it is always better solution to remove it and do it from scratch. It is not much more expensive or time consuming (removing paint can be done by anyone in no time) and I don't like to do things more than once. What I meant I don't like doing something and after that to be forced to return and repair it. May 7, 2015 at 11:09
  • I dont like to remove paint from a wall that has only one coat on it, (the paint is too brittle to peel and does not look too bad - hence for me, a fresh coat of paint enhances the look of the wall. on the other hand walls with 3 coats of paint, the old paint should be removed (and it will be a lot easier) since it will peel.
    – Hightower
    May 7, 2015 at 15:13
  • I think the down vote because this answer seems to be extreme. Typically with peeling, you just need to scrape off what is peeling not everything.
    – diceless
    May 7, 2015 at 15:27

Add water to the water based paint.

Less-thick means less stick, so will not pull the old paint off.

  • 1
    Welcome to Home Improvement. If you'll take the tour, you'll note that this isn't a general discussion board where people just toss out random ideas, instead, we're looking for solid answers that address the OP's specific question.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 25, 2021 at 12:49
  • To that end, what if the OP wasn't using a water-based paint? Does thinning paint really make it less "sticky" and, therefore less likely to pull old paint off? Somehow, peeling doesn't actually seem to be the OP's problem, but blistering was the problem. Feel free to edit your answer to specifically address the OP's issues and, preferably, add something that the other 6 answers haven't already addressed.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 25, 2021 at 12:49
  • I guess the intention here is for the runny paint to seep and wick behind any loose paint, acting as somewhat of an adhesive. That doesn't seem to happen in reality, and your new paint is simply acting as a skin over the old loose bits. When they fall off, you've now got chips in your new paint, rather than doing it right the first time. With any painting, 2/3 of the work is the preparation and the painting is just finishing up.
    – Criggie
    Mar 31, 2021 at 4:10

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