Peeling & Flaking Paint

A layer of paint, constantly subjected to expansion & contraction, variations in temperature, moisture and ultra-violet radiation will, eventually, lose its flexibility and adhesion. The inevitable result will be peeling and flaking.

Such paint failures are not always attributable to natural ageing though and can indicate other problems, such as damp or, often, a lack of basic preparation. Below are a few questions raised about such issues…

Exterior paintwork flaking

We live in a 1930’s white rendered house. Three years ago we employed a painter and decorator (£1,300 labour, plus materials) to paint the render and black woodwork. Unfortunately after only three years all the woodwork is flaking and the render is absorbing rainwater which in some areas has started to show through in the interior.

Can only assume poor quality paint or inadequate coverage is the root of the problem. Any advice on quality paint and preparation would be welcome as we are considering doing the job ourselves?



Early failure of the paint coating on the woodwork is likely a result of poor preparation and/or excessive use of thinners. You’ll need to remove any loose or flaking paint, thoroughly rub-down all surfaces and start afresh with a decent quality exterior paint system such as Dulux Weathershield. This is quite expensive when compared to regular primer, undercoat and gloss paints but it has been formulated especially for exterior use and will usually perform much better.

Ingress of water via the rendered walls is difficult to diagnose and can be the result of a number of factors including minor surface damage/cracks and/or trapped moisture. It is difficult to say whether poor paint quality or lack of preparation has caused this problem but an extreme example could be that your painter has used an all-weather coating over an already damp surface in order to get the job done quickly and this has prevented the wall from drying out?

Regular water-based masonry paints are moisture vapour permeable and will allow minor patches of damp to dry out over time; all-weather coatings do not have this property as they are intended for use on sound surfaces when poor weather conditions make the use of water based paints impractical.

In any case you’ll need to ensure that any minor surface damage has been repaired and any damp has thoroughly dried out before repainting. Most brands of exterior masonry paint are perfectly adequate for the job if used properly.

Peeling paint on brickwork

We have recently bought a semi detached 1950s (ex council) property, the bricks have been painted over the years with several layers of paint-I’m not sure what sorts altogether.

The paint is peeling off in areas, some areas just the top layers, other areas are back to brick and in these brick areas there does look to be patches of white (I think it may be salts from all my reading?).

So the question is what do we do, we would like to do a proper job not just another cover up which is what seems to have happened in the past.



You often find with these situations there are a number of reasons why the paint has failed. The bare bricks and white patches are a clear sign of trapped moisture but this may, as you suggest, be isolated to small areas. The paint failure elsewhere may be just the result of poor preparation and workmanship?

The bare patches should indicate the source of any inherent damp problem. For instance, if it’s around windows/doors it could be just defective mastics which are easily rectified. You can also get damp patches under windows where the sill isn’t shedding rainfall away from the wall. Again, this can be a simple fix.

Once you’ve allowed these patches to dry out in depth you should be OK to repaint with a good brand of water based masonry paint, thinning the first coat so it soaks in a little.

The bad news is that even if you rectify any problems and scrape off any loose paint it’s unlikely your first attempt at repainting will be the end of the matter. Existing paint that looks firmly attached now could start to flake over time – the added load of a new coat or two of paint can often accelerate the process too. Unfortunately, you may have to repeat the process again at a later date.

Suspected lack of undercoat

Had my staircase painted last July & the gloss has started to peel off . I asked the decorator in question to undercoat, but am now wondering if he just slapped gloss on old gloss as you can see the old yellow gloss.

What do you think? Would appreciate your opinion



It seems likely you are right, painting staircase spindles is a labour-intensive job and one where it’s common for short-cuts to be taken.

If you can actually peel the new paint off then this is a clear indication that there has been little or no preparation done beforehand.


I had my exterior woodwork painted at the end of September into October 2018. It is now flaking in most areas. The paint used was a Sandtex water based product.

The painter has said the problem is probably a result of the wrong time of year, due to a cold snap in October and November being particularly cold. Is this explanation likely and what is the best paint to use?

Nina B


Hi Nina

The primary reason that paint flakes-off in this manner is due to a lack of preparation, especially when using water-based products on top of an existing oil-based finish.

It is essential that all surfaces are properly washed down to remove any grease or contamination, then all surfaces must be thoroughly rubbed down to provide an adequate ‘key’ for subsequent coats to grip on to.

With exterior work especially, this is something that’s easily skimped on because a lot of the work is at height and not easily inspected.

Your painter is correct in so far as the time of year being less than ideal but, if the works were carried out correctly, this wouldn’t lead to the problems you are now experiencing.

Hope that helps?

More Q&A about peeling/flaking paintwork

Hi I’ve got a problem with the second coat of silk emulsion blistering… READ MORE…

It’s a brand name product, first coat went on with no problems, allowed 48 hrs before second coat was applied, and small blisters have appeared but only in certain areas, where as the rest of the rooms are absolutely fine.

The exact same paint has been used walls and ceilings throughout the property, the confusing thing is why it has only been in a few small areas and only the second coat? Dave

Blistering is usually caused by trapped moisture or surface contamination, it sounds like the latter in your case and is very unlikely to be anything to do with the paint itself.

It isn’t uncommon for such problems to only occur after the second coat because the containment is water-based and becomes soluble when the first coat is applied, and then migrates to the surface.

What I would so is scrape/rub down the blistered paint back to firm surface and wash down the area thoroughly before repainting. You may need to use a fine surface filler to get a level finish.

If the blistering is severe it may be worth using a shellac-based primer such as Zinsser B-I-N just to make sure the surface is fully sealed. Do this before applying filler and any more emulsion.

Hello, could you advise the best method for removing blistered masonry paint from a harled wall in preparation for repainting. READ MORE…

As with any kind of textured surface there is rarely a simple answer. It depends, to a great extent, on how widespread the problem is. Small, localised issues are easy enough to resolve with a scraper or, sometimes, a heat gun. Larger areas can sometimes be tackled with a high pressure washer and/or physical scraping.

Blistering is usually indicative of trapped moisture so you will need to also ensure the wall gets time to thoroughly dry out before attempting to repaint.

I painted my floorboards with Quick Drying Satinwood but now it’s flaking off when cleaning… READ MORE…

I have some manky floorboards in my bathroom, and want to paint them in a way that the coating can be scrubbed whenever. I’ve already used Quick Drying Satinwood, and this has flaked off whilst cleaning. Should I use Acrylic based or Solvent based satinwood, or eggshell on them? Frances

It sounds like the satinwood you’ve applied has not adhered to the wood and this is why it’s flaking. Satinwood is not very ‘scrubbable’ anyway so it is likely a combination of inadequate preparation and the wrong choice of finish.

Ideally, you should ensure the floorboards are free of any greasy residue before painting and then prime the wood with a regular oil-based wood primer. Then coat with a 2 coats oil-based eggshell or an undercoat and gloss finish. Even then you’d need to allow the paint a few weeks to fully harden before attempting to scrub the surface.

Obviously, since the floor has already been painted, you’re going to experience further problems with the paint flaking since whatever you do now is only going to be as good as the surface it’s applied to.

Paint on the bathroom walls is flaking… I have been advised to use a use an oil-based undercoat before emulsioning. Is that information correct? READ MORE…

I have decorated my flat with a light-grey emulsion. The paint on the bathroom walls is flaking… probably due to condensation. I have been advised to use a scraper; then to sand the walls; then to use an oil-based undercoat before emulsioning. Questions: Is that information correct? Can I use my water-based emulsion on top of the oil-based undercoat? Jerry

That’s duff information Jerry. You should use a thinned-down coat of the emulsion you’re planning to finish with as a primer.

The reason the paint is flaking can be down to a number of reasons but using an oil-based primer is going to solve none of these. I suspect the surface was a bit greasy (not always obvious) and needed a wash down with sugar soap before painting.

Our windows were factory sprayed and the paint started to flake so we had them repainted but now the paint is flaking off again…. READ MORE…

Our new build of 6 years (semi townhouse) had wooden factory sprayed windows throughout, after 5 years, the paint started to flake, some going down to grey bare wood. our wooden front porch also started to crack, chip and flake.

A painter came out last September and repainted all the windows, porch and patio door+ step. We are now seeing patches of flaking on the step, patches of bare wood(grey)on some of the window edges and sills and flaking and cracking on the porch……….he used Johnstones Aqua water based satin paint and was advised to use this by Johnstones in Ipswich.

He is coming round this afternoon to look. Please can you recommend what is a better and more long lasting type of paint; we are very exposed to the elements here, high winds, rain and sun for the majority of the day. Jane

It sounds like the woodwork was never properly prepared and the paint didn’t adhere to the woodwork. The problem now is that the wood has become denatured in places (signified by the greying) and will need extra care in future.

Ideally, your painter should sand down the finish to remove as much grey as possible and ensure he uses the best quality finish available. I’d suggest something like Sikkens Rubbol Satura Plus or Sikkens Rubbol AZ plus depending on the finish required.
Dulux Trade Ultimate Opaque is another alternative you could use.

I’m currently preparing my house for painting but the old paint is coming off in places, do I need to remove it all? READ MORE…

I’m currently preparing my first house for painting / emulsioning. I’m scraping off the old paint and sanding filling where appropriate. The difficulty is the old paint is coming off, do I need to scrap off all the paint from all the walls? I fell this will take a very long time but want a nice finish. Is there an easier way? Steph

Anything you put on the walls is only ever going to be as good as the surface you apply it to. So, short answer, yes you need to scrape off any loose paint.

If you have a wall where some of the paint is loose and some is firmly stuck (as is usually the case) you may find it easier to line the walls with a 1000 grade lining paper to get a nice smooth finish rather than to try and level all the edges with filler.

Is there an easy way? No, welcome to the world of decorating.

I am redecorating a bathroom and have noticed that the previous paint has a hairline cracked appearance to it… READ MORE…

Hi I am redecorating a bathroom and have noticed that the previous paint has a hairline cracked appearance to it . I was told to sand it down and apply an oil based primer and then an oil based topcoat. Would this solve the problem of the cracks? Cormac

It’s difficult to say exactly what the problem is, without seeing it first hand, but the common cause for this effect, particularly in bathrooms, is that paint has been applied directly to the wall without it being thoroughly cleaned beforehand.

The method you describe may work to an extent (although you’ll need to use a filler between coats to cover the cracks) because oil based paints dry harder and it is possible to sand down to a smoother finish but it really does depend how bad the surface contamination is to start with?

Another method you may want to try is to use a lining paper to cover the walls and then paint over that. You’ll need to thoroughly clean the walls first and sand down to remove any glossy surfaces. Then use a heavy duty adhesive. Allow to dry for at least 24 hours before painting with any standard emulsion paint.

Painted coping stones …now all flaky, if I remove with paint stripper, it may kill my plants beneath if rinsed off… READ MORE…

I have cement coping stones atop my low garden wall, painted many times over the years with gloss, now all flaky, I’ve tried sanding, and wire brushing to no avail, if I remove with paint stripper, it may kill my plants beneath if rinsed off. I would greatly value your wisdom and expertise.

There are a few ‘non-toxic’ paint strippers that should be safe to use around plants – Biostrip is one such brand although there are quite a few alternatives.

Paint strippers in general are unpredictable as far as results go though. Sometimes they work a treat and at other times they prove to be a waste of money. Trial and error with a few different brands often proves to be the most effective solution although it’s not a cheap option, especially for a one-off job!

A blow torch or heat gun may also help but, again, results are unpredictable. If you have one to hand by all means give it a try but I wouldn’t recommend buying one just for this job as the odds of success are pretty slim.

However, since you suggest the remaining paint is proving hard to remove I wonder why you just don’t paint over it? If you don’t want a gloss finish you could just use ordinary masonry paint – it should adhere OK provided the surface has been sufficiently abraded?

I started painting ceiling with a new roller the paint does not go on as expected (flat and Smooth) But bubbles appear cannot seem to smooth these out I suspect paint is problem? READ MORE…

I think the problem is likely to be with the existing surface rather than the paint?

You will usually see bubbles appearing where the existing paint is not adhered sufficiently to to surface. This can be caused by damp or, more recently, because the surface wasn’t properly sealed before painting.

This is becoming quite an epidemic with new-build properties. If the problem is minor then you may find the bubbles will dry flat after a day or so? More severe bubbling may necessitate scraping the loose paint off the surface before going any further.

If the problem is isolated to a small area you can sometimes get away with using a brush rather than a roller as this causes less disturbance to the surface and less problems with bubbles.

I have a couple of walls in my house where it looks as if the plaster wasn’t allowed to dry out before it was painted and is now causing the paint added at a later date to flake and powder. READ MORE…

You could try using a lining paper applied with a strong ready-mixed wallpaper adhesive to give yourself a decent surface to paint on.

The only other way is just to keep scraping off any loose paint and keep re-doing until you end up with a solid finish. Not the answer you wanted, I know, but it is a curse of modern housing I’m afraid.

Paint is coming off as soon as I paint the new colour on. READ MORE…

Decorating our kitchen. On a certain wall its like the paint is coming off as soon as we paint the new colour on.

We painted it yesterday with watered down white emulsion but that’s still not helping. Surface isn’t damp. House built in the 80’s. Cant go over where we have already tried painting as both brush and roller seem to be removing the paint we have just put on.

First time decorating the kitchen as not long bought the property. Helen

OK, there are a number of possible causes. The most likely being that the original paint surface has not stuck to wall and any pressure simply causes it to come away, taking any new coating with it. To remedy this you’d need to remove as much as the existing coating as you can before attempting to redecorate.

Another is that the plaster, or whatever the wall is finished with, has become very dry and friable and will need treating with a penetrating sealer – but this would be a risky solution to suggest without being certain.

One safer option would be to line the wall with a decent grade lining paper stuck to the wall with a heavy-duty ready-mixed adhesive. This would give you a good surface to paint on assuming, of course, the adhesive will stick to the wall where a regular paint will not?

Sorry I am clutching at straws here. 🙂 If you have anything further that would indicate the source of the problem please let me know?

See Also
Loose limewash
Removing Paint from Walls
Peel Stop Primer
Zinsser Peel Stop