Making Paneling Look Like New
Most houses more than 25 years old have at least one room with paneling. There are three kinds of paneling: solid wood planks, plywood sheets, and faux-finished hardboard.
If you've got solid wood or plywood on the wall, there are a number of things you can do to make it look like new. Cleaning is the easiest and most effective way to brighten the finish. Furniture polish won't do the job -- you need something stronger.
Mix equal parts of white vinegar, turpentine, and boiled linseed oil in a small container. Wearing rubber gloves, dip a soft, clean, colorless cloth into the solution, wipe it on, and rub it in. Scrub the cleaner and moisturizer into the surface and keep scrubbing until it starts to evaporate, then wipe off the excess with a dry cloth. You'll be amazed with the results.
If your wood walls are just dry, bring them back to life by wiping on lemon oil.
To patch a small hole or surface imperfection, use wood dough, not spackle, because the wood dough is easier to hide. You can camouflage the repair with a color-match touch-up stick or, by applying a faux finish. Faux finishing is literally an art. Here, the appearance of the existing wood surface is exactly matched with paint. You can't tell the area of the repair from the surrounding texture, color, or grain pattern. Faux finishing is for experts. It's expensive. If the paneling is beautiful and isn't available anymore, a faux finish could be the least expensive repair alternative.
If you're tired of the dark, woody look paneling provides, but like the texture of real wood, you can paint it. First, wash the surface with a solution of TSP. When dry, prime with an oil-based stain-killer primer. If you want to eliminate the grooves between the boards, fill them with vinyl spackling compound, sand, and prime. Finish the job with a good-quality latex paint.