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 ...and thanks for stopping by. I'm Claire Douglas,  DIY and home interiors writer specialising in money-saving and creative home interior projects. I've spent years developing my 'bespoke on a budget' approach to DIY and home interiors and I love sharing all my tips and tricks in tutorials and posts here on my blog, in articles I write for some of the leading titles, in the press, on Instagram, Tiktok and my online course

MDF wall panels: DIY wall panelling the easy way

Updated: Mar 15

I'm a huge fan of MDF wall panelling to elevate the look of your home. It works in any space from living or dining room to bedroom or bathroom (believe me, I've tried them all!). I get asked a lot of questions about mdf wall panels like where to buy them, how to install them and what paint to use on them so I thought it would be helpful to write a post with all the info you need in one place. The good news is that mdf wall panelling is super versatile and easy to install, it's cost-effective and can be adapted to suit almost any interior style from contemporary and modern to sophisticated and characterful. 

What are MDF wall panels?

room with mdf wall panels and bifold doors ont garden

MDF wall panels, short for Medium-Density Fibreboard, are a versatile and popular choice for wall panelling (among many other uses for DIY, home improvement & construction). Used correctly, MDF offers a modern look and a perfect blend of aesthetics for any interior space. Made from compressed wood fibres and resin, MDF is known for its durability and ease of use in home improvement projects. There are various sub-categories of MDF that you might come across (examples below)

  • Standard MDF

This is the most common type of MDF 

  • Moisture-resistant MDF

Also known as MR MDF, this type of MDF is specially engineered to withstand moisture and humidity. 

  • Fire-retardant MDF

Fire-retardant MDF is formulated to have improved fire resistance compared to standard MDF. If this is an important factor for you, you might also like the post I wrote about fireproof plasterboard. 

  • Ultra-light MDF

Also known as lightweight MDF or LDF (Low-Density Fibreboard), is manufactured using a lower density of wood fibres compared to standard MDF. 

  • Exterior-grade MDF

Designed for use in outdoor applications where moisture and weather exposure are concerns.

  • Formaldehyde-free MDF

Manufactured without the use of formaldehyde-based adhesives, making it an environmentally friendly option.  

Unlike traditional solid wood panels, MDF wall panels come from sheets, so they can easily be cut to exact panel widths.

How to install MDF wall panels

I've used mdf wall panels to transform many rooms and they really are so easy to use. Here's the process I tend to stick to, it's very straight forward. 

You will need

  • Moisture-resistant MDF panels - read where I source mine here

  • Tape measure

  • Pencil

  • Clamps (always useful for sawing)

  • Water-based primer

  • Saw

  • Grab adhesive (or you can use panel pins and a backing board to protect your walls)

  • Level

  • Paint 

  • Paintbrush or roller

  • sander or sandpaper

  • Filler

Source your panels

Select the type of MDF panels you want to use. Whether you prefer a repeating pattern, fluted profile or reeded panels, there's a design to match your aesthetic. I'm a huge fan of fluted mdf panels and have written about how I've used them in my home here if you are interested. If you have a wall panelling Pinterest board, select your favourite type and decide where you are going to buy them from. (I'll share the details of where I get mine at the end in case you are looking for recommendations).

Measure and Prepare

hand holding tape measure out over a white wall

You can't buy the panels until you know the amount you need, so get measuring... Start by measuring the size of the wall where you want to install the MDF panels, calculate how many panels you want on that wall, and add up the total space that will be taken up (no. of panels x the width of each panel). Deduct this from the overall size and divide by the number of gaps this gives you the measurement between each panel. 

Order or go and buy the mdf making sure you allow for at least an extra 10%

Cut panels to size

This step will vary depending on where you buy the panels from and how many you are using. Top Tip: I will often buy my MDF from B&Q because they offer a sheet-cutting service which is free for the first cuts and then a very reasonable 50p per cut after that. This is such a time and effort saver that I highly recommend it for those who don't enjoy wood cutting or aren't set up for accurately cutting long strips.

If you are an experienced DIYer with a great saw set-up, you might be very happy to measure and cut your own from a sheet. Using a circular saw, table saw or jigsaw (or hand saw if you have A LOT of spare time!), cut the MDF panels to the exact widths needed for your wall. Remember to measure twice and cut once to ensure accuracy.

Another alternative is to buy a DIY panelling kit where you share the measurements of your project with the company, and they send you everything you need -pre-cut and ready to install. Some will even include the tools and materials, meaning you literally have everything in one place, ready to go.  

Prep the walls

tools to prep a wall before panelling

If your panelling is going to completely cover the walls (e.g. like, tongue and groove wall panels or fluted mdf wall panels), then you can skip this step as no one is going to see the walls. If you are installing a board and batten / wainscotting approach, then there will be sections of the wall still visible, so it pays to prep these so they don't ruin the overall look of your panelling. Read here about how to apply a skim coat for walls and how to prep the walls. 

positioning mdf wall panels against the wall

Install the Panels

Position the panels against the wall in their intended locations and stand back to check you are happy with the configuration.

Grab adhesive for wall panelling

Using grab adhesive, attach the panels to the wall in the desired pattern, ensuring they are level and evenly spaced. Start from one corner and work your way across the wall.

mdf wall panels stuck on wall ready for priming

Fill any gaps and cracks with decorators caulk, allow to dry and sand lightly to ensure the surface of any joins is smooth.

priming mdf wall panels

Prime the Panels

Apply a coat of water-based primer to the front of the panels. This will help the paint adhere better and provide a smoother finish. I always use one from B&Q.

Kitchen island with mdf wall panels

Paint the Panels

Once the primer is dry, paint the panels and space between them in your desired colour. This will give the panels a subtle effect while providing durability.

Benefits of mdf panelling

Mantlepiece with mdf wall panelling in the adjacent alcoves
  • Adds character - to new-build or featureless homes

  • Cost-effective - especially compared to real wood (I'm finding my new obsession with picture-frame moulding panelling much more expensive!

  • Durability - MDF is a sturdy and durable material that holds up well in high-traffic areas once primed and painted.

  • Minimal effort required - MDF wall panelling kits provide an ideal solution for enhancing interior spaces with minimal effort.

  • MDF panels are lightweight and easy to install, making them suitable for DIY projects.

  • Paintable - MDF panels can be easily painted to match any desired colour scheme or decor style.

  • Versatile - MDF panels offer versatility in design, with options ranging from slatted profiles to fluted patterns to suit all interior styles

Disadvantages of MDF wall panels

  • High moisture areas - MDF panels may not be suitable for use in high-moisture areas such as bathrooms or kitchens without proper sealing. You can of course use moisture-resistant mdf.

  • Not real wood - While MDF panels mimic the look of real wood, they are not solid wood, which may be a drawback for some.

  • High heat areas: MDF panels may not withstand high heat areas such as near fireplaces or radiators without potential warping or damage.

  • Longevity issues - Whilst durable, MDF panels may not offer the same longevity as solid wood panels, particularly in high-traffic areas.

I'm not going to tell you that mdf wall panels are the hottest new trend, as they've been around forever, the good news is that they aren't going anywhere yet, so it's still the perfect time to have a go at one of the easiest projects for transforming an entire wall. Whether opting for a classic look or embracing a modern aesthetic with ribbed panels, mdf wall panels offer a versatile canvas for creating a cosy atmosphere or stylish focal point. With options like paintable fluted wall panels, you can effortlessly achieve a minimalist look or add extra style with convex ridges or concave lines. 

Where next?

Here are some other panelling-related posts you might enjoy…

I hope you've found some of these ideas inspiring and useful, let me know in the comments if you try any of them. Be sure to scroll to the very bottom of the page & hit the subscribe button to receive my monthly newsletter which is packed full of tutorials, updates and offers.