15 Causes of Peeling Paint on Walls, Ceilings, and Other Surfaces

Updated on December 2, 2017
Jan Saints profile image

Januaris is a professional painter and author of painting guides. He has been painting houses and other structures for more than 13 years.

Based on my own experience, peeling paint is a problem that significantly lowers the attractiveness of a building. It can turn a house into a boring structure and can even cause health issues to the occupants if it happens on the interior walls or ceiling.

Peeling Paint on a Wall
Peeling Paint on a Wall | Source

According to my own investigations, the paint-peeling problem can start a few days to several years from the time of applying a fresh coat. It is common on drywalls and old plaster ceilings. Other places affected by this problem include bathrooms, wooden decks, trims and sidings, and window frames.

According to paint chemists, peeling paint occurs when there is a loss of adhesion between the paint and the coated surface. The adhesion loss is caused by a number of factors. In this article, I am going to discuss these factors which are basically the causes of the paint-flaking problem.

Causes of Peeling Paint, in Brief

  • Water
  • High humidity and excessive condensation
  • Poor surface preparation
  • Dirty surface
  • High temperatures and intense sun
  • Incompatible surface
  • Different coatings on the same surface
  • Too many layers
  • Low-quality paint brands
  • Wrong paint or primer
  • Expired paint
  • Corrosive substances
  • Extreme dryness
  • Poor application methods
  • Too old coat

1. Water

Water is the main cause of flaking paint on bathroom walls, ceilings, and exterior walls. When it penetrates through the coatings, it causes the layers to separate and detach from the surface. This results to bulging, cracking, and finally peeling.

The water menace can originate from a leaking roof, gutter, flashing, or soffit. It can also be as a result of a permeable wall allowing water to penetrate to the inner surface. Moreover, it can be as a result of water splashes in the washroom.

2. High Humidity and Excessive Condensation

These two factors are the main causes of flaking paint in poorly ventilated buildings. High humidity causes a build-up of moisture on walls something which leads to the blistering and bulging of the coatings. The end result is cracking and chipping of the layers.

On the other hand, condensation causes dampness which favors the growth of mold and mildew. This fungus causes paint layers to lift up and flake. Condensation, which is usually extreme during and after a rainstorm, can also make new coats to fail.

3. Poor Surface Preparation

For a paint to stick properly, the surface to be coated should be prepared adequately. If the paint is applied on an uneven or non-primed surface, it cannot take long before it blisters and peels. Other things like incomplete joint compound and seam tapes can also hinder the paint from sticking properly.

4. Dirty Surface

Paints do not also stick properly to dirty surfaces. According to my studies, some dirt like grease and oil prevent paints from adhering properly to wooden, metallic, and even concrete surfaces.

If paint is applied on an extremely dirty surface, it will immediately bubble and bulge. This will lead to the coatings falling off the surface.

 Layers of Paint Falling Off a Surface
Layers of Paint Falling Off a Surface | Source

5. High Temperatures and Intense Sun

Paint doesn’t adhere quite well to a surface with temperatures above the standard atmospheric range. High temperatures cause faster drying which prevents layers from forming strong bonds.

On the other hand, intense sun makes oil paints fragile and vulnerable to cracking. Both latex and elastic paints expand and contract when exposed to the sun, weakening their adhesive bonds.

6. Incompatible Surface

Some surfaces produce or are affected by substances that react with paints, hindering maximum compatibility. For example, new or poorly-cured woods produce natural oils that prevent effective adhesion.

Oil-based paints are specifically affected by concrete and galvanized steel. These materials have chemicals that react with the paints, breaking down the adhesive bonds and weakening the applied layers.

Smooth or glossy surfaces also have compatibility problems with some paints. These types of surfaces are hard to form a mechanical adhesion, and any layers applied to them flake off immediately.

In addition, some synthetic polymer materials can hinder the coat from full adhesion. The incompatibility problem is worse if the polymers are chemically cured. Some good examples of these materials are epoxy and polyurethane.

7. Different Coatings on the Same Surface

Some paints do not bond together quite well. If they are applied together on the same surface, the peeling problem occurs. For example, the oil-based paints do not work properly when applied over the latex-based ones. Also, the alkyd paints do not work well when used over the latex ones.

A Peeling Layer Over Another Layer
A Peeling Layer Over Another Layer | Source

8. Too Many Layers

If too many layers are added to a surface (especially on the ceiling), the coating becomes heavy and can end up falling off. If there are no strong adhesive bonds to support the weight of the layers, the coating falls off immediately.

9. Low-Quality Paint Brands

Some paint brands are really poor in terms of flexibility and adhesion. Low-quality paints do not dry or stick properly and start to peel after a short period of time. Most paints that contain calcimine are poor brands.

10. Wrong Paint or Primer

Different paints are designed for different surfaces. Some are designed for wooden or plastic surfaces while others are created for metallic or concrete surfaces. This means that using a wrong paint can lead to the peeling problem.

On the other hand, there are specific primers for wooden, metallic, concrete and plastic surfaces. These substances are also designed for different paints. Therefore, using a wrong primer can also lead to the peeling problem.

For the 14 years that I have been painting, I have come across many primers, and the most surprising thing is that most of these products were of poor quality. They couldn't prepare surfaces accordingly and the peeling problem would occur immediately after painting. But I have come across a few high quality primers that made me love my job.

One specific primer that I have found quite useful is the Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye Sealer which is suitable for all kinds of surfaces, including concrete, metallic, wooden and plastic. It is great for both interior and exterior applications, and is quite reliable in resisting blistering, peeling, rust, and mildew growth. You don't have to sand your surface when applying it: it sticks excellently. When it comes to washing your hands and tools after you done with applying, you just need soap and water. I would advise you to use this primer in your next painting if you are serious with avoiding problems like peeling and mildew growth.

11. Expired Paint

Like other chemical products, paints expire after a certain period of time. Some become too thin while others freeze when they have expired. You should expect to face the flaking problem if you use expired paint.

12. Corrosive Substances

There are many substances that can corrode a painted surface. If a corrosive substance comes into contact with a painted surface, it causes the coat to blister, crack, and finally peel off. Some good examples of these corrosive substances are those containing strong acids or bases.

13. Extreme Dryness

According to my researches, extreme dryness can also be a reason for the paint-peeling problem. This condition makes a new coat to fail. It prevents the formation of strong adhesive bonds which allow the innermost coating to stick properly to the surface.

14. Poor Application Methods

Some painting methods that make a coat to fail include using wrong brushes and applying very thin layers. These two methods do not promote the formation of strong cohesive bonds which hold paint molecules together. They therefore contribute to weak layers that are vulnerable to cracking and chipping.

Many brushes have been manufactured, but most of them are not reliable - they break or the bristles detach in a short time. If you are looking for a durable brush, I would recommend that you go for the Shur-Line Premium Brush. I have been using this tool for more than 2 years, and it has never shown any signs of breaking or wearing out.

The super-strong brush comes with a high quality solid wood sash handle (offers durability and comfort), copper ferrule between the handle and bristles, nylon/poly blend bristles (provide excellent coverage), chemically angled and tapered filament tips (provide excellent cut-in and ultra smooth finish), and shur-flow technology (provides optimal paint release and easy cleanup). It is great for DIY painting and works with all kinds of paints and primers.

15. Coat That Is Too Old

With time, the cohesive bonds of a coat become stronger than the adhesive bonds. This causes the layers to detach from the surface. Other paints lose bond strength and become brittle with time. This subjects them to cracking and chipping.


If you are affected by the paint-peeling problem, you should be able to know its cause from this article. After knowing the exact cause, you can hire the right experts to fix the issue and repair the paint. You can also fix the problems on your own if you have the expertise.


  • Bayer G.T., Zamanzadeh M. "Failure Analysis of Paints and Coatings.". plant-maintenance.com. Plant Maintenance Resource. (PDF). (2004).
  • Cassens D.L. "Paint Failure Problems and Their Cure.". fpl.fs.fed.us. Forest Products Laboratory. (PDF). (2005).
  • Paquette E., Poulin P., Drettakis G. "The Simulation of Paint Cracking and Peeling.". profs.etsmtl.ca. Ecole E Technologie Superieure. (PDF). (2002).
  • Bowron G. "Common Paint Problems.". guthriebowron.co.nz. Guthrie Bowron. (PDF). (2014).
  • Heffer P., Lee B. "Braving the Elements: Analyzing the Weathering Performance of Chromate-Free Coating Systems.". sciencedirect.com. Science Direct. (PDF). (2005).

With the help of this article, do you think you can know the exact cause of peeling paint in your building?

See results

If you happen to know the cause of the flaking problem, do you think you can fix it on your own?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2015 Januaris Saint Fores


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        ar 5 weeks ago

        Good info