If you have outdated laminate cabinets you can't afford to replace, there are options for updating this kitchen storage staple. Here's how to paint laminate cabinets like an expert.

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Many older homes have laminate kitchen cabinets that could use an update. Bring your kitchen into this decade by painting laminate cabinets, changing out the doors, or entirely replacing the cabinets. Your choice depends on how much you want to spend.

Replacing your cabinets is the most expensive option—cabinetry constitutes nearly three-quarters of the price of a new kitchen. Stock cabinets are the least expensive option if replacing cabinetry. Refacing is another option. Adding a couple of glass doors can dress up your existing laminate cabinets. Check out quality companies in your area to do the work, or save money by doing it yourself. You can spend a bit more on real wood cabinet doors and drawers, or go with premium rigid thermal foil. Prices depend on materials, door style, and construction (frame or frameless).

The least expensive option is painting laminate cabinets. Laminate is not an ideal surface to paint, but it can be done. If you consider the paint job a temporary solution until you can invest in new cabinetry, you'll probably be more satisfied with the results. Follow these steps to get the best finish possible.

mint green kitchen cabinets
Credit: Robert Brinson

How to Paint Laminate Cabinets

Before you begin painting laminate cabinets, you'll need to complete some prep work, including any repairs, sanding, and cleaning. Once your doors are ready, we'll show you how to prime and paint laminate cabinets.

What You Need

  • Drill or screwdriver
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Primer
  • Paintbrush
  • Roller brush
  • Laminate paint

Step 1: Prep cabinet surface

The key to getting the best paint results is preparation. Remove laminate cabinet doors from their frames and remove all hardware, including hinges. Check the laminate for damage and repair any cracked or warped laminate; you don’t want to paint over the damage. Finally, clean the doors and sand them lightly. Use a tack cloth to make sure the doors are dust-free.

Step 2: Prime cabinets and doors

Apply a good-quality primer, such as KILZ interior/exterior primer ($42 per gallon, The Home Depot). Use a high-quality paintbrush to minimize stroke marks as you cut in on cabinet edges or in hard-to-reach spaces. For the doors themselves and any other large surfaces, use a roller to get a smooth, brush stroke-free finish.

Step 3: Sand laminate surfaces again

Once the primer has fully dried, give everything a light sanding again. Use fine-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface, but don’t sand too much. You don’t want to take off all the primer you just applied. Clean off the dust with a tack cloth.

Step 4: Paint laminate cabinets

Finally, it’s time to add your paint. Pick a paint that is designed to work with laminate surfaces, such as the Cabinet Transformations line from Rustoleum ($109 for 2 gallons, The Home Depot). It dries to the touch in one hour, features a tough, chip-resistant finish, and cleans easily with mild liquid soap. We recommend a satin finish that will hide any minor imperfections.

Don't love your plain flat-front doors? Turn them into paneled cabinets with wood or composite moldings. Find moldings in various widths and designs at your local hardware store, then have them miter-cut to your specifications or do it yourself using a miter box and handsaw. Once they’re cut to size, paint the moldings, following the instructions above. When they are dry, use wood glue to adhere them to the door fronts.

With the proper prep and some hard work, you can transform the look of laminate cabinets. Keep in mind that any DIY painted finish will be more susceptible to damage than factory-finish cabinetry. Eventually, you may need to invest in changing out your cabinets altogether. Painting laminate cabinets will buy you some time and provide an updated look.

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