Pro Secrets to Painting Laminate Cabinets

If you have outdated or ugly laminate cabinets you can’t afford to replace but don’t want to live with, there are options. Here’s how to paint your laminate cabinets like an expert.

Many older homes have laminate kitchen cabinets that aren’t exactly on trend today. If you’re in just such a situation, you do have options for bringing your kitchen into this decade. Painting laminate cabinets, changing out the doors, and entirely replacing the cabinets are all possibilities. 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 least expensive. (See The Pros and Cons on Stock Kitchen Cabinets.)

Refacing is the next option. Adding a couple of glass doors can dress up your existing 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). (See Easy Ways to Reface Kitchen Cabinets.)

The least expensive option is painting. 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 altogether, you'll probably be more satisfied with the results. Follow these steps to get the best finish possible.

Step 1: Prepare your surfaces

The key to getting the best paint results is preparation. Remove the cabinet doors from their frames and remove all hardware, including hinges. Check all the laminate for damage and repair any cracked or warped laminate; you don’t want to paint over 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 Total One. Use a high-quality brush 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 sand again. Use a fine grit sandpaper to smooth the surface, but don’t sane too much. You don’t want to take off all the primer you just applied. Clean off the dust with a tack cloth again.

Step 4: Apply your paint

Finally, it’s time to add your paint. Pick a paint that is designed to work with laminate surfaces. We suggest Cabinet Rescue, a product made specifically for painting laminate. It comes in white but can be tinted colors such as almond, light gray or beige. It dries quickly for a tough, chip-resistant finish and cleans easily with mild liquid soap. We recommend a satin finish that will hide any minor imperfections.

You also can turn plain flat-front doors into paneled ones 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 those laminate cabinets, but realize 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, but painting laminate will buy you some time and give the updated style you’re looking for.

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