How to Paint Laminate Cabinets
Learn how to paint laminate cabinets with this thorough photo and video tutorial.
Shortly after I moved into my house, I found this sad laminate cabinet hanging out in the back of the basement.
I'm sure it once had a nice life as a bathroom vanity. Since the current bathroom vanity was badly damaged, I decided this vanity was due for a second life.
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As you might have heard, laminate is notoriously hard to paint. I think it has this reputation because lots of people picked up a paintbrush, painted their piece with no prep whatsoever, then were shocked when the paint peeled off.
Paint won't stick to laminate on its own. But if you prep your cabinets correctly, the paint will work just fine.
The general process of painting laminate cabinets goes like this:
- Make any repairs
- Sand and clean
There is one step here that is more important that the rest:
The primer that you use will make or break this project. You want a heavy-duty bonding primer that's primary purpose is to stick to hard-to-paint surfaces.
- Laminate Cabinet
- Zinsser Bonding Primer
- General Painting Supplies (Brushes, Rollers, etc.) - Make sure at least some of this is disposable. The primer you'll need is either oil or shellac based, and both are a pain to clean out of brushes.
- Sandpaper and Orbital Sander
- (Optional) Drywall Patching Compound or Wood Filler - For repairs.
- (Optional) Kitchen Degreaser - If painting kitchen cabinets.
How to Paint Laminate Cabinets
Step 1: Make Any Necessary Repairs
My cabinet was
- chipped on the edges
- separating - the sides were detaching from the bottom piece and
- had bubbling, steam-damaged laminate.
It was hanging out in the back of the basement for a reason, apparently.
Number 1 was easy to deal with - I grabbed some drywall patching compound and filled in the chips. Wood filler works too, but I prefer patching compound simply because it doesn't dry out as quickly.
Number 3 was easy too - sanding down the laminate smoothed out the bumps.
Number 2 was a bit more complicated. First I tried wood glue and clamps (which you can see in the above photo,) but that came apart as soon as I took off the clamp.
Next I added a screw on either side. That was enough to hold the sides to the bottom. I countersunk the screws and then covered them with patching compound so they wouldn't be seen.
Finally, once the patching compound was dry I sanded it down.
Step 2: Sand Cabinets
Obviously, I did this while repairing the cabinet, but if you don't have any repairs to make, you should 100% sand anyway, using a high grit (240) sandpaper.
Also, if you're changing out your cabinet hardware, fill the holes with patching compound before you sand!
Step 3: Clean Cabinets
If you're working with kitchen cabinets, you'll want to grab a good degreaser for cleaning.
Pretty sure this cabinet was once in a bathroom, so I just used a general purpose cleaner to wipe down the cabinet.
Step 4: Prime the Cabinets
Using a paintbrush or roller that you consider disposable, prime the cabinets. I used a cheap paintbrush for this part, and a roller for the actual painting later on.
I can't see any brushstokes on the final piece, but if you're concerned about using a paintbrush here for that reason, know that you can always do a light sanding after the prime coat, which should eliminate any brushstroke texture.
Step 5: Paint
I used a small, 4" kitchen and bath roller to paint the piece. It went quickly, and is an almost texture-less finish.
Plus, 4" rollers are pretty cheap - I grabbed this 10 pack off Amazon, and thought it was a bargain!
I did two coats of latex paint on this cabinet, applied at least two hours apart. The paint I used was Benjamin Moore's Gentleman's Grey with a satin finish.
Can I paint laminate cabinets without sanding?
I wouldn't. Small palm sanders can be purchased from Harbor Freight for $15, which makes sanding a quick and easy step.
(Note: I don't actually recommend the linked palm sander if you sand things with any regularity - I've owned it, and it's a piece of crap. But for a single project, it'll get you through.)
While the primers I listed above are super strong bonding primers, and technically don't require sanding, it's not a risk I take.
How many coats of primer do I need?
One coat is typically enough. Two is overkill, and a waste of good primer.
Do I need to use chalk or milk paint on my cabinets?
Honestly? I think chalk paint is an overpriced ripoff. I used latex paint on my cabinets, and am confident that the primer alone is enough to ensure durability.
That said, I have not done any sort of durability test comparing latex vs chalk paint. All I know is that I've never had a serious problem with latex paint adhesion after using a strong primer.
Do I need a topcoat?
I didn't use one (other than the paint itself,) although if you're painting the inside of your cabinets, you might want to consider it. Otherwise, it's possible that the items you put in the cabinets will stick to the paint.
Painting laminate cabinets is not that hard - I think it makes many people nervous because if you're painting kitchen cabinets, it's a big job on an expensive item.
But my philosophy with DIY is always that if I screw something up, I can probably fix it. Painted cabinets are no different.
I love how this turned out, and even more, I love how my bathroom is progressing! Check out how I painted my bathtub if you want to see more of the process!
And if you think you might do this project, be sure to save this post to Pinterest so you can find it again later!