What kind of paint do you use on laminate cabinets?

Giving your laminate cabinets a fresh, new look is possible! A fresh coat of properly applied paint could be just the trick to update your kitchen or bathroom. 

However, know that painting laminate is very different from painting wood. Wood is a porous surface. This means that it has a rougher surface, making it easier for the paint to adhere. On the other hand, laminate is a very smooth surface. If you slap a coat of paint on there without taking the proper preparation steps, then expect the paint to peel off in a matter of months.

Fortunately, with the right preparation steps, you can paint your laminate and have your work stand the test of time. 

In this article, we will give you advice on selecting and applying paint to laminate cabinets. 

But before you decide to tackle the cabinets yourself, know that this is a huge task! Professional painters spend years learning the proper techniques to quickly and effectively paint cabinets. Not only that, cabinets are one of the more time-intensive projects you can tackle. Expect to spend dozens of hours cleaning, sanding, preparing, painting, and reinstalling your cabinets. We recommend calling a pro to get a quote before tackling this project.

But, if you have a lot of spare time and want to tackle this yourself, keep reading to learn the best tricks from the pros.

What type of paint should you use?

The secret isn’t the paint--it’s the primer.

To paint over laminate, you need to use a high-adhesion primer. These primers are uniquely formulated to adhere to smooth surfaces. Consider primers like Zinsser 123 or Kilz High-Adhesion Primer. You can also speak to your local paint provider to ask for their recommendation. Regardless, the primer should indicate that it has been formulated for high adhesion and will adhere to laminate.

After picking a primer, you can pick whatever type of paint you want! Do be sure that your primer works with the type of paint you pick, however. If your primer says it works with latex paints, then use latex paint; if it says it works with oil-based paints, use oil-based paint.

Our best advice: avoid flat or matte finishes. Instead, opt for a glossier finish, as they are easier to clean and more durable. High contact areas like kitchen cabinets need the extra durability that glossier finishes provide.

Be sure to sand the laminate

Even with a high-adhesion primer, you still need to sand the surface of the laminate. Use 120-grit sandpaper to rough up the surface. The rougher surface helps the primer bond, giving a more durable coat. When finished sanding, clean the surface of dust, then apply the primer.

How to paint laminate cabinets

Now that you know the two basic factors to get a great end product, here are the steps to take to paint your cabinets.
  1. Remove the doors

The doors are far easier to paint when they are removed. As you remove them, use a piece of tape to number both the door and the cabinet. Numbering your doors will make reinstallation far easier.

2. Clean everything

Use trisodium phosphate (TSP) to clean everything. Grease and grime build up in a kitchen, and they can ruin the paint

3. Sand everything

This step is critical. If you don’t sand, you jeopardize the adhesion of the primer. Go over the laminate with 120-grit sandpaper. Sand for a light dusting, just enough to rough up the surface. You can use an orbital sander to speed up the process, but this isn’t necessary.

4. Clean everything again

Wipe away all the dust from sanding, because the dust can negatively impact adhesion.

5. Prime everything

Apply a high-adhesion primer formulated for laminate. Use a high-quality paintbrush or roller to get the best finish. Don’t skimp on your painting tools! You’re spending a ton of time on this project, don’t compromise it by trying to save a few dollars on a brush!

6. Sand everything again

Sand again, this time with 240-grit sandpaper. This smooths out any imperfections and brush marks. It will also give better adhesion for the color coats.

7. Finally: apply the color coats

The step you’ve been waiting for! You finally get to see the beautiful color your cabinets will become. Again, be sure to use a high-quality brush or roller.

8. Sand between each coat

Between each coat, run over the surface with 240-grit sandpaper to smooth out imperfections.

9. Wait for the paint to cure

Latex paint typically takes two weeks to cure, while oil-based paints typically take a week. During the curing time, be very careful, as your paint is weak. Avoid scuffing and scratches. Be careful not to remove paint when opening or closing cabinet doors.

10. Reinstall doors

If you can, we recommend waiting until the paint has cured before reinstalling doors. This will keep the curing paint from sticking together when doors are closed.

Sounds like a lot of work? Call a pro!

Although a fresh coat of paint brightens up your kitchen, it is a ton of work. You may feel tempted to skip a step, but don’t! You might save a little bit of time now, but you’ll have to redo the whole project when your paint fails early.

If you don’t have the time to tackle this project, or if you want to be sure it lasts, give us a call. We can provide you with a free, zero-obligation estimate. We have the expertise you need to make your laminate cabinets beautiful.

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