So, you've been looking at your old laminate cabinets and wondering how you can brighten them up a little. Maybe their color scheme is a bit drab, maybe they look a little dated, or perhaps you just want to swap out the color palette and try something totally new.
Well, the good news is that you can indeed paint laminate cabinets. In fact, it's pretty easy. If you are worried about cabinet refurbish costs then simply painting over them can also give them a brand new appearance. Learn more about the difference between cabinet refinishing and cabinet refacing here! You can also learn how to paint thermofoil cabinets here.
In this guide, our Kitchen Infinity team is going to show you how to paint laminate cabinets, giving you all the information you need for painting laminate cabinets safely, easily, and affordably. A fresh paint job, done correctly, can make your kitchen cabinetry look as good as new, adding value to your property. If your cabinets aren't complete yet, we recommend checking out how to paint unfinished cabinets in easy steps.
So, without further ado, here is how to paint laminate cabinets in 10 steps!
Things You'll Need
Here are all the things you'll need (or maybe need) for this painting:
- Tile & Laminate Paint (or high-quality wood paint)
- Paintbrush and/or mircofibre roller
- Adhesion Promoting Primer
- Sandpaper (240-grit and 400-grit)
- Tile cleaner and/or bleach
- Protective sheets/coverings/masking tape
- Basic tools
- Lacquer (optional)
10 Steps for Painting Laminate Cabinets
1. Sand your cabinet doors to get them prepped
The first step towards your kitchen makeover is getting it prepped. Sanding is a crucial part of painting on laminate, as the paint needs something to get sunk into. Laminate is essentially a smooth plastic finish, so it doesn't have the natural grooves and pores of real wood. This makes it more difficult for paint to stick to. However, sanding it down roughens it up and gives the color more grooves to sit in once applied.
In general, I would recommend 240-grit sandpaper for this. You could do it by hand or with a sanding tool.
Now, you don't need to sand the surface to death (we don't want visible scratches) but we do want to roughen it up enough to make the finish look better. Sanding can also help to remove any stubborn dirt or grease which may be stuck to the surface of the laminate cabinets.
Shiny laminated finish will require a little more sanding than dull laminated finish, so adjust your sanding accordingly.
2. Clean your cabinet doors thoroughly
Kitchen cabinets are naturally exposed to a ton of dirt, crumbs, grease, and moisture in their everyday use, so you need to give the kitchen cabinet doors a very good clean before you paint them. After all, painting over dirt/grease will look cheap and won't leave that nice satin finish we're after.
It's also just hygienic!
For general cleaning, you can buy specialized tile and laminate cleaner from most hardware store locations. If the cabinets are very dirty, spray the cleaner on and leave it for 30 seconds before removing with a damp sponge. Repeat the process a couple of times if necessary.
If your laminate kitchen cabinets are very old, they may suffer from mold growth in some areas. If this is the case, create a solution that is 1 part bleach to 3 parts water and then wipe down the cabinets with a sponge or cloth using this water-bleach mixture.
This may seem like a lot of cleaning, but it's essential so that the paint will properly stick (or “key”) to the laminated surface.
3. Unhinge the cabinet and remove fittings (if possible)
If you're able to, unhinge the cabinet and remove any fittings such as door handles and hinges that you don't want to paint. If you want to change the color of the handles, we cover that in step 10. For now, just put them to one side so that you have a plain cabinet door to paint.
Ideally, you want to place the cabinet door on a work surface which is protected from any stray drops of paint or primer. I've seen people paint the cabinet door while they're still attached to the frames, but it's very risky and we don't want to accidentally drip color in unwanted places.
Protect your precious kitchen!
4. Apply primer
Some people like to apply primer before painting laminate; others prefer to prep the surface and then go straight in with paint. Personally, I think it's better to use 1 or 2 coats of primer just to make sure that everything will go as perfectly as possible.
It's better to be safe than sorry!
Using a microfibre roller or a paintbrush, apply Adhesion Promoting Primer to the cabinet door, starting with the edges first. Once it's all on, leave the primer to dry for 4 or 5 hours. You can apply a second coat of primer if you wish, but it shouldn't be necessary.
You can sometimes find specific “Tile and Laminate Primer” in a hardware store, but otherwise you can use something called “Adhesion Promoting Primer” for the same effect.
5. Apply the first coat of paint!
Finally! Time to start paining kitchen cabinets!
Using a paintbrush, roller, or combination of the two, apply your first coat of paint as evenly as possible. Many people find it helpful to start at the edges and work inwards, but everyone's painting technique is different.
If you're working with a flat laminate cabinet surface (which you probably are), then a roller can make this process a lot quicker, easier, and ensure that lovely smooth finish that we're after.
On the other hand, if your laminate kitchen cabinet is an unusual shape, it may be better to use a combination of roller and paintbrush.
When it comes to the color itself, the best paint is specific paint which is designed for laminate cabinets. However, if you've prepped the surface properly, you should be able to use any high-quality wood paint as a laminate cabinet paint too. And if you're unsure about the best finish for kitchen cabinets we compared 4 different paint finishes.
6. Feather and smooth out the first coat of paint
If you've used a paintbrush for the first coat, it's important to “feather” the paint so that your laminate kitchen cabinets have an even finish when they're done and you don't notice any streaks or marks in the paint. Take your paintbrush and hold it at a 90-degree angle, lightly spreading the color in a way that hides streaks.
A lot of people like to follow the “grain” or “design” of the finish, if there is one.
If you used a roller to apply your first coat, carefully move the roller from the top to the bottom of the surface, evening out any streaks that you may have created. Repeat the process along the width of the cupboard door until all the streaks have been evened out. The goal is to get a perfect, smooth finish!
Now leave this to dry for at least 4-6 hours before doing anything else.
7. Apply a second coat if you want to
If you've got the time, I would recommend applying a second coat of paint. At this point, the first coat should have been left to dry for a minimum of 4 hours and it should feel dry to the touch. Be extra careful to check that the edges of the cabinet door are dry, as excess paint tends to accumulate in these areas.
Paint for laminate cabinets takes longer to dry on average because it's on a smooth surface so the color doesn't have anything to “sink into” like it does with porous natural wood.
Before applying your second coat, give the first coat a GENTLE sand with 240-grit sandpaper. Make sure you're not taking any of the paint off as you do this. Then simply repeat steps 5 and 6 with the second coat, finishing it off and leaving it to dry for a minimum of 4-6 hours.
8. Lacquer and sand down the final coats
When your final coats are dry, consider lacquering the kitchen cabinets if you want to give them a really nice glossy finish and help to protect them from damage and chipping in the future.
To be clear, this step is optional, but the best paint jobs on laminate surfaces are usually primed and lacquered for the best effect. Primer and lacquer should not be underestimated.
You should then use 400-grit sandpaper to gently sand the last coats of paint, helping to give them a nice, even, streak-free finish. Be careful not to sand too hard, or you risk removing too much paint from the surface. The goal is to make them look as smooth and seamless as possible.
It shouldn't look too much like paint, if that makes sense.
9. Leave your painted laminate cabinet doors to dry!
Your kitchen makeover is almost done! It's time to leave your painted laminate doors to dry for 8 hours.
After 8 hours, the doors should be dry to the touch. However, bear in mind that the paint will not fully cure and reach maximum hardness for around 1 week, so you might want to consider leaving them to dry for a week if possible.
If you must reattach them to the cabinet frames, be sure to protect the finish for 1 week while you're using your kitchen. Do not wash them excessively (it will take paint off) and try to keep them away from general wear and tear during this period.
In my opinion, it's best to have doorless kitchen cabinets for a week if you can. However, I understand that some people have small children and pets, so they can't really do this.
10. Reattach your handles/fittings and spray-paint them
Once your cabinet doors are dry, it's time to reattach your fittings and door handles to complete the look! Make sure that the new color of your kitchen cabinets matches the color and style of the door handles, otherwise your painting will have all been for nothing.
If you want to change your fittings to a different color, I'd suggest putting them on a protected surface and spraying them with a suitable spray-paint. Door handles and hinges are awkward shapes to paint, so spray painting tends to be the easiest option.
Nonetheless, some door handles can look drab and bring down the aesthetic of your new painted kitchen cabinets, so you might want to consider buying new handles and fittings that feel more at home with the new look. After all, buying new fittings is much cheaper than buying whole new cabinet doors.
FAQs about Painting Laminate Kitchen Cabinets
How much paint will I need?
When buying cabinet paint for laminate, you'll want to know roughly how much paint you'll need. Luckily, you won't need a lot.
As a general rule of thumb, 1 gallon of paint covers 350 square feet of space. Now that's more for if you're not just painting cabinets but painting an entire room…
Let's say you have 2 cupboards to paint.
- The first is 3 feet x 2 feet, and the second is 4 feet x 2 feet.
- 3 x 2 = 6, and 4 x 2 = 8.
- 8+6 = 14. So the two cupboards have a combined square footage of 14 feet.
If you had one gallon of paint, you could do 25 coats of paint on these 2 cabinets!
If you're just painting a few kitchen cupboards, you should be fine with a US half-gallon tin or a US Quart size. You don't need anything huge.
What type of paint do you need to paint laminate kitchen cabinets?
To paint laminate kitchen cabinets, you ideally need a specifically designed “Tile and Laminate” paint which you can find in most hardware stores. However, if you've prepped, primed, and sanded the surface properly, you should be able to use any high-quality paint that you would use to paint a real wooden cabinet with.
If in doubt, go for paint designed for these surfaces specifically.
How can I paint laminate cabinets without sanding?
Though you can technically paint laminate cabinets without sanding them down, I wouldn't personally recommend it. If you're not going to sand down your laminated door, be sure to clean it thoroughly before painting and definitely use an Adhesion Promoting Primer.
The smooth plastic finish just isn't very easy for paint to stick to naturally, so I would 100% recommend priming and sanding the surfaces.
Do you need to prime laminate before painting?
If you want the color to key properly, then you definitely need to prime laminate before painting over it.
If you don't prime it, you risk bubbling effects that make the finish look messy and uneven. You also risk that the color just won't stick and adhere to the surface properly.
How long does laminate paint take to dry?
Paint for laminate cabinets takes around 6 hours to dry. I would recommend leaving at least 6 hours between each coat to allow the color to fully dry before moving onto the next stage. You might need to set a couple of days aside for the job due to all the drying times.
When the job is done, the color will take around 1 week to fully cure and reach maximum hardness. If possible, avoid using the doors until 1 week later. If you do need to reattach them sooner, be careful not to damage them or clean them too thoroughly for the first week.
How do you tell if your cabinets are laminate?
Not sure if your cabinets are real wood or laminate finish? The easiest way to tell if they're laminated is to check the side of the doors. Usually, you'll see where the two surfaces meet if you do indeed have a laminated finish.
If you can't tell from looking, try making a small cut in an inconspicuous area (like under where the hinges will be) to see if you can tell what material is being used inside and whether you have to cut through 2 different materials (i.e. the laminated finish and the wooden core) to make the incision.
If you're really struggling, ask a professional or someone handy to help you. And you may also be curious about the best wood for painted cabinets.
Can you paint fake wood cabinets?
You can paint fake wood cabinets if they're made from laminate, which they probably are. If this is the case, you can sand, prime, and paint fake wood cabinets using the steps outlined in this guide.
For other types of “fake wood” you may have to look for different instructions.
The best paint jobs for laminated surfaces take time, so set aside a couple of days and don't rush too much if you can avoid it! The more time you can wait for the coats to dry, the better the finish will usually be.
Painting things in your kitchen can be extremely difficult and dangerous, so always try to remove the cupboard doors and take them elsewhere for painting if possible.
So whether you're using water-based latex paint, oil-based paint, or anything else for your finish, be sure to use plenty of coats and give them ample time to dry.
Painting kitchen cabinets is a time-consuming process, but it can seriously elevate the value and aesthetic of your kitchen once it's complete.
Hopefully this guide has shown you that painting laminated surfaces is affordable and attainable. Good luck with your new kitchen!