If your kitchen is from the '90s or you're a fan of cheap kitchen cabinets, then there's a fair chance that you've got thermofoil cabinets in your kitchen. Made from MDF wood with a thin layer of vinyl pressed in like shrink wrap, thermofoil kitchen cabinet doors are very popular in many US homes.
But how do you go about painting them?
Here we look at how to paint thermofoil cabinets, showing you how to prepare and paint this laminated medium density fiberboard so it looks professional and seamless. We'll show you painting techniques, what type of paint to use for thermofoil cabinets, and much more.
Let's get to it!
Can You Paint A Thermofoil Cabinet?
Yes, you can paint a thermofoil cabinet.
These cabinets are made from MDF wood (medium density fiberboard) or cheap particle board wood that is laminated with a thin layer of vinyl known as “thermofoil”.
The overall aesthetic is similar to laminate cabinets.
Just like laminate cabinets, painters can paint over this surface (if it's in good condition) with a little preparation and the right equipment.
How do I know if my cabinets are Thermofoil?
It can be difficult to know exactly if your cabinet doors are made with thermofoil, but experienced painters will recognize the PVC layer that becomes unpeeled as the cabinets age and/or become exposed to heat in the kitchen.
Thermofoil lamination can look very similar to what we call “laminate cabinets”, so make sure you've got the right material before beginning the painting experience. Both finishes are essentially MDF with a thin film laminated over the top of it.
They look very similar!
Try calling professional painters to your home if you need help figuring out what you drawer fronts and cabinet doors are made from. You may even call the previous owner(s) of the house who installed the cabinetry originally.
What You'll Need
Once you've confirmed your cabinets are thermofoil and you've decided what color and style you want, it's time to get to work gathering your painting supplies:
- Foam Brush
- 4-inch Foam Roller
- Masking Tape (aka painter's tape)
- Regular Paintbrush
- 220-grit sand paper w/ block
- Plastic Paint Tray
- Polyurethane Top Coat (optional)
Preparing Thermofoil Kitchen Cabinets For Painting
Painting thermofoil isn't as simple as painting other types of wood – you need to put in some prep work before the main painting begins!
- Clean the cabinets – Using warm water, some dish soap, and a clean sponge, gently clean the surface of the cabinets to make sure there is no stuck-on cooking oil, grease, grime or dirt. Pat try with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.
- Lightly sand the surface – With medium-grit sand paper (we recommend 220-grit), gently sand the clean wood – don't go so hard that you rip or peel off the thermofoil layer.
- Clean again – Once the cabinets have been sanded, gently clean them again to get rid of any dust and debris, allowing them to air-dry.
- Apply Primer – Make sure you're in a well-ventilated space as you apply the primer to the cabinet doors. Use a paintbrush and use broad brush strokes over the main flat area before carefully painting in the corners and crevices or any intricate wood design.
- Prime with a roller – After the first coat of primer, use your roller to go over the cabinet again, smoothing out any brush strokes to make the primer look nice, smooth, and even.
- Consider a second coat – If you think it's necessary, consider a second coat of primer after the first one has dried. If you're going for a drastically new look (i.e. changing the cabinet color completely) then 2 or 3 coats of primer could be suitable.
While all this prep work might feel like a hassle, it's crucial for painting kitchen cabinets of this material. If you want that paint to last, get sanding and priming!
How to Paint ThermoFoil Cabinet Doors
So, how do painters actually paint these kitchen cabinets?
- Begin Application – Once your cabinets have been prepped and primed, take your paintbrush and begin applying paint to the cabinet with careful strokes, getting into all the small details and crevices. Some people prefer to use a paint sprayer for this step, but many will use brushes too.
- Even Out The Paint – If you've left raised brushstrokes on any part of the cabinet, make sure that you use your 220-grit sandpaper to lightly sand over the area and smooth the surface. Do this quickly (within a few minutes) before the paint dries.
- Allow to Dry – Allow the paint to naturally dry. Depending on the type of paint and the temperature/airflow in your house, this could take several hours.
- Apply a Second Coat – Most of the time, you want 2 or 3 coats for your cabinets. This is optional, but if you're changing color drastically or you just pride yourself on a well-designed house, then we'd recommend at least 2 coats.
- Consider Polyurethane Top Coat – After your coats of paint have dried, consider coating your cabinets with water-based polyurethane. While not essential, it's one of the best ways to extend the lifespan and everyday durability of thermofoil kitchen cabinets. These top coats come in matte, glossy, and satin finishes.
Painting kitchen cabinets is time-intensive, no matter what material they're made from. Whether it's kitchen or bathroom cabinetry, make sure to take your time when painting and don't rush or skip steps because you're in a hurry!
After painting your kitchen cabinets, you want to allow them to fully dry for however long the paint you used specified.
Certain types of paint dry more quickly than others. For example, water-based paint dries a lot quicker (1-2 hours) than oil-based paint dries (6-8 hours).
After you reattach your cabinet doors to the cabinet frames, try to be careful and not subject them to too much damage straight away.
Paint can be very sensitive for the first 7-10 days after painting – you risk damaging the finish and/or peeling the thermofoil if you subject it to too much in this time frame.
Try to keep children/pets away from this area of the home and try to keep excessive heat and moisture away from your freshly-painted kitchen cabinets.
Safety Tips When Painting Thermofoil Cabinets
Find a Well-Ventilated Area
If you're taking your cabinet doors off the hinges and painting them separately (which is ideal) then you want to find a well-ventilated part of your house that has open windows and some way for air to circulate around the home.
If you don't find a well-ventilated area of your home, the fumes from the paint could become overpowering. It will also make the drying process longer than usual.
Open Your Windows & Get Some Fans Blowing
If you're leaving your cabinet doors on the hinges and using painters tape to mask off the hardware, then you need to find other ways to get air circulating around the place.
This usually means that you open a window and get some fans blowing air around the house.
The more you can help air to circulate through your house, the quicker and easier the drying will be. You also won't breathe in too many fumes!
Keep Children & Pets Out Of Reach
This is fairly common sense, but try to keep children and pets out of reach when painting cabinets and leaving them to dry.
A misplaced fingerprint or pawprint could ruin your design and all of your hard work.
Use A High-Quality Paint
Ensure that you use a high-quality product that is the correct base, color, and finish for your design.
However, also be sure to use a non-toxic product that doesn't put toxic fumes into the air while drying. If you've got lung or breathing problems, the last thing you want to do is use a toxic paint for your cabinets!
What Kind of Paint Do You Use On Thermofoil Cabinets?
There are many different types of paints you can use of thermofoil cabinets, but these paints are the most common types you'll usually see:
Water-based latex paint is relatively cheap and it dries quite quickly – around 1-2 hours per coat. This makes it perfect for redesigning the kitchen cabinets in your home, with brands like Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams selling great products in this style.
This is definitely one of the easiest and most popular types used.
Enamel paint is more expensive, but it's incredibly durable and longlasting – it will not chip easily or peel off easily. The kitchen is one of the hottest, most humid rooms in your home, so it's essential to have a long-lasting product.
Enamel tends to have a glossy look, however. This isn't ideal if you're going for a more muted, matte design.
Satin Finish Latex
Cheap and quick-drying, lots of people like to use satin-style latex paint for their home, especially if they're going for more of a matte feel.
Satin style paints have a low luster to them that can look amazing in any room of your house.
Can you use chalk paint on Thermofoil cabinets?
Yes, you can!
Though it's expensive and hard to find, you can use chalk paint on thermofoil cabinets if you want to reduce the overall prepping process.
However, the finished look is often not as neat and you need to seal the chalk paint with some sort of wax sealer – this can be a labor-intensive process too.
So yes, you can use chalk paint for these kitchen cabinets, but it's generally ill-advised.
What If My Thermofoil Cabinets Are Peeling A Lot?
If the thermofoil cabinets in your home are already peeling excessively, you might want to consider replacing or refacing the cabinets in your house.
Sometimes you've just gotta do it.
Kitchen and Master Bath cabinets are subjected to a lot of steam, heat, moisture, and everyday wear and tear. This can cause the thermofoil seal to peel away over time.
Painting and sanding can hide minor damage to the vinyl, but if there is major damage then you want to get new cabinets first. It will be cheaper in the long run, believe us.