Painting Over Plastic Laminate

An inexpensive, if laborious, alternative to replacing or refacing cabinets

guys on stairs

Is there any way to paint over dark-brown plastic-laminate kitchen cabinets? I can't replace or reface them right now, and they're just too dark for the room. I'd appreciate any tips.

— Lyndee, via e-mail


John says: If you're looking at ugly laminate, refacing it with not-so-ugly laminate is the best course of action, from the standpoint of durability and ease of care. But if it's paint you want, the answer to your question is yes, as long as the laminate is well-adhered and in good condition. First, I'd wipe down all the surfaces with a solvent such as xylol to get rid of dirt and grease. Be sure to don chemical-resistant gloves, wear a respirator, shut off any pilot lights, and kick out the dog — this is powerful stuff. Then scuff up all the surfaces with 150-grit sandpaper and wipe them down again with xylol. Next, you want a primer that will adhere tenaciously and serve as a good base for paint. The one I use comes from X-I-M, a company that manufactures bonding primers; they have several solvent-based products suitable for your application. I find that the spray-applied primer actually holds better than the brush-on version. Allow two or three days for the primer to cure before sanding it lightly with 220-grit paper. Then you can apply either a latex or oil-based paint; I prefer oil in kitchens because it gives a smoother finish and is easier to clean.

John Dee, a painting and decorating contractor based in Concord, Mass., has restored finishes on five This Old House projects.


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