3 tips for painting laminate surfaces and a refreshing decor

We talk a lot about weekend revisions here at Livingetc. From small jobs that make big differences to licks of paint that transform a space, there’s a lot you can do to keep your home feeling fresh. Knowing how to paint laminate surfaces is key to this spirit of reinvention. If you’ve inherited an unappealing kitchen in a new home — or want to refurbish old laminate cabinets or furniture — these expert tips for painting laminate surfaces can help transform your home without the hefty price tag.

With patience, planning and painting, you can forget about taking out a decent but dated kitchen or bathroom, or replacing unsightly pieces with new ones. This prevents waste, saves a package and gives a satisfied feeling when you take a step back and admire your handiwork.

“If someone told you you could have a new modern kitchen for a few cans of paint and a weekend, you’d probably laugh,” said Marianne Shillingford, creative director at Dulux. “But with the development of special primers for difficult surfaces, it has never been easier to renew laminated kitchen cabinets in your favorite colors and finishes.”

If you love an IKEA hack or want favorite pieces, find out what experts suggest.

3 tips for painting laminate surfaces

blue kitchen

Credit: Future / Anna Stathaki

“Melamine furniture and kitchen cabinets are the main type of laminate that can be easily painted,” said Marianne Shillingford, creative director at Dulux (opens in new tab). “Synthetic laminate floors and work surfaces wear too much for a painted finish and don’t last.”

“However, with the right color and different handles, an inexpensive set of laminated MDF drawers can look like something you bought in a boutique rather than a bargain basement.

“Color is key to a premium look no matter what you’re painting and rich hues with an interesting backstory like DH Oxford Blue or Red Ocher make pieces stand out and memorable.”

What you need:

Dust Sheets

Sugar soap (wear rubber gloves when using) and sponge

Good Quality 2″ Acrylic Paint Brush

Good quality small radiator roller and sleeves for glossy finishes

Primer for difficult surfaces – our editor prefers this primer from Amazon (opens in new tab).

Eggshell paint in your favorite shade

Fine sandpaper and dusting brush

masking tape

Screwdriver and Allen key for removing doors, drawers and handles

The products our editor swears by

1. Thoroughly clean the surface

green kitchen cabinets

(Image credit: Dulux)

Laminate kitchen cabinets can collect all kinds of surface dirt, such as oil, dust and spills. Removing this and cleaning the surface thoroughly is important for the overall finish of whatever you are painting.

When it comes to painting kitchen cabinets, it’s usually easier to take doors and drawer fronts off the carcass to clean and properly coat them. Also remove the handles and consider replacing them for a further upgrade.

“You have to prepare the surface by cleaning with sugar soap first, wiping the residue with clean water and letting it dry before the next stage,” says Marianne Shillingford, creative director at Dulux. “Laminate is a tough, smooth, non-porous surface, so it’s difficult to get paint to stick to it without the right products and processes.”

2. Gently sand the surface

bright green kitchen cabinets

Credit: Future/Paul Raeside

Every surface you paint needs a ‘wrench’ so the paint can stick to it. This is why laminate can be tricky to paint if you don’t do things right, as it is generally super smooth and glossy. It is also the reason why you usually have to sand a surface. If you are replacing the handles, fill the holes first.

“Sanding laminate with 150-220 grit sandpaper is the best way to get the primer and paint to adhere properly,” says Ryan Godden of Wood Finishes Direct (opens in new tab). ‘However, be extremely careful when sanding laminate.

‘You don’t want to tear off the laminate, otherwise you will see a difference in the ‘texture’ when you sand down to the MDF underneath. So be careful not to sand the surface too much.’

3. Apply a special primer or paint

painted red kitchen

(Image credit: Dulux)

“You can use Dulux Quick Drying Gloss, Satinwood or Eggshell as a top coat, but it’s hard to get the paint to adhere to it unless you use a special primer designed for difficult surfaces,” says Marianne Shillingford of Dulux.

‘If you try to paint directly on the surface, the paint will not adhere well to the surface and will eventually flake and peel off. So apply a layer of Dulux Primer for Difficult Surfaces.

‘First tape the hinges and inner edges of the cabinets and then lay the fabric sheets. Use a good quality synthetic brush and small radiator roller with a sleeve designed for gloss and eggshell finishes.

‘You can use the brush for moldings and paint to the edges and the roller for a good even result in double fast time on the flat surfaces.’

Once dry, sand the primer lightly and remove any dust before painting the surface with two coats of your favorite top coat. This is ideal if you want to match laminate cabinets with the color of your walls, or if you want to have a certain shade made.

Alternatively, you can use a specialist multi-surface paint, but the color choice may be limited.

“Laminate is essentially a plastic coating, so it prevents liquids from entering the surface,” says Ryan of Wood Finishes Direct. ‘There are specialist multi-surface paints from brands like Bedec that do not require a primer as they are self-priming. Although we would always recommend a patch test first and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.’

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