Countertop Refinishing May Be the Solution for Dated, Worn Counters

Working on Kitchen Counter
Working on Kitchen Counter. Getty / David H. Lewis

Countertop refinishing is a way for you to preserve your current countertop by surfacing them with liquid bonding agents. Refinishing is an eco-friendly method of sprucing up your kitchen for a much lower cost than countertop replacement. It can be done on a do-it-yourself basis or through professional technicians.

Great for the Environment

Remember when all old countertops got landfilled? For years, homeowners tore out serviceable though unattractive countertops in order to replace them with newer, more stylish materials.

Laminates would be replaced by granite slabs; granite would be replaced with solid surface and quartz counter. For functional reasons, but just as often in the name of style, these counters would be sent to the trash heap and replaced.

But the new school of thought is to preserve materials. Often, the core of the kitchen countertop is still good. It's just the top surface which has become yellowed or scratched over time or simply outdated. There is no need to toss out most of the materials just to gain a new top surface.

The Process

Specially formulated bonding agents and finishes mean this is not mere paint. Countertop refinishing companies use proprietary bonding agents. One of the oldest, Miracle Method, has the MM-4 bonding agent that helps to create a chemical bond between the old and new surfaces, and other companies have their own versions. Competitor Permaglaze, too, supplies its franchisees with surfacing materials unique to that company.

First, the counter is cleaned. Nicks, gouges, and deep scratches are filled, left to dry, then sanded. Bonding agent is applied, followed by the actual surfacing material. This is usually a base coat and color flecks, followed by a urethane acrylic topcoat for protection. The surface must cure for two or three days before they can be used.

Because the fumes are noxious, counters are surfaced with the door closed and strong fans sucking the odors outside. 

DIY Refinishing

With special kits, you can refinish your own countertops. Countertop Transformations, from Rustoleum, is an all-inclusive kit that allows you to resurface about 50 square feet of your own countertop. It consists of a base coat, wetting agent, decorative chips, and a protective top layer. It's quite an involved process, more difficult than most homeowners may anticipate, but produces more durable and longer last results than mere paint.

Timeline for Countertop Refinishing vs. Replacement

It can take up to six weeks to have new countertops installed, dependent on the availability of materials. Once materials are received, actual replacement process only takes a day or two.

Countertop refinishers tend to be available sooner since they do not have to wait for base materials. 

Cost of Countertop Refinishing

Countertop refinishing cost savings are excellent, often dramatically cheaper than replacement. You can expect to cut the cost of countertop replacement by 50 percent.


Most refinished countertops will last between five and seven years. Special care must be taken to preserve refinished counters, such as religiously using cutting boards and hot pads, avoiding abrasive cleaners, and mopping up acidic liquids as soon as they hit the surface.

Tile Grout Surfacing

When refinishing tile countertops, the grout is covered over by the new finish. The result is a homogeneous surface--imagine solid surface, like Corian--yet one that retains that distinctive, tile-grid imprint.

So, the feature you may have hated the most about your tile counter--all of that seam-work--remains.  One consolation is that the surfacing agents smooth it over a bit, making subsequent cleanings easier.

Color Matching Available

Just like house-painters, counter refinishers do a good job of matching existing colors, if that's something you want. Or, you may decide to go a totally different route and switch colors.

Generally, you will be presented with a set list of colors rather than being able to choose any color from the color wheel.

Base Countertop Materials That Can Be Refinished

Refinishing doesn't work for all materials in all conditions.

It tends to be a good match for the following surfaces, as long as they are in structurally sound condition:

  • Laminate surfaces such as Formica
  • Ceramic and porcelain tile
  • Solid surfaces such as Corian
  • Cultured stone or natural stone 

Wood, reclaimed wood, stainless steel, zinc, epoxy are not good candidates for refinishing.