Laminate and melamine are common finish surfaces for many countertops, cabinets, and shelves, but these plastic materials are known for being susceptible to wear—not to mention becoming quickly outdated. They tend to get scratched and nicked with everyday use, and many countertops have a burn mark or two. Unlike homogeneous solid-surface materials, such as Corian or butcher-block wood—both of which can be effectively sanded down smooth and brought back to like-new condition—laminate and melamine can't be sanded to restore it. But, you can do the next best thing: Resurface the laminate or melamine with a quality paint job. It can extend the life of your current kitchen before you think about a whole kitchen do-over and demolition.
Unlike wood, laminate and melamine cannot be sanded down to a natural grain—because they have no natural grain. With wood, exposing the grain is vital for the paint to adhere to. Laminate and melamine are designed to repel kitchen spills, like food, oil, and water, so they naturally repel paint also.
It's vital that you properly prepare the surface so that the paint will stick over the long term. Improperly applied paint will peel off of laminate and melamine, creating a bigger mess than you started out with. You will need to degloss and roughen the plastic surface of laminate and melamine with a light sanding or a liquid deglosser. Also, you will need specialized paint or coating for melamine and laminate. Some paints will call for a primer coat before applying the paint, while others can be used without primer.
What Is Deglossing?
Glossy surfaces that have glossy paints, varnishes, or hard surfaces like melamine or laminate are shiny and made to repel water, dirt, and other substances. Liquid sandpaper or deglosser and the mechanical process of sanding with sandpaper helps dull those surfaces, preps the area for a new coat of paint or varnish, and helps a new finish bond onto the surface, preventing it from chipping or peeling.
Materials like dropcloths and contractor's paper are used to protect the working area, flooring, and furniture. Also, take measures to protect yourself and the people in the house with personal protection equipment like dust masks and goggles. The fine dust particulate that results from sanding down plastic can be dangerous to inhale. Tape off the work zone with plastic sheeting and open windows and use fans for ventilation of the paint fumes.
Equipment / Tools
- Box fan
- Dust mask or respirator
- Goggles or eye protection
- Work light
- Paint roller with dense-foam roller cover
- Synthetic-bristle paintbrush
- Drop cloths
- Painter's tape
- Contractor's paper
- Plastic sheeting
- 150- or 180-grit sandpaper
- Tack cloth
- Clean, lint-free cloths
- Mineral spirits
- Primer (if necessary)
- Liquid deglosser (if necessary)
Prepare the Area
Remove all items near the cabinets or counters to another area. Open the windows. If you can, set up a box fan, so it blows outward of one window. You want to promote cross-ventilation throughout the work area. Place drop cloths on the flooring and tape contractor's paper or plastic on all surfaces that will not be coated. Confine the work area with plastic sheeting to prevent the sanding dust from traveling throughout the house.
Roughen Up the Surface
Protect yourself from sanding dust with a dust mask or respirator. Sand down the laminate or melamine surface with 150- or 180-grit sandpaper. Using a work light, frequently check you are removing the glossiness from the surface, giving you a matte (or flat) finish. Do not sand down too hard, or you can risk damaging the thin wear layer of the laminate or melamine. Instead of this step, you can substitute sanding by applying a liquid deglosser or "liquid sandpaper" to the surface.
Clean the Surface
Wipe down the sanded surface with a tack cloth, using light pressure to prevent transferring the wax from the cloth to the surface. Follow by wiping down the surface with mineral spirits and clean, lint-free cloths. Let the surface dry completely. Skip this step if you opted for liquid deglossing.
Apply the First Coat
Apply a thin coat of paint (or primer, if the paint you're using calls for it) to the entire surface, using a paintbrush for the edges and tight spots and a roller with a high-density foam roller cover (designed for smooth surfaces) for the flat areas. Take special care to maintain a wet edge while painting: Overlap the edge of each painted section with fresh primer or paint before the previously painted edge dries. Allow the first coat to dry for at least 6 hours or as recommended by the manufacturer.
During the initial drying process for any of the paint coats, do not use fans blowing air into the room. The fans will push airborne dust and debris onto the wet paint. Ventilate with open windows but only if it's not too windy or drafty and turn fans facing the other way, sucking out the room's air and venting it outside.
Apply the Subsequent Coats
Apply one or more additional coats of paint, using the same techniques. Let each coat dry as directed. If you are using standard enamel paint, the last one or two coats can be layers of clear acrylic sealer. It's not uncommon to apply as many as five coats in total: a primer coat to begin, then two coats of enamel paint, finishing with one or two coats of acrylic sealer.
In general, the odor from drying or curing coatings is strongest while the coating is still wet. If you open windows to ventilate, make sure the temperature and humidity levels in the work area stay within the manufacturer's recommended ranges.
Cure the Surface
Let the final coat cure fully for two to three weeks before placing any heavy objects on it or scrubbing the surface vigorously. You do not need to ventilate the area during this period. You can use the surface gently and only clean it with a damp cloth. If you don't wait for the full duration, small appliances and items stored on top can stick to the paint or mar the surface finish.
Countertop Resurfacing System vs. Acrylic-Type Paints
When refinishing laminate or melamine counters, instead of paint, consider an all-in-one countertop resurfacing system, such as Rust-Oleum's Countertop Transformations. The benefit of these kits is that they are formulated to cover up scratched or dinged countertops by laying down a thick topcoat that securely adheres to a primer coat. These systems go beyond paint; they spread a solid layer of decorative rock chips, adhesive coating, and tints that work together to emulate stone surfacing like granite countertops when done. This thick layer effectively covers up all scratches. Unfortunately, these systems can get pricey and can be time-consuming with many steps. You will not be able to use the surface for at least a week—not even gently.
Alternatively, acrylic paints are your other option. You have two directions to go—urethane-reinforced acrylic paint, such as INSL-X Cabinet Coat, or 100% acrylic, flash-bond primer, such as XIM (Rust-Oleum), Bullseye 1-2-3 (Zinnser), or Fresh Start (Benjamin Moore),
Urethan-reinforced products are more expensive than ordinary acrylic-latex paints you would use on drywall. The urethane will help hide deep scratches better and stick to problem surfaces. INSL-X Cabinet Coat is designed to adhere to plastic, metal, and urethane surfaces without a primer, but laminate and melamine surfaces will still need sanding before painting.
If you choose to go the route of using a flash-bond acrylic primer, you can forego the sanding but will need to use two coats of satin or semi-gloss enamel paint and two coats of clear acrylic sealer.