How to Paint Countertops

White Countertop in Kitchen

Alessandro De Carli / EyeEm / Getty Images

Overview
  • Working Time: 3 mins
  • Total Time: 36 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $25 to $75

When your countertops are looking worn, aged, and tired, it is time to freshen them up. Replacing your countertops may be your ultimate desire, but replacement is expensive and wasteful. One alternative is far cheaper because it uses the same materials and because you can do it yourself: painting your countertops. By painting your countertops, you afford yourself the creative freedom to choose from thousands of colors.

Best and Worst Types of Countertops for Painting

Best

Countertops that can be sanded or those that are porous are good candidates for painting.

Worst

Quartz and natural stone counters do not hold paint well; in any case, there are better options than painting for these materials such as sanding and buffing. Solid surface materials, too, work better when they are sanded down and buffed instead of being painted.

Lifespans of Painted Countertops

Painted countertops are durable enough to last for several years, as long as the owner treats the countertop with special care. If a solid surface or quartz countertop is chipped or scratched, the material can be sanded down. But the painted countertop's thin top layer, once scratched or pierced, can only be covered up and not sanded. A lightly used painted bathroom counter can last about two years before freshening up with another coat of paint.

Maintenance of Painted Countertops

Daily wear and tear take their toll on painted countertops more than on through-body materials such as solid surface or quartz, or even on layered surfaces such as laminate. Extra care must be taken when cutting on top of painted countertops. Be sure to always use a cutting board. Also, be careful about sliding rough items across painted countertops.

Extreme heat, too, can damage the paint. While the paint will be fine with a hot cup of coffee, it always helps to place hot drinks on coasters. Never put hot pans on painted countertops.

For these reasons, painted countertops work best in low-activity areas such as bathrooms or bedrooms, or in the kitchen as side counters, breakfast bars, or as lightly-used kitchen islands.

How Painted Countertops Work

Though the top layer of the painted countertop may eventually become chipped or scratched, multiple coats of paint act as a buffer zone to help protect the base. If one layer happens to get scratched, there are other layers underneath.

Furthermore, the paint will be topped with a coat of hard, transparent oil-based polyurethane. The need for many layers of paint and top coating results in an overall project time that extends several days, but the actual working time is relatively short.

Safety Considerations

When using spray paint and spray coatings, always work in a well-ventilated area. Breathe safely by wearing a NIOSH approved cartridge-style air respirator. Paper dust masks are inadequate for this project.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Drop cloth
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Painter's tape
  • Latex or nitrile gloves
  • Oscillating electric hand sander
  • #220 and #320 grit sandpaper
  • Shop vacuum with a brush attachment
  • Tack cloth

Materials

  • Matte spray paint
  • Clear satin oil-based interior polyurethane spray
  • TSP (tri-sodium phosphate cleaner)

Instructions

  1. Remove or Cover Extraneous Items

    Remove items such as sinks and faucets that are attached to the countertop and which will not be painted. If an item cannot be removed, wrap it with painter's tape to keep it clean.

  2. Remove the Countertop

    Because the airborne particulates are difficult to control, it is highly recommended that you remove the countertop and place it in a well-ventilated area such as a garage or a covered patio. If this is not possible, you must have a nearby source of ventilation such as a door or window.

  3. Clean the Surface

    If the countertop is greasy or especially dirty, clean it before sanding. Use TSP and warm water to clean. Let the countertop thoroughly dry before proceeding with sanding.

  4. Sand the Surface Twice

    Fit the #220 sandpaper on the sander. Lightly sand the countertop to scuff it up, creating a paint-ready porous surface. Clean off the dust with the shop vacuum. Follow by lightly rubbing off the surface with tack cloth. Sand again, but this time using the finer-grit #320 sandpaper. Clean as before. The surface should be clean and glass-smooth.

  5. Paint the Countertop

    Paint the countertop with the spray paint. Spray with only a light coat. Heavy coats take longer to dry and often result in bumpy or bubbled paint. Establish a routine of lightly painting the countertop, letting it cure, then painting again. Matte sheen spray paint both dries and cures fairly quickly—within an hour.

  6. Additional Sanding

    Intersperse every two coats of paint by sanding lightly with the #320 grit sandpaper. Clean thoroughly. Aim for at least six coats of paint.

  7. Apply the Top Coating

    Spray the top with clear polyurethane spray. Oil-based coatings take a long time to fully cure. In warm, dry conditions, expect to wait at least four hours before spraying another coat. A layer must be solid and tack-free before you apply additional coats. Sand after every two coats to eliminate bubbles and peaks. Apply a minimum of three coats of polyurethane. Finish with one final sanding with #320 grit sandpaper for a satin finish.