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Kitchen cabinet painting

My home is over 10 years old and the finish on some of my kitchen cabinets is peeling/splitting.  I don't know what to call these except CHEAP!  They are white and apparently the outer surface in a factory applied finish that is almost like a thick contact paper.  therein lies the problem - two of my drawers are "peeling."  Underneath is not real wood to say the least!  Can I peel all of this finish off of my cabinets and then paint them??? I don't have the option of replacing them at this time.


Any advise would be appreciated!

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Posted 2012-01-21T15:56:59+0000  by CathyS CathyS

Hi CathyS,


Thanks for your question and welcome to the community!


The cabinets that are in your kitchen sound like they are made of a melamine (or similar) veneer on top of pressboard, usually medium-density fiberboard (MDF).


From what you are telling us, I agree its not exactly a high quality cabinet, but there are ways to save and renew what you have now. At the end of the day, you'll get cabinets that look as good as they were 10 years ago.


First off, lets talk about the cabinets themselves. The peeling and splitting occurs since the melamine white layer you see coming off was most likely steam-sealed at the factory. While an adhesive are sometimes applied to them, the layer usually works by the steam attaching the layer to the cabinet core, usually made of pressboard/fiberboard.


Throughout 10 years of everyday use, things like water, heat from appliances, and just wear and tear allows this layer to come off. Not entirely, but in areas of its weakest strength, edges and corners that take the abuse from the reasons listed above.


Therefore, since you are dealing with cabinets that were made this way, it will be easier for you at this time to re-adhere the bad areas that are coming up. Peeling off the entire surface wouldn't be the best for this project, since it would make more of a problem than a solution. Veneer-covered cabinets are difficult to take off the top layer, and it's something that I personally wouldn't recommend doing. However, if you clean all the cabinet surfaces, readhere the bad splitting/peeling areas up, and prime the'll have the chance to repaint them.


I stress again NOT to peel off the finish, as the areas that are coming up now might be easy to remove, but the majority of it won't. You'll most likely encounter a very difficult removal, and the results can lead to gouges, marks, and an uneven surface that paint won't cover up. Also, without seeing your cabinets, the top layer of veneer/melamine could have an unforseen adhesive that can be taken off, but can take a long time to do. So with that said, let's clean up, fix, and repaint the cabinets....


Cleaning the cabinets


Before doing any work to your cabinets, make sure they are clean. To do that, make sure they are free of dust of grime by using a quality cleaner that has a degreaser. These kinds of cleaners can be found at your nearest home center, and if you have it already great! Make sure after cleaning that the cabinets are dry and no remaining material is left on the surface (dust). If you don't already have a product, below is a sampling of 3 I've personally used that work great.



Fixing Your Cabinets


After the cabinets are clean, the next step is to fix the drawers that are peeling. We sell lots of adhesives that can do this job, but one that I have used is easy to work with and gives great results. While you can use contact cement, polyurethane-based adhesives, among others; I find that using Liquid Nails Small Projects Clear Adhesive is the best way to go. It dries clear and is very flexible after it dries, so when water or temperature changes happen to the cabinet, the glue won't fail. It dries completely in about 6 hours, so you have time to work with it. Just be sure not to overapply and only glue under the peeling and splitting. After gluing the bad areas down again, check to see if any large cracks are present. If there is, you can use a water-based wood filler or material rated for fixing up melamine to cover up the cracks. Sand them down, dust off, and you are ready for the next step. 


Priming and Painting Your Cabinets


Now you are almost finished. All that is left is to paint on a primer and then finally topcoat the cabinets with your paint of choice. Using a primer is just as important as the paint on top of it. Therefore, make sure you'll get a primer that will give you a good preparation for when you are ready to paint. Below are the top 3 primers I would recommend for covering the cabinets. Keep in mind that some of these, and some out there, will give off fumes when applied. Make sure to have adequate ventilation and a good breathing mask when painting. All primers will dry in an hour and will work very well with whatever top coat of paint you choose. 

primers for melamine.jpg


Now that cabinets are primed, you can now paint them. No matter what brand or kind you buy, make sure the paint is rated for every day use from handprints and food preparation. More often than not, people tend to repaint their cabinets with a high gloss or semi-gloss finish. Whichever you choose, make sure to grab the right tools and materials to give the paint a nice professional finish when you are done. A great DIY trick is to use a paint extender, called Floetrol to add to the paint. It slows the drying time down of the paint, giving you less roller or brush marks that are seen once the paint is dried. Adding water to the paint only thins it, and will help it lose its integrity. 


Also, using foam rollers will give you a smooth finish that regular nap rollers won't. We sell them in kits, shown below...

QUALI-TECH 4-PC. Foam Roller and Tray Kit.jpg

Well, Cathy that is basically how you can clean, fix, and repaint your kitchen cabinets. I hope these steps have helped you out, and let us know if we can be of further assistance.



Posted 2012-01-21T19:02:00+0000  by Joseph_HD_ATL

Wow!   I didn't expect such precise directions!  What a relief that I don't have to peel off what is there.  I never would have thought that we could fill in the "cracks" that are invariably there with a wood filler.  And, I had always thought you couldn't repaint these type cabinets.  Needless to say, your instructions will be used and are greatly appreciated!


Now, how about the counter tops!  Of course, they are laminate - big surprise there, huh?   Can I tile over them without removing the laminate or do we need to remove it first?


Thanks, and hope you are having a great weekend!


Posted 2012-01-21T20:38:25+0000  by CathyS

I am glad the info I gave was of use to you, glad you stopped by!


So now we're onto tiling the countertops......let's get started.


First off, if a professional tile installer was doing this, he or she would most likely take the existing countertop off. Since it's laminate with pressboard underneath, most installers would opt to take out what is already there and start anew. One thing you'd be up against if you chose to tile directly over the laminate countertop would be having to professionally cover up the front lip as well as the backsplash.  While there are stability issues if you tile on top of a formica/laminate countertop, it's just bad practice to raise your countertops that high with tile on top.....


However, if you are on a tight budget and you resolve the issue of installing tile over the curves of the front lip and backsplash successfully, there is a product you can use to tile over the countertops. That item is called SimpleMat, and works great on adhering tile without any mortar or mixed adhesives. Our resident SimpleMat expert, 



If you decide to remove the countertops you'll need to inspect where the countertop meets the cabinet, walls, and any other surfaces without damaging them. Cut and remove any sealant on the edges so the paint won't come off with it. Check to see how the corners (if any) of the top are assembled and take any fastening devices (screws, anchors, etc.) before lifting off the countertop. 


A good foundation of a tile countertop starts at the base. Most professionals start with a wood base (luan plywood base), a 1/2" (sometimes 1/4" if you use a thicker wood base),  tile backerboard over that, and then tile.


The wood base is used as a stabilizer and anchor so when the tile backerboard is installed, it gives a nice and level starting surface for whatever tile will go on top.


Also, when you make your own countertop base, you can now manipulate it to make your own custom front and backsplash. While there are many ways to do this, I can save that for another post :smileywink:


So in closing, if you are on a budget I'd go with using SimpleMat. But if you are willing to spend a little more time and money and want the countertop to have a professional look, I'd take out the countertops you have now and remodel it entirely.


Hope to hear from you soon,



Posted 2012-01-21T22:01:16+0000  by Joseph_HD_ATL

 I really hate Thermofoil cabinetts. They are formed by the foil being subjected to heat and literally going limp and conforming to the MDF form underneath. Part of the problem is that we are not speaking of high heat, but temperatures from the mid 100's to about 200 degrees. There are potential heat sources that can reach these temps in your kitchen. Think self-cleaning oven or toaster ovens placed directly underneath a door. Many high line dish washers reach temps of over 160 degrees internally and send out hot, damp air during drying. My guess is that your problem areas are mostly around heat sources.The import of this is to KEEP HEAT AWAY FROM THERMOFOIL if you want to minimize delamination.


One further complaint against Thermofoil is that is discolors. The inside of the doors are rarely the same color as the outside and the faceframes show discoloration when opened. Nicotine will permanently discolor it. If you plan to paint your Thermofoil cabinets, you will want to bring in one of the discolored doors to be matched, if you only intend to do individual doors. If you are painting the cabinets generally, obviously you can pick any shade.


For further hints on repairing Thermofoil, you will find many entries on You Tube. I find myself more and more going to You Tube for videos on "how to". As they say," a picture is worth a thousand words"

Posted 2012-01-22T06:43:06+0000  by ordjen
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