How to Paint Laminate Cabinets

Close up of a woman painting kitchen cabinets

So you want to give your kitchen a fresh new look, but you have laminate cabinets. Do you have to tear them out and replace them, or can you repaint them along with the rest of the kitchen? No, you don’t have to replace them, and if you know how to paint laminate cabinets, you can give your kitchen a cool new look on the cheap.

This step-by-step guide on painting laminate cabinets covers everything, from choosing the right paint to prepping the cabinets and achieving a smooth finish.

Choosing the Right Paint 

Choosing the right paint is necessary to get the finish you expect. Here are the best paints for laminate cabinets:

  • Water-based paint (or latex paint) contains low VOCs, making it eco-friendly. It dries quickly, emits little odor, and is easy to clean. Latex paint costs between $18 and $50 per gallon
  • Oil-based paint contains more VOCs than water-based paint but is more durable and offers a smoother finish. Since it has high VOCs, it takes longer to dry (8 hours), emits strong fumes, and is difficult to clean. Oil-based paint costs $18 to $85 per gallon
  • Acrylic latex paint is water-based but is more durable and flexible. It also dries quickly and is easy to clean. Acrylic latex paint contains the same VOC levels as latex paint but is slightly more expensive, ranging from $13 to $60 per gallon
  • Chalk paint contains a water-based formula and offers a matte, chalky finish. It isn’t as durable as other paint types but dries quickly and is easy to clean. Chalk paint costs $13 to $80 per gallon.
  • Enamel paint is either water- or oil-based, with the latter being the most common. It’s durable, but it contains high VOCs and emits a strong odor. It’s also difficult to clean. Enamel paint costs between $15 and $65 per gallon.
  • Alkyd paint is oil-based but more advanced. It combines the durability of oil-based paint with the easier cleanup of water-based paint. However, it contains high VOCs and takes longer to dry. Alkyd paint costs $20 to $60 per gallon

What are VOCs? 

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals that evaporate into the air at room temperature. They may irritate your eyes, cause headaches and dizziness, and affect the environment.

In summary, water-based paints like latex, acrylic latex, and enamel are better choices for painting laminate cabinets. They are less toxic and resist grease and stains. They also come in various finishes, such as flat (or matte), eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss

Oil-based paints are more durable and offer a better finish. However, they contain high VOCs, making them less ideal for painting kitchen cabinets. They are also banned in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

What You Need

Here are the tools needed for painting laminate cabinets:

  • Plastic sheet
  • Drop cloth 
  • Painter’s tape
  • Screwdriver or cordless drill
  • Sticky notes
  • Marker
  • Work table or sawhorse
  • Degreaser or deglosser
  • Scouring pad (if you use a deglosser)
  • Vacuum cleaner (any type will work)
  • Rags
  • Tack cloth 
  • Paint tray or bucket
  • Two 4-inch mini-foam paint roller 
  • Two 2-inch angled paint brush 
  • Latex or acrylic latex interior primer
  • Water-based paint
  • Four painter’s tripods
  • Sandpaper (120-, 220-, and 280-grits)
  • N95 mask
  • Chemical-resistant gloves 

You can purchase these items from Amazon or your local home improvement store. 

Steps to Paint Laminate Kitchen Cabinets

1. Prep the Space

Woman dusting room
Photo Credit: Africa images / Canva Pro / License

Proper preparation is crucial to a successful cabinet painting project. Here’s all the prep work you need to do before you start painting:

  • Empty the cabinets and countertops. 
  • Remove freestanding appliances and furniture to another room. 
  • Dust the room to prevent dust particles from sticking to the paint as it dries. 
  • Cover the counters and floors with a drop cloth. Tape plastic sheeting over fixed appliances, windows, and backsplash to protect them from dust. 
  • Cover the soffit around the cabinets with painter’s tape
  • Open the windows and turn on the exhaust fan for proper ventilation. 
  • Set up a work table or sawhorse to paint cabinet doors, drawers, and drawer fronts. Make sure it’s big enough to work on multiple items at once. 

Note: Painting laminate cabinets can take up to a week. So, set up a backup kitchen in another room with an electric stove and oven to cook in. Don’t forget to get your snacks. If you don’t want to cook, order food from outside. 

2. Remove the Hardware

Removing kitchen drawers
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While you can paint without removing cabinet doors, hinges, and door knobs, it’s difficult and time-consuming. You also won’t get the finish you expect. Here’s how you can remove the hardware. 

  • Start from the corner and label each cabinet with a number. Give the same number to the corresponding door. You can use sticky notes for labeling. Labeling prevents you from mixing up the hardware when reassembling. 
  • Remove the cabinet doors, hinges, and door knobs with a screwdriver or cordless drill. Place the door on the work table and put the hinges and door knobs in a plastic bag labeled “1.” Hinges wear differently, so to avoid the fuss of figuring out which hinge goes where use painter’s tape to differentiate between the top and bottom hinges.
  • Cover the holes where the hardware was with painter’s tape to avoid painting over them. 
  • Repeat the same steps to remove the hardware from other cabinets. 

3. Clean the Cabinets, Doors, and Drawers

Cleaning and dusting kitchen cabinets
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  • Use a degreaser to remove grease and grime from the cabinets and all cabinet surfaces, including doors and drawers.  
  • Sand the cabinets lightly with 120-grit sandpaper. Sanding roughens the surface, helping the paint adhere better. Make sure to put on your N95 mask when sanding. 
  • Sand the edges and corners by folding the sandpaper in half. 
  • Vacuum the dust off the surface and wipe it down with a tack cloth. 

Sanding is messy and time-consuming. If you don’t want to sand, use a deglosser — a liquid sander. Here’s how to use it. 

Note: Deglosser is a solvent and may burn your skin. So, wear chemical-resistant gloves and an N95 mask when applying it.

  • Dip a scouring pad into the deglosser and scrub the surface.
  • Move along the direction of the printed laminate pattern. 
  • Wipe the surface immediately with a damp cloth so the deglosser doesn’t dry. 

You can also use a heat gun to remove the laminate and then sand or apply deglosser to prepare the surface for priming. However, it takes a lot of time, and there’s a high chance that you damage the cabinetry. 

4. Inspect and Repair Any Damage

Repairman repairs kitchen cabinets
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Inspect the cabinet boxes, doors, and drawers for deep scuffs, chips, and scratches. If there are any, fill them with a wood filler. Once the filler dries, sand the surface lightly with 120-grit sandpaper for a smooth finish. 

5. Prime

Priming improves the paint adhesion and enhances the paint finish by creating a smooth surface for the paint to adhere to. You can choose latex or acrylic latex primer to prime your cabinets. Follow these steps to apply it. 

Cabinet Boxes

  • Stir and pour some primer into the paint tray or bucket.
  • Remove the label from the cabinet boxes and stick it to the work table. Make sure not to lose it. 
  • Load a 4-inch mini-foam roller with primer. Roll the inside of the cabinets from top to bottom in V-shaped strokes. 
  • Load a 2-inch angled paint brush with primer and use it to prime the edges, corners, and other areas you can’t reach with the roller. If your laminate cabinets have a pattern, move the brush along it. 

Cabinet Doors

  • Place the cabinet door on top of the painter’s tripods to lift it off the work table. This makes priming the edges and corners easier. 
  • Remove the label from the door and stick it to the work table. 
  • Use a 4-inch mini-foam roller to prime larger surfaces. Move it from top to bottom in V-shaped strokes. 
  • Prime the edges and corners with a 2-inch angled paint brush. 
  • Allow the primer to dry for 30 minutes before flipping the door to prime the other side. Cover the paint roller and brush with a plastic bag to keep them from hardening while you wait for the primer to dry. 
  • Follow the same steps to prime the other side of the door. 

Cabinet Drawers

  • Place the cabinet drawer on top of the painter’s tripods. 
  • Avoid priming or painting the sides to prevent the drawer from sticking when opening and closing. 
  • Remove the label from the drawer and stick it to the work table.  
  • Prime large surface with a 4-inch mini-foam roller, moving it from top to bottom in V-shaped strokes. 
  • Paint along the edges and corners with a 2-inch angled paint brush. 

Cabinet Drawer Fronts

  • Place the cabinet drawer front on the painter’s tripods. 
  • Remove the label and stick it to the work table. 
  • Use a 2-inch angled paint brush to prime the drawer front. 
  • Allow 30 minutes for the primer to dry before flipping and priming the other side of the drawer front. 
  • Repeat the same steps to prime the other side. 

Note: Once the primer dries, stick the label back to the doors, drawers, and drawer fronts so you don’t mix them up. 

6. Inspect and Sand

Sanding kitchen cabinets
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  • Inspect the cabinet boxes, doors, drawers, and drawer fronts again for imperfections. Use a latex caulk to fill open seams and vinyl spackle to fill scratches. 
  • Let the latex caulk and vinyl spackle dry for 45 minutes.
  • Sand the flat surfaces with 120-grit sandpaper. If you still notice some roughness, lightly sand the primer with 280-grit sandpaper. 
  • Vacuum the dust and use a tack cloth to clean the surfaces. 

7. Paint the Cabinets

Painting kitchen cabinets
Photo Credit: dlinca / Canva Pro / License

You can paint the cabinets using the same techniques you used to prime them. Here’s how to do so. 

Cabinet Boxes

  • Stir and pour some paint into a paint tray or bucket. 
  • Remove the label from cabinet boxes and stick it to the work table. 
  • Paint the larger surfaces with a 4-inch mini-foam roller. Move it from top to bottom in V-shaped strokes. 
  • Paint the edges and corners with a 2-inch angled paint brush. 
  • Let the paint dry for an hour.  
  • Lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper (220-grit) to make the second coat adhere better. 
  • Vacuum the dust. 
  • Follow the same steps to apply the second coat. It helps hide the brush strokes and make everything look uniform. 

Cabinet Doors

  • Place the cabinet door on the painter’s tripods for easier painting. 
  • Remove the label and stick it to the work table. 
  • Use a 4-inch mini-foam roller to paint large areas. Move the roller from top to bottom in V-shaped strokes. 
  • Paint the edges and corners with a 2-inch angled paint brush. 
  • Allow an hour for the first coat to dry. 
  • Lightly sand the surface with 220-grit sandpaper. 
  • Vacuum the dust. 
  • Flip the door and paint the other side using the same techniques. 

Cabinet Drawers

  • Place the cabinet drawer over the painter’s tripod to paint the inside. 
  • Remove the label and stick it to the work table. 
  • Use a 4-inch mini-foam roller to paint the inside of the cabinet drawer. Move the roller from top to bottom in V-shaped strokes. 
  • Use a 2-inch angled paint brush to paint the edges. 
  • Let the paint dry for an hour. 
  • Lightly sand the surface with 220-grit sandpaper. 
  • Vacuum the dust. 
  • Repeat these steps to apply the second coat. 

Cabinet Drawer Fronts

  • Place the cabinet drawer front on top of the painter’s tripods.
  • Use a 2-inch angled brush to paint the drawer front. 
  • Let the paint dry for an hour. 
  • Lightly sand the surface with 220-grit sandpaper. 
  • Vacuum the dust. 
  • Follow the same steps to apply the second coat of paint.
  • Flip the drawer front over and paint the other side after the second coat dries. 

8. Let the Paint Cure 

Wait for a week before reassembling the cabinets so the paint doesn’t dent or scratch. 

9. Reassemble the Cabinets

Man installing kitchen cabinet's door
Photo Credit: valentynsemenov / Canva Pro / License
  • Start with the cabinet doors. Align the hinges with their mounting points on the cabinet frame. Secure them in place with screws.
  • Attach the drawer fronts to the drawers and slide them into the cabinets. 
  • If you have taken out the shelves, put them back and make sure they are level and properly supported.
  • Reattach door knobs and drawer pulls to the doors and drawers. If they don’t go well with the look of your new cabinets, replace them. 
  • Check if the doors and drawers open and close properly. Adjust the hinges as needed. Also, ensure that all hardware is properly secured. 

That’s it! You’ve successfully given your kitchen a makeover with this DIY project. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Not removing cabinet hardware before painting
  • Not labeling the cabinets and hardware
  • Skipping cleaning
  • Ignoring sanding
  • Ignoring priming
  • Choosing the wrong paint
  • Rushing the drying process
  • Not allowing enough time for the paint to cure

Why Paint Laminate Cabinets?

Painting laminate cabinets has various benefits, such as:

  • It’s Cost-Effective: Painting laminate cabinets is a budget-friendly way to update the look of your kitchen. The cost of replacing cabinets for an average 10×15-foot kitchen will be at least $2,000. While giving them a fresh coat of paint won’t cost more than $200.
  • It Offers a Bold New Appearance: Painting laminate cabinets can give a fresh look to your kitchen. 
  • You Can Customize: From classic whites to serene greens, you can get creative with colors and styles when painting kitchen cabinets. 
  • It’s Easy: Painting laminate cabinets is much easier than replacing them, making them accessible for those who enjoy hands-on improvement. 

FAQs

How long does it take to paint laminate cabinets? 

The entire laminate cabinet painting process can take about a week, including the curing time. 

How much does it cost to paint laminate cabinets?

The average cost of painting cabinets ranges between $4 and $12 per square foot, depending on the project’s complexity. 

Can I paint over laminate cabinets without sanding?

Laminate is a smooth material, so sanding is necessary for the paint to adhere better. If you don’t want to sand, use a deglosser. 

Can I spray paint laminate cabinets? 

Yes. Paint sprayers provide the smoothest finish, but they aren’t DIY-friendly. If you don’t have experience using a paint sprayer, you’ll probably make a mess. 

DIY or Hire a Pro for Painting Laminate Cabinets?

Painting cabinets is a cost-effective way to transform the look of your kitchen from boring to beautiful. However, it’s messy and time-consuming. 

If you need help painting laminate kitchen or bathroom cabinets, get in touch with Paint Gnome. We connect you with the best painting pros in your area who can help you with the entire painting process.

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Abdul Wadood

Abdul Wadood enjoys painting and is currently on a mission to help homeowners transform their living spaces from boring to beautiful. When he's not painting, you can find him exploring the world.