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Lee Wallender

Painting Kitchen Cabinets...or Painting Melamine?

By April 18, 2009

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Melamine Paint

Homeowners always want to know how to paint kitchen cabinets. This is definitely a serious way to approach the question of how to revive old kitchen cabinetry, given the mind-boggling cost of new cabinetry. People who wouldn't ordinarily consider painting cabinets start to entertain the thought as soon as they begin getting five-figure estimates for new cabinets.

The question is: What are you painting? If you are lucky enough to have wood cabinets, then really all you're doing is painting wood--the oldest painting project in the world. The only difference might be that old kitchen cabinets can have so much built-up grease, fingerprints, dust, and muck over the years, that it's virtually impossible to clean them down properly. TSP (trisodium phosphate) is a white powder you mix with lukewarm water, which helps to cut the grease. Vigorous scrubbing with TSP can give your cabinets a nearly-ready surface for painting. What else? Sanding down with fine sandpaper in the 220 grit range. But that's wood. What people are really asking when they ask about painting kitchen cabinets is that odious surface called melamine. Formica resin is composed of melamine, but let's get away from any kind of chemical technicalities and say this: plastic. It feels like plastic, and has plastic properties--and that's why we buy kitchen cabinets that have melamine surfaces. Melamine wipes down amazingly well, resists stains, maintains its color, and so on.

Can You Paint Melamine? The "Paint and Pray" Method

Consensus among people who paint melamine (I can't say I've ever been so lucky; sorry) is that it's an imperfect method, but paint-we-must. After all, what have you got to lose? 3 weekends? Painting kitchen cabinets actually takes more time than you might expect. The cleaning is a job all by itself. Because of the water involved, you'll need to adequately cover the kitchen counters. It's no small task.
  • Remove all cabinet hardware.
  • Cover counters.
  • Clean thoroughly with TSP.
  • Sand down with 220 grit sandpaper.
  • Clean again with TSP; follow with clear water.
  • Paint with a melamine paint such as General Paints' Melamine Paint or Decotime's Cabinet Rescue.
Not recommended on kitchen counters or other high-traffic zones.

Comments

November 11, 2010 at 10:36 am
(1) jeannie says:

I did this on a counter surface. What is described here is basically what I did with the addition of a multi-surface primer before the paint. When it dried I coated it with polyurethane. Three years later it’s still in perfect shape – I do not use it as a cutting surface, of course.

December 29, 2012 at 4:06 pm
(2) Jeff says:

Two questions:
The melamine paints listed only come in white–can they be tinted to custom colors, are are we stuck with white? Or is there a primer and regular enamel paint one can use instead?
I have a melamine credenza that has a cracked & blistered surface. What prep is needed to ready this for painting? Is this feasible?
Thanks!

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