Painting Melamine Kitchen Cabinets

I have to honestly say, I have never had the guts to recommend that a client paint melamine or thermofoil kitchen cabinets.  This type of cabinetry is often found in lower-end kitchens – melamine and thermofoil are similar plastic materials that are applied over particleboard or MDF to inexpensively simulate the look of painted wood. Although I had heard it could be done with chalk paint, I really didn’t know it was possible with latex paint.  Let me reword that:  possible, maybe, but advisable? Probably not.

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Allison really wanted to do something to update her kitchen, but didn’t have the budget to change the vinyl flooring, the countertops, or the backsplash.  And she certainly didn’t have the budget to replace the cabinets!  When the painter she was using assured us that he had done it before and that it could be done successfully, Allison decided to go for it.  Here’s a before photo of the kitchen:

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kitchen before

You’ll notice that the red paint color in this space really only acted as an accent color, since so much of what you see is the white cabinetry and beige backsplash and flooring.  I think it’s better to use a wall color that fades in and blends well with the adjoining space, which is why we pulled the gray blue from the living room into the kitchen.  We chose a dark gray color for the base cabinets. Although the countertop and backsplash are all beige and no gray, the cabinet color we selected picks up the dark gray in the vinyl flooring.

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kitchen after

The effect of the new color scheme is more sophisticated and peaceful. Now let’s talk about to how-tos.  You can actually remove the plastic coating (thermofoil) before painting, and some people recommend doing that before painting.  However, our painter  told us that he attempted to do that in his own home, and that it was a disaster!   Instead, here is the process he followed:

1) lightly sand the surface of the cabinets, remove dust with dry cloth

2) apply XIM Primer Sealer Bonder

3) paint with Sherwin-Williams All-Surface Enamel Latex paint in a semi-gloss finish, 2-4 coats may be needed if using a dark color

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The painters draped Allison’s dining table with a dropcloth and painted the cabinet doors with a fine little roller, using paint cans as pedestals.  They didn’t paint the backs of the doors in order to save Allison some money –  it looks fine since the cabinet door interiors are white like the top cabinets

 Painting Melamine Kitchen Cabinets

Allison wasn’t able to go right back to using those cabinets the day after painting.  Latex paint may be dry to the touch in a day, but it requires up to 30 days to fully cure, so you’ve got to handle them very carefully for several weeks if you want them to retain the pristine finish over time.  The doors stayed off for several days before they were put back on the bases. Allison has an inside dog and two children, so she kept that plastic on for a full month!  She did open and close them, but keeping the plastic over them reminded everyone in the family to handle them with care. The result? Four months later and the cabinets are still perfect.

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painted melamine base cabinets

Yet another thing to add to our every-growing list of things you never thought you could (or should) paint!  I’ve got a few more secrets from Allison’s kitchen coming up later this week.  If you haven’t seen the rest of Allison’s home makeover, check out the post here, here, and here.

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Comments

  1. Cindy Barnett says:

    Oh, thank you for this article! We bought a house last year and I have those ugly, stark white cabinets in my bathroom. I was wondering what I could do besides replace them. This is on my to do list, now, and I hope to finish them by this fall. I’ll take before and after pictures, too. Thank you.

  2. Mary CC from California says:

    Looks fabulous Allison and Kristie ! So good to know about the proper paint to use for this melamine surface, as I have this type of cabinets in our mountain home.

    Kristie, you are really brave when it comes to painting surfaces that we previously thought you could not paint. Thanks to you, we now know you can paint bricks and stone, paneling, fabric upholstery, and now melamine. Wow !!

    I still have not painted on fabric, but it is on my bucket list of things to paint !

    Kudos, Mary CC from California

  3. Had no idea this could be done, what a transformation! Thanks so much for passing along with vital info!

  4. Tami from AB Canada says:

    Looks fabulous as always, Kristie!
    Why didn’t you just use chalk paint?
    Too expensive, wrong colours???

    • Great question, Tami! We didn’t want the chalky finish – wanted it to look factory-painted, not DIY. Chalk paint is great for certain pieces of furniture, but it’s more of a rustic look. Also, wanted a specific Ben Moore color to tie in perfectly with the floor.

  5. Ashley Uhl says:

    Everything looks so wonderful from all of these makeovers! I love how paint colors, rearranging furniture, and a few new things here and there have totally transformed her house into a entirely new level of sophistication. Absolutely fantastic job, Kristie and Allison!

  6. we have the same cabinets throughout our whole house. However the melamine is peeling off. So we were thinking about just ripping it off and painting the particle board. I would love to know why the painter said it was a disaster? Anyone here tried painting the actual particle board with any success?

    • Krissy,
      If it is peeling off, I would definitely peel off the rest of it and paint the particle board. I think the painter tried to get it off with a heat gun, which is what I read about when I googled it, but couldn’t get it all off?

  7. This looks great! I just painted our cabinets (all white – inside and out) and can appreciate the effort involved. How do you feel about the dark paint for re-sale value? I love the dark lower portion, but was afraid to use it since we were putting the house on the market.

    • Dark lower cabinets are definitely a trend, but there are so few lower cabinets in Allison’s kitchen that she decided to go ahead and do it. Dark gray or almost black keeps it as classic as possible. And it’s more updated than all-white melamine cabinets.

  8. Love your blog and thanks so much for the info! We have the white thermofoil in several bathrooms, put in by the builder. Unfortunately, several of our doors have small cracks in the thermofoil around the edges so we may have to use the heat method/blow dryer to remove it from the doors. But still glad to know painting is possible right over the thermofoil. Please keep us posted on how they wear in the long run.

  9. Paula Van Hoogen says:

    Kristie & Allison! This is a wonderful make over and example of how (relatively) small changes make a big impact. I must commend Allison on having the dogged patience to wait 1 month before removing the plastic! You really wanted this to work, right Allison?!!
    The darker color on the lowers is still my favorite way to do kitchens–new or remodel. Same as jeans and a white crisp shirt!
    Also I do think that pulling in the light blue from the adjacent LR was important to read the 2 spaces as related. The darker color on the bottom gives the effect of making the cabinets look more like furniture than a work space, especially since this room is visible to a great degree from the living room.
    What a pleasure it must be to wake up to this kitchen now…. Congratulations to both of you!

  10. I never would have guessed you paint those types of cabinets either!! Still not sure I would brave enough to do it but Allison’s look great!

  11. Paige Brasche says:

    But can you paint a tile backsplash? I’ve see you paint upholstery fabric, which I never thought possible, so I’m guessing “yes”?????

  12. Kristie,
    Sounds like this painter was used to using the SW products, but fyi Benjamin Moore makes a great product for painting trim/cabinetry called Advance it is a Waterborne hybrid paint with Alkyd properties for durability, then you get the correct color and an awesome product. It levels like a factory finish, the XIM primer is a bit harsh as it is a solvent base, and not always necessary. The Advance can go over that primer as well.
    Love your transformation pics!
    Rebecca

    • Thanks for the info, Rebecca! I love Benjamin Moore’s Advance for cabinetry and woodwork. If the XIM is a bit harsh, is there another type of primer you’d recommend for melamine or thermofoil?

      • The Stix primer is also a good option, it is a bonding primer acrylic-urethane made by Insl-x which is part of Benjamin Moore, and water-based.
        Thanks for the informative posts!
        Rebecca

  13. Laila Poole says:

    Her house looks beautiful! Great job. We painted our melamine cabinets 11 years ago and other than a few scratches in the paint, they still look great. We weren’t sure if it would work, but we figured we’d give it a try since those hideous white cabinets looked horrible in our rustic log house. I love the 2-toned look for the cabinets. I’m thinking of doing this when we finish our bathroom renovation.

    • Laila,
      11 years ago? Wow, you were brave – this was the first time I’ve ever recommended this. So glad to hear it’s held up well over that length of time!

      • Laila Poole says:

        Brave, no, more like desperate! :) Didn’t have the money to replace at the time. We are going to look into refacing the cabinets soon.

  14. What a wonderful transformation! The color of the cabinets really does seem to unite the room.

  15. Well. Kristie, once again, you worked your magic-it looks fantastic-so happy forAllison and her family!

  16. Alison Bennett says:

    Just AWESOME ! The whole house transformation that we have seen thus far is Fabulous! Glad to know that the every day people like me with YOU can transform a home without having a ton of money. You both have done a great job ! Now saving my pennies so I’ll be able to have you come to my house.

  17. Kath Barry says:

    so cool!

  18. Kimberly Sargent says:

    I’m actually in the process of painting my melamine cupboards. I’ll try and post some pics. The project is taking a long time because I work during the day and have various other things I attend in the evening. But it is looking great so far

  19. Leigh Ann Portale says:

    Looks great! I have been laboring over the thought of painting my bathroom cabinets made of the same materials. More confident now. Can you identify the exact type of paint roller and cover the painter used? Thanks!

    • I wish I had that info, but I don’t! I must say, that I would recommend a professional do this job. Especially if you ever intend to re-sell. DIY is awesome and all that, but there are certain things that are best left to the professional. Bathroom cabinets? I might take a chance there, but NOT kitchen cabinets.

  20. Wow! What a transformation! I love what you did with this house. I painted our builder’s grade melamine bathroom cabinets about 6 years ago. My husband was skeptic that it would work, to be honest, I was skeptic too. I thought I had nothing to loose, we will soon change the bathrooms anyway soon. 6 years later, the cabinets are still perfect, and it turns out they were the only thing we did not like about our bathrooms, as everything else was classic.

  21. Allison’s home looks so beautiful! I think my favorite thing in the kitchen is how much bigger the window over the sink looks. I think the photography angle might be playing it up a tad, but switching out the dark red on either side of the window for the lighter color made a huge difference. The window looks so much wider than before. Did you change the ceiling light fixture too?

    • And what about the vent? Did it get Photoshopped out?? :)

    • We changed the one over the breakfast table, but the flush mount is the same. I’ve suggested she get a white drum shade flush mount for there.

      • Thank you for that clarification. I think a drum shade flush mount would look terrific there. I really love your blog, and the rooms you design are all very, very beautiful. When I came back to this post today, I noticed you had updated the before photo to erase the vent in the ceiling and also remove the “nipple” from the overhead kitchen light. I understand wanting all the photos to look their best. I know that ALL good interior design photos are edited, but people have vents in their ceilings, and “boob” lights are a reality. Why not show the true before and after? I think what you did with Allison’s home is fantastic, and I love that it was done on a budget. Makeovers like hers give me hope that it really is possible for me to love my home without spending thousands and thousands of dollars. Thanks!

        • Jenny,
          I hate vents and I hate wires in interior photos. I often edit them out if I feel like they distract from everything else – they are the things that you may not notice when you are standing in the room, but stick out like a sore thumb in photos. When I do take out vents in after photos, I also take them out in the before photos. I think that’s fair. I forgot to do that in the photo you mentioned, so I corrected it. Boob lights would NOT be a reality in my ideal world, and I am working to eradicate them. ;)

  22. Unfortunately we have a plethora of thermofoil covered cabinets, many of which I have painted with wonderful results after removing thermo. If the thermofoil isn’t already cracked or peeling, an easy way to remove it is to slice it with a razor, knife, whatever, to break it, run a knife blade underneath to loosen and then peel away. I’ve never had to use heat. If the razor leaves a slight gouge it’s easy to sand away before priming/painting.

  23. Candice says:

    Hi! Could you tell me the color of the lower cabinets? I’m looking to paint mine similarly. Thanks!

  24. What about areas especially on the doors where the thermofoil/melamine has started to peel away? I’ve already tried gluing it, but that didn’t hold.

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