Painting Melamine Kitchen Cabinets

I have to honestly say, I have never had the guts to recommend that a client paint thermofoil, laminate, or melamine 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.

how to paint melamine kitchen cabinets

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 melamine kitchen 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:

7O3A3807

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.

painting thermofoil cabinets

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

painting thermofoil cabinets

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

benjamin-moore-all-surface-enamel

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 melamine kitchen cabinets are still perfect.

painted kitchen cabinets

painted melamine base cabinets

Melamine kitchen 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.

If paint color fascinates you like it does me, there is SO MUCH TO LEARN about how to use it in your home and the homes of your clients. Let me rock your world with color in my new ONLINE color course – and be sure to check out all the 5-star reviews!!!

 

81 Comments

  1. Cindy Barnett

    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.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Great, Cindy! Let us know how they turn out 🙂

      Reply
  2. Mary CC from California

    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

    Reply
  3. Jil Sonia Interiors

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

    Reply
  4. Tami from AB Canada

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

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      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.

      Reply
  5. Ashley Uhl

    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!

    Reply
  6. Krissy

    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?

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      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?

      Reply
      • Vinit Dhull

        Hi Kristie Barnett. Myself Vinit Dhull from India want to start a little business. I want to make 10″ to 16″ wooden looking clocks with mdf board.which type of painting should I use.? Can I go for melamine paint or duco paint or something else for wooden looks…? Also also give suggestion for mdf boards thickness…m thinking for 8-10 mm thick mdf. …

        Reply
  7. Johnna

    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.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      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.

      Reply
  8. jill

    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.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Yes, Jill, ONLY paint over the thermofoil if it’s all intact and not peeling.

      Reply
  9. Paula Van Hoogen

    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!

    Reply
  10. Linda

    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!

    Reply
  11. Paige Brasche

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

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      YES! You certainly can – I’ll let you know how when I cover the painting of the fireplace tile, it’s pretty much the same thing.

      Reply
  12. Rebecca Dumas

    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

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      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?

      Reply
      • Rebecca Dumas

        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

        Reply
        • Anni

          Help! I used this advice and used the Stix primer on thermofoil cabinets, followed by 2 coats of a stain enamel paint. It has not been the 30 days, but even just the slightest touch will scratch the gray off these cabinets. Now that all other work on this house is done (we are selling), I am going to redo a few of them, and we will be able to wait the 30 days before closing before anyone else touches them. However, I am super nervous that they won’t harden up and will still scratch very easily for the new owners! Will the combo of The Stix and satin enamel actually workout and be durable? Or should I have used the more heavy duty XIM? Or should I add some sort of a top coat to add some protection?

          Reply
          • Anni

            I meant satin enamel.

  13. Laila Poole

    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.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      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!

      Reply
      • Laila Poole

        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.

        Reply
  14. Joey

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

    Reply
  15. Kathi

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

    Reply
  16. Alison Bennett

    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.

    Reply
  17. Kath Barry

    so cool!

    Reply
  18. Kimberly Sargent

    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

    Reply
  19. Leigh Ann Portale

    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!

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      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.

      Reply
  20. Livia

    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.

    Reply
  21. Jenny B.

    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?

    Reply
    • Jenny B.

      And what about the vent? Did it get Photoshopped out?? 🙂

      Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      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.

      Reply
      • Jenny B.

        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!

        Reply
        • Kristie Barnett

          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. 😉

          Reply
  22. crista

    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.

    Reply
  23. Candice

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

    Reply
  24. Mary

    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.

    Reply
  25. Mouse

    Just found this site while looking for instructions on painting thermafoil, but I had to say how awesome your work on this kitchen was, your color choices totally transformed the look and pull together the colors from the flooring and backsplash.

    Reply
  26. Mike Martin

    Hi Kristie

    It’s now a few months since the paint job-can you tell me how they are standing up to the vigors of a busy kitchen?

    Thanks

    Reply
  27. Catherine Alexandrov

    Hi Kristie!
    We just bought an old house that we’re transforming into an office, and it has these terrible melamine cabinets too – yellowed and gross, and I did a search “can you paint melamine” and your link came up [been a fan of your site for some time anyway!]. Can you tell me, as Mike Martin states as well – how these painted melamine cabinets seem to be doing? I am wary of the paint scratching off, but am eager to go ahead with the painting – this won’t have the wear and tear of my kitchen [3 kids!] – thanks, Catherine

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Catherine,
      It’s been over a year, and they are still holding up – I believe it’s all in the prep and in letting them cure for 3 weeks (no opening and closing the drawers/cabinets). Good luck!

      Reply
  28. Dana

    My painted melamine project is not holding up. It as only been to weeks and scratches super easy. It there a hard glaze or top coat that I can paint over it?

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      You should not be handling them in such a way as to cause scratches until it has fully cured (a month for latex paint). Oil-based cures a bit faster, but fumes and clean-up can be issues.

      Reply
  29. Dana

    I need to know if there is a way to seal painted melamine? Is there a top coat or glaze I can use? It as only been two weeks and it is all scratched. Thanks

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Dana,
      Latex paint takes 30 days to fully cure, so even if they were properly prepped and primed, you have to be extremely careful with them for a month. Allison kept a thin plastic over the bottom cabinets for weeks, and also kept the cabinet doors open so they wouldn’t stick before the paint fully cured.

      Reply
  30. Carol

    What if the cheap melamine is peeling ??? How do u attempt to paint this ?? Not all are peeling

    Reply
  31. Fred

    Hello, Love this idea and will probably try in our Laundry Room, so we don’t have to but all new cabinets. Can you use a oil based paint, over this or another primer? My experience is oil based paints are a little more durable, but maybe not over thermofoil?

    Thanks, Fred

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Fred,
      I think oil-based paint would be preferable, actually!

      Reply
  32. Fred

    GREAT! I do too, as I feel it would wear better. Thanks for your help Kristie!

    Reply
  33. Elise

    Looks absolutely great! My question is how long it would last and whether it would be likely to chip? Also, the bottom and top of my melamine cupboards have a pvc strip, would that hold the paint as well when I use the primer? Thank you

    Reply
  34. Ravi

    Hi just wondering how much it will be cost me for one kitchen cupboards if I use melamine

    Reply
  35. Dave Cwik

    Hi Kristie!
    I found your blog because of this post and I love it! I was wondering if you knew how these cabinets are wearing now that a couple years have passed; I would like to do the same to some ugly 1980’s melamine cabinets I have in my apartment, but I’m still struggling to convince myself that paint won’t just peal off melamine after a year or so even with special primer and prep.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Dave,
      I wish I could tell you, but the owner moved last year. I do know that the house sold within a couple days with multiple offers!

      Reply
  36. Taunya

    It’s currently February of 2017. How are the cabinets holding up to scratches, peeling or bumps.
    Considering this method.

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Taunya,

      I wish I could tell you – the homeowner moved to a new home last year, but it was holding up great when they moved!

      Reply
      • Lana

        Kristie,
        I need a makeover so bad but can’t afford new cabinets and wanted to paint. Do you think you could trim off the melted melamine or whatever it is and use some sort of a filler to even it out and sand. The cabinets and drawers around my stove are melted. I didn’t want to have to take all of the melamine or whatever it is off all the doors & drawers if I didn’t have to. I didn’t know if it would look different that some doors have it on and some don’t. What are your thoughts?

        Reply
        • Kristie Barnett

          Gosh, I wish I knew, but I truly don’t have any idea. It could get messy. If they have melted already, I’d be concerned that whatever filler you use would melt again or worse, catch on fire.

          Reply
          • Lana

            Thank you so much for replying. I didn’t even think about that. I think we’ll just try and take it all off and paint them. I appreciate it.

  37. Charlotte

    Hi, my house is very dark inside. Can this process be done from dark mahogany colour to lighter? ALL rooms have the very dark very high cupboards. Reaches ceiling. Sky lights an option but expensive. All previous comments had white cupboards? Cement floors throughout house. Please advise?

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Charlotte,
      Are you saying your cupboards are dark mahogany melamine? Or are they real wood?

      Reply
      • Charlotte Grobler

        Melamine

        Reply
  38. Diane

    Will this process work for refaced cabinets?

    Reply
  39. Alexandra

    Is there any news on how the finish on Allison’s painted cabinets is wearing? I’m interested in trying this on my own cabinets, but…to peel or not to peel? That’s the question : p

    Reply
  40. Loren

    Hi Kristie, I love the new look of your kitchen. I can see that the before picture shows a darker kitchen and a bit boring and a more vibrant one in the after picture. But where I’m probably confused is the use of white colors in the kitchen. Wouldn’t that become stained quickly than a dark color?

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      Hi Loren,
      This is actually my client’s kitchen, not my own. Semi-gloss paint is easy to clean with a warm, wet cloth!

      Reply
  41. Scott Jenkins

    I caught myself off-guard and literally said aloud “Wow, that looks great!” as I scrolled past the before and to the after picture.

    The color selection made all the difference in the world. Removing the red accent from the wall and bringing the color to the foreground on the cabinets was such a big impact.

    I have to admit that I know nothing about working with melamine cabinets. Do you think that a deglosser could have been used to prep the surface for primer instead of sanding?

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      I’m not sure, Scott. I only know what this painter did to prepare these melamine cabinets, and they turned out great 🙂

      Reply
  42. Malory

    I painted my cabinets last month and wow! My kitchen looks much larger and brighter. Downside, the color came out more blue than grey, and I cant seem to come to terms with it.

    The cabinets are painted with a melamine paint. Can I repaint in a truer grey color, on top of my newly painted cabinets, without all of the prep work? Or do I need to sand, etc again??
    I’m so discouraged!

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      I’m sorry to hear you aren’t happy with the color you chose for your cabinets! What color did you choose, Malory? You can definitely repaint – may require a very light sanding depending on the sheen, but that should be it.

      Reply
  43. MissV

    Think is amazing! It is so helpful to see how it is possible with some thoughtful planning and design to make a really nice change for not much money! Also — since I rent and am able to make only limited and superficial changes, I find it really inspiring to see how a kitchen can be made to look a lot better without having to gut/replace everything. Love!!!

    Reply
  44. Shannon Wilks

    I am looking to refinish our bathroom vanity. The melamine has peeled completely off one of the drawers and started peeling off the other. Will the paint finish look the same on the parts where I paint the mdf as the parts that still have the melamine or should I attempt to remove it from the whole cabinet?

    Reply
    • Kristie Barnett

      That substrate needs to all be the same. I think if the melamine has peeled off, you may need to just start over altogether!

      Reply
      • Shannon Wilks

        I was afraid you were going to say that! 🤣 I was thinking that would be the case but hoping you would tell me otherwise.

        Reply

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