Face Your Kitchen
Your Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Refacing

How to paint melamine cabinetry

by Karl Fendelander
Face Your Kitchen Columnist

Melamine is particle board with a thermally fused, resin-saturated paper laminate that protects the core from moisture and makes it look nice. While it might not sound like the ideal material for making cabinets, melamine can be surprisingly strong and last for decades without warping or peeling when treated properly. Moisture is the bane of this popular and inexpensive material, which is why using it for kitchen cabinetry requires a little extra care. The laminate/finish does a great job of repelling water, but the exposed particle board soaks up water like a paper towel, which can result in peeling and, ultimately, messy structural failure.

It's not often that you get a genuine two-birds-with-one-stone solution, but painting melamine cabinetry is just that. Not only can you change the look and feel of your kitchen by painting, you can also dramatically increase your cabinetry's lifespan.

Painting melamine cabinetry the right way

When you paint melamine, you're adding another layer of moisture protection to the material. Make sure you repair any peeling laminate before you start painting--even the best paint job won't stop already-detached pieces of laminate from breaking off. Once everything's in tip-top shape, follow these steps:

  1. Clean and dry. Use a solution of warm water and dish detergent to wipe down the areas you're going to paint. Use a towel to completely dry the material before proceeding.
  2. Sand. Use fine grit sand paper to rough up the surface. Melamine isn't porous, so it won't take the paint if you skip this step. As you go over the material, keep an eye out for areas that are starting to delaminate. You need to repair these spots before proceeding.
  3. Clean and dry again. Wipe off all of the dust you've just created. Dry thoroughly and immediately. The material is more vulnerable to moisture now because of the sanding, so drying completely is essential.
  4. Cover or remove all hardware. Hinges, drawer pulls, handles--anything you don't want painted should be removed or covered with masking tape.
  5. Prime--twice. Remember, melamine was not designed to be painted, so putting on a few coats of primer is key for a consistent finish. Be on the lookout for spots that aren't taking the paint. You'll need to wait for the primer to dry, then re-sand these spots before re-priming.
  6. Paint--twice. An extra layer of paint is like an extra layer of armor protecting melamine's Achilles' heel--exposed particle board. If you're going to get fancy with textures or extra colors, do so after a base layer of paint.

Follow these directions and you can transform your melamine cabinets. If you're motivated and handy, you could take them from generic to uniquely yours in a weekend.

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