How To Paint Formica Cabinets

Do you have Formica cabinets in your house and they’re starting to look a little shabby? Or, more accurately, do you have laminate cabinets in your house and they’re not looking so fresh?

What a lot of people don’t know is that Formica is really just a brand name of laminate. To be fair, it’s by far the most popular and has been around the longest.

Because of that, Formica has basically become synonymous with laminate.

Okay – enough about Formica. Exactly how does one paint Formica and have it come out looking polished and professional?

Read on to find out!

About Formica

Like we mentioned, Formica is really just one brand of laminate cabinets. There are many out there!

If yours aren’t technically Formica but still laminate, then no worries! You can still follow these instructions.

Laminate is just made from melamine, paper, and plastic resin. They’re all bonded together to create what we know as laminate. Once this combination is created, it’s then applied to plywood or whatever other material in order to be sold.

Formica, or laminate cabinets are a great way to get different looks for your kitchen without a crazy price tag.

The one downside?

If you want to paint over Formica cabinets, it can be a little bit tricky. It has a very slippery surface that can make the paint difficult to stick to.

However, do not fear! It is possible and even the shiniest of Formica cabinets can be painted over.

Looking for a super easy and inexpensive way to give a room an entirely new look? Keep reading to figure out how to properly paint your Formica cabinets.

Before You Get Started…

There are a couple of things you need to know before you jump right in and paint your Formica cabinets. First, you should give yourself at least 48 hours for the entire process.

The actual painting obviously won’t take the entire 48 hours, but you should be prepared to not be able to use that space for at least that long.

You’re going to need a primer in addition to paint, and you’re also going to need spray-on polyurethane.

Lastly, you want to inspect the laminate and make sure that it’s not cracked, chipped, or loose anywhere. If it is, you’ll want to do your best to try and patch it up before trying to paint over it.

Cool! Now that we have a little bit of background on what exactly Formica cabinets are and what you need to know before getting started, let’s go through exactly what you need to do!

Painting Your Formica Cabinets

Okay! Let’s get right into it.

  1. The first step may seem common sense but we have to mention it. You’ll definitely want to detach all the cabinet doors. Do not attempt to paint them while they’re still attached. This is going to be an extremely messy endeavor!TIP: If you’re worried about forgetting where each of your cabinets go, make a diagram and number where each cabinet belongs. Then, with a pencil, lightly mark on the inside of the cabinets the corresponding number! This will ensure that you don’t get any of the doors mixed up.
  2. After all the doors are removed from the cabinets, you need to remove all the hardware from the doors – aka the handles, hinges, and anything else that may be attached to the door. Get rid of it all!
  3. Next, before you do any painting at all, you need to clean the cabinets. No matter how clean you think they look, over time they will have accumulated some level of grease, dirt, or smoke.
    • They have special Formica cleaning materials out there for you to use, but it is definitely not necessary. You can just use a clean, wet rag to wipe the surface. You can allow it to air dry before painting or if you’re in a hurry, you can definitely use a towel to speed up the process.
  4. The next step is one you might not like as much – you need to sand all the cabinet doors, unfortunately. Some people absolutely hate the texture of sandpaper but this step is 100% necessary, especially with Formica. Why?
    • Formica is an extremely hard material that does not accept paint whatsoever. Because of this, you need to remove the hard surface finish before you try to start painting.
    • Another tip, don’t try to completely remove the Formica, just create some texture. After you’re done sanding, make sure you wipe away all the dust that you left behind. You can use a vacuum to remove dust easily.
  5. Now that everything is all sanded, you can officially apply the primer! Yay! This is best applied using a roller brush. You’ll get the evenest coat this way.
    • With that being said, you can use a paintbrush to get the edges.
  6. Once the primer finally dries, it is time to apply the final color. There are a couple tips that you’ll want to follow when it comes to the actual painting.
    • Use a latex paint that dries as quickly as possible. This will give the paint less time to drip and will adhere to the Formica faster
    • Again, you’ll want to use a roller brush to get the most even coat and a brush for the edges.
    • Since paint does have such a hard time sticking to Formica, you will probably want to apply a second coat. Once the paint begins to feel a little sticky but does not come off your finger, you can then add another coat.
    • Follow directions for dry time for your specific paint once you’re done.
  7. The last and final step is to reapply all the hardware and then replace the doors. After all that work, this is probably going to be the easiest step of them all!
    • Of course, put on all the hinges and latches first. Hopefully, you kept them organized and can easily put them back in the correct place.
    • This is the time where you can use the diagram, if you made one, to make sure that you’re putting all the doors back in the exact right place.

Tips for Painting Formica Cabinets

  1. Do not paint over damaged laminate! Painting over Formica can be difficult as it is but if the laminate is cracked, warped, or peeling then this is just going to make it that much more difficult for the paint to adhere to the cabinets.
  2. Absolutely make sure you remove the cabinet hardware! We know it may be tempting to just leave it on to save yourself the trouble, but you’ll thank yourself later. You’ll get a smoother application and you also won’t ruin the hinges or handles by getting paint on them!
  3. Make sure you clean the cabinets first. Again, it may be tempting to save time and assume that they’re clean but just give them a quick wipe to make sure.
  4. Don’t use old primers or old paint. Formica is really particular about what paint sticks to it. You’re going to want fresh primer and fresh paint for this particular job.
  5. Test your paint first on an inconspicuous part of the cabinet. Like we’ve said, Formica is a tricky surface to paint over. Before going all in, you’ll probably want to double-check that the paint will actually adhere to the Formica surface.
  6. Don’t forget to sand the cabinets! This is a time-intensive step for sure but it will go a long way in making sure that the paint actually sticks to the Formica. Use a vacuum cleaner to remove the dust after sanding.

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to give your kitchen a brand new look! If you have Formica cabinets, a simple coat of paint can make all the difference in the world. For just a few hours’ worth of work and a couple hundred dollars (maybe even less depending on what materials you have), you can have a beautiful new-looking kitchen.

Formica cabinets are going to require a little bit more TLC than other types of cabinets. As long as you know this before you start and are prepared to put in a little extra work, it will surely pay off.

It can definitely be a bit tricky to get started and to make sure the paint sticks, but as long as you follow our directions and our tips, you’ll be on your way to having fancy new cabinets.

We hope this step-by-step guide helped you get your cabinets back on track.

Justin Howe

Electrician and DIY specialist Justin deleted his own successful tech blog to write expert product reviews and buying guides together with his friend Robert.

Justin Howe

Electrician and DIY specialist Justin deleted his own successful tech blog to write expert product reviews and buying guides together with his friend Robert.