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Refinishing Plastic Laminate Cabinets:
Re-Glue Loose Laminate Or Paint The Cabinets

Dear Editor(s),

I'm hoping you can advise me regarding the best way to improve the look of cabinets covered with photographed (artificial) wood vinyl. These cabinets are in the kitchen & bathroom of my mobile home and are hideous, as you can guess. I've never owned a mobile home before, so I'm continually frustrated by the construction and materials in my home. Wish I could afford to just rip those cabinets out, but I must try to do it myself instead. I've considered replacing only the doors, if I could paint the rest of the cabinets. Is there a good way to do this so paint will adhere permanently? The vinyl is very thin, on a coarse fiberboard base. 

The edges of the doors are peeling away from use, and the bottom edges can injure tender fingers. I will be doing this myself...possibly with the help of my 10 year old granddaughter.

Looking for your answer

Thank You,


I can fully relate to your situation, having more experience with mobile homes than I care to talk about. Yes, the cabinets are typically cheap plastic fake woodgrain glued to even cheaper particle-board. But there are things that can be done.

Replacing the doors is a good idea, if your budget allows it. But... I would not assume that conventional cabinet doors will easily fit your cabinets. Mobile home manufacturers seem to go to great lengths to obtain non-standard materials. (Even the electrical fixture boxes may not accept an ordinary light fixture!)

If the doors are reasonably intact they should be paintable. They key to painting most things is surface preparation. Vinyl is smooth and glossy, and paint will peel right off. The surface MUST be sanded with fine or medium sandpaper. The objective is to "scuff-sand" the plastic and give the paint a rough surface to hold onto. We're not trying to sand through the vinyl!

You mentioned vinyl peeling away near the edges. If the narrow edge laminate is peeling, I would peel it off completely. On large surfaces, I have had success by simply shaving off the peeling portion with a sharp knife, cutting into the particle board if necessary. I have been able to stop further peeling with this technique.

If you can peel off an intact strip of laminate, then it should be possible to re-glue it, but only if all surfaces are clean. It might be necessary to prime the particle board edge and use some type of solvent (such as Goof Off or Goo Gone) to remove the glue residue from the back of the laminate strip.

If re-gluing the old laminate was not possible, the edges of the particle board could be cleaned up and painted. I would recommend filling any voids or holes with a good wood filler like Durham's Water Putty or any of the many pre-mixed products available. After the wood filler dries it should be sanded smooth. Bare wood (and filler) must be primed with a good quality primer (I like Kilz Total One... it's water-based and doesn't stink much). Buy a gallon, it'll be useful for many projects.

I'm not sure what type of paint would work best, however. You should be able to paint with a good quality 100% acrylic (satin or semi-gloss please, or the finger prints may never come off), but I'm interested in how well oil-based paint will hold up. I would do a test... paint one door with latex, and one with a brushed-on oil-based enamel and after a few days of drying, see how well the paint resists the gouging of fingernails. Oil-based paint is usually much harder and more durable than than acrylic latex, even 100% acrylic.

Spray painting might be an option, too. I often buy the cheapest spray paint at Wal-Mart, about 97 cents a can. You can get gloss white or almond or whatever other color you want. The doors you can remove and paint outside, but the rest of the cabinet will need to be masked to keep paint off the walls and floor (and the overspray can get EVERYWHERE, so be careful.) You might find the odor of spray painting inside the house to be objectionable... maybe a brush-on can of oil-based paint (like Red Devil) would be best for the cabinet frame.

Bruce W. Maki, Editor.

Editor's Note:

Since writing this reply, I have received some information from a sales representative from William Zinsser & Company, which makes an extensive line of excellent primers, some of which can bond to very unusual surfaces.

One document titled "Painting Kitchen Cabinets" explains how alkyd (oil-based) paints are usually superior for this task because they are harder, more stain-resistant and more durable. It also notes that epoxy paint would be ideal.

Zinsser recommends a thorough cleaning of cabinets (because they tend to have spots of grease on them) using mineral spirits, followed by a 50/50 mix of ammonia and water to remove the solvent residue.

On cabinets Zinsser recommends using their B-I-N Primer (which is shellac-based) or their Bulls Eye 1-2-3 acrylic latex (water-based) primer. But they say that all latex primers take a long time to fully harden (14 days for theirs) which may affect the paint if the cabinets & doors get bumped around.  B-I-N Primer cures to a tough film within a few hours.

I have the highest regard for Zinsser's products and use them often.

Related Web Links:

Cabinet Rescue
Melamine paint made for covering laminate cabinets.



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Copyright 2001-2002

Compiled February 2, 2001
Revised December 15, 2002