Skip to Content

How to Paint Laminate Cabinets or Furniture Tutorial

Sharing is caring!

laminate kitchen cabinets painted white

In this follow up to the best paint for laminate furniture, I will walk you through how to paint laminate cabinets (or furniture) to achieve a beautiful, durable finish.

Sometimes laminate gets a bad rep. Sure, it may not be as sturdy as wood, but many big retailers (ie: IKEA) make a whole lot of coin selling laminate cabinets and furniture.

Additionally, you may be pleasantly surprised by the laminate cabinet and furniture options that are introduced each year by major retailers. Laminate offers a way to get the look for less in many cases.

Sustainability is huge to me, which is why I am such an advocate for secondhand shopping to help less stuff end up in landfills. Laminate furniture often ends getting donated to thrift stores, charity shops, etc.

Rather than throwing the stuff away, I feel paint give items a whole new life and that’s the main purpose of my post on how to paint laminate cabinets or furniture was born.

Where can I buy laminate cabinets?

Finding laminate cabinets or furniture to paint is usually pretty easy and relatively inexpensive.

Think of particle board, light weight type furniture accent pieces that are perfect for painting projects. They tend to be low cost, low risk.

Thrift stores tend to have a ton of laminate furniture. I found my burl laminate cabinet at the Salvation Army thrift store for $28. Don’t worry, I did not paint over the burl!

But this laminate piece is interesting because it could be a dresser but truly it’s part of a 1970’s Bassett modular cabinet collection for an office type setting.

Another good resource if you are painting laminate cabinets is Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. They may have leftover kitchen cabinets from a Habitat home that wrapped up construction, but additionally many people and local contractors will donate items to the ReStore.

You can also usually find paint and other DIY home improvement supplies at ReStore that may be useful for your DIY projects.

Where in my home could I use laminate cabinets?

how to paint laminate cabinets- dresser in a guestroom

If you want to give your kitchen or bathroom a whole new look, buying some laminate cabinets can be a great idea for a makeover on a budget.

Laminate cabinets or furniture can also be useful in children’s rooms or guest rooms.

If you know you plan on doing an extensive kitchen reno down the line, an inexpensive painting project like this can buy you plenty of years to save up while also enjoying a fresh new look.

If you follow the general guidelines in this tutorial, your paint finish will definitely last long term. Priming, thin coats and plenty of drying and curing time are the keys for success.

Can I buy secondhand laminate furniture online?

Don’t forget you can shop online for secondhand or gently used laminate furniture via the many online marketplaces that let people list items for sale near you. Some of the most popular ones are Facebook Marketplace, Offer Up, Craigslist, and your local Facebook resale groups.

If there’s a particular item you have in mind, such as cabinets, bookcase or dresser, try setting up some alerts within those apps so you’ll be notified when there’s a listing that matches your desired item.

Remember to keep your item alerts a little generic. If you’re wanting some kitchen cabinets, I’d suggest keeping your search very top level (ex: “kitchen cabinet” or “cabinets”) versus “laminate cabinets”.

Other common pieces of furniture that tend to be laminate are dressers, desks, dining tables and chairs. Basically, if an item doesn’t look to be made of wood, has a “sticker” like finish (which is usually white or a faux wood or faux wood grain finish that is clearly machine made and not natural), and is relatively lightweight and easy to move around, it is probably laminate.

Bottom line: do not overpay for laminate furniture, and if possible, try not to buy new! Save an item from ending up in a landfill and save yourself some money, too.

Tips for buying secondhand laminate furniture

bookshelves styled in a home office
Laminate bookshelves are pretty common on secondhand sites

Let’s face it- laminate furniture is not real wood. It is prone to chipping, peeling and bubbling up if exposed to moisture or dramatic heat when you compare it to traditional wood.

But, there are plenty of laminate cabinets that are in likely good enough shape for you to repurpose and upcycle.

With that in mind, I’d try to keep these things in mind when buying new or previously owned laminate furniture to breathe new life into.

  • Is it in decent condition? If a whole corner is chipped off, don’t think that wood filler is going to fix it. Wood filler is best for small holes or hairline type cracks. Laminate furniture is so affordable that you shouldn’t spend money on a piece of junk.
  • What color is it? I recommend buying a darker piece of furniture if your goal is to end up with a navy, gray, black or deep green type color. I recommend buying a lighter colored piece of furniture if you’re wanting to end up with a final color of a pastel shade, light gray, mint, pink, or a simple fresh coat of white paint.
  • Has it been previously painted? Personally, if the answer to this is yes, I’d pass. Who knows what kind of paint or prep methods they used. There may also be a bunch of brush marks or roller marks if they used a cheap supplies or had a poor technique. In worst case scenarios, you may find a piece that was spray painted (like with spray paint out of a can) that has drips in the finish, is not opaque, or is a bit sticky/tacky to the touch. This would require a ton of sanding.
  • Does it have a smooth surface that is level? Seems like an obvious thing, but you make sure to check if the shelves bow a bit in the center and will support your items. Run your hand along kitchen cabinet doors or cabinet drawer fronts to check if everything is relatively flat/straight. You want your finished product to look good AND be functional.

The paint sprayer I use for all my DIY furniture painting projects is around $100!

Best Method for Painting: Sprayer or Paint Brush?

I’ve used a lot of different paints over my decade of having a DIY home blog, and I do have a few favorites that I consistently use because they work well in my favorite paint sprayer.

Now if you don’t have a paint sprayer, I highly recommend you read my article about the best latex paint sprayer for furniture.

best paint sprayer for laminate furniture

If you don’t want to use a spray gun or don’t have the funds for it, I totally understand! A good paint finish can be achieved without a paint sprayer by using a paint tray and a good paint brush.

Best Paint for Painting Laminate Furniture

The best part is that the latex paint I love is totally affordable and you can find it at a big box store (Home Depot or Lowes) near you and online! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered paint online early in the week so that it’d get here in time for weekend projects.

TIP: You can usually find quarts of KILZ primer, Zinsser, Rustoleum (my fave!) and Martha Stewart at Ollie’s for $4.99 a quart. Just make sure to double-check the sheen and color. I personally love a good satin finish.

My favorite paint is Rustoleum’s Paint Touch Ultra Cover. This paint provides opaque color in about 2-3 coats, dries quickly and easily clean ups with soap and water.

best paint for painting laminate furniture or cabinet

It also levels without any additives to the paint, and in addition to being found at the hardware store, you can have it to your door in two days via Amazon Prime.

The one caveat to this paint is that it comes in many “basic” paint color options such as black, white, navy, red, green, gray, brown, etc. You could always get the white tinted to the color of your choice, but I find myself usually picking black or white.

BUT, another good thing about this paint is that it comes in pints and quarts so if you’re doing a smaller project, you don’t need to get a whole quart.

Sherwin-Williams also offers high-quality paint in quarts and with a coupon or sale going on, it is totally worth the extra dollars to spend on their paint for projects IF you want a custom color.

Otherwise, the off the shelf Rustoleum works well enough!

Can I spray paint laminate items or furniture?

In my experience, spray paint in a can does not come out looking fabulous on laminate pieces.

I find it’s always a little too shiny, sticky, hard to work with, and the paint smell just penetrates the furniture piece.

I love using spray paint for lamps (like my popular spray painted lamp tutorial), hardware and other small accent decor items, but not furniture.

spray painted pink lamp tutorial

If you feel you must use spray paint, I’d suggest definitely work outdoors in a WELL ventilated area where there’s not a ton of wind. A thin coat many times will be your best strategy versus laying it on thick. Moreover, pick a sheen that is more on the satin side for best results.

What is the best primer for laminate cabinets or furniture?

For 9 out of 10 projects, I will opt for KILZ 2 latex primer. I’ve used it for years and I find it the best at stain blocking plus it provides good base for that first coat of paint. I get it… priming is an extra step, but it is a critical first step to ensure the best finish possible.

Another good bonding primer that I love is this one by Zinsser. Truly, you can’t go wrong with either of my picks for the best primer.

In our first home, I used KILZ primer to paint over our dark brown wood paneling before painting it a light gray.

That wood paneling was stained with oil based paint, and I was worried those wood knots on the glossy surface would be a beast to cover up. The KILZ coat of primer had zero issues and was up to the task.

On my living room fireplace that I painted back in 2021 (see below), I was going from a dark gray color (that was very nearly black) to a crisp white color, and I used a foam roller (no paint sprayer) to paint on two coats of KILZ latex primer on the entire piece. It was definitely the right primer for the job.

how to paint a fireplace white

I’ve had ZERO issues with the dark gray color showing through and I can safely report nearly 9 months later that I have NO chips or peeling at all.

I like to do at least two coats of primer, and I strongly recommend you do two coats of primer for laminate kitchen cabinets (or bathroom cabinets) where you’re going to subject them to everyday use.

What you don’t want to attempt to do is get a solid coat of primer on– it is totally ok if you can see some of the original color peeking through. I use white primer 98% of the time, but there are darker primers which I would recommend if you’re painting on a darker color.

Want to learn about the BEST black paint color for furniture?

Tricorn Black Painted Chest

What are the best paint brushes and rollers for painting furniture?

I get it- none of us want to see brush strokes in our finished project. Using a high quality foam roller or paint brush will help with that!

I love to use these small foam rollers and roller covers that are great for both small and large projects.

best paint roller for laminate furniture

My favorite paint brush of all time that I use when I’m cutting in on walls or painting furniture, is this one.

It flexes in my hand and makes it easy to work in tight spaces like corners or around moldings, trim and ceilings. I have at least three of these brushes at all times in my painting supplies.

Do I need to prime before painting laminate furniture?

The short answer? Yes.

As I mentioned earlier in this guide, I think you absolutely need to prime if you’re painting laminate surfaces on cabinets.

Prep work is no fun, but in the end it all works out and you’ll be so much more satisfied with the finish and durability. I’d hate for you to go through all the steps, but skip the priming and then your cabinet paint chips off.

Here’s an example of why. I didn’t primer this dresser initially, and then I ended up having to paint this dresser ALL. OVER. AGAIN. because it chipped instantly.

how to paint laminate furniture or cabinets

Second, it is also a good idea to prime your laminate furniture piece before painting ESPECIALLY if you are going from a dark color to a lighter one.

Let’s say you have a black laminate cabinet door you want to paint a light blue color- priming will help you use less paint, which means less coats and an all around quicker paint job.

And finally, and possibly most importantly, by priming your laminate furniture before painting it, you’re instantly making your paint job more resilient for the long haul. Seeing paint peel days after you finish a project is not a good feeling.

Can I use chalk paint to paint laminate cabinets?

Absolutely! With some caveats. There’s a lot of great chalk paint out there that claims to be no primer needed that a lot of people have had great success with.

If the cabinets are going to be rarely used and it’s a high quality chalk paint like the one I used for this chalk paint dresser project, I’d say give it a go without priming…but I will remind you that it is always the “right way” to prime your painting projects no matter what.

Do I need to sand before painting laminate items?

Yes and no. You do not need to whip out the electric sander or the orbital sander for most items in good condition.

For this kind of project, you’ll want a very fine, 180-grit sandpaper or sanding block if you feel you must sand an area or if you need to lightly sand between coats of paint. Basically, a gentle sand is all the item should need.

Remember to always clean any sanding dust off with a tack cloth before moving forward to your next coat of paint.

The key to sanding laminate furniture is to stick to light sanding. I’d say to stick to no sanding, but again, you may need to sand some areas very gently between your coats of paint for a smooth finish.

For any piece of furniture that I plan to paint, I find giving the piece a good cleaning with a dry cloth is good enough to get started on the priming.

If the piece is really dusty and crusty, I like to use a damp cloth to get as much dust off as possible, and then I’ll wipe the whole piece once more with a dry microfiber towel.

Do I need to seal laminate furniture?

For kitchens or bathrooms, I recommend sealing with a wipe on top coat in your preferred sheen finish.

I love this particular wax sealer, but I also have used this top coat product by General Finishes and it was super easy to use. Be careful if you seal white or ivory paint- the top coats can cause the paint finish to yellow over time.

How to Paint Laminate Cabinets or Furniture

Supplies Needed

Prep Work Before Painting

Clean your furniture piece THOROUGHLY. I like to use a vacuum for this step on the frame of the cabinets (especially underneath) to get cobwebs and dust.

Using TSP, or trisodium phosphate, can be helpful to get your laminate cabinets super clean.

Remove all of the hardware and hinges and keep them all together in a bag. If the hardware or hinges are grimy, give it a good soak warm water with some dish soap.

After about 10-15 minutes of soaking, use a brush or sponge to get them clean. If you plan to replace them, I still recommend you keep the original pieces, especially the screws, if it doesn’t work out.

If you’re painting drawer fronts or a cabinet frame, use newspaper, old wrapping paper or furniture wrap to protect the interior of the drawers and sides so you do not get any paint on them. Secure the newspaper with painter’s tape.

priming a piece of furniture for painting

Inspect the drawer fronts and top surfaces to see if you need to apply wood filler to any scratches, gouges or holes. Apply the wood filler, allow to dry and then lightly sand to even the surface.

If you plan to install different sized hardware, now is a good time to fill the original screw holes. You’ll need to drill new holes depending on the center-to-center spacing of your new hardware, so a hardware template might come in handy.

Please protect your lungs and wear a mask or respirator while sanding and while using a paint sprayer. You do not want to inhale dust particles.

Now, it’s time to sand. The goal with the sanding process is surface preparation so that the primer has a good surface to adhere to. Your goal is not to strip the finish or design off.

Clean up all of the sanding dust from your piece with a tack cloth.

Priming a Furniture Piece

Grab a paint stick and gently stir your primer and paint. Do not shake the can in order to mix or stir the paint. (This introduces air bubbles and that is no fun!)

Pour some primer into your paint tray. Use your foam roller or paint sprayer to add a thin coat of primer to all surfaces you plan to paint.

Using a paint brush may be the easiest way to paint corners or bevels.

Wait one hour and apply a second coat of primer. Allow to dry for an hour before proceeding to paint.

Before moving on to the first coat of paint, make sure you don’t have any drips from the primer. If so, use a fine-grit sandpaper followed by a tack cloth to make the surface smooth.

Painting Over Laminate Cabinets

Pour your paint into another paint liner tray.

Use a quality foam roller or paint sprayer to add a thin coat of paint to your dresser and drawer fronts. Again, use a paint brush when needed or when easier.

how to paint laminate furniture

Your best bet is rolling in one direction to avoid excessive roller marks and keep a wet edge as you move across your piece.

Tip: Keep an eye out for any drips on edges caused by excess paint coming off the roller.

You’ll want to do 2-3 light, thin coats to get full coverage and a durable finish. Wait two hours between coats (sometimes a little longer in humid or hot environments) before moving on to the second coat of paint.

If you roll on fresh paint and notice a drip instantly, you can usually roll right over it.

If you notice a drip when it’s halfway dry, let it be and do not mess with it. It is far easier to lightly sand the drip when the it is dry to avoid a potentially messy paint application situation.

Double-check there aren’t any areas missing paint. TRIPLE check those forgotten areas such as the bottom and side edges of cabinet doors and under the top lip and bottom edges lower cabinets and drawers.

Sealing Paint on Laminate Cabinets or Furniture

Once you’re done, I’d allow your piece to dry and cure for about 24-48 hours at minimum. Use your best judgment.

After it’s dry, you can use a paint pad or clean cloth to wipe on some finishing/sealing wax or wipe on poly in your choice of finish. Lately, 99% of the time, I use a satin finish on both the paint and the sealer.

I recommend waiting about 24-72 hours (again, depends on humidity) after you apply the sealer to move on to adding back the hardware.

how to seal furniture

Finishing Up

At this point you can remove any painter’s tape and newspaper from your project. If you notice any areas that got overlooked during the painting process, do those touch-ups now.

Remember to clean up your brushes, rollers and/or paint sprayer so they’re ready to use for your next project. I like to wash my paint brushes using warm water and some Dawn dish soap.

Installing Hardware

Allow your furniture piece to dry and cure for 48-72 hours (or longer- I sometimes leave it for days because of heat and humidity) before adding hardware, inserting the drawers and putting anything on the top. Again, you spent so much time doing everything properly thus far, this is when patience really pays off.

Final Results

how to paint laminate cabinets or furniture

I LOVE the way this turned out. I added casters for a bit more height and functionality, but the paint finish turned out beautifully.

The original laminate top and sides were a VERY high gloss finish, and luckily due to my coats of primer and paint, all looks gorgeous.

painting laminate cabinets or furniture
The new hardware amps up the style a bit while keeping a vintage flair.

As I mentioned earlier, this laminate cabinet was part of an office suite collection in the 1970’s, so the top surface had a pair of half inch holes that would been almost impossible to fill.

laminate furniture with burl from 1970's

Instead, I had a piece of glass cut and did a faux mirror finish on it so I could keep that vintage or antique vibe for the piece.

burl wood chest makeover laminate dresser

This project overall didn’t cost me a ton of time nor money, and I simply love this piece in our home. Now get out there and find your own beautiful laminate cabinets or furniture to give a whole new look to.