Can you paint laminate kitchen cabinets and achieve beautiful results?

Experts share whether it is a worthwhile DIY

Three images of kitchen cabinets
(Image credit: Jaclyn Christensen Design / Farrow & Ball / Davis Interiors)

With so many different kitchen cabinet styles making an appearance on our feeds and the pages of glossy magazines, it's no wonder we dream of ways to lift our own spaces where we can. 

There are several reasons why painting laminate kitchen cabinets may be on your mind. Perhaps you have inherited a kitchen needing a major facelift, or you may no longer be fond of the stock kitchen cabinets you had installed some years ago...

To bring beautiful kitchen ideas to life, cabinetry is a good place to start. It's not just the material that sets the tone, but the color plays an important part in creating the look we seek. To embrace the latest painted kitchen ideas and to highlight even the most subtle of kitchen trends, could painting laminate kitchen cabinets be the answer?

Can you paint laminate kitchen cabinets?

The short answer is yes, you can paint laminate kitchen cabinets. Although there is no catch, per se, the paint and interior experts we have spoken with all highlight the need for thoughtful preparation if doing it yourself. 

'It is possible to paint laminate kitchen cabinets, and it’s a great way to freshen up your kitchen, but it will take some time and effort,' says Ami Mckay interior designer and creator of PURE Design. 'Maybe you’re not ready for the expense of new cabinet doors, or you would like to try a new color.' 

Ami McKay headshot
Ami McKay

Ami McKay founded PURE Design in 2000 on the belief that design is found in the art of giving. The work that she puts into each project reflects her personal life experiences and she believes they are at the heart of her business. Today, she is proud to be named one of Canada’s Top Five Interior Designers.

Preparing laminate kitchen cabinets for painting

Kitchen color ideas featuring a black and white kitchen color scheme with black painted cabinetry, white marble island and wooden flooring.

(Image credit: Future/Darren Chung)

As expected with most DIY projects, equipping yourself with the right tools and knowledge is essential to success. One of the challenges with painting laminate kitchen cabinets is adhesion, so correct priming (and sanding) is crucial. 

'Before painting laminate cabinets, you’ll want to ensure you properly prepare the area by cleaning, sanding, and priming the surface,' says Ed Edrosa, Senior Product Manager at Behr

Headshot of the Senior Product Manager at Behr
Ed Edrosa

Ed Edrosa is Senior Product Manager at Behr. Founded in 1947, Behr Paint Company is one of the largest manufacturers of paints, primers, decorative finishes, stains, surface preparation, and application products for DIYers and professionals in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Essential tools for painting laminate kitchen cabinets

Open tins of brightly coloured paint in rows.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

'Painting kitchen cabinets doesn't need to be an intimidating job,' Helen Shaw, Director of Marketing (International) at Benjamin Moore reassures us. 

On that note, here are the essential tools and materials you would need to paint laminate kitchen cabinets:

  • Dust sheets (to protect surrounding floors and surfaces)
  • Screwdriver (for removing cabinet doors and any hardware)
  • Sugar soap for cleaning, available (at Amazon), or a mild detergent for cleaning
  • Two old (but clean) rags/cloths (one for cleaning and another for thorough drying)
  • Sandpaper/a hand sander (120 grit should do fine)
  • A lint-free cloth (for wiping excess dust from sanding)
  • Primer 
  • Paint 
  • A trusty vacuum cleaner
  • A dust mask

It will make life easier if you can remove the cabinet doors before you start. Then, for a flawless finish, repair any damage before you begin work. 

'Once the cupboard doors and hardware are removed, the first step – ahead of painting - is to clean and dry,' explains Helen. 'Laminate should be cleaned with a mild detergent.'

Helen Shaw
Helen Shaw

Helen Shaw is part of Benjamin Moore's UK division. Color expert and international marketing director, Helen and her husband Craig are founders of Shaw Paints, acquired by Benjamin Moore in 2020.

Can you paint over laminate cabinets without sanding?

A modern yellow kitchen color scheme with wooden flooring and furniture, marble backsplash and handleless lemon yellow cabinetry.

(Image credit: Future/James Merrell)

Though you can paint some laminate furniture without sanding, provided you have the right paint, it is still recommended here as it will 'rough up' the surface, helping paint take to the cabinets more easily and with a smoother, professional-looking finish. 

Be sure to protect surfaces where dust may land, wear a dust mask, and vacuum rigorously to avoid breathing in particles. A cordless or robot vacuum will come in handy for this. 

'When sanding, watch out for dust as you’ll want to make sure you brush it off before starting any painting,' Ed warns us. 'Make sure not to break through the thin top layer of the laminate surface when sanding.'

Should you prime laminate kitchen cabinets for painting?

green kitchen with glass cabinets

(Image credit: Creative Tonic Design/Julie Soeffer)

For a precise and even finish that has longevity, you should always prime laminate kitchen cabinets. 'The primer you use is the most important part of the process so use a plastic bonding paint primer that promotes adhesion,' says Ami McKay.

Many paints for wood and kitchen cabinets nowadays say they do not need a separate primer – even for laminate. Chalk paints, in particular, often come with this integrated formula – Annie Sloane, for example. 

Rust-Oleum offers a Cabinet Transformations kit that contains everything you need to successfully paint wooden or laminate cabinets. Pay close attention to the products you use to ensure the best results. 

'The type of cabinet will dictate the primer used; however, picking something that is high-quality will lay the foundations for a successful paint job as it will give maximum hide as well as provide a mildew-resistant coating,' says Helen Shaw. Priming will not just make painting kitchen cabinets easier, but the results may last longer.

'For laminate cabinets, we recommend using Benjamin Moore & Co Quart White Stix Water Primer (from Walmart) for the best results as it offers unparalleled adhesion to challenging surfaces,' says Helen.

Painting laminate kitchen cabinets, successfully

A white kitchen color scheme with marble countertops and a black oven.

(Image credit: Future/Anna Statham)

You will need at least a couple of fine coats of paint for thorough results when painting laminate kitchen cabinets. Leave adequate drying time between coats, and make sure you lightly sand as you go. 

One of the many tips for painting kitchen cupboards yourself is to use a lint-free cloth to remove dust in the process as you do not want to paint this back in – this will help ensure a flawless finish. 'Sanding by hand or with a sander after each step is key as it will allow for proper adhesion of the paint and primer,' adds Ed Edrosa.

As for the paint itself, a hard-wearing, high-quality acrylic latex paint will do nicely. The finish will be up to you, but Ami McKay recommends eggshell, while Helen Shaw proposes a satin sheen: 'Our Advance Paint is best for this job as it is hardwearing and therefore will resist knocks and scratches, a satin sheen also means that it is easily cleaned.' 

The Advance Paint at Benjamin Moore is available in a high-gloss, semi-gloss, and satin finish.

Is it worth painting laminate kitchen cabinets yourself?

If it means you will refresh your kitchen and extend its good looks for another few years before a heftier remodel, the cost to paint kitchen cabinets yourself may be well worth it for a short-term upgrade. It all depends. If you are a seasoned DIYer, with all the tools and knowledge to hand, it would be a no-brainer to paint tired-looking laminate kitchen cabinets and breathe new life into your home. 

Still, do not underestimate the attention this project deserves for the best results. Though painting kitchen cabinets is quite an achievable DIY, there is no shame in seeking out the skills of a professional to ensure perfect results. 

Compared to investing in new wooden kitchen cabinetry, painting laminate kitchen cabinets can be worth trying. Whether a complex or quick and easy paint project, preparedness is key for results you will love.

'As for which color to use, that’s up to you. Look for inspiration in magazines, books, and Pinterest,' adds designer Ami McKay. 'Visit the paint store for paint chips and sample-size pots.' 

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Contributing Editor

Camille is the former deputy editor of Real Homes where she covered a broad range of topics, including house tours, small space design, and gardens. She studied English language and Italian at the University of Manchester and during a year abroad studying linguistics and history of art in Bologna, Italy she started documenting her adventures and observations in a blog. Camille is always creating and spends her downtime painting, taking photos, traveling, and writing short stories.