Go Right Ahead and Paint That Laminate

April 27, 2010

We’ve owned this laminate and particle board media center for about fifteen years.  It was purchased in the leaner years from a discount furniture store.   Back in the 90s, we used it in our family room to store all of our media equipment, but then we eventually moved it to the kids’ play space.  For the longest time (like most moms) I was just grateful for the storage it brought me and I didn’t care what color it was.

Then all of a sudden I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I was staring at the faux maple laminate last week and I decided the day had come.  It was time to paint it!  It’s not that I don’t like blonde wood, I just don’t like faux blonde wood.  It’s the fakeness that bothers me.

So it was time to rid my world of the maple tone and give it a fresh coat of white paint.  This is a relatively sturdy piece, so rather than go out and buy a new system, or build one myself, I determined the best way to save it was to simply paint it.  The best part of all is, I changed the look of this piece in 48 hours!

Here’s the Before:

ent center before


Here’s the After:

painted laminate ent center

Here’s how I painted my laminate storage center.   

Make sure you invest in the right primer.  This is absolutely key.  You absolutely must prime your laminate surface with a primer designed to adhere to glossy surfaces.  No ordinary primer will do.  There are several options out there, my best piece of advice is to read the back of the can.  Zinsser happens to be my primer of choice.  I’ve worked with others and I’ve been disappointed, so I always return to this product.

zinsser primer

Oil based Zinsser grips like glue in my opinion, and without sanding.   You can use the water based version by Zinsser in the blue can, but you really need to sand your surface beforehand, and you also must wait for the water based version to fully cure, which is a recommended 7 days.  Zinsser’s oil based primer dries in two hours, so I was able to apply two coats of primer in one day.

Roll your primer on your piece of furniture, then follow up with a brush in all the crevices.  This primer dries really fast, but if you want a longer time to work with your primer and minimize brush strokes, use an additive called Penetrol that I’ve talked about here and here

roll then brush

Many people shy away from oil based products because they require paint thinner or mineral spirits to clean up.  However, if you use a cheap roller and cheap brush (my combo costs less than $2 dollars), you can toss them out when you’re done and not have to worry about cleaning your brush or roller with mineral spirits.  But it’s good to have some on hand anyway just to get any paint off your hands !

roller and brush


Sand your primed piece with medium grade sanding pad to remove any drips, buildup or brush marks.  Follow up with two coats of your paint color of choice.  Use a better quality brush to minimize your brush strokes.  You can go right over oil based primer with latex paint. 

doors before and after

painted laminate ent center


While I was at it, I even painted these inexpensive mini cabinets to hold the kids movies and other toys.  I primed them with the same Zinsser oil based product, then gave them two coats of the new wall color, which is some leftover BM ‘Camouflage’ mixed in with some of the spring green from these chairs

Yes, my kids watch movies on a VCR – they’re cheap !  $1 dollar each at the local Goodwill, can’t beat that !

laminate shelves before and after 

And for those of you who are wondering, yes the giant map is still there, just on the opposite wall ! 

I am loving our ‘new’ storage system !!

ent center from side


Here’s a glimpse of the wall from last year’s post about the map room:

Last year:

west wall 2



painted laminate ent center in room 

Various bins and baskets from Target, Michaels and Pottery Barn.  I made the pillow cover with some Annie Selke fabric. 

So if you’ve got a laminate piece hanging around your house that you want to freshen, go ahead and paint it!   Got laminate countertops ?  Check out this post on Our Suburban Cottage !  Want to use water based primer instead ?  Visit Lindsay and see how she transformed her laminate armoire.

I’m adding this to Kimba’s DIY Day over at A Soft Place to Land, hop on over and check out all the great DIY links ! 

Oh yes you can paint that laminate !   Yeehaw !



181 Responses to “Go Right Ahead and Paint That Laminate”

  1. Sarah G. says:

    I always buy my daughter’s Disney movies and others from Goodwill. You would be crazy not to! Thanks for the inspiring post.

  2. Lori H says:

    Wow! That piece looks great – so crisp and new. I did read Lindseys post on painting laminate so that I could start painting a cheap-o credenza for our office. By the time I let the first coat cure, I had moved on to other projects and there it still sits (only partially primed!) So I think I will go with your primer and finish it up!

  3. Janell Beals says:

    The space looks so fresh, great job painting this piece!! Janell

  4. beth anne says:

    i have painted over laminate before too. not a fast job but it works! and yours looks great!

  5. Struggler says:

    Very nice outcome! I hate to clean up with mineral spirits too, so I also toss the brushes (stealthily) in the trash. The last time I painted laminate was about 12 years ago. Poor husband was not happy when he came home (from living it up in California, I might add) and saw what I’d done :)

  6. Mike says:

    It’s amazing how white makes the pieces look so much more modern. Great job!

  7. Tanya says:

    It looks great. Like something straight out of Pottery Barn!

  8. Cecily T says:

    Thanks so much for this. I love that you don’t have to sand the nasty laminate. One question…do you find that books/video cases tend to stick to the paint? I’ve painted some bookcases before and had that problem, but I’m not sure what I did wrong. Do I need to follow up the paint with some poly?

  9. Looks so fresh & crisp! Great!! :) I can’t get over the gorgeousness of that chocolate & white pillow…yum!

  10. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Cecily ! I haven’t had that problem. I used a flat latex paint and let it completely dry, so no problems with anything sticking to the paint. A coat of Polycrylic will help protect your paint job, but I didn’t deem it necessary in this case. In fact, the kids are already sliding their baskets around and no scratches yet – it’s that primer that holds the paint on the piece. Read the post at Our Suburban Cottage that I linked to- she used a protective coat over her paint on her countertops for added protection. Perhaps send AnNicole an email and ask her how the additional coat has helped protect her surface.


  11. tracy says:

    Lovin the white, it just brightens the whole space and looks amazing against your walls!

  12. Jen says:

    Kate, this was so helpful! We’ve got some ugly old laminate pieces leftover from my husband’s bachelor days that I’d love to revamp because we need the storage! This is a much nicer option than buying new stuff. Thanks, girl!

  13. Love it, it looks absolutely fab!

  14. anh says:

    looks great! i wish my goodwill had good items like the ones you find. and my gw is sooo expensive!

  15. Wow, the new storage unit looks amazing! This post couldn’t have come at a better time as I have been wanting to paint an old laminate dresser for a while now. If you don’t mind, could you tell me what kind of white paint you used on the unit? It looks like that “perfect” crisp white I am going for. Thanks in advance!

  16. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Jessie !

    That’s ‘Swiss Coffee’ – it’s an industry color, most paint companies have the formula. I chose it because it matches my trim and I already had a gallon in my garage !


  17. Can’t wait to give it a shot! Looks great to me!

  18. Heather says:

    That looks terrific! Your blog is great, I’m so glad I stumbled upon it!
    Now, I must log off my computer and go paint my ugly laminate kitchen countertops!

  19. Tracy says:

    This is absolutely beautiful.
    It looks like a brand new cabnet

  20. Traci says:

    Great post! Lots of good information. Your storage space shows up so much better now. I love it! And we still use vcr tapes too. You just can’t beat the price, and I don’t have the heart to throw out good disney movies just because they are on tape. :)

  21. Kelley Blake says:

    How refreshing!! It’s amazing what a good ol’ coat a paint can do for a piece of furniture! :)

  22. Tricia Rose says:

    Kate that looks so much better! Really fresh.
    do you have a staple gun? Because I have seen fabric fixed over the back of open shelving like that and it looks really finished…

  23. Bravo!!! It truly is amazing what a transformation some paint can do! I’ve primed and painted a laminate piece before…I didn’t use anything special, but I wish I had b/c I know it won’t hold up forever.

    My girls have bunches of Disney movies on VHS too. :) I can usually find them for anywhere from 0.25 to $1.00 at yard sales or Salvation Army. We have some new DVDs too, but I love finding my old favorites on VHS (Pete’s Dragon or Mickey Mouse, anyone?) :)

  24. Sue says:

    It looks new and so much better! I would have thought it would scratch too easily to use it like this. I guess it just shows that if you use the correct products, you can paint almost anything.

  25. Kacey says:

    Good to know! They look great.

    I’m with you on the VHS movies – so cheap and we already had an old TV/VCR combo. Plus, easy for the kids to operate!

  26. Wow…that looks fantastic! I love the amazing results that can be achieved with paint.

    I have an 8 foot long work table that is made of wood, but the top has some kind of laminate veneer on it. Have you ever painted that type of thing? It is a great table, but the top is U.G.L.Y. After reading this, I am thinking I can probably paint it if I use a good primer…YAH!

    Thanks for the inspiration, as always.


  27. I’m getting ready to paint a white laminate cabinet black. Do you think I should have the primer tinted to a darker color?

  28. Leslie says:

    AWESOME! I’m inspired! I have a dresser that desperately needs some paint, and you’ve given me much needed inspiration. Great job!!

  29. Looks fabulous!!! Great job, my dear!

  30. Totally different and so pretty. It now looks like a really expensive piece. I would use that anywhere in the house. Great job. Hugs, Marty

  31. Kate, it looks wonderful! I personally love Zinssers B-I-N primer for laminate projects. It is shellac-based, so it dries within minutes and sticks like glue to glossy surfaces. Plus, it’s very thin so it doesn’t create a build-up like some thicker primers can (no need for penetrol!). The only problem is you need to clean up with Denatured Alcohol, but that is the same issue as with oil-based, just a different solvent.

  32. Tidy Brown Wren –

    If painting a dark color or black, absolutely have your primer tinted ! The oil based Zinsser in the brown can is tintable, but the primer can only be tinted to a medium gray shade at best. Zinsser does have a ‘deep tint’ primer which will tint very dark but note that it’s water based and takes the same week long period of time to fully harden.


  33. Katie says:

    Awesome!! I have an old “wood” IKEA desk that desperately needs some paint :)

  34. Kelsey says:

    WOW Kate that looks gorgeous! I would’ve never guessed it was laminate! I have phased out most of my laminate pieces but still (unfortunately) have a few billy bookcases from Ikea. I doubt that they’ll make it through this move in 2 weeks though…not like I would be unhappy about that lol.

  35. Juice says:

    Go on with your laminate painting self. The finished product looks beautiful. Where do you find the time to do it all???

  36. It looks adorable! And it’s way better in white! xo

  37. Shannon says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share this. I have some old laminate furnature I wanted to paint and well — now I can when the time is right.

  38. Anissa says:

    Super post. thanks so much for paving the way with laminate! :)

  39. Thank you for this post, I have an old laminate kitchen table that I have been wanting to paint but was not sure how. Now I know thanks a bunch.

  40. smidge girl says:

    Fabulous! Looks like a million bucks! And the white really makes all your goodies pop. Bravo!

  41. Michelle says:

    Great tips! I’ve been wanting to paint my daughter’s laminate dresser for some time now, but didn’t know how to start. My mother sent me the link to your blog today. Love it!

  42. Kim says:

    I’m really hoping we can find the right product to adhere to glossy surfaces. (We live in Argentina.) Sherwin Williams has a store here and that’s where we’ve had the best success finding good quality paint and supplies. We have a kitchen to re-vamp that has old laminate everywhere. And I do mean everywhere!

  43. Kristin says:

    I was just talking to my girlfriend about painting her laminate tv center, too funny!!! I’m sending this over to her, she will love you for it :)

  44. Dang, Girl….You just don’t ever stop. You are the everready bunny! But yes indeedy…laminate can be happily painted…good step by steps!

  45. This looks GREAT! I always worried about doing this; now I am ready to get my paint on. Awesome after!!!

  46. Anna says:

    I just love this post! Thanks for sharing. I saw a little tiny article about painting laminate countertops (in a kitchen) in that 100 decorating ideas under $100 or something like that magazine. There is a NEW product out that combines primer AND the latex paint to specifically use on a laminate countertop. I bought some (it’s even tintable by the paint people) and I can’t wait to use it on my countertops. I thought you might be able to use it on laminate furniture but your way is probably much more economically sound. Thanks again for sharing.


  47. Debbie A says:

    WOW!!!! GREAT JOB!!! Looks so CRISP….You can’t tell its a FAKE :)

  48. Sylvia says:

    thanks for sharing this I needed it.

  49. Letitia says:

    Wow, I am sooooo glad you posted about this!!! About 2 weeks ago I painted our laminate kitchen cabinets a white color. I bought a primer (can’t remember the name) that claimed would adhere to slippery surfaces, even tile. I used it, followed the instructions to wait 24 hours, then proceeded to paint them with the standard kitchen latex paint. 2 coats, by the way. To my frustration, the darn paint peels off so easily. If I grab a cabinet to open it and avoid using the hardware, the paint slides right off. I was puzzled but after reading your post I see why. I’ll have to repaint them and this time with an oil based primer. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. By the way, I LOVE your blog and appreciate tremendously the inspiration you give me with all your fabulous ideas. Keep on being fabulous!


  50. Cathy M~ says:

    awesome paint project. do you wish you would have painted the pieces sooner???

  51. Amy W. says:

    Kate-the cabinet looks fab! Have you ever painted any of that “pseudo” wood trim that’s not quite MDF and not quite real wood but more of a strand wood? I have it all around my baseboards and windows and it is so builder’s grade circa 2000 when my house was built. Any insight as to whether your laminate treatment might work on the baseboard and window trim? Thanks so much Kate for sharing all of your ideas and projects!

  52. Beckie says:

    Oh it looks so refreshed. I love it when you can take a piece of existing furniture you have and give it a new look with the new pricetag. Great job my dear.

  53. Melanie says:

    Great job. You are the painting master! I have to say that you love redoing furniture and you are great at it.

  54. alyssa says:

    This is exactly the post I needed; thank you! I’ve got a laminate cabinet that I’m dying to spiff up. It’s very plain, so I’m thinking of adding some trim and painting it. I love your suggestion for the primer.

  55. Rebekah C says:

    Thank you so much for the post—I’ve been ruminating for months over what to do about a laminate dresser. I really had no clue, and because I had no clue, i just kept putting it off, but now that you’ve made it so easy, I could tackle it this weekend! Thanks so much!

  56. Tamber says:

    Thanks You for the post. I have got a laminate table that has gotten a lot of use and is needing an update. I think I am going to dive in and five it a try.

  57. Shelle says:

    Aha! Where was this post a week ago? Eek! I needed this info. Now I’ve got an oops to fix. Thank you so much for this post!

  58. Yuliya says:

    thank you so much for this post…are there any tips for starting out with a darker piece? or should I just follow these instructions?

  59. Beq says:

    It looks lovely white!

  60. Bree says:

    Oh my goodness…this came just in time for me!! I was just about to tackle the daunting project of painting 3 HUGE (and ugly) laminate bookshelves we inherited from my in-laws. I was heading to Home Depot for some primer and I’m so glad I have your recommendation first! I had no idea how to do this and I just found the Bible of painting furntiure on your site. haha! Thank you so much for posting!

  61. Very fresh, Kate! I love it against the wall color.

  62. Kim says:

    LOVE the new look, especially against the wall color. What is the green on the walls? Thanks.

  63. Heldy says:

    Of course that looks amazing! What a transformation.

  64. Suki says:

    Oh no! Another thing on my extremely long to-do list (I haven’t even gotten to my piano yet) are laminate bookshelves and entertainment center. The color went well in my apartment, but it does not match my new house. I’ve bookmarked this post so I remember what primer you use! I was dreading having to sand laminate (in like… a year from now).

  65. Tracy says:

    What a difference! Thanks for this, have been thinking about painting some Ikea desks in our office but wasn’t sure how it would turn out. Am feeling inspired after your post!

  66. kris says:

    first time commentator here. I’ve always wondered if i can paint these bookshelves …


    would appreciate your feedback. Thanks :)


  67. Hi there, that came up great! I actually started my furniture painting ‘career’ on laminate pieces so I could practice my technique and get it right…lucky for me my first piece came up better than I imagined, it turns out I have some natural talent for this! Here in New Zealand we have a fantastic product by Resene called Smooth Surface Sealer, and it is waterbased. It is magic stuff….I have even painted over mirrors in the back of china cabinets and you wouldn’t know once the paint top coats are done.

  68. Great transformation! This is so great to know! And thanks for the primer tips.

  69. Bonnie says:

    Wow! I was wondering what I had done wrong with the bookshelf I just painted a week ago. I had primed it, then painted it and then, when it was too late, I realized you good scrap off the paint with a fingernail……..so disappointing! It looks great but I’m not sure for how long. Well, at least I now know what I did wrong and won’t make the same mistake again!

    By the way…..your media center looks GREAT!

  70. This is a great tip to pass on to as many people as possible. Many people have laminate! I am featuring this at somedaycrafts.blogspot.com

  71. shanna says:

    Your armoire came out beautifully! I’ve got a few pieces of laminate that I’ll be practicing on eventually now!

    Have you seen the products that “claim” to provide coverage that’s sturdy on laminate counter tops? Am very curious what your take would be on painting those since they are usually high traffic areas like the kitchen and bath. I’m not quite ready to take that plunge yet.

  72. Tiffany says:

    Thanks, I’ve painted laminate before, but haven’t used a primer. I think this will make things a heck of a lot easier now.

  73. Tami says:

    I want to paint my laminate bookshelf. Will the paint scratch off when pulling books of the shelf? Oh, and what color did you use on your kitchen cabinets? Thanks

  74. I have always shied away from painting laminate, but now I see I really need to give it a go. Your media cabinet looks fantastic! I’m always finding cheap laminate bookcases, but I never buy them. I have been a fool. Thanks for this post! You are awesome.

  75. thank you for sharing!!! i have something laminate that i want to paint but i didn’t know if it would work. now i know it will!!

  76. thank you for sharing!! i have something laminate i want to paint but didn’t know if it would work, now i know it will!

  77. Gina says:

    That is good to know! I have bookmarked this post for future project reference. I wish I had known about this process before I gave up my laminate dresser from childhood (since I had limited room during our last move and it was 1970’s hideous, heh). Thanks so much for sharing this info with your readers!

  78. Misty says:

    WOW! Thanks for giving me some hope with laminate! It is inspiring to see how much of a transformation that made. Thanks also for the tip on the oil based primer. I HATE to sand stuff! The hubs usually ends up doing that part so now if I tell him about the primer trick, he will love you too!

  79. Stephanie says:

    This is so awesome. I am going to paint my kitchen cabinets white soon and I will use your blog as a reference.

    May I ask what color green is on the walls of this room? I love it!

  80. Thank you for sharing how you did this. I didn’t think it was possible, but am so glad there is a way to do it.

    Has the paint held up well so far?

  81. Catherine says:

    They are beautiful. I have an older lingerie chest with formica on the top, it’s on my list of re-do’s so I’m hoping this same Zinser Primer will work on formica. Thanks for all of your suggestions and for being the one who tests it first !!!

  82. Monique says:

    Great info! I have a laminate dresser that I’ve always wanted to paint. Did you use oil or latex paint over the primer?

  83. Kevyn says:

    How do you know when to use a sealer on a piece of furniture? Did you put anything over your paint on this project? I am worried about paint scraping off of shelves.

  84. Jodie says:

    Wonderful! Did you know that there’s a countertop paint which you can buy at any home improvement store, made especially for laminate? We just painted our kitchen countertops, and I LOVE THEM now!! We had painted our cabinets white a year ago, got white appliances, but our counters were still beige. Now they’re tan, and it looks fabulous :)

  85. […] Then I remembered I forgot to write about the wood window cornice I built for the room several months ago ~ you can catch a glimpse of it in this article about painting laminate furniture.  […]

  86. Thanks for the post! I used you as the push and inspiration I needed to do this myself to a Billy bookcase! You can check it out here: http://www.justalittlebit.net/2010/08/05/the-twenty-dollar-facelift/

  87. […] in an hour.   I pink puffy heart love love love this primer.   Remember when I repainted that laminate media center ?  Yep, I used this stuff for that makeover […]

  88. Melissa says:

    This is the single most useful tutorial I have found on the internet! We are painting out laminate kitchen cabinets and with your help, they have a chance to turn out great! I loveeeeeee your site, tackling a headboard next. Thanks so much for sharing all of your ideas!

  89. Jennifer says:

    Great blog! quick question, what finish did you use for the white paint?

    Thanks for sharing! This is awesome! I have the Hemnes dresser as well and I wanted to update the color, as well as some laminate bookcases I want to update! Thanks!

  90. Lindy B says:

    I was just at Home Depot and was so excited to see this oil based Zinnser primer in a spray can! I have a couple laminate pieces to paint for our new baby’s room and the spray can should make the priming so much faster and easier. (Though I think I have to wait to do it til after the baby is born since it’s an oil based product.)

  91. Sally says:

    Loving the laminate painting info and the unit looks great.

    A little tip for you: instead of using a chemical to remove the paint from your skin I use cooking oil! it helps break down the oil in the paint and I rub it on my hands and then wash off with a hand soap…it may take a few goes to get it all off, but it saves my skin getting dried out by the chemical paint remover ;)

  92. Dana says:

    You’re my hero! Ive been staring at a laminate t.v. stand for 2 years trying to muster the gumption to paint it, I stumbled across your page this morning searching for tips on how to transform my Oak table and spent 2 hours admiring your work and voila I saw this and I finally have the courage to go for it, in fact this message is short because I’m headed to the hardware store to pick up some Zinsser primer. Thank you for the inspiration, your work is beautiful!

  93. […] can see I’m painting the laminate shelf on the inside.  Remember oh yes, oh yes oh yes you can paint laminate!  All it takes is the right kind of primer.  This is it!  (You can also use the […]

  94. Debbie W. says:

    Do you have any tips on fixing up a botched job….BEFORE finding this article I primed (with the water based primer) and then painted right away…. so needlessly to say the paint just scratched right off – any way I can fix this – do I need to sand all the previous paint job right off… or can I just sand the parts that are scratched and then reprime… any ideas?

  95. Amy says:

    Now that it has been a few months, is the paint is staying put? I want to paint a couple of laminate pieces I have, but I don’t want my hubby to be able to say that ever annoying, “I told you so.” lol =) Anyway, thank you!

  96. I have this post bookmarked! I have some awful kitchen cabinets that I have been putting off painting because I didn’t want to sand. I love the way your cabinet came out (so cute AND organized!)

  97. Amanda H. says:

    Ditto what Amy asked! How is the painted laminate holding up?!


  98. Silvia says:

    Hello Kate, I’m writing you from Argentina (sorry if my English is not so good!!) This primer is in Argentina (Rustoleum has a branch here), so I wonder if you kwow I could paint this chandelier using, first, the primer, and then, at last, the paint. I’m not sure if the chandelier is of bronze. http://lh5.ggpht.com/_nBY4hUD_lh4/TUCls4otudI/AAAAAAAABHM/Pb0-bm3W2D8/3.jpg. Then I think, I woud paint with paint in spray (aerosol). And, I also have this piece of furniture (a wardrobe). It is finished in shellack (goma laca). http://lh3.ggpht.com/_nBY4hUD_lh4/TUCmoQ09MtI/AAAAAAAABHU/RZNXe8IvzbI/s512/HPIM2036.JPG Do you know if I could use the primer wihthout sanding? Thanks a lot, and greetings from Argentina.

  99. Janet Murphy says:

    Just wondering if the paint has lasted? I have an Expedit book case in black (which I regret) but the kids put all their toys in it and slide baskets in and out.

    Does the oil based paint and primer stand up to that treatment.

    You give me hope! :)

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