A while back I got an awesome mid century dresser with a laminate top for a screaming deal at goodwill. I feel like there’s this negative connotation when it comes to pieces of furniture that have laminate tops. For a lot of people, it’s a reason to not buy or attempt to refinish and paint a piece. Well I’m here to tell you otherwise. I actually think it can be a good thing in some cases (Here’s the dresser I’m referring to, it only has laminate on the very top)
The reasons I embrace a piece that has a laminate top is because:
1. It can be painted over
2. It usually means the top is in good condition
Let me explain a little more. First, laminate can be painted over. It’s not difficult (at all), you just need to do it right. I’ll go into the how to paint laminate in a minute. Second, laminate is more durable than wood when it comes to scratches and dings. Most likely a piece with a laminate top will be in better condition. The tops of furniture get a lot of wear. Things are set on them, slid across them, and even dropped on them. That leads to little dings, scratches, gouges and often chipped veneer. On certain pieces that is fine, but other times if you want a clean and modern satin or glossy finish, those flaws will be highlighted when light bounces off of them.
More often then not I see laminate used on mid century pieces. When I paint mid century pieces I go for a modern, clean look without distressing. Because of that I’m not looking to highlight or embrace the flaws that can add character to antique furniture, so I happily welcome a piece with laminate while still making sure it’s well made and high quality.
How to paint over laminate
1. Begin by sanding the laminate. Be sure to use the correct protective gear (a mask and safety glasses). I personally take a 150 grit piece of sandpaper and sand the whole top in a circular motion. You can also take an electric sander to the piece. Once it has all been sanded you should be able to see that it’s scuffed up and not as shiny and smooth as it was before.
2. Clean the surface. Get most of the dust off with a vacuum and then a damp paper towel or cloth. I recently started wiping piece down with a TSP substitute and scouring pads (the TSP substitute does not need to be rinsed off like actual TSP) which helps prep surfaces for paint. Run your hand over it, if you feel any particles, wipe it down again with a dry cloth.
3. Prime with an oil based primer. I like to use a foam brush to apply primer because I don’t have to deal with brush marks, plus they are cheap and I just toss them once I’m done. I use Zinsser Cover Stain. This stuff is great and it acts as a bond coat. I don’t put it on very thick with the foam brush, so I apply 2 thin coats. You can also buy primer in a spray can and spray it on (not as cost effective, but saves you time). ***update: I now only spray on primer. It creates a much smoother finish ***
4. Sand the primer smooth. Once it is dry, sand it with high grit sandpaper (320 or 400) or a fine sanding sponge to smooth out any marks left by the brush. They will show through when you paint, so make sure it’s smooth! Sand, vacuum and wipe it down with a damp cloth to remove all particles.
5. Paint! Now you can go ahead and paint the piece. I usually do about 2-3 coats of paint (that’s an average) for total coverage, especially over white primer. I prefer General Finishes acrylic milk paints. Also, be sure to seal the paint so it’s wipeable and durable. A great water based poly (I love General Finish high performance topcoat) is best for high traffic areas and can handle being wiped down.
** As a side note most primers are tintable, so if you are using a darker or bright color over the primer getting it tinted to a medium grey usually means less coats of paint. That’s a plus! **
This process is almost exact to how I prep each piece of furniture I paint. This video shows my prep process for painting over wood, these are the same steps I used above to paint over the laminate.
So hopefully this makes you rethink the next piece you see with a laminate top. They really can turn out awesome! Have you painted over laminate before?
How Stain without Striping