How to stain plastic laminate cabinets

Written by samantha volz
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Kitchen cabinets instantly create an impression on those entering the kitchen, as kitchens are generally dominated by walls full of them. If your cabinets are unsightly and you don't want to face the long and expensive process of tearing them out and replacing them, it may be time for a refinishing project. Cabinets laminated in plastic are particularly prohibitive to painting and staining, since the smooth surface of laminate rejects new coats. However, with proper preparation and technique you can stain laminate cabinets to your liking.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Masking tape
  • Protective plastic
  • Rags
  • White spirit
  • Putty knife
  • Filler putty
  • Sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Oil-based stain

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  1. 1

    Ventilate your work area by opening windows and running exhaust fans. The products used to clean and stain cabinets will produce strong fumes that can cause irritation or illness.

  2. 2

    Use masking tape and protective plastic to cover surrounding walls, floors or cabinets that you do not want stained. Dampen a rag in white spirit or a similar solvent cleaner, and wipe down all areas you intend to stain to remove dirt, dust, wax, grease and oil.

  3. 3

    Inspect the cabinet surfaces. Peel away any loose or peeling pieces of laminate, using a putty knife or utility knife if necessary to peel away the loose pieces. This will help you ensure that you have a completely flat surface instead of bumps or loose edges in your final product.

  4. 4

    Fill any gaps or holes left from peeling with filler putty designed for laminate or wood. Follow specific product instructions regarding mixing additives, as some fillers require a hardener. Use a putty knife to spread the filler into the gaps and scrape away the excess so that it is flush with the rest of the surface. Allow the filler to dry completely before continuing.

  5. 5

    Sand the entire surface with coarse-grit sandpaper. This will remove any bumps and will roughen the surface so that it is more accepting of the stain. Wipe down the surface with a tack cloth to remove residual sanding dust.

  6. 6

    Spread an oil-based staining product onto the cabinet surface with clean white cloths. Cover all surfaces, allow the stain to set for about 10 minutes, then wipe away any excess. Once the first coat has dried, lightly sand again, wipe the surface down with the tack cloth, and apply a second coat. Once that has dried, continue to sand and apply coats as necessary until you achieve your desired colour.

Tips and warnings

  • If possible, remove parts of the cabinets to an outdoor workspace or a well-ventilated workspace to avoid splashing stain around your kitchen.

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