How to Refinish Formica

  • 48-72 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 150-200
What You'll Need
Rubbing alcohol
Rags and towels
120 grit sandpaper
Electric sander (optional)
Oil-based primer
Oil-based paint
Paint brush
Drop cloths
Masking tape and plastic
Short-nap paint roller
Razor blade or box cutter (optional)

Formica is a popular finish for counter tops, tables and kitchen cabinets. Strong and durable, it typically lasts many years. When your Formica surface gets old, shows wear or simply isn't the right color any more, you can refinish it rather than replace it. Painting Formica is an easy solution, and you can complete your project in a week or less, with the bulk of that time frame devoted to allowing your paint to dry

When selecting your paint, choose from gloss, satin or eggshell finishes and pick an enticing color that you will enjoy for years.

Step 1 - Prepare

If refinishing Formica cabinets, you will need to remove the doors, saving all hardware in a plastic bag so you can find it easily later. Place the doors on a stable work surface. Arrange drop cloths under your work area. Wash the Formica surfaces thoroughly with detergent and water, then dry with towels. Next, soak a rag with alcohol and rub the surface to remove any oils or grease left behind by the detergent.

Step 2 - Sand

Sand your Formica surfaces with 120 grit sandpaper, maintaining even pressure or using an electric sander if preferred. Sand evenly to avoid creating any low areas on your work surface. Continue sanding until there is no shine left on the surface of the Formica and it is slightly rough. Wipe the surface with alcohol again to remove all dust from your project.

WARNING: Wear a face mask and safety glass if you use an electric sander.

Step 3 - Tape

Apply masking tape to the edges of your work surface to protect adjacent areas. If refinishing a counter, pay special attention to masking the sink and walls around the counter area. Tape the plastic over your sink and faucets to protect them.

Step 4 - Primer

Paint your prepared Formica surface with a coat of primer. For Formica counter tops and tables and the flat surface of cabinet doors, use the short-nap paint roller. Use a small paintbrush for cabinet interior corners and edges near your walls, or any other area too small for the roller to cover effectively. Allow 24 hours for your primer coat to dry. One coat should be sufficient, but if the old color is not completely covered, apply a second coat and allow to dry another 24 hours.

Step 5 - Paint

Apply your selected paint in thin coats, again using the short-nap roller to apply to large flat surfaces. 2 to 3 coats should suffice, and these coats must dry completely before applying the subsequent layer. Check to ensure that your coverage is even with no old color exposed.

Step 6 - Clean Up and Enjoy

Remove all masking tape, being careful not to pull up any paint as you do so. You may want to use a box cutter or razor blade to run along the edge of your tape to prevent any paint pull up. If your project involved your cabinets, re-attach doors to the cabinet frame and re-attach your handles.