What to Do About Peeling Cabinets

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  • 8 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 50
What You'll Need
Heat gun
Paint brush

Whether you've got a flip (or flop) on your hands, or your home is in need of a little renovation, lots of people find peeling cabinets in their homes. If you've got peeling cabinets, the fix may be easier than you'd expect. With a few supplies and a little elbow grease, you can have brand-new looking cabinets in no time!

Option One - Sand it Down

If you've got wood cabinets that are peeling on the outside or inside, give the old sander a whirl. Pick up some fine-grit sandpaper and attach it to your sander. Detach your cabinet doors if possible and take the cabinets or drawers outside and sand them in an open area with lots of ventilation. You never know what's in old paint so wear a mask and eye protection when you sand.

After you've sanded down your cabinets, let them sit and give them a second sanding a few hours later to make sure you've removed all of the old paint. You don't want to damage or warp the wood, so if your paint is really stubborn, try a different method.

Once you've sanded the paint off your cabinets, leave them detached and finish the reno by staining or painting the cabinets outside. You can use specific cabinet paints, or chalk paint. Chalk paint boasts impressive coverage and can cover a multitude of ills. Chalk paint is also an excellent option if you want to add a vintage or antique look to your cabinets.

hands with sandpaper sanding down a dark wooden surface

Option Two - Goodbye Thermofoil

If your cabinets are peeling Thermofoil, you may have to get crafty with how you remove it. You will need to lightly sand the Thermofoil and then use a heat gun to activate the glue and while it is hot, peel the Thermofoil back. This is a time-intensive process and you'll want to wear protective gloves when working with a heat gun.

Once you remove the Thermofoil you will need to clean up any glue residue. There are specialty cleaners that will help but the simplest way to remove the excess glue is with rubbing alcohol and a hard sponge and a microfiber cloth. You may need to scrub at it, but it will come off.

Lacquer thinner also works to take the excess glue off cabinets as well.

If you can't get the Thermofoil off, sand as best you can and paint over the top. Painting on Thermofoil can be done, but you will need to use a specialty paint or a chalk paint. You will also need to use a high-grade sealant or lacquer when you are finished painting. Your local hardware or paint store will be able to help you pick out a paint that will adhere to the plastic on the Thermofoil. They also may recommend a good primer. With chalk paint, you normally do not need to sand or prime, but it may help to complete those steps when painting Thermofoil.

hands removing chipped paint with heat gun and scraper

Design Minds

When deciding how to refinish your cabinets, get creative. Consider painting your bottom cabinets and your uppers different colors or painting them all a fun statement color. While white cabinets feel timeless, you can get a trendy look that will also stand the test of time with other neutral colors like grey or black.

Bold colors can bring a little life into your kitchen and if you're not ready to paint your cabinets bright red, start with an exciting neutral like burnt orange or forest green. You can also stencil your cabinets with paint stencils to give them a new look. After all of the sanding, priming, and painting to fix a peeling cabinet, what're a few more hours to add a truly fun design? Stencils work best on completely flat-faced cabinets and should only be used once the base paint is completely dry.

If painting seems like an all-around pain, you can also use regular or peel-and-stick wallpaper on your cabinets or bar to bring new life into your kitchen or bathroom.