We've been trying to paint over a laminated particleboard counter that we don't like and are having some trouble getting the results we want. We've been using a white latex enamel and painted several thin layers with good results. We then decided to put a protective coat of polyurethane, but it immediately yellowed. Now it's all starting to flake with minimal abrasion. Any advice--especially on what would make a good protective clear coat?
Please don't get upset, but the bad news is that you must strip the polyurethane from the countertop and start over. Applying paint remover is the easiest method, and it does not affect the laminate. You should be careful near the edges since it will affect the contact adhesive. Also follow all the warnings regarding ventilation and physical safety on the label of the product.
You cannot apply polyurethane over any finish except virgin polyurethane. That is,
polyurethane that has not been treated, sealed or waxed. Other surfaces don't give the polyurethane enough grip for it to survive for very long. If you use quality paint you do not need to apply any protective finish over it.
Latex paint is not a great choice for any surface that suffers possible abrasion, such as a countertop. I also loathe using latex paint on bookshelves or other surfaces that are going to have objects placed on them. Instead, a better choice is oil based "alkyd" paint. Alkyd paints are the finest of the oil paints. They dry very hard, are washable and about as abrasion resistant as you can get in a paint. The only better paint you could apply in my opinion would be epoxy paint, which is a two-part paint that chemically sets instead of drying. However, they are not as easy to find and quite a bit more expensive. I have used polyurethane paints a few times, but I am not convinced they are really any better than alkyd paints in durability.
With care and gentle treatment, the painted surface should last years. The surface will never be as tough as the original. Should you get some dings or scratches, the thing that most differentiates latex paint from oil is that latex paints do not sand well, so it is virtually impossible to smooth out those scratches or marks. Oil paints, on the other hand, sand beautifully and you can restore a smooth surface (prior to repainting) without any filling or paint stripping... again
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