Painting a Counter Top


Dear NH,
My counter top is in good shape and I can't afford to replace it. I do not like the color, can I paint it?
DH from Sheridan, Wyoming

Dear DH,
Yes, you can. First clean the counter top thoroughly with a detergent. Then wipe the countertop with denatured alcohol to remove any residual oils or grease. The next step is to sand the entire surface with 120 grit sandpaper to rough it up slightly. Don't gouge the countertop... just scratch the surface a little to help the paint to stick.

If there are any serious chips in the surface, they should be filled with a two-part wood filler called Minwax High Performance Wood Filler. This product sets quickly, sticks like crazy, is very sandable. Though these characteristics are important, the most critical quality is that this product dries as hard as a rock... important for a surface that has frequent contact with hard objects. Once you mix and apply this product, do your initial sanding no longer than fifteen minutes after it becomes solid. If you wait too long, it will become so hard that it will be difficult to sand by hand. By the way, this product is very similar to auto body filler, which shares its strength and handling characteristics.

It is important to apply a primer/sealer before your finish coat. The primer/sealer will stick better to the laminate than the finish paint, decreasing the potential for paint chipping. I would suggest using an alkyd (oil) based paint, applied with a short nap roller for the smoothest surface. With oil paints, a few thin coats are better than one heavy coat. The other advantage of an oil paint is that you can sand chips and nicks smooth when it is time to repaint (sorry to interject that little reality). With a latex paint, you will get a less smooth surface initially and chips cannot be sanded smooth.

One caveat... don't expect this paint job to equal the strength and durability of the original laminate. It won't even be close! You may have to change some of your bad habits (if you have any). For example, always have a cutting board available, place very hot items on protective pads, and keep the cats on the floor (OK, I know that's impossible, but I am a hopeless dreamer).

There are stronger paints available than alkyd oils. These are the two-part paints that are used by professional bathroom tub refinishers. Not as widely available as alkyd paints, they are relatively very expensive and designed to be sprayed, though they can be brushed and rolled. Just expect to apply two or possibly three coats. They are more durable for sure, and do not need a primer. Remember, their primary advantage is in their ability to stand up to the difficult conditions in a hot, steamy bathtub enclosure... as pleasant as that can be at the end of a loooong day!! You will have to decide if this alone justifies the additional materials cost.

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