How to Paint Thermofoil Cabinets to Last

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Follow these steps on prepping and painting thermofoil cabinets so they look good and last until you are ready to replace them.

Ugly cabinets? A complete remodel not in your budgeft? If you have Thermofoil cabinets you might be wondering if they can be painted. Yes they sure can!

Our primary bathroom is HUGE!!! Absolutely massive. For whatever reason they seemed to design gigantic primary bedrooms with sitting rooms and extra large bathrooms in the 90’s. (our home – 1996). They were not thinking twenty-thirty years down the road when the homeowner would be left trying to garnish a massive budget to remodel it.

As much as I wanted to do a complete remodel it was not on the top of my list or in the budget; however, I wanted to update it. Read more about that HERE! Painting the cabinets made a huge difference! 

Since we don’t have wood cabinets instead we have Thermofoil, but the good news is they can be painted.

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blue painted bathroom cabinet

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Thermofoil Cabinets explained

What are thermofoil cabinets you ask? You might be thinking with the phrase “foil” that there is a metal content but not so. Kraftmaid Cabinets explains thermofoil cabinets perfectly as they manufacture both wood and thermofoil styles.

Thermofoil cabinets have a flawless smooth finish and they’re easy to clean and wipe off, but because of their smooth, vinyl-like surface they are extremely difficult to paint. If a portion of the thermofoil chips or peels, it’s nearly impossible to get the same look back on that section of the cabinet with more thermofoil.

Thermofoil is a thin layer of vinyl that is vacuum-pressed onto cabinet doors and drawer fronts, which are typically constructed of medium-density fiberboard (MDF)The Spruce

Although replacing my cabinets was not doable; painting them would make them look a whole lot better and I was ready to get going on this bathroom update.

Supplies needed to paint Thermofoil cabinets

Gather all your supplies before you begin. If you are a DIYer you likely already have some of these supplies already on hand.

Cans of paint for thermofoil cabinets

Best Paint for Thermofoil Cabinets

Any time you paint cabinets or furniture; a self-leveling paint is the way to go. I used Benjamin Moore’s Advance Paint in Semi-Gloss because of its self-leveling properties. Before you had to choose between latex and oil-based coatings. Oil based paint provides a lovely self-leveling but not an ideal product to work with. Waterborne alkyds are a class of paint that offers the best of both latex and oil based and hardens more like an enamel for a durable and beautiful finish.

Benjamin Moore Van Courtland Blue Paint Color

Prepping Thermofoil cabinets

Remove all your doors and drawers from the cabinets and drawer hardware. Set these aside and set up a workstation with plastic drop cloths where you can set your drawers and doors as you paint them and as they dry.

Tape off the walls, floors and countertop to keep those areas free from paint.

Sanding Thermofoil Cabinets

You will need to lightly sand all of the cabinet doors (front and back), drawer fronts and the frame with either a fine grit sanding block or an orbital sander which will make the job go a lot quicker.

sanding thermofoil cabinets

Orbital Sander

Tip: The vibration from a palm sander makes the sanding job smoother and more thorough.

Focus on creating texture on the cabinets, not on removing the finish. Careful not to sand so much that you sand through the laminate coating; you are just trying to rough up the surface so the paint can adhere better.

If you have portions of the termofoil coating that has peeled you will need to pay special attention to this area and sand around it accordingly to smooth it without peeling more of the coating off. Our cabinets did not have peeling, but peeling is not uncommon so watch for this and be prepared to prep accordingly.

Cleaning After Sanding

Once everything was sanded I dusted everything down to remove loose dust. I then washed the cabinets and all the drawers with a bucket of warm soapy water. (Dawn dish soap) You want the paint to secure properly so sanding and proper cleaning removes dust and any other residues that might still be on them.

cleaning thermofoil cabinets

Allow cabinets to fully dry before you begin to prime them. You should have been careful not to soak the cabinets while you were cleaning; just enough soapy water to remove the dust and any grime or dirt that might have been left after sanding.

Cleaning thermofoil cainbets

Priming Thermofoil Cabinets

Painting a slick surface like Thermofoil means that priming is crucial. Choose a good bonding primer like Zinsser or Kilz.

Now that everything is prepped and cleaned I was ready to get to work. I started by using the brush to get the primer in all the grooves and details of the cabinet. Then I used a foam roller to apply the large portion of the drawers and doors with primer. A foam roller will apply the paint in a smooth and even coat.

Once the cabinets were primed I moved to the cabinet frame and sides.

Tip: move fairly quickly with both priming and painting to avoid drying too quickly and leaving strokes and roller marks on the surface.

Once the primer was dry I lightly sanded again and cleared away the dust with a dry, clean brush.

priming thermofoil cabinets

One or Two Coats of Primer?

I only did one coat of primer, but you may opt to do two, if you feel adhesion wasn’t great.

Tip: if you are painting your cabinets really dark then you might want to use a tinted primer and do two coats

The smoother and cleaner the surface after priming is the better your paint will adhere. Priming is just that…it’s priming the surface for paint. It does not need to look perfect.

Painting Thermofoil Cabinets

Now for the fun part, or at least the part where you begin to see the color of your cabinets begin to come to life. You still have hard work ahead of you but I always feel like the prep work is the least fun part of a project.

As stated before, I went with Benjamin Moore Advance Paint in a semi-glass finish because of it’s self-leveling feature. BM Advance paint also has a slightly extended open time so it doesn’t dry super fast which is helpful when you are painting cabinets.

I selected Benjamin Moore Van Courtland Blue after much research on which color paint and the overall design of the final bathroom update project. It’s a gorgeous color!

Blue paint chip

I used the foam roller to cover most of the surface and my brush to fill in the areas the roller couldn’t cover. I rolled then brushed then rolled over everything again to ensure it was smooth.

painting thermofoil cabinet

You will see little bubbles; you can lightly go over them with the roller and they will pop, but be careful not to go over them too much. The paint will take care of itself; that’s why you are using the self-leveling paint.

Tip: you can sand between coats of paint if you have any paint brush ridges!

Move quickly and with a light hand and do a final coat with the sponge roller if you can.

I did the drawers and cabinets first and then did the cabinet frame and sides, but it doesn’t matter which order you go in.

I waited until the next day to apply the second coat mainly because I didn’t have time the same day to do two coats on both cabinets. You don’t have to wait that long; just a couple hours before the second coat.

Installing Painted Cabinet Doors and Drawers

As tempting as it is to hang the doors and re-attach the drawers right away; WAIT! Do not be in a hurry or you will regret it. I waited several days before I added the doors and drawer fronts back onto the cabinet.

You don’t want any areas to scratch or get chipped when you’re trying to get the doors back up. Let the paint cure and fully harden. I promise the extra time will be worth the wait!

painted thermofoil cabinets

Painted Thermofoil Cabinet Results

Are these my dream cabinets? No, but I can honestly say they look 100x’s better and the finish turned out better than I expected. It isn’t a 100% factory finish but I would say it’s pretty close. They have made the bathroom look much more finished and I couldn’t be happier with the results!

The extra steps and patience with applying the primer and paint made a world of difference in the results and they are smooth with a nice velvety finish.

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Painted Thermofoil Cabinet Longevity

We use these cabinets in our primary bathroom so they are used every day and often. I wouldn’t say my husband and I are hard on your cabinets, but we do use them.

I painted these in March and 4 months later they are still going strong. There haven’t been any issues with chips, scratches, etc. so at this point, I think they are holding up really well!

We sold our house in July and by the time we moved out the cabinets were still in excellent condition.

Final Thoughts on Painting Thermofoil Cabinets

If you have Thermofoil cabinets don’t be afraid to give them an update with a lovely paint. If replacing them is not in your budget and you want to refresh your space then go for it! You will be pleased with the outcome.

Would I do this project again? YES! My only regret is not doing it sooner so I could have enjoyed it longer.

blue and white bathroom

Source: Realtor.com

Painting these cabinets was a huge help when the house was photographed and listed for sale and you can see the listing photo above.

Grab your paint and your brush and go paint some cabinets that are in need of a serious facelift.

Painting cabinets

RELATED Painting POSTS:

How to Paint Thermofoil Cabinets to Last

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