Melamine is a laminate material used to cover the particleboard or medium-density fiberboard used in cabinet making. It provides a hard, durable surface that is easy to clean. The chemical composition of melamine resin includes formaldehyde, which is toxic to inhale and unsuitable to recycle. Wallpapering over a melamine cabinet surface poses specific challenges.
Priming or sizing a surface prepares it for papering. Wallpaper is manufactured in rolls that are cut to fit specific areas such as cabinets or walls. The surface to be papered is covered with a gelatinous substance like weak glue, called size. This is often referred to as priming the surface for wallpaper. The slick, hard surface of melamine may be resistant to sizing.
Acrylic or Powdered Size
Wallpaper size is traditionally a substance made from powdered wheat or animal bone. It creates "tooth" in the surface that enables wallpaper to adhere. Vinyl size is slightly more expensive but does not need to be mixed and it covers more area than wheat or bone-based size. Test the size chosen on the melamine cabinets to ensure that it dries and the paper adheres.
Sandpaper on Melamine
Wallpaper needs a slightly rough surface to adhere. Sandpapering cabinets in preparation for wallpapering is frequently recommended. Melamine should not be treated the same as other types of wood cabinets. Sandpapering a melamine surface is not recommended because of the possibility of dust inhalation. Formaldehyde and other melamine chemical compounds may be toxic to breathe.
A smooth, professional wallpapering project requires that hinges and knobs be cut around neatly with a razor knife. Melamine chips easily and care must be taken when using a sharp tool near it. Cabinets are usually removed before painting or papering and it may be difficult to replace the hinge screws back into the original cabinet frame holes. The door edges and corners must also be papered to a neat edge that will not peel back with constant use.