Melamine is a fairly common material for inexpensive home furnishings such as shelves, wall cabinets and cupboards — sometimes even furniture. Made from thermally fused papers saturated in resin, a melamine finish is designed to be durable, requiring no special melamine paint or sealers of any kind. That finish may be more drab than fab if the item is left over from another decade. Instead of settling for it as-is, jazz it up with a fresh coat of paint.
Preparing for Melamine Paint Projects
Proper preparation is the key to success when repainting melamine; it's even more important than repainting porous materials such as wood. The reason — laminates such as melamine are not porous, so a specialty primer is needed for the paint to stick. Clean dirty melamine surfaces such as cabinet doors with a household degreaser, allowing the melamine to dry completely. Sand the melamine gently with fine-grit sandpaper, just enough to scuff it up slightly; then wipe the dust away with a soft cloth.
For items such as plastic coated melamine cabinets and furniture, remove the hardware, doors or drawers for better primer and cupboard paint coverage. Use painter's tape to cover any areas you don't want to paint, then prime the melamine with a primer specifically made for laminates and melamine. Many sealing and bonding primers work well on melamine; read the label to be sure.
An alcohol-based shellac primer cures more quickly than similar water-based products, but emits strong fumes and is more difficult to clean up. Use a brush or roller to apply your chosen primer in a thin layer; then wait for it to dry as recommended on the label. The only time you don't need a primer with melamine is for an all-in-one paint/primer product such as a spray paint designed specifically for laminates.
Brush and Roll-on Paints
Once the primer is completely dried and cured, as recommended on the primer label, it's time for paint. Pour a high-quality, all-purpose latex enamel paint into a paint tray; then brush or roll it onto the melamine in thin, smooth layers. Opt for a semi-gloss paint for best results; even though enamels cure with a hard finish, the higher the gloss level of the paint, the more durable and washable the finish, which is very important in areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. Allow the first paint coat to dry as recommended on the label before applying a second coat.
Spray Painting Melamine
A spray paint provides a smooth, factory-like finish, especially when you're using an all-in-one bonding primer and paint specifically designed for laminates and melamine. As an added benefit, the drying and curing time is greatly reduced when using a spray paint. Do not prime the melamine first if using an all-in-one primer and paint, as it isn't necessary.
Set the melamine object atop newspaper, or surround it with newspaper if it is too difficult to move. Work in a well-ventilated area; if working indoors, open windows and wear a respirator or dust mask to avoid breathing in fumes.
Tape off any areas you wish to protect from paint. Shake the spray can; then hold it 6 to 8 inches from the melamine, starting your paint near the top of the object, painting in overlapping rows as you work your way down. Start each burst slightly before the object, if possible, and end slightly beyond it for the most even coverage. Use several thin coats of paint, allowing each coat to dry for at least a minute or as recommended on the paint can.
Paint Curing Concerns
While some spray paints require very little curing time before you can handle the melamine, many brush-on paints require days or even weeks before the melamine can be handled. Avoid placing objects on the painted melamine as it dries — this includes cabinet doors. Leave doors, hardware and drawers off all painted surfaces until the paint cures for as long as the label recommends. Curing times vary from one brand to the next, but be prepared to wait at least a week.
Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.