How to Refinish MDF Thermofoil Cabinets

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Thermofoil is a type of wood coating.
Image Credit: hikesterson/iStock/GettyImages

The thermofoil coating on MDF cabinets and shelving can get dull and dingy over the years. If the cabinets are durable and structurally sound, then repainting the MDF cabinets can revive the room.


However, the slick surface of thermofoil-treated cabinets and shelves needs some attention before repainting. Follow the proper methods and use the proper products, and you can have a new kitchen in a day or two.

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What Is MDF?

Medium-density fiberboard, also known as MDF, is easy to work with because of its smooth surface and durable qualities. This makes it ideal for cabinetry, shelving, decorative trim and other light cabinetry projects. MDF is easy to saw, paint and put together.


The porous nature of MDF makes it difficult to paint. This makes thermofoil a popular choice for the top glossy, matte, flat or beveled finish. The thermofoil finish is created from heat and pressure. The coating is most often placed over bare MDF.

The thermofoil is easy to clean but can crack, peel or bubble when exposed to high heat and moisture, according to Best Online Cabinets. Painting MDF shelves and cabinets that are covered in thermofoil means that the surface will need to be prepped thoroughly.


Prepping Thermofoil Cabinets

To resurface the MDF kitchen cabinets, you'll need to strip and thoroughly clean them. Gently go over the surfaces of the thermofoil cabinets and shelves that you intend to retouch with a good, strong cleaner, such as trisodium phosphate, or TSP. This will take down the high shine of thermofoil and remove any soap or greasy residue from the surface of the cabinets and shelving.


Carefully remove each door and drawer. Mark each piece with a number or letter that corresponds with the frame of the cabinets. By doing this, it will be easier to slide or screw the repainted MDF piece back in place. MDF is heavier than plywood, so take care when moving large panels around. Unprotected MDF can swell if it comes in contact with water.

Use medium-grit sandpaper to further take off the shine of the thermofoil and prepare it for the paint. The texture helps the primer to stick to the surface of the MDF cabinets. Before painting, wipe down all surfaces of the cabinetry and shelving with a damp rag to remove dust.


Repainting MDF Cabinets

Use a quality MDF primer spray over the sanded and cleaned thermofoil cabinet surfaces or roll on a liquid primer. This will seal the underlying porous MDF and create a protective layer. The primer is also needed for the overlying slick of paint to adhere well to the surface and cut down on chips and cracks. Allow the primer to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions.


Use acrylic enamel or oil-based paint to roll over the newly primed cabinets, according to the Lowe's. Oil-based paints are preferred but can be difficult to use and have a strong odor. Waterborne acrylic enamel paint has the same benefits of oil-based with less of the hassle. If using two coats of paint, allow the first layer to dry before rolling on a second coat.



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