Updating the look of old cabinets can make your kitchen or bathroom look like a whole new space. One way to completely change the look of Formica is to apply a stain. A quality stain can give Formica cabinets the look of real wood. But Formica cannot be stained with the same products used for wood. Because the surface of Formica is much smoother than wood, use a Formica-specific stain. Look or ask for stain formulated for Formica or similar man-made surfaces like arborite or laminate.
Clear and seal the room you will be painting in. Remove everything from the cabinets and the counters below and place them in another room. Move the furniture in the room, except for one work table. Cover the countertop, backsplash and floor directly below the cabinet with plastic sheeting. Tape off the sections of the wall directly adjacent to the cabinets, using painter's tape.
Cover the work table with a tarp (or more plastic sheeting). Take the doors and shelves off the cabinets, using a screwdriver, and place them on the table. Remove the hardware from the cabinets and place them in small plastic baggies so that you don't lose track of them.
Wash all of the Formica (the cabinets on the wall and the doors and shelves) with trisodium phosphate (TSP) powder diluted in water according to the manufacturer's instructions and a scrubbing sponge. Towel dry.
Scuff-sand the surface of the Formica with a fine-grit sanding sponge. Sand just enough to remove the gloss from the surface of the Formica. Wipe the sanding dust away with a tackcloth.
Brush or spray the Formica with Formica stain. Always keep a wet edge as you paint the first coat. Wet paint over dried patches will leave a noticeable overlap mark. To avoid drips, brush your paint brush on the edge of the container before applying it to the Formica. Allow the stain to dry for the manufacturer-recommended amount of time before you apply the second coat. This can be anywhere from one to eight hours.
Apply a second coat of stain with your paint sprayer or a fresh paint brush. Allow the second coat to cure for the manufacturer-recommended amount of time (48 to 72 hours) before reassembling the cabinets.