Painting Your Countertops for a New Look

Want an easy, inexpensive color change for your bathroom? Paint that old, laminated countertop for a simple makeover with a big impact. Here's how to do it.

Whether you're the type who anxiously waits for Sherwin Williams and Pantone to release the latest palettes each year or are merely tired of the '70s hue that dominates your vanity top, painting over a laminate counter is a relatively inexpensive and simple way to change up the color in your bathroom. Just plan carefully, from the paint selection at the start to the three weeks of curing at the end, says Stephen Ingerson, color specialist for Hirschfield's, Inc., a full-service decorating center based in Minneapolis.

"Your color choice is so wide open, but remember it will need to coordinate with the wall color, floor and accessories, without necessarily matching it," says Ingerson. "Take a look at what's going on with the newest laminates to get an idea of color trends you can approximate with paint."

Also consider how long the color will need to work with your bathroom decor. "A color like bright blue is fine if you're just looking for a temporary fix and intend to buy new laminate or a solid surface to replace it in a year," says Ingerson, whose company is also the largest manufacturer of trade sales paint in Minnesota. "But usually you need to think about color that will still look good if you don't change anything for a long time. Just think of all those rose and light blue counters that are still around from the '70s."

And since the counter is so large and so close to the bathroom mirror, its color should be good with your coloring — nothing that makes you look sickly and nothing so bright you can't look at it for long. "Most important, it should be something that you want to see when you first get up in the morning," says Ingerson.

Once you find a color that meets all those criteria, follow these steps for a high-quality paint job:

  1. Clean the countertop with warm soap and water and dry it with a soft cloth.
  2. Lightly sand the counter with 150-grit sandpaper and wipe off any dust with a damp cloth.
  3. Prime the entire surface with 100 percent acrylic primer. "You want a flash-bond primer, one that will stick to the laminate and that will allow paint to stick to it," says Ingerson, who suggests XIM primer, Benjamin Morris Fresh Start, Bullseye 1-2-3 or any other high-quality primer that says on the label it's intended to cover gloss or high-gloss surfaces.
  4. Let the first coat of primer dry and then apply a second.
  5. When the second coat of primer is dry, paint over it with a couple of coats of latex satin or semi-gloss enamel, allowing each coat to dry before painting another.
  6. After the finish coat is dry, seal it with a couple of coats of clear acrylic. "Make sure to use satin or semi-gloss, because the higher the shine in the acrylic, the stronger it is and the more protection it offers against scratches and wear," says Ingerson. "Avoid egg shell or flat paint."

The acrylic seal will dry quickly, says Ingerson, but it's important to go easy on the counter for a while anyhow. "The seal takes two or three weeks to cure, and during that time you shouldn't scrub it, just wipe it off lightly with a damp cloth," he says. "Of course, you never want to use scouring powder or other abrasives on an acrylic-seal painted counter, even after curing."

But you don't have to wait three or even two weeks to make changes if you don't like the color — that's one of the benefits of working with inexpensive paint in lieu of solid surfaces or even laminates. "Get a good look at the finish coat once it's dry, because of course a lot of times paint on a counter won't look the same as it did on the color swatch or in the photo you're working from," says Ingerson.

If you don't like it, it's back to Square Two. "Lightly sand the finish coat and then put on another coat of primer before painting it a different color," says Ingerson.

And if you're the type that sees something you like each time the new color palettes are issued, you can repeat the whole process every couple of months — it's quick, it's simple, and it's ever so easy to change with the color trends.

HGTV. Painting Your Countertops for a New Look, [Online]. Web address: (Page consulted on May 17 2011)