Trained Eye

 
 
 

Painting Countertop

Question:

Is it possible to paint an Arborite countertop in a bathroom?

Answer:

With the numerous types of paints and finishes available currently, it is possible to paint almost anything. The question you should be asking is not whether painting your bathroom countertop is possible, but is it practical?

Bathroom countertops are normally constructed with a moisture resistant surface, such as plastic laminate (Arborite, Formica, etc.), ceramic tile, cultured marble, Corion, or granite. This is due to the obvious need for resistance to water from the faucet, which is normally used everyday. Water from the faucet will splash on the counter and often sit until it evaporates, causing major moisture damage to untreated surfaces.

Plastic laminates offer the most cost effective method of surface protection and are often heated and post-formed before bonding to the countertop material beneath. This allows for curving the surface of the laminate allowing fewer joints in the top, especially at the backsplash and front lip. The top will still require a bead of caulking at the connection to the walls around the backsplash and sides, but will provide a very good moisture barrier. Unlike granite and marble, these tops can be easily cut with a standard jigsaw to install the sink and also trim to conform to uneven walls. This is the reason that laminate tops are the most popular and widely used for bathroom vanities.

Plastic laminates are available in a huge variety of colours and styles, but this property is also the only drawback of this material. Once you install a laminate countertop of a particular colour and pattern, you are stuck with it for many years. There is no need for any refinishing, as the laminate will last for many years with minimal maintenance. If you opt to redecorate your bathroom, you are stuck blending in the old top. This is probably the reason you have decided to try and paint the top, to match new décor in the bathroom.

If you do decide to paint the top, you first have to sand the surface, to remove the hard outer layer. This job is difficult and messy, but will be essential to proper adhesion of the new paint. Once this is done and cleaned, a high quality primer will be required to ensure the top coats will not easily peel from the laminate. Check with your paint supplier for proper primer to be compatible with the choice of finish paint. The paint chosen must have extra moisture and wear resistance, such as an epoxy or melamine finish. Normal paint will wear very easily and quickly in the harsh environment near the sink. Unfortunately, this paint will be costly, which brings me to my previous point about the practicality of painting the countertop.

By the time you buy sandpaper, primer, epoxy paint, solvent, and a good paintbrush, you have likely matched or exceeded the cost of a new countertop. Unless you have a very large vanity, or a custom banjo cut, the replacement cost should be within reach. The only difficulty with replacement rather than refinishing is that the sink and faucet will have to be removed to fit the new top and replaced after installation. If you have the tools and are somewhat adventurous, you may find it is less work to do a complete upgrade than properly paint the old surface.

The only thing that I have not discussed is the condition of the old counter and vanity beneath. If they are both in decent condition, then painting is possible. If they are very old and were constructed and laminated onsite, rather than a post-formed unit made in a factory, replacement may be much more difficult. This may be the only good reason to try and attempt painting, although the old square-edged counters can be re-laminated with new material, which will provide a better quality surface. This last option will be more costly than a simple counter replacement. The reason for the added cost is that this is normally a job for a good finishing carpenter with proper laminate trimmers and tools.

I always encourage homeowners to try and attempt small home renovations themselves, to try and reduce expensive professional repairs. Having said that; in many cases, it may be a better use of limited funds to hire a professional to do the job properly, the first time around. Bathroom countertop replacement may be one of these situations. There are several local companies that manufacture countertops and have carpenters on staff that will custom measure, order and install new countertops for reasonable costs. This will be far superior to even a high quality paint job of a bathroom vanity top.