Is painting your countertops an option? Maybe.

Are those older laminated countertops in your bathrooms looking a little dull, but so is your wallet? You might consider painting them for far less money than even a prefabricated replacement from a home remodeling store, let alone a custom makeover with something like polished granite. But... paint?

"That would be kind of like trying to glue laminate over laminate," says Dan Masten, co-owner of Medford's MWM Countertops. "Sometimes it might work; other times you'll get spots that won't stick or that will crumble underneath. We won't do it."

it's all in the prep

To get it right, start from the beginning by thoroughly cleaning your old countertop laminate with a good, biodegradable degreaser. Simple Green or Krud Kutter will work, but trisodium phosphate (TSP) continues to be the professional's choice according to Michael Wann, Ashland Ace Hardware's paint expert.

Echoing the advice of others, Wann stresses thorough preparation as the key to success. "You must be sure to use the right primer. From my perspective Zinsser Bin is essential. It's a shellac-based primer that really sticks to smooth surfaces. Whatever primer you select, be sure it is designed for non-porous surfaces. Otherwise, your finished coats with literally slide off the counter." A gallon of primer will usually cover about 300 square feet for less than $20.

Then Wann recommends choosing a high gloss enamel, either latex base (acrylic) or oil base. "An enamel paint dries to a hard, durable finish." Quality enamels go for $20 to $30 per gallon in just any color you can imagine.

Finally, Wann suggests a topcoat of clear acrylic would add a substantial measure of durability. Sounds like good advice.

For a little bit of your time, some attention to details, and well under $100, you may be able to brighten your bathrooms and extend the life of your laminated countertops.

Mark Cox, proprietor of Medford Countertops and Cabinets, believes that by the time an owner might consider refinishing his or her old laminated countertops, they're probably already too far gone. "The substrate won't be sound or solid enough to hold the new finish."

Jim Mollett, of the Sherwin-Williams franchise store on Crater Lake Highway just off I-5, took the time to check with his company's headquarters before flatly stating, "Absolutely not. We tell our customers, 'Don't even try to repaint your countertops.'"

So there's one side of the story. Problem is, a very reputable cable television show carries a page on their Web site detailing exactly how to go about the job, step-by-step. They insist that with a little bit of elbow grease and a fair dab of patience, you can apply crisp new colors to spruce up your bathrooms for very little out-of-pocket.

A very knowledgeable sales rep from a rival paint store requested anonymity in deference to her company's strict policy of clearing any interviews through the legal department. Apparently "No" is their customary answer.

However, that didn't prevent the woman from enthusiastically endorsing what strikes so many of her peers as a waste of time and money. Sounding almost incredulous, she says, "Sure it works! I've done it myself in several houses."

She tells of leaving her banking career in 1976 to work in a string of Florida paint stores owned by her ex-husband's family. "Down there with all those retirees living on fixed incomes in mobile homes, we had customers painting cabinets and paneling along with countertops. The trick is in getting the surface real clean, and then using a primer designed to adhere to slick surfaces. Then you lay down a good, shiny acrylic topcoat and it's hard as a rock when it dries."

Perhaps unwittingly, her quick recitation of the steps involved neatly circumvents the cable show's somewhat laborious two-to-three week curing cycle. Like her, they stress using the correct primer, but then suggest a color coat of just about any type of paint. After that dries, they recommend several coats of clear acrylic topping, thus the lengthy curing time. Our Internet source says, "Just use a quick-dry acrylic, the shinier the better for surface durability. It's the preparation that matters. The finish will only be as good as the prep."

The verdict is: repainting works on any slick surface that's still intact, but kitchen refinishes may not last too long, subject as they are, to frequent abuse from hard-edged utensils and sharp knives. But a faded bathroom laminate? If your budget's a little tight right now, it might be a way to spruce it up. Who will be any the wiser?

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