How to paint a kitchen counter

February 1, 2013 

Q: We have a plastic laminate kitchen counter that is an ugly yellow color and has some stains I can’t remove. Can the counter be refinished? – L. Gray

There are several ways to refinish or resurface the counter, ranging from painting to adding a layer of ceramic tiles. These makeovers can range from $50 to $250 or more.

Some of the finishes claim to give the appearance of stone or granite, and the finishing process can be quite elaborate. Even for basic painting, to change the color and cover the stains, plan on not using the counter for several days to allow for adequate drying of the multiple coats you’ll need.

To paint, clean the surface with a detergent solution and rinse. Then sand lightly but thoroughly with 150-grit sandpaper, which will help improve adhesion of the finish. Remove all dust with a vacuum or sticky tack rags. Next, mask the sink and wall joint with painter’s tape.

Two coats of primer are usually recommended. Good choices are Zinsser’s Bulls Eye 1-2-3 or B-I-N. Both adhere well to glossy surfaces and both have short drying times (B-I-N dries fastest, but is flammable and has a shellac odor; Bulls Eye 1-2-3 is water-based and less smelly.). Sand the primer lightly with 250 or 300 grit sandpaper and clean up dust.

When the primer coats have dried, apply two coats of high-quality, semi-gloss acrylic enamel. I prefer acrylic (water-based) products in kitchens because of flammability and odor problems with oil-based products. Some painters like to use a small, fine-napped roller to apply the paint, but a smooth finish can also be obtained with high-quality paint brushes.

If more gloss is desired, let the paint dry and add a coat or two of glossy, water-based polyurethane. For stone-look and granite-look finishes, check Rust-Oleum’s Countertop Transformations. These systems basically involve spreading colored chips in a paint film. Keep in mind that any painted finish can be scratched and possibly damaged by hot utensils; it won’t be as durable as the original laminate. Use cutting boards and extra care to keep the counter looking good.

Air duct cleaning

Q: We recently moved into a house with metal air ducts to deliver heat and air conditioning to the rooms. We were contacted a couple of times by a company that cleaned the ducts several years before we moved in. The salesman tells us we should have the ducts cleaned again, at a cost of $600, or we risk health problems, a lot of dust in the house, and so forth. Do we really need this? – Jan

Air duct cleaning is controversial, and I can’t give you a definite answer. Even the Environmental Protection Agency has some doubts about it, and is probably the best source of in-depth information (visit and chose “Air Ducts” in the list of topics).

To quote from the EPA document: “A blanket recommendation cannot be offered as to whether you should have your air ducts cleaned. … Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems.”

The National Air Duct Cleaners Association ( is another excellent source of information, although NADCA, a trade group, is understandably more in favor of duct cleaning. The NADCA site includes a list of frequently asked questions geared to homeowners.

My guess is that the ducts do not need to be cleaned after only a few years unless they are very dirty inside and contaminated with mold and other unhealthy materials, or family members have respiratory problems that might be worsened by contaminated ducts, or you have a very inefficient heating-air conditioning system and don’t use good quality air filters and change them regularly. If you are concerned about the condition of the ducts and feel you are being pressured by the firm that cleaned them in the past, I suggest getting the ducts inspected by another firm, and I recommend one that belongs to NADCA, whose members follow effective duct-cleaning practices.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service


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