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Painting MDF Veneer Cabinets

Written by David | September 30, 2022

So you bought a home that has older kitchen cabinets like I did. They are an oak veneer, have MDF cores, they are heavy and look old. You want to replace them but it is not in the budget because windows, floors, roof, and bathrooms need work more than your cabinets do. Then my friend, you’re in the same boat as I was in. You’re stuck painting your MDF veneer cabinets.

painting mdf cabinets - painted veneer cabinets
image of oak veneer cabinets with a coat of primer on them

Painting MDF cabinets is not all bad. They are solid and they were made better than some of the cabinets today. The hinges are usually pretty sound as well. Let’s dive in…

Can I paint my MDF cabinets?

The answer is always going to be…maybe. Really you can paint almost anything but should you is a completely different conversation. Let’s start with a few questions..

  • Do your MDF cabinets have water damage?
  • Are the hinges working or are they falling apart?
  • When you look at the cabinets are they in good shape? Not falling apart?
  • Can you stand them?

Let’s go through these one by one. If your cabinets have water damage they may not be fixable. You can check out a YouTube video we did on fixing damaged MDF cabinets.

If the hardware and cabinets themselves are in good working order, then you should be ok to paint them. On the other hand, if they are broken, falling apart, or damaged then you may have an issue with old hardware you can’t replace.

Lastly, do you want them? If you hate these things, then honestly, just find a plan B , because the money you spend will be wasted. There is only so much lipstick you can use.

Problems with painting veneer cabinets

If you are not aware, veneer is a very thin piece of wood, maybe as thin as the cardboard of a cereal box, maybe thinner. It is glued to MDF so it looks like real wood. The problem is that it is not real wood. It is all kinds of fillers, glue, paper, sawdust that is compressed and glued together to make something that looks and acts like wood.

MDF, depending on where it is made, is very susceptible to wood damage. Water makes it swell up and that is very difficult to fix. The water exposure also makes the MDF weak in those areas. These areas tend to break, peel or crumble.

We have been able to fix areas in the past, but some damage is too much for us to fix. You can see two videos we did on painting MDF and veneer cabinets also..

How long will painted MDF or painted Veneer last?

When we are painting cabinets that are veneer/MDF, we prepare them just as we do a solid wood cabinet. We use the same products as far as primer and paint. With that being said, we expect them to last 5-10 years. All the prep in the world cannot affect poor quality materials. The MDF will keep fading over time. For our kitchen, we are repainting the hinges and handles that the cabinets already had, (lipstick on a pig) and hoping we can get 3 years out of them until we have the budget for the kitchen remodel.

The house we are in right now that we are moving from, has the same type of cabinets except they are plywood and MDF. We painted them 8 years ago for the 2nd time, 15 years ago total. They are solid, they are not showing signs of wear and tear and with some molding, new pocket hinges, these cabinet doors would look great. The problem is before we moved in they were changed so some are plywood some are oak, so the mismatch of wood grain is kind of hoaky.

Paint or replace MDF cabinets?

I cannot answer that for you, but I am just giving you options that you can save some money by painting kitchen cabinets and use the money for other areas that need more work and attention. If we say that painting your kitchen will cost you $4,500, then a new kitchen will cost about $20,000. And that does not include the time you lose in your kitchen when they tear it out, electrical work, plumbing, flooring repairs, and counter tops.

Painting cabinets is great option!! We have done it 3 times now in our own home. The next time we are replacing and getting a whole new kitchen, so stay tuned for our adventure with that! If you have any questions about painting MDF cabinets, let us know.

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