Staining Laminate - Yes, It Can Be Done!


So about 2 years ago I felt a little ambitious and decided to take on my office cabinets, the orange-ish color laminate that wasn't offensive, but just wasn't my style or taste.

I'd painted laminate in the past and had what I'd call so-so results. Yes, they look great right after I'd done them, but the results never lasted. What do I mean when I say the results never lasted? Always, every single time they'd end up peeling later down the road. User error? Possibly, but not likely. I know some have had success, but not me. I decided to try something a little different by using a gel stain on the laminate and boy was I surprised at the results...2 years later!

You see the date on the calendar in the previous picture? October 2014, that's when I first took on the project, and yes it took a while to finish up the office because I had a big load on my plate at the time. Here's the pic from just the other day, January 2016, and the cabinets have held up great!

Since the office was on the project list for 2016, yes I make project lists, I decided it was as good a time to finally finish it up. You're going to be amazed at the difference a little Java gel stain can accomplish.

Before; your basic stock laminate cabinets with an orangish color to them. They weren't awful, I did live with them for many years like this and was content until the idea of mixing it up came to the forefront.

It was pretty easy too, no real prep work other than making sure they were clean. One thick coat and they were done. Yup, that easy.

I'd highly recommend using gloves when working with this gel stain. It's sticky, and the only way to get it off your skin is by using paint thinner or nail polish remover. I just bought a large box at Costco because I tend to go through them fast.

My favorite gel stain is the General Finishes brand. They've got great colors to choose from and a quart will go a long way. I probably used about half a can with this project, but that's because I brushed it on thick. How you use it will vary on how much you need. You can purchase it from Amazon, but I found it cheaper locally at a woodworking store.

I put it on like paint, but with a light touch. I found working with laminate, if I over brushed it the orange color would show through, and I didn't want that. So light easy strokes is the best method, and even though this technically doesn't have a true grain, you can create one by making sure your brush strokes are all in the same direction.

I also found that when working with glass on the doors, it was okay to get a little stain on the glass. I later went back and used a razor to scrape it off.

While the doors and shelves were drying, I stained out the wall cabinets.

I even restained the dry erase board to match the cabinets as well.

Turned out pretty nice I'd say.

It gives the office a nice rich feel that makes me want to be productive while I spend 8+ hours a day in there writing.

This bench was done 2 years ago using a slightly different method. I did more of a dry brushing to give it a grained look like real wood. Looks like real wood, doesn't it? One note, it takes about 5-10 days for the gel to fully cure. What I mean by that is once it's not tacky, you can put things back together, but take care that you don't scratch the finish. You can retouch, and once it's fully cured you shouldn't have any issues unless of course you accidently scrape it with something sharp, just like any other wood product. Well, I'm off to be productive in my newly revamped office space. Wish me luck! Toodles! *If you'd like to see more pictures or details, follow the link to my blog.

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Author Lisa L Wiedmeier

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Have a question about this project?

33 questions
  • Donna Bavaro-Kennell
    Donna Bavaro-Kennell
    on Jan 14, 2016

    WOW! I will deff have to try this on a table I just bought that has a laminate top..I love the gel stains! Did you use any kind of sealer on it?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Jan 14, 2016

      @Donna Bavaro-Kennell Nope, didn't need to. The first set of cabinets have held up well without any sealer on them for 2 years. I added a sealer to a table I'd refinished and I'd not recommend it with the get stain.

  • Linda P
    Linda P
    on Jan 14, 2016

    Did you use 2 different colors of gel stain on the bench top? How do you get some of the brush marks to look darker? Looks wonderful, btw. I need to do an exterior door and want it to look like wood.

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Jan 14, 2016

      @Linda P I only used the java gel stain and wiped some off with a cotton cloth and then did long quick strokes to blend it out to make it look like grain. I'd suggest testing it out on a sample piece first so you get the hang of it before starting on your door because when you're using lighter coats of the gel stain it dried quicker and can be a bit unforgiving.

    • Mcgypsy9
      Mcgypsy9
      on Jan 17, 2016

      Linda P just a word of advice since you are doing an exterior door. You absolutely have to use a sealer that is for outdoor use on the finish. Also, it does take time for the gel stains to cure. For outdoor use be sure you aren't expecting rain for at least a week and don't seal it until after it has completely cured.

  • Heather
    Heather
    on Jan 16, 2016

    Wow they like great! How did you prep the cupboards before staining them? Do you have to sand them? I want to do this to my kitchen cupboards would it need a sealer in the kitchen?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Jan 16, 2016

      @Heather All I did was make sure they were clean, no sanding required. I've used a sealer over other projects with this gel stain and I didn't like the results. I'd actually look toward the manufacturer, General Finishes, and see what they suggest.

    • B. Enne
      B. Enne
      on Jan 17, 2016

      @Heather if I may add my 2 cents, on my kitchen cupboards, I used liquid sandpaper and steel wool, which cleaned years of gunk off, then wiped them down well with a wet cloth, dried them well with a lint free cloth, and let them air dry properly. I had bought them 2nd hand and they needed the extra prep. I bought BM Stays Clear to go over top as recommended by them over the Old Masters stain, but didn't use it. I may add it, since it is in a kitchen, and I want to make sure it holds up well to daily use and cleaning.

  • Lizzy L
    Lizzy L
    on Jan 17, 2016

    Fantastic! You said that in the past you've painted laminate with so-so results. Did you use chalk paint? I have some laminate pieces that I was going to paint with Annie Sloan chalk paint, but now I'm worried.

  • Julie
    Julie
    on Jan 17, 2016

    Looks amazing! What color gel stain did you use?

  • Lori
    Lori
    on Jan 17, 2016

    What a great choice. I have paint to start my kitchen and now I'm re thinking maybe I should go dark. They are not laminate but that probably doesn't matter, right?

  • She1734472
    She1734472
    on Jan 17, 2016

    What color did you use? It looks great.

  • Jackie Horton
    Jackie Horton
    on Jan 18, 2016

    Wonder if gel stain would work well on wood kitchen cabinets?

    • Kelli
      Kelli
      on Jan 28, 2016

      @Jackie Horton yes! I had my wood cabinets gel stained almost a year ago by a professional from light colored wood to a darker colored stain & it looks great!

  • Jackie Horton
    Jackie Horton
    on Jan 18, 2016

    Has anyone tried gel stain on wooden kitchen cabinets? Do you think it would work well there?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Jan 18, 2016

      @Jackie Horton I've done that too. I used it on oak cabinets at my parents house and they turned out great. Same prep, clean the cabinets, but you don't have to sand. You can either rub it on with a soft cotton cloth, or brush it on with a quality brush depending on how dark you'd like it. I used the gel stain on my railing too just this past year. Holds up great!

    • B. Enne
      B. Enne
      on Jan 19, 2016

      @Jackie Horton yes and I am happy with them.

    • Jackie Horton
      Jackie Horton
      on Jan 19, 2016

      @B. Enne Thanks. Do you have a pic you could post. My cabinets now are light wood and I'm think of gong darker.

    • B. Enne
      B. Enne
      on Jan 19, 2016

      @Jackie Horton yes but pics are old and not great (cellphone)...work in progress, no finished ones. They have held up well. They read as quite red in the pics, but look more like a warm dark java in person. I did not put a top coat, but was told by the paint store to put BM Stays Clear on top, after letting them cure. The stain was bought at a BM daler, hence the suggestion for BM Stays Clear.

      , original oak, 1st coat Old Masters gel stain, 2nd coat Old Masters gel stain, 1st coat Old Masters gel stain This was the worst cabinet the original oak finish was very scratched and had water damage, 1st coat Old Masters gel stain
    • See More
  • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
    Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
    on Jan 19, 2016

    I used a different color at my parents house, but here are the results. We did this about 2 years ago and they still look great.

    , Gel stained oak cabinets
  • Stephanie
    Stephanie
    on Jan 21, 2016

    Did you put any clear coat on it?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Jan 22, 2016

      @Stephanie no I did not. and in 2 years I've not had a single issue. I did the same treatment on my parents oak kitchen cabinets about 2 years ago as well without any clear coat and it's help up fine. If you decide to put a clear coat on, be sure you use the one general finishes makes, I put some other brand name clear coat on a coffee table over the gel and it didn't smooth out like it should have. Hope this helps.

  • Nadine
    Nadine
    on Jan 22, 2016

    Did you use a top coat?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Jan 23, 2016

      @Nadine no I did not. and in 2 years I've not had a single issue. I did the same treatment on my parents oak kitchen cabinets about 2 years ago as well without any clear coat and it's help up fine. If you decide to put a clear coat on, be sure you use the one general finishes makes, I put some other brand name clear coat on a coffee table over the gel and it didn't smooth out like it should have. Hope this helps.

  • Edie
    Edie
    on Feb 7, 2016

    I love the gel stain results, but the desktop surface really sets it off well. Is the desktop surface the original, or did you do that? If you did, I wonder how?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Feb 8, 2016

      It's the original surface I started with about 8 years ago. It's a laminate countertop that I had made for my office. It's held up really well, and thankfully it's still in style!

  • Amy LaFleur Kennard
    Amy LaFleur Kennard
    on Jan 20, 2017

    Hi did you simply just apply gel stain or did you sand or anything first?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Jan 20, 2017

      All I did was ensure the cabinets were clean, no sanding involved, and then painted the stain on--not rub. I used a good quality brush and did 2 coats to the thickness I would have with paint. It's sticky until it dries, so make sure it's thoroughly dry before applying the 2nd coat.

    • Nancy Mckinnon Isaacson
      Nancy Mckinnon Isaacson
      on Mar 8, 2017

      I love the look. Iam looking to do the same thing to a work station at my salon

  • Sonya Rivera-Rizzotti
    Sonya Rivera-Rizzotti
    on Jan 25, 2017

    Really beautiful!! I would like to know if you used a color that was lighter (closer to the original color) what it would turn out like. Would the color take or would you have to use a much darker color? thanks

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Jan 26, 2017

      I used a darker color because the original had too much of an orange tint for my liking. They make the gel stain in so many different colors, I'm sure I could have chosen something else and it would have turned out looking lovely. One note, you might have to do a few coats to get the desired color you wanted if you went lighter, but as long as its a gel stain, it'd work. Hope this helps.

  • Jacklynn
    Jacklynn
    on Feb 20, 2017

    This is exactly what I am looking to do! I love the color. What type of brush did you use or does that not matter? Thanks!

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Feb 20, 2017

      I love my Purdy brushes, they're around $10, but so worth it! Only downfall is that this gel tends to ruin them, so you'll probably have to toss it afterwards. It just gives you a better, cleaner finish in the end.

  • Dee Farrell
    Dee Farrell
    on Apr 1, 2017

    Will this work on laminate flooring?
    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Apr 4, 2017

      Flooring takes more of a beating with heavy foot traffic, so I'd test it on a small area and make sure you put the proper sealer on it too. General finishes makes one for the gel stain, but again I'm not sure how it would hold up in the long run.
  • OK_22416574
    OK_22416574
    on Apr 9, 2017

    Hi, I noticed in the pictures that the wood floor has changed significantly from a light to a much darker color. Did use the same product on the floor or what did you do to it, please? Thank you.
  • Nikki Clabo
    Nikki Clabo
    on Apr 19, 2017

    have a farm table that is in perfect condition, after doing some research I believe the table top is laminate. I just got new flooring and would like to change the table top from a light tan color to a dark mahogany color. The laminate is marked to look like real wood and it has a glossy sheen, this is why there are no water stains or scratch marks. The legs and the chairs are white now, and I will repaint them a cream color, but I'm unsure about painting the table top a dark color. I'd really like to stain it. Do you think your instructions on staining your bench will work on my laminate table top? I would like my table top to look like your bench, and have the real wood look. Thanks for your time.
    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Apr 19, 2017

      I totally think this is doable! First off you'll want a high-quality brush, but be warned that it will be ruined afterward because it's hard to get the gel stain removed from the bristles. Secondly, you'll want to make long smooth brush strokes to get this effect. I'd work in sections, so the gel stain doesn't dry too quickly and get sticky. I'd also do some testing on sample wood to make sure you've got it down before moving to your table. And thirdly, since this is a kitchen table, you'll want a clear coat. Now here's where I've made my mistake in the past, General Finishes makes a clear coat finish that works with the gel stains, so don't buy something else because it doesn't give the same finish. Gel stain will take a while to dry thoroughly, so don't add your clear coat too soon.
      If you need any other questions answered, I'm happy to help where I can. Good luck!!
  • Janet
    Janet
    on May 9, 2017

    Hi,
    Just wondering how can I tell if my kitchen cabinets have a laminate covering as opposed to being wood?? They look like wood, but you never know.
    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on May 9, 2017

      Laminate is very distinct because it has what looks like a film, a wrapping over it. Laminate can peel or chip away, whereas wood will scratch. Hope that helps. If you can post a few pics I may better be able to help you figure it out.
  • Patti
    Patti
    on Sep 8, 2017

    Im shocked and very happy to see such a great and realistic change to laminate. Do you know if the gel stain can be applied over paint? I have an old dresser Id love to put back a wood finish on but am not up for stripping it.

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Sep 8, 2017

      Yes you can! I had a painted cabinet that I used this gel stain over and it looks incredible! I'm actually working on two other bath cabinets that have paint on them as well. You'll have to put it on thick to cover the paint, but it works great.
      , After using the gel stain, Before using the gel stain
    • Patti
      Patti
      on Sep 11, 2017

      Thanks so much.
  • Riley
    Riley
    on Sep 13, 2017

    I have some laminate closetmaid organizers. Doors might be thermofoil. Do you think this would work? Just clean with soap and water first?

    Also, wanted to let you know that any type of cooking oil (olive, etc) will take the stain off your hands. I usually rub it on and then use a papertowel to wipe my hands. If bad, I might add a little liquid soap after coating with olive oil. This will also remove the stain if not fully dry from non porus materials.
    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Sep 13, 2017

      I'm thinking it will. These cabinets were actually from a closet cabinet maker and it worked perfectly! Thanks for the idea of using oil to remove the stain, gentler than paint thinner or polish remover!
  • Kelly McAndrew
    Kelly McAndrew
    on Nov 28, 2017

    I hope i’m not too late to ask for some much-wanted advice!

    I’ve collected a hodge-podge of new and old cabinetry from Habitat for Humanity in order to makeover my old laundry room into a back entryway/“mud room” dedicated to storage. All the cabinets are different styles and laminate colors; I think just one is real wood. (I’ll try and post some pics).

    I *had* planned a ‘nothing matches‘ look; I was going to leave all the cabinets as-is, randomly attach the wall cabinets to the wall in a jumbled-style fashion and then add color to the room by painting the walls bright fuschia and lining the inside of the cabinets with brightly colored wallpaper samples......; however...., after reading this I’m inspired to do a 180 degree plan reversal!

    As as I love bright, bold primary colors my questions are: does this gel stain come in clear or white and could it be mixed with paint, dye, ink or any other type of product in order to produce bold, bright colors?
    , Old laundry room filled with uninstalled random laminated cabinetry, The blue corian countertop is also salvaged and is simply resting atop the cabinets, Various colors of laminate, Various laminate colors and cabinet sizes
  • Whitney Evans
    Whitney Evans
    on Jan 15, 2018

    Did you not have to sand the cabinets first? I just completed my entire kitchen using general finishes Java; it looks amazing. However, very near the kitchen we added a cabinet over our coffee bar that used to be in our laundry room. We routed out the doors, which are wood, for glass panes, but the cabinet box is laminate, unlike all the kitchen cabinets. I had to clean and sand all other cabinets, which were wood, prior to staining. However, from your post, it doesn’t sound like you did any sanding?
    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Jan 15, 2018

      I didn't do an ounce of sanding. I only cleaned the cabinets to remove any dirt from it. Almost 4 years later it still looks great!
    • Whitney Evans
      Whitney Evans
      on Jan 15, 2018

      Thank is Lisa. I‘m so glad to hear that. I chose gel stain because I was worried about the longevity of paint. I’m relieved to hear you’re 4 years out and still happy with the results.
    • YOLZ
      YOLZ
      on Jan 28, 2018

      Do you have take the cupboards off? I am scared I wont know how to put them back on 😂
  • Craig Carl Howlett
    Craig Carl Howlett
    on May 1, 2018

    Did you stain the laminate flooring too or is that wood? What type.. it is beautiful..

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on May 1, 2018

      It's a maple floor that I had re-stained with the rest of the oak flooring in my home, and thank you, I love the new color!

  • Sofie Wheeler
    Sofie Wheeler
    on Jul 24, 2018

    Hi,

    I just bought a table. I am sure it's laminate and it has a few scratches so I would like to sand it down in order to get them out. But then I would have to stain or seal it somehow in order for it to get a nice shine/gloss again. Do you think this would work? Would I need to seal it afterwards?


    Thanks

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Jul 24, 2018

      I’d be sure to go light on the sanding because you can quickly cause damage to the laminate. You should be able to use this on it and I’d highly recommend sealing it since I’d be a high use item. One note of caution, you need to use the General finishes sealer otherwise your finish won’t set right. I made this mistake using a minwax clear finish and the final result was poor. Using the General finish satin it turned out just fine. Hope this helps.

  • Reb5556719
    Reb5556719
    on Aug 17, 2018

    How does this product hold up against general cleaning of spills etc.

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Aug 18, 2018

      I’d advise that you seal it with General Finishes clear sealer, then it should hold up just fine. I found that without the sealer on laminate, it could be rubbed off, with the sealer it doesn’t. Hope this helps.

  • Krystle Cherry
    Krystle Cherry
    on Dec 28, 2018

    How long does this take to dry on laminate?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Dec 28, 2018

      You need about 1 day to dry and about a week for it to cure so it won’t peel off. This would include the top coat for the curing time.

  • Joi Redman- Baxter
    Joi Redman- Baxter
    on Jan 26, 2019

    I bought a laminated entertainment center that I'm turning into an entry way closet for coats and keys and whatnot. I'd like to stain it a wood color but it's currently black. (The color I want to do is in the picture)


    Would I need to maybe paint it white first and then apply the stain or will it work on black laminate?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Jan 26, 2019

      Well, that’s not an easy one to answer...I’m gonna go with you’d probably better paint it first because that wood stain is much lighter and definitely wouldn’t show up with the black. I’d likely use chalk paint, let it cure for a week before I’d move on to the stain. I’ve not had great luck with paint lasting long term on laminate, but chalk paint is different than your typical water based paints. I’d also be sure to seal the stain after you’re done to ensure it doesn’t rub off. Hope this helps.

  • Susan QC
    Susan QC
    on Mar 13, 2019

    First of all, your work made this furniture gorgeous! I'm confused about the first picture in the post. I know the third picture is the original orangey finish and the second picture (as well as all the rest) show the beautiful dark Java stain, but the very first picture looks almost like a walnut (not nearly as dark as the others). Is this just the lighting causing this? In real life is the furniture as dark as the other pictures or more like picture #1?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Mar 13, 2019

      You are the only one to point this out, it is different. I had originally used a walnut colored stain and decided I did want it darker. So, in answer to your question if in real life it’s darker, it is. 😁 And thanks so much for your compliment, I too think it’s pretty gorgeous too. 😁

    • Susan QC
      Susan QC
      on Mar 13, 2019

      Thank you so much for your response. I read all the questions that had been posted, and didn't see any that asked about this. (I hate it when you have to answer the same question over and over) Anyway, I'm thinking about a project using the walnut color and that's why I was checking. Thanks again.

  • Cindy Rubin
    Cindy Rubin
    on Mar 14, 2019

    Would this work on kitchen counter tops... to try and make a granite look?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Mar 14, 2019

      I wouldn’t use it for that type of finish on a countertop. I’d actually use an epoxy. Go in search of stonecoat countertops on YouTube, they give great details on how to use their products. I’m about to use it for my kitchen countertops soon. Hope this helps.

  • Linda
    Linda
    on Nov 25, 2019

    You didn't mention much about the counter top. What prep did you do. How long does it take to dry, and did you seal it? Thanks

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Nov 25, 2019

      The only prep I did was wash it down well. As I mentioned, it takes 5-10 days for the gel to fully cure. It’s all dependent upon the warmth of the area. You seal it with a clear coat protectant. If you use the General Finished gel, stick with their clear coat as I’ve found it works best. This project is now several years old and the bench has held up great with only a few scratches where my Silhouette machine has rested because I tend to move it about when loading in the vinyl. Hope this helps.

  • Roxanne Bell Levandosky
    Roxanne Bell Levandosky
    on Apr 11, 2020

    Which topcoat did you use?

    • Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      Author Lisa L Wiedmeier
      on Apr 11, 2020

      Just a satin one. If you're using the general finished brand, stick with their topcoat and or if you're using another brand of gel stain, use their top coat brand.

  • Cindy
    Cindy
    on Aug 13, 2020

    Did you use a sealer on the black paint so you can wash it?

  • Join the conversation

    2 of 39 comments
    • Nina Jordan-Smith
      Nina Jordan-Smith
      on Jan 28, 2016

      This was perfect timing. I plan to redo my bathroom and was wanting to change the color of my cabinets. I have been debating painting or re-staining. I think I will use gel stain because this is the exact look that I want. THANK YOU so much for showing us these beautiful results. I absolutely love this.

    • Dan Allen
      Dan Allen
      on Oct 14, 2017

      Thanks so much! We were hoping to see a successful laminate *stain* project. Thrilled to it was was someone from Ida-home!
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