Can You Paint Over Polyurethane?

removing polyurethane from cabinet

Trends in home décor change quickly and often, and painting is the most cost-effective and easiest way to keep up with them. But what to do when those items have a coat of polyurethane? Many homeowners wonder if you can paint over polyurethane without sanding. Although sanding is the most tedious part of this project, it’s also the most important. Always sand the polyurethane before painting. Fortunately, you can paint over polyurethane as long as you follow these tips … The main thing is that you need to make sure you properly prepare the wood for the project. If you don’t, all the paint you apply will end up peeling off your project.

What Is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is typically a hard, durable topcoat that is put on kitchen cabinets to help protect the wood from scratches and scuffing. It can also be found on wood floors, doors, and furniture.

How to Paint Over Polyurethane

Along with a little elbow grease, making sure you have everything you need will make your project go that much smoother and result in a project you’re happy with.

Tools and Supplies

  • Clean, lint-free cloths
  • Mineral spirits
  • Wood filler
  • Protective face mask
  • Gloves
  • Protective eyewear
  • Fine-grade sandpaper
  • Liquid sandpaper (optional)
  • Paintbrushes
  • Oil-based primer
  • Oil-based paint
    • A secondary option to consider is acrylic urethane topcoats for trim, as oil is not available everywhere presently.

Once you’ve gathered all your tools and supplies it’s time to begin! The following how-to steps are for kitchen cabinets, but they’re the same for wood floors, doors, or furniture that have polyurethane on them.

1. Safety First!

  • Always read the labels of the products you are using and follow the recommended safety guidelines. If the product calls for it, wear protective gear such as gloves. Mask, and eyewear to keep your eyes, lungs, and hands protected.
  • Always work in a ventilated area.
  • Properly dispose of used rags soaked in mineral spirits or oil-based paints by soaking them in water, as they might be flammable.

2. Remove the cabinets doors, drawers and any hardware.

  • Remove the cabinet knobs. If you only have a few cabinets, you can leave them in place. Otherwise, remove the cabinet doors.

3. Clean and Sand the Surface of the Kitchen Cabinets

  • Use mineral spirits to clean the cabinet, wiping it in a circular motion with a clean cloth or rag. This will remove dirt, grime, or stains from the door, allowing for a better paint finish. Use wood filler to fill in any gaps or scratches.
  • Sand the Surface of the Wood
    • Use fine grade sandpaper to remove the polyurethane from the cabinet door. You don’t need to remove all of it; just enough that the new paint will adhere to the wood. Continually remove any dust with a clean cloth and mineral spirits. Take your time, this is a very tedious part of the project but it’s the most important.
    • Liquid sandpaper is also an option for removing a polyurethane topcoat from the cabinet doors. Apply using the directions on the bottle.

4. Prime the Surface

  • Apply oil-based paint primer. Using a primer will give your paint a better surface to stick to. The primer also keeps any stains on the wood from coming through the paint.
  • Allow the primer to dry overnight for best results. Another coat may be necessary if any wood grain shows through the primer.

5. Paint the Surface

  • Paint the first coat and allow it to dry overnight.
  • Apply a second coat to make sure the cabinet door is fully painted. Allow this layer to dry for up to 72 hours before adding any hardware.

Professional Help When You Need It

Contact the experts at Five Star Paining for professional kitchen cabinet painting services with attention to detail! Call today at (888) 261-3633 or connect with us online for a free estimate.


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