Melamine plastic, also called laminate when it’s laminated onto particleboard furniture, is one of the trickiest surfaces to paint over.
There are three non-toxic options for paints that can stick to this Melamine/laminate furniture and cabinets. All three will also work on many other factory finishes like UV-cured paints.
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If you want to paint your laminate/Melamine furniture without using a primer or sanding you can paint them directly with Chalk Paint or Linseed Oil paint. These two paint types are also eco-friendly and extremely low in volatile organic compounds (low-VOC), so you won’t need to use a respirator or any special Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
1. Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is a super low-odor, non-toxic option for painting any type of furniture. It sticks to melamine and other factory finishes. (There is hardly anything it won’t stick to).
It is certified Toy Safe by European standards so you can use this on a crib as well as any other laminate furniture, including IKEA furniture, and cabinets.
It does require a sealer on top, and you can use a natural wax – I would use the non-toxic versions from Real Milk Paint (not the solvent-filled wax from Annie Sloan, personally) or you can use a synthetic clear coat. Annie Sloan’s clear Lacquer needs 14 days for a full cure.
The wax coatings are actually very durable despite being natural.
Buy Chalk Paint through their website or through their stockists.
2. Linseed Oil Paint
Natural Linseed Oil Paint is durable enough for furniture. This all-natural paint is made with only linseed oil and natural pigments.
There is no solvent here and all the odorants are natural. The finish is very flat.
You need to make sure your humidity and temperature are well within a normal range or this just won’t cure.
It would (probably) not be considered Toy Safe by European stands due to the manganese drier, so it would not be suitable for a crib that might get chewed on. For other types of laminate furniture, including tables, desks, dressers, and cabinets this is a great option since it’s all-natural and very durable.
Allback and Earth+Flax are two brands available in North America, you can purchase them through their websites.
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With a Primer
1. BIN Shellac Primer
This is a more conventional route but it is also non-toxic once cured.
BIN Advanced Shellac-Based Primer (water-based) and BIN Shellac-Based Primer (alcohol-based) can both bridge between a plastic coating (like melamine) and really just about any factory coating, and your regular non-toxic latex paint of choice like ECOS Paints, and it seems that Farrow and Ball might be able to go over it too (F&B usually can’t go over other brands primers).
The alcohol-based version is high in VOCs but that is because of the ethanol. Alcohol is very volatile and so it offgasses very fast. It only needs 3 days for a full cure, the reps said on the phone.
The BIN Advanced, which is water-based, needs 7-10 days for a full cure. (And it starts at 96 g/l which is fairly high for a water-based paint/primer).
These prime difficult-to-paint surfaces like laminate/Melamine furniture.
You can paint over these primers with any non-toxic paint that is suitable for your final project:
- Benjamin Moore Advance (48 g/l when wet) is a durable water-based alkyd paint. Water-based alkyds are a relatively new type of paint that can replace much more toxic oil-based (solvent-based) paints while still providing that same durability. These are used when you need a very durable finish like for cabinets.
- Sherwin-Williams ProClassic Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd. This comes in at 14 g/l VOC. Similar to Ben Moore Advance this is ideal for cabinets and high-wear furniture.
- ECOS Paint in Semi-Gloss or Gloss is an acrylic paint that can be used on furniture and this is a zero-VOC option (zero-VOC at 11 days officially). The only downside is this is not quite as durable as linseed oil-based paint or Alkyd paint.
- Farrow and Ball – makes acrylic and non-acrylic latex paints. Estate Eggshell is 20% sheen level, available in all F&B colors. Modern Eggshell, Formerly called Floor Paint, is 40% sheen level, available in all F&B colors with a mid-sheen finish, like a satin. Full Gloss is a 90% high sheen level. These can be used on furniture and some use them on cabinets though it’s not as durable as an oil-based paint or water-based Alkyd.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.