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How to Remove Formica From Cabinets

January 4th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

In this section I will explain how to remove/strip Formica plastic laminate from an existing cabinet or counter top. If you are planning to save the piece of laminate that you are trying to take off of the cabinet or counter, please remain patient throughout the process.

Peeling plastic off of particleboard cabinets is going to be easier than removing it from plywood. How easy or hard the laminate comes off is going to be determined by many factors.

If the cabinet manufacturing company used a heavy coat of contact cement, when they laminated the mica to the board, the process of removing the laminate may be difficult. The age of the glue bond effects how well the substance stays adhered or de-laminates.

During the process of removing Formica from the board, make sure that you do not apply excessive force. When a piece of mica breaks, it literally is as sharp as a razor blade. Please take note that the older the Formica mica is the more brittle it becomes. Newly laminated pieces should come off with great ease compared to one that may be ten to fifteen tears old.

  • Tip: Plastic laminate is extremely sharp when it breaks. To be honest with you, it is as sharp as a razor blade. Always be careful to not apply too much force when removing mica from Formica cabinets or counters.

Tools Needed For Removing Formica From Cabinetry

Your going to need a few specific things when removing Formica from cabinetry. All of these tools should be available at your local hardware store.

  1. Glue solvent: The liquid that we have used for many years, in our shop to remove Formica with, is lacquer thinner. Make sure that the selected brand is a “flammable” grade lacquer thinner. Non-flam thinners will not cut through the contact glue. Some stores that carry this type of contact glue solvent are Home Depot, Lowes, Wal-mart, Ace Hardware and paint stores, such as Sherwin Williams. This glue remover will cause a burning sensation when you get it on your hands and if you happen to get it on your clothes the experience will be very intense.
  2. Sharp Object for cutting: There are many things that can be used to separate the Formica from the board. Large kitchen, small steak or putty knives can be used. In some instances, such as, removing large sections of plastic laminate, I have even used a machete. It will be a must to start with a small knife. The larger the piece is that is being removed- the bigger the blade will have to be in order to finish the job.
  3. Some type of wood strips: When you remove  Formica from cabinets, depending upon the size of the piece, it may be necessary to place a dowel rod or strip of wood (about 3/4” x 3/4” thick) between the board and the laminate. These will only be necessary if you are removing a rather large section of mica and if you are trying to save the piece that you are removing.
  4. Plastic Bottle: The preferable choice of plastic bottle to be used is a wood glue container.  A plastic hair color bottle from a beauty supply works well. Even an empty dish washing soap liquid container will work great. We generally purchase empty glue bottle from cabinet supply companies. You may be able to use a small spray bottle, comparable to a Windex container that you would purchase from a hardware store. You will use this container to put the lacquer thinner into.
  5. Safety Goggles: You must wear safety glasses when you are stripping the laminate from the cabinet. If the plastic breaks it will throw the contact glue solvent into your eyes causing an intense burning sensation to occur. You must rinse your eyes immediately after getting the liquid in your eyes. This is why it’s a good idea to have someone helping you.
  • Tip: Depending upon the size of your work piece, you may need an extra set of hands to archive the best results. For safety purposes it’s always best to work with someone during this process. It is dangerous.

Steps For Stripping Formica Off of a Cabinet

The necessary steps for stripping Formica off of a cabinet or counter top are best performed if the surface of the laminate is in a vertical position. This is the preferred position because the force of gravity will cause the glue solvent to cut through the glue bond as gravity pulls the lacquer thinner downward.

Begin separating the laminate from the board. Using a small knife, start at one corner of the cabinet part or counter and very carefully work the knife between the board and the Formica. Do not wiggle the knife back and forth. Instead, use a straight cutting motion in line with the line of the board and the plastic laminate. During this step you want to be certain that you are separating the two materials and not cutting into the mica.

Apply the lacquer thinner in the void area. Using your glue or spray bottle, apply the solvent inside the void area that you just created with the small knife. As the thinner begins to separate the mica from the board, use a knife to assist in the de-laminating process.

There are three things that work together during this step, the force of your hand applying pressure, pulling the laminate away from the board, the knife cutting through the glue and the lacquer thinner being applied between the two components. As you are peeling the Formica off, spray the thinner at the top of where the Formica is still attached to the cabinet and let the liquid run downward.  Only work from one corner of the cabinet part. If you were to work from two corners you may cause a bind to occur which will crack the laminate.

Placing the dowel rods or sticks in place: As you begin to achieve success, you may need to use the dowel rods or ¾ inch square strips of wood to keep the Formica separated from the board.

  • Tip: If you’re planning to resurface a cabinet or counter, it is not necessary to remove the existing mica. Just cover over the top of what is already there.

If there’s one thing I need to remind you of, in this conclusion, it is to be extra careful and do not be in a hurry when removing the Formica. In my thirty years of making European cabinetry and counter tops, I have seen many accidents related to the process of stripping plastic laminate from cabinet parts.

If you use the suggested tools and do not get too forceful, you will accomplish the task at hand with great success. “Take Your Time!” I have encountered many difficult situations during the process of learning how to remove  Formica off of cabinetry parts. By remaining in a patient frame of mind, you will enjoy the work at hand. If you get in a hurry the laminate will surely break.

  1. Carlos
    December 25th, 2009 at 12:40 | #1

    I thought about how I would remove vinyl tile from a floor and I used a heat gun on it’s low setting and slowly slid a 3″ scraper under the formica. It worked like a dream! No mess, no solvents and I didn’t even have to remove the counter!

  2. Dan Connolly
    January 25th, 2010 at 12:56 | #2

    I have a counter top that I want to lamintae over, but it has metal trim where the backsplash meets the counter, and the backsplash has trim on the edge where it meets other wood surfaces. How can I get th emetal trim off without damaging the currently installed formica surface?

  3. admin
    May 5th, 2010 at 08:01 | #3

    @Dan Connolly
    If I remember correctly, those metal edges on Formica tops are applied with a tongue and groove application. The tongue has a serrated edge. It’s going to take a lot of TLC to get that thing removed.

  4. chely
    July 14th, 2010 at 20:37 | #4

    Thank you very much

    I have been searching on line all day on how to remove formica and you are the best at explaining it im planing
    Thank you very much have a good day

  5. admin
    July 15th, 2010 at 11:40 | #5

    You are welcome Chely. Let us know if you need any help.

  6. September 13th, 2010 at 13:32 | #6

    This is a great site finely some good advise…my formica goes from the wall down on the counter they join no separation…can i just cut it where it meets the wall and replace over the counter ? or do i need to do it all ?

  7. Arnel Mendoza
    December 5th, 2010 at 19:19 | #7

    Hi Sir,

    I would like to know what to put on the edge of a plyboard after covering it with a formica laminte to make look better and smooth edges… also is rugby contact cement a good adhesive for this type of work?

    thank you so much and hoping for your soonest response…

    God bless and more power!

    cheers,

    Arnel

  8. Elizabeth
    December 21st, 2010 at 19:52 | #8

    I have purchased my first home and the bath has ‘cupcake sprinkles’ mint green and white, very dirty/worn formica floor to ceiling in the bathroom. Will your method work to remove the formica or would the solvent damage the drywall underneath? I am not interested in saving the formica, just the drywall and my fiance’s sanity.

    Thanks!

  9. admin
    December 30th, 2010 at 18:51 | #9

    Elizabeth, without seeing the job, it’s too difficult to assess what would be the best way to handle the situation. I’d consult with a local cabinet maker.

  10. Wayne
    January 3rd, 2011 at 21:03 | #10

    I purchased a fixer upper and someone painted over the formica counter tops. As I read above, normally I could just glue to the old formica, but with them painted, I didn’t know what to do. Am I going to have to strip the paint? Or should I just remove them both?

  11. kelly
    January 27th, 2011 at 12:07 | #11

    I would like to know if I can just remove the edge of the formica countertop. The countertop is white and the edge is blue, and I would like to remove the blue. First all would this be possible without messing up the countertop? or, Could I just apply a new edge over the exisiting blue edge?

  12. John
    February 17th, 2011 at 17:58 | #12

    Kelly, some of what you asked is answered in the article. I don;t think it would be a good idea to “just” cover over the existing edge. The deck of a laminate countertop is always put on top of the edges so water can’t seep in and cause the glue to become loose.

    You will need to remove the edge very carefully. This should only be done if it is a flat edge, not a beveled Formica edge.

  13. Bonnie
    February 22nd, 2011 at 09:58 | #13

    I hired a man to peel off the Formica on a large kitchen top. I was very impressed with their work. I was told, before they started that the odors from the glue and the paint thinner were going to be strong.

    The laminate was coming loose and they took it off and re-glued it. It took them about five hours from start to finish. The color of my laminate was discontinued.

    It was going to cost fifteen hundred dollars to recover all of the Formica.

    It cost me three hundred dollars to have them remove the plastic and glue it down again. I was told that this repair would last for another ten years or more.

    Is that true?

  14. Diane
    June 14th, 2011 at 19:32 | #14

    I have vintage Formica covered counters with rounded chrome edges. I can remove the chrome to take off the Formica. I want to install new Formica. Do I have to remove all of the old adhesive or can I just add more, new contact cement to adhere the new Formica pieces?

  15. admin
    June 20th, 2011 at 05:51 | #15

    If the old adhesive is stuck well to the board you can contact glue over it. If it is loose, you will need to scrape and sand the loose parts off.

  16. Connie
    October 8th, 2011 at 19:56 | #16

    i would to put granite tile over the old laminate countertop. Could you please tell if I have to remove the laminate or can I just put the backerboard on top & then the granite tile? Thank you for your help

  17. Connie
    October 8th, 2011 at 20:00 | #17

    I have some 60+ year old copper cabinet hardware-pulls/hinges. They are extremely dirty and grimey. Please let me know how to clean them without ruining them. They are beautiful. Thanks.Connie

  18. admin
    November 12th, 2011 at 05:22 | #18

    Connie, as long as the plastic laminate is adhered strong, yes you can tile over the top of laminate.

  19. February 1st, 2012 at 10:10 | #19

    There is actually a really great adhesive remover made by Genesis products (Genesis Adhesive Remover) that works better then the lacquer thinner. It is pretty popular in California because it exceeds all the federal/state regulations for clean air, VOC and Prop 65. It also has no acetone so it does not damage the risk of ruining any surfaces. This might be something you may want to check out, or any of the readers who are worried about fumes & odors and damge to countertops.

  20. Cassie
    September 15th, 2012 at 15:15 | #20

    My thoughts are to take off the white laminate off the wood cabinets in our kitchen and then to sand and stain them. Can I do this with the instructions given?

  21. Diane
    September 18th, 2012 at 08:58 | #21

    The “wood” under the laminate is most likely particleboard. You’ll kill yourself trying to remove all of the glue residue. This won’t stain and finish well…you could paint them…but you can also paint the laminate with special prep and paints.

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