How to Remove Formica From Cabinets
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.