How to Update Mobile Home Cabinets

There are a couple of things that ‘stand out’ about mobile home interiors. For instance, if you looked at two photos of kitchens, one being a mobile home, you’d probably know which one was a mobile home because of the cabinets (the notorious VOG wall panels are the other ‘stand out’).

Most mobile home cabinets are typically made with particle board or MDF that has a top layer made of paper, laminate, melamine, Thermofoil, or veneer.

In this article, we’ll share a few methods to repair damaged particle board and MDF along with tips for painting mobile home cabinets with different top layers.

Keep reading or click on the topic you’re most interested in:

MDF and Common MDF Coatings

Though it has a bad reputation with mobile homeowners there’s nothing wrong with MDF.

Furniture and cabinet makers use MDF because it’s so smooth and dense and easy to work with. Plus, it makes use of construction waste and is usually more affordable than real wood. There’s a lot to like about MDF. All in all, it’s a great material but it has a couple of big downfalls: it doesn’t stand up to water very well at all and it doesn’t have a ‘grain’ like real wood.

Since MDF soaks up water like a sponge and doesn’t have a grain it needs a top layer adhered to give it both when used for cabinetry.

There is a lot of confusion about these top layers because the material can range from paper to plastic. That’s why it’s so important to know what your cabinets are coated with.

Source: thekitchenclassics.com

Particle board is NOT smooth because it’s made with sawdust and wood chips glued together into a sheet form. I’ve seen a few mobile homes with particle board cabinets but newer models will typically have MDF.

Source: thekitchenclassics.com

Paper

In most mobile homes, the top layer is just a special paper coated with a finish that makes it waterproof and easy to clean. Clayton Homes call the top layer on their MDF cabinets ‘textured paper wrapping.’

Laminate

Laminate is a more expensive material but it stands up against water and wears better than most of the other options.

For high-pressure laminate, they use a 4 step process: soaking sheets of wood-grain or solid printed paper in a plastic resin, letting them dry, layering them, and then thermosetting it all together. The sheets are then cured using 1200-200 psi pressure that creates a very smooth and durable surface thus the name high-pressure laminate. More expensive laminates may use plastic or foil instead of paper.

MDF-with-paper-wrapping-from-Clayton-Homes

Clayton Homes used MDF cabinetry with paper wrapping in most of their homes until 2018 when they began using DuraCraft cabinets that are coated with a ‘proprietary PVC vinyl single-ply laminate material.’

Melamine

Melamine is also called direct or low-pressure laminate because it’s created the same way as laminate. They take sheets of paper and soak them in resin solids to create a plastic-like surface using thermal fusion. Melamine is much thinner than laminate so it only requires 300-500 psi to adhere it to the MDF. It typically only has a 5-year lifespan.

Source: thekitchenclassics.com

Veneer

A veneer is made from real wood so it’s more expensive but longer-lasting. A tree is peeled creating a very thin sheet. The sheets can be layered to create a stronger thicker material that can be stained and even sanded.

Source: thekitchenclassics.com

Thermafoil

Thermofoil is made by heating and molding vinyl to the MDF in a special vacuum press. It’s the most affordable option of the four and offers a smooth durable surface. Thermofoil is prone to delaminating and peeling around the edges of cabinet doors.

Source: thekitchenclassics.com

How to Repair Mobile Home Cabinets

MDF-coated cabinetry simply isn’t made to last. I once read that MDF cabinets have anb estimated 7-10 year lifespan. Here are a few tips to repair common issues that occur with MDF cabints:

How to Repair a Top Layer that’s Peeling

While the MDF itself is strong and long-lasting, the top coatings aren’t quite as durable. It tends to peel away from the MDF.

Paper

If the paper is still in one piece but has simply peeled away at a corner, Home Depot recommends using contact cement to glue it back down.

However, most of the time the topcoat tends to peel or curl around the edges and has missing areas like the image below:

paper-coming-off-of-a-mdf-cabinet-in-mobile-home-pinterest-copy

To repair paper that has peeled at the corners and is missing an area you’ll first need to find a paper that matches the grain of the cabinet.

Places You May Find Matching Paper:

Finding a matching paper with the same colors and wood grain design will be difficult but it may not be impossible (we’re just talking about paper, not veneer). Check the following places:

  • Your local craft store
  • Scrapbooking section of Etsy
  • Print it yourself
paper-with-wood-grain-designs
Various kinds of grain used on MDF cabinets.

If you managed to find a match, carefully cut away the loose paper without cutting into the MDF. You’ll probably have the best results by cutting the damaged paper away in a square or rectangle shape. That makes it easier to glue the matching paper.

To adhere a new piece of matching paper most pros recommend contact cement, just follow the manufacturer’s directions.

If the peeling is extensive (like the image below) you will probably want to paint or reface all of the cabinets. Learn how to do both below.

paper-peeling-from-MDF-cabinet-in-mobile-home-hometalk

Damaged Laminate, Melamine, or Thermafoil

If the laminate, malamine, or thermafoil is peeling or damaged it’s probably best to remove the top layer all together. A heat gun or hair dryer is all you need. The image below shows laminate being removed using a heat gun. You can watch the entire video below:

How to Repair Crumbling MDF

If the MDF itself is crumbling around the edges of your cabinet or has chunks missing you may still be able to repair it using wood filler, epoxy putty, or Bondo (yes, the company that makes automotive filler, however, they have a product for homes). You can see exactly how it’s done at Faceliftfurniture.com but here’s the process in photos:

Facelift Furniture (.com) uses epoxy to repair wood and MDF damage all the time.

Check this link out to see more wood filler examples.

Refacing Mobile Home Cabinets

Refacing means you remove the old cabinet doors and install completely new doors while keeping the original framework that the doors are attached to.

If you have a small kitchen, it may be cheaper and easier to just replace the doors instead of trying to repair them if there’s a lot of damage. You can buy new doors at Home Depot.

However, the most affordable way to replace mobile home cabinet doors is to make your own.

The Beneath My Heart blog has a wonderful tutorial that shows you how to make your own kitchen cabinet doors using a 4’x8′ sheet of MDF and trim. Amazingly, she was able to make the new doors for around $4.00 each! You can see exactly how to make the doors here. The photos below show how the trim was attached:

Here’s a video that shows you how to build shaker style cabinet doors:

How to Paint Mobile Home Cabinets

Painting is always the most affordable option to update kitchens if the MDF and laminate is in good condition.

Pro Tip: You can still use your original cabinet doors if they have slight crumbling along the edges or corners. All you have to do is cover the damage with shaker style trim around the edges of the cabinet door and paint.

The secret for painting laminate is all in the preparation. Properly sanding, priming, and cleaning the surface before you paint is extremely important. Here’s how to do all three:

Step 1: Cleaning the Cabinets

Painting professionals always say that preparing the surface is the secret to getting great results when painting anything. This is especially true for kitchen cabinetry because you can’t see grease or small cooking particles and smoke that sticks to every surface.

The primer and paint must create a true bond to the surface it is applied or it will peel and bubble. The only way to do that is to clean the surface extremely well and then clean it again.

TSP is the most recommended cleaning agent for cabinets but a few bloggers say Dawn dishwashing liquid works just as well.

Step 2: Sanding (Only if Needed)

This is a controversial step because some MDF laminates won’t need to be sanded because it can rip and tear the laminate.

If you have newer cabinets with a paper wrap that is in good condition it’s probably best to skip this step.

For shiny laminate or melamine skin over your MDF you may want to lightly sand it to give the primer better gripping power. If your cabinets are especially shiny you can also use a liquid sander to degloss the surface. Liquid sander doesn’t really sand the surface, it just removes the shine so that primer and paint grips better.

Only sand with very fine sandpaper if it will help you achieve a smoother surface. Be sure to clean the surface again after sanding and use a tack cloth.

MobileHomeFarmHouse got great results after painting their mobile home cabinets and they shared their process:

1st we used gray Gripper primer. We applied two coats of this. Then we used BEHR paint and primer in one premium plus. We used two coats of that also. This formula was recommended to us by the man at the paint counter at Home Depot. They will mix up any paint color as a sample for around $3.50. Trust me it’s well worth getting many samples before deciding on a color. I think I had around 10. The colors do not look the same after going over the primer! 

@mobilehomefarmhouse on Instagram

Step 3: Priming

Priming MDF cabinets is important. 9 out of 10 pros recommend a gripping oil-based primer for mobile home cabinets. A self-leveling oil-based primer is good for cabinets that have small inconsistencies or denting.

Click here for help choosing the best primer.

Step 4: Sanding

Sanding between two coats of primer is industry standard. The sanding is done with very fine sandpaper.

Step 5: Painting

Once the primer has been sanded and cured its time to paint. Two light coats of latex paint is most recommended.

Paint is definitely one of those ‘get what you pay for’ products, much like manufactured homes themselves.

  • Valspar’s Gloss Latex Enamel Interior/Exterior Paint and Primer in One 
  • PrepRite ProBlock Interior/Exterior Latex Primer/Sealer
  • Benjamin Moore Aura
  • Olympic’s Zero-VOC Latex Paint in Semigloss
  • Varathane Floor Finish as a Sealer

Step 6: Sealing

Using a sealant after painting your mobile home cabinets is a personal preference. Most pros don’t see a need for it if you’ve used the best paint and primer. Sometimes sealant can turn white paint yellow so be sure to test it out beforehand.

Painting Laminate Mobile Home Cabinets with Chalk Paint with Annie Sloan

More Professional Advice for Painting Mobile Home Cabinets

The following tips are also recommended by painting pros.

Tip #1 Remove the doors and hardware. There are small painter triangles you can buy to hold the doors off the ground a bit.

Tip #2 Consider using a quality paint sprayer. I’ve had great results with the Wagner Spraytech 0529010 FLEXiO 590 HVLP Paint Sprayer.

Tip #3 Use a paint additive like Floetrol.

Tip #4 Strain the primer, paint, and the Floetrol well before using.

Tip #5 A lot of bloggers love chalk paint. If you’re interested in using it watch this video from Ace Hardware:

Painting Laminate Cabinets with Chalk Paint – Ace Hardware

See how Ace Hardware paints laminated cabinets with chalk based paints.

Related: Get 7 more affordable mobile home kitchen cabinet makeover ideas here.

Painting Laminate Cabinets with Beyond Paint

With all this information you should be well-prepared to update your mobile home cabinets regardless of what they’re made from. Have you repaired or painted your cabinets? We’d love to hear about it below.

As always, thank you for reading Mobile Home Living®!