Projects & Improvements

The Best Budget Fixes for Your Really Bad Countertop

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Natalie Jeffcott)

Nothing screams ‘Sad Kitchen’ like shoddy old countertops. Okay, a bad floor or rickety old cabinets are probably right up there, but a decades-old, grungy, cracked, and damaged counter can turn an otherwise perfectly decent kitchen into something to cringe over. When my husband and I prepared to put our previous home on the market, our realtor encouraged us to replace the dated laminate counter. I didn’t think we would recoup the cost in our neighborhood, so we opted to paint the older cabinets and walls and leave the counter alone. It was okay, but looking back, we should have done more.

And you can! Countertops aren’t an all-or-nothing equation. Just because you might not be ready to run out and buy Carrara marble counters doesn’t meant you’re stuck with exhibit A. Let’s have a look at some ways you can turn your counters from sad to, at minimum, non-offensive.

Just paint them.

Can you paint counters? Well, it’s not quite as easy as just throwing on a coat of paint. I did that with a little third floor kitchen of a house in Detroit we renovated. At the height of chalkboard paint mania I painted the sink’s base cabinet in blackboard paint, and the bleh old laminate counter in hot pink, the same as the walls in the adjoining bathroom. No sanding, no priming, no nothing–I just slapped it on to see what would happen. As you might imagine, the results were less than stellar. The paint soon started to peel and chip, but it did give me confidence that if done right, this is totally an option.

If you’re game, check out AT contributor Ashely’s step-by-step tutorial on painting countertops. It looks like it took her a few hours of work and less than a hundred bucks to transform her laminate tops. Be sure to also read her few-months-later review. Painting laminate isn’t a permanent or perfect solution, but if you can’t stand looking at what you’ve got now, it’s a low-risk way to make a change.

Faux finish

Also filed under a can of paint and some elbow grease is the world of faux finishes. Amanda at Love & Renovations upgraded her dingy old faux wood grain laminate countertops with faux granite, thanks to the miracle of paint. There are also granite countertop paint kits out there, if you find that less intimidating. And glitter and sea sponges. She readily admits it’s not the most durable thing in the world, but it’s also super easy to fix any areas that may get banged up.

Concrete skim coat

If you’re a fairly intrepid DIYer with some time to spare you can make that bad counter disappear under a cool new concrete-ish counter. Michelle at Lovely Imperfection shared her laminate counter makeover, and her results were certainly dramatic. She used a Henry brand product called FeatherFinish Patch and Skimcoat that costs less than 20 bucks (for a small countertop area) and dedicated a weekend (and a lot of elbow grease) to the project. Later she sealed with a pricey (but efficient) product called Stonelock E3 2K from the Concrete Countertop Institute–another good sized project. As for the results? The counters are beautiful. Three years later she reported some caveats and learnings, but still gave them the thumbs up.

Cover old laminate with new?

Anyone who’s ever torn out floor in an old house knows that people like to just install new flooring over the existing. But can you do the same with laminate counters?

While technically you could–the question is do you want to? This Q&A from the AT archives makes no bones about it: You need to sand the old surface down to the brown core in order to make sure the adhesive sticks and stays stuck. If you ask most fabricator/installers, they’ll tell you it’s less expensive and more attractive to remove the old tops and install new ones.

The marble hack

Just can’t get marble off your mind? Timisha from the Toolbox Divas couldn’t either, so she found a way to get marble counters at a fraction of the cost. Her hack? Marble floor tiles from Home Depot priced at $3.99 per square foot. When you read the arsenal of tools needed for the job you may be scared off, but don’t be. This was Timisha’s first tile job, and she pulled it off beautifully. If you’ve got the tools (or know someone who does) this is way cheaper means of bringing marble into your kitchen and waving good-bye to those ugly counters.

Go for zinc (or other metal)

If you’d like to swap your dated laminate for something that says Paris café, it’s a zinc counter you’re after. It was all I dreamed of for my kitchen island, and since I couldn’t afford to buy a zinc countertop from a cabinet or counter shop (it runs about the same as granite), we ordered a sheet of zinc online from a sheet metal seller for a couple hundred bucks and went the DIY route.

Doing essentially the same thing as Cassity at Remodelaholic did with her stainless steel counters, we had the zinc cut to the plywood template of the countertop, glued them together using liquid nail, and had a fabricator friend wrap the zinc around the plywood. We finished off with rivets along the edge. All in all, our counter cost less than $500 and, while I’d do a few things differently (go for the pre-patina zinc, namely), it turned out beautifully.

In our case, we started new because I wanted a bigger island, but Cassity and her husband laid their new stainless counter right over their existing laminate one.

If all of this is still too much for you, just remember: honestly, you probably notice your counters way more than anyone else does. If you can deal with them, live with them.