Old counters can make a kitchen feel out-of-date, but replacing them with new, expensive materials isn’t always an option. Here are a few less expensive ways to refinish dingy countertops and give your kitchen a whole new look.
Slap on some fresh paint
Painting over old laminate counters is cheap and easy, even for total beginners. You can use regular old house paint or a special countertop product, like Rust-Oleum’s countertop paint, whose company also makes a product called Transformations, which is a three-step process that mimics the look of natural stone. (Other brands like Daich and Giani make similar products.) It takes more time and money—upwards of $200 per kit—but also has pretty dramatic results.
Use a concrete skim-coat
If you like the look of concrete but don’t want to remove your existing counters, you can skim-coat them with an Ardex concrete product meant for patching or skim-coating floors. As you can see in this video from the Modern Builds YouTube Channel, it’s a fairly straightforward process:
Skim-coating doesn’t give you the long-term durability of full concrete counters, but it achieves the same look without needed to haul large slabs of concrete around.
Install some tile
Tile countertops are a very specific look, but if you like them, they’ll totally change the look and feel of any room. It isn’t the easiest DIY project, though. I’ve tiled several kitchen and bathroom counters, and while you may be able to tile over laminate, I suggest creating your own counters out of plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF) topped with a tile membrane like this one from Durock.
For a step-by-step guide to everything from plywood counters to laying down mortar and trimming the tiles, check out the Family Handyman’s detailed how-to post on tile countertops.
Build your own replacements
While this is getting into “replacing your countertop” territory, you can also design and build your own custom surfaces to cover up old ones. Concrete and butcher block wood are inexpensive, durable, and relatively easy to work with, so they’re good options for most kitchens.
Building concrete countertops is a little more intense than other refinishing projects, but also more durable in the long run. It involves building several forms, mixing and pouring concrete, and moving the new counters into place. Bob Vila and Instructables both have good, picture-heavy guides to the whole process. It may take some practice to get the consistency of the concrete right, so I’d recommend doing some sample pieces first before committing to making full counters.
Butcher block is much more affordable than other types of counters. Because it’s wood, it’s fairly easy to cut and install yourself if you have the right tools. You can even install it right over your old countertops, as this video from Robin Lewis Makes explains:
The biggest thing to remember is that you don’t have to replace old counters to make them look nicer. Depending on the look you’d like to achieve, how much you want to invest, and your comfort with the tools and techniques involved, there’s at least one refinishing option that will work for you.
This story was originally published in September 2014 and was updated on April 19, 2021 with more information and to meet Lifehacker style guidelines.