Painting camper cabinets can really make a huge difference in your RV makeover. In fact, it was one of the first things we did on our remodel. You can find the tutorial here. So now that it is done, I get asked a lot questions about this modification. I mean A LOT. 😉 I get it! It is a scary step to take, and once you do it, there is no turning back. So I thought I would answer a few of your questions here and give you an update on how our cabinets have held up three years later.
Painting Camper Cabinets: Your Questions Answered
Question: My pop up camper cabinets are not real wood. They seem to be covered in some sort of wood grain printed plastic paper. Can I still paint them?
Answer: YES! Most pop up camper cabinets are not real wood. Every Coleman I have ever seen has these paper covered MDF or fiberboard cabinets. Ours was no exception. These cabinets are cheap to make and very light, which makes them ideal for manufacturers. The downside for owners is that they are ugly and don’t seem to wear very well. Our cabinets had some areas where the paper was peeling off, and the only fix was to make repairs and paint them. The key to successfully painting these cabinets is all in the prep work. I’ve detailed our painting process here, but I cannot stress enough the importance of good prep work. It is what will ensure that your paint job lasts a long time. Don’t skimp!
Question: The paper coating on my cabinets is peeling and missing in some places. Can I still paint them? How do you fix this?
Answer: YES! You can absolutely still paint your cabinets if some of the paper coating is missing or peeling. We did. If I had sections where the paper was peeling, I simply used a little wood glue to re-adhere to paper and covered any cracks with some wood filler. Then I sanded the wood filler smooth. We also used the wood filler–sanded smooth, of course–in the areas where the paper coating was missing completely. Once we painted, you couldn’t even tell where we’d patched.
I featured Monte & Marie’s makeover last month, and they had the exact same issue. Monte used wood glue to re-adhere the paper to the cabinets, but in the recessed areas, he really got creative. He used sections of pool noodle cut to size to hold everything in place while it dried. Ingenius! 😀
Note: I have heard from some readers who have removed the paper coating entirely, and that seems like a whole lot of work. If you choose to take that route, remember that the MDF underneath the paper coating is rough, and will absorb paint differently. You’ll likely need to apply a few coats of paint and sand in between each coat.
Answer: Well, no… you don’t have to do anything… but I highly recommend it. 🙂 Remember that your cabinets are probably not made of real wood. They’ve got that plastic paper coating on them–and that means paint won’t want to adhere well to it. Primer–especially the Zinsser brands I like–is specially formulated to stick to tough to cover surfaces, and it really does make a difference. Sanding your cabinets lightly gives the primer some “tooth” to hold on to, and it will give you a very durable finish when it is all done. Your cabinets are going to get some abuse, so sanding and priming will make all the difference in making sure all your hard work lasts past the first trip out.
Question: Do I have to use an oil-based paint? Can I used a latex paint and primer in one?
Answer: You don’t have to use an oil-based paint, but you will get a far more durable finish. Oil-based paints are often used on trim work, because they can withstand abuse. Latex paint makes for easy clean-up, but it is less durable in the long run. I personally don’t recommend using a latex paint in primer in one, but I’ve featured several reader remodels that have used that type of paint. Sometimes I hear back from the reader that the paint didn’t hold up very well a year later. Most of the time, though, once a reader is featured, I don’t hear back from them. I have no idea how their paint has held up, so I can’t recommend it. I can tell you that OUR paint job still looks a lot like it did on day one.
Question: Can I use chalk paint?
Answer: Chalk paint sounds so easy, right? It comes in amazing colors, and you don’t even have to sand or prime first! How awesome is that? Felicia used chalk paint in her makeover, which you can find here, and it looks awesome! There is a catch, though. I’ve used chalk paint on a few projects around my house, and while the application and prep work are easy, it does require some finish work. Chalk paint is porous and requires a top coat. Most people finish their chalk paint projects with wax, but you can also finish with a polyurethane. If you skip this step, you’ll have a hard time sealing out the dirt.
Felicia sold her camper not long ago, and I was so excited to hear from the new owners. They love their new camper–how could they not? 🙂 However, they did tell me that they will likely have to add a top coat to the cabinets in the future because that chalk paint is just so porous. So, yes, you can use chalk paint and it will look beautifyl if you do it right, but it isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. There is some work involved.
Question: Can I paint the plastic trim?
Answer: In our camper, it really depended on the trim. We had two types of plastic trim. The first type of trim was the L-trim you see in the above picture. It was basically the corner trim that held two sides of a cabinet together. This trim was made of a hard, inflexible plastic. It held the paint really well, and in three years, we only have the few chips that you can see in the above picture. Since white replacement trim was hard to come by, painting was our best option. We will just touch it up this year.The second type of plastic trim we had in our camper was flexible t-molding. This is the trim you’ll find around your countertops and rounded cabinet edges–like the dinette. This trim did not hold paint well, as you can see in the pictures. It looked great for the first few months, but after our first trip out, it started to chip. The chipping got so bad that we eventually replaced it with white t-molding we purchased off Amazon. You can read all about that in our original painting post here.
Question: We want to change out the hardware on our cabinet doors, what did you use? The standard drawer pulls at stores don’t seem to fit.
Answer: We used some pretty brushed nickel pulls that we found at Lowes. They weren’t the same size as our original drawer pulls, so the holes didn’t quite match up. We just put some wood filler in the old holes and drilled new ones. Once we painted the drawer fronts and installed the new pulls, you could hardly tell. There is a very faint outline from the old pulls (see above) on a few of the doors, but it isn’t really noticeable, especially with the new pulls installed.
If you want to avoid that issue, you can always paint the original hardware. I’ve featured makeovers from several readers that have done just that, and it looks amazing. Check out Tiffany’s camper here for a great example of how a simple coat of spray paint can transform your cabinet hardware.
Question: I really want to paint my cabinets white, but I have kids. Do white cabinets show all the dirt, and how well do they held up to abuse?
Answer: I really love our white cabinets. I’ve got some dark cabinetry at home, and I feel like it shows the dirt far more than our light colored camper cabinets. If the paint chips at all, it is much more noticeable on a dark cabinet. Yes, we have kids, and yes, they have abused our camper a bit. We have traveled over 10,000 miles in this little PUP. We have accidentally packed our dirty dutch oven next to a white cabinet door. I find dirty feet propped up on the camper walls often, 😛 but our cabinets don’t seem to show much of that dirt.
We do have to do an occasional wipe-down with a Magic Eraser to remove smudges, but I feel like we would have done that regardless of the color. Once a year, we do our annual spring cleaning, and I really give the cabinets a good scrub down. You can see a before and after picture I snapped last week during spring cleaning. There was a year’s worth of grime in the camper, but it cleaned up so easily. I’m very pleased with how well our cabinets look three years later. If I ever do another PUP makeover, I would go with white all over again. Everyone is different, though, so if you feel like white is a risky color for your family, there are so many other great colors to choose from. Check out Heather’s pop up camper makeover here for a great example of a fun, colorful cabinet makeover. There are no neutrals going on here!
Question: Now that it has been a few years since you painted your cabinets, how are they holding up?
Answer: Beautifully! I snapped a picture during spring cleaning to give you an idea of just how great they look three years later. Yes, Mr. TypeTwoFun gave me a whole lot of grief for the bowl of willow balls, but it was totally worth it. 😉 The cabinets don’t look a whole lot different than they did when we first painted them.
I’m not going to lie to you. Painting the cabinets was a lot of work, but I feel like it made such an impact in the remodel, that it was totally worth it. Because we didn’t skimp on prep work or painting, our hard work wasn’t in vain. I would do it all over again in an instant. If you are on the fence about painting your cabinetry, don’t be scared. I can assure you that if you do it right, it will look amazing.
I think that answers most of the questions I get asked on a regular basis. If you didn’t see your question answered here, feel free to post it in the comments section below!