Painting your camper cabinets can have a huge impact on the look and feel of your camper remodel. We originally wrote this post several years ago, after the paint on our first camper was about two years old. Amazingly, three years later, the paint is still in the exact same shape. We’ve since taken on another camper project and seen countless other renovations. We’ve learned quite a few things in our five years since starting our renovation journey. Since the tips in this post are still really relevant–especially for newbie renovators–we thought we’d update it and pass on a few things we’ve learned along the way. Enjoy! 😀
One of the first things we did on our Coleman remodel was paint the cabinets. It really made a huge difference in the feel of the camper. Once that project was finished, I could really see my remodel plans starting to take shape. You can find our original tutorial here. We 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. There really is no need to worry. It’s an easy (but time consuming–for sure!) project that will yield great results. Here are a few of your most frequently asked questions answered.
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 pop up camper I have ever seen has those paper covered MDF or fiberboard cabinets. Ours were 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 Coleman 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 was all in the prep work. I’ve detailed our painting process here, but I cannot stress enough the importance of good prep work. Use a good primer! 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 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 small 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 on the blog, 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.
Question: What if large sections of the paper coating are missing? How can I still paint the cabinets?
If you are missing large sections of the paper coating on your cabinets, or if you just want to remove the coating and paint the MDF underneath, that’s totally doable! Check out Katie Graham’s makeover to see how she solved this problem. Katie used a hair dryer (a heat gun will also work great) to soften the adhesive on the paper. Then she painstakingly removed the coating. Remember that the cabinets are MDF, so you’ll have to make sure you sand lightly and remove any residue or remaining adhesive. Use a good primer (we like Zinsser) and sand lightly between coats. You’ll probably need more than one coat of primer on the raw MDF. Then you can paint your cabinets with a good quality paint.
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 them without some help. Primer–especially the Zinsser brands we 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 ensure all your hard work lasts past the first trip out. We’ve heard from a lot of readers, and many who skimped on the prep work have to frequently touch up chips and flaking paint.
Question: What kind of paint should I use?
Answer: We used an oil-based paint on the Coleman camper cabinets. You can read more about that here. 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. With our Rockwood camper, we used alkyd paint from Dunn Edwards. I really like alkyd paint because it is a hybrid. It has the durability of an oil-based paint, but it cleans up with water. It really is the best of both worlds. If you want to see how we painted our Rockwood cabinets, check out our post here.
Question: Can I use latex paint and primer in one?
Answer: You can. I’m not a fan of latex paint for cabinetry, and it wouldn’t be my first choice. I have featured quite a few makeovers where readers have used latex paint with no problems to report, though. I would still suggest preparing and priming your cabinets in the same way you would if you were using any other paint. In our experience, you’ll just get better results if you use a separate primer. It might be a little more time consuming, but we’ve found that a little extra prep work often makes all the difference in a good paint job.
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 repaint and 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 beautiful if you do it right, but it isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. There is some additional 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 five 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 just touch it up every so often.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.
In our Rockwood camper, we rebuilt the cabinets from scratch. Because we didn’t have replacement trim for the corners, we used a very small corner molding to cover our corners. If you don’t have success with painting your plastic L-trim or F-trim, replacing it with a small corner molding is also an option. It holds paint really well. Just make sure you prep and prime it properly, and it will blend right into your cabinetry. You can see more on how we rebuilt our cabinets for the Rockwood 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. As with your cabinetry, you’ll want to make sure you prep and prime your hardware, too. We painted the hinges on our Rockwood, and before we broke out the spray paint, we used a Scotch Brite pad and some acetone to scrub them down. Then we used a metal etching spray primer to coat the hinges. Once the primer was dry, we gave them two good coats of gold spray paint. Make sure you let the spray paint cure for several days–we gave them a week–before you install and use the hardware. It will ensure that your finish is durable and doesn’t chip.
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 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. I would not hesitate to paint my cabinets white again.
And I know there are quite a few readers who feel the same. I’ve featured a lot of pop up camper remodels that have white cabinets. It really opens up the already small camper and makes it feel so much larger. Need some inspiration? Check out these reader features with white cabinets.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 this post we wrote on colorful camper cabinet makeovers. You’ll find some awesome inspiration!
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 after three years. Yes, Mr. TypeTwoFun gave me a whole lot of grief for the bowl of willow balls, but it was totally worth it. 😉 After five whole years of camping–two years after this photo was taken–they look exactly the same. The cabinets don’t look a whole lot different than they did when we first painted them.
Now, the jury is still out on the Rockwood cabinets. We’ll have to wait and see how they hold up in a few years, but so far so good. I’m really pleased with the alkyd paint we selected, and we don’t anticipate having any issues with durability.
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. And keep those reader makeovers coming. I love seeing how creative y’all are!