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audra73 07-12-2010 01:52 PM

Steel Kitchen Cabinets
I'm new to this site and completely thrilled that I found it! My husband and I have been remodeling and updating our 1958 ranch since 2002. We have gotten all of the big stuff done and are down to the details. I apologize ahead of time for the length of this post.

That said, we have Geneva powder coated steel cabinets from the 50's in our kitchen. The cabinets are in mint condition, except for the fact that the tenants that lived here before we bought the house painted the cabinets with latex wall paint (brown and hunter green). They did a sponge finish on them, but didn't thin out the top layer of paint, which left big globs of paint on the doors. When we moved in I spent a week sanding the latex paint down smooth, but not completely off. I painted with an enamel paint as a temporary "fix".

I want to paint the cabinets with a durable, high gloss paint that will give us the full look of metal cabinets (preferably in a gray/silver/aluminum color). My concerns are the old layers of paint and should they be completely removed? If yes, what is the best method? And, would a metal paint like Rustoleum be the way to go?

Also, the old hardware is inset with plastic inserts. I'd like to fill those squares and sand them smooth so that we can use updated hardware. The old hardware looks new, but pinches your fingers when opening and closing the cabinet doors. I'm clueless on what to use for this.

I know that other folks have had auto body shops or professional electrostatic painting done on theirs, but my budget is way too small for that.

kok328 07-12-2010 03:07 PM

I'd pull the doors off, apply paint stripper, clean the residue real good and apply a spray primer and paint (rustoleum will work fine).

oldognewtrick 07-12-2010 03:11 PM


Originally Posted by kok328 (Post 46542)
I'd pull the doors off, apply paint stripper, clean the residue real good and apply a spray primer and paint (rustoleum will work fine).

Rustoleum will spray really nice if you wet sand between coats. I've seen cars done like this and they turned out awesome. Spray several thin coats, wet sand and buff. You can even put it on with a roller after the paint is thinned.

oldognewtrick 07-12-2010 03:16 PM

1 Attachment(s)
Heres a picture of a 69 Dodge Charger painted with Rustoleum and a paint roller.

Nestor_Kelebay 07-12-2010 10:26 PM


You say the original factory coating was a powder coating.

Then, some tenants painted over the powder coating with latex paint.

Then you sanded down the latex paint and painted over it with an "enamel" as a temporary fix.

Do you remember if the paint you applied was an oil based paint or a latex paint?

You see, an oil based paint will be durable enough for cabinets. The problem is that whenever you put a strong hard coating over a soft weak coating, then any impact hard enough to break the soft weak coating will result in a "chip" in the strong hard coating above. The strong hard coating on top will stand up well to wear, but not to impacts. Ideally, it would be best to remove all of that old latex paint if possible, because it's the softest weakest link in the chain.

You can remove latex paint from either oil based paint or a powder coating with xylene. Simply get a paper towel wet with xylene (which can be purchased at most paint and hardware stores), and "clean" the cabinets with that paper towel. The xylene will dissolve the latex paint, but neither the oil based paint nor the underlying powder coating.

How well a protective coating performs on a surface depends largely on how hard that coating is. The harder the coating, the less it's going to be scratched or damaged by normal use, like by sliding a heavy stack of hard porcelain dishes or a stainless steel pot over the coating. The less it's damaged by normal use, the longer it stays looking new, and the longer it lasts.

The hardest coating of the bunch would have been the original powder coating. If you painted with an oil based paint as a temporary fix, then that would be the second hardest coating. The latex paint would be the softest coating. Unfortunately, from what I'm understanding, the powder coating is on the bottom, the latex is in the middle, and the "enamel" (which could be anything) is on top, and so the "enamel" paint (if it's oil based) may prevent the easy removal of the latex paint.

If you really like these cabinets and want to keep them a long time, the best conventional coating to have on them would be a powder coating, which are typically about 3 times as hard and durable as "paints". Typically, the cooktop of a stove will be powder coated rather than painted because the heat from the surface elements will soften up a paint to the point that you would damage it sliding a pot onto or off of a surface element. You might want to inquire into the cost of taking the cabinets down, having everything sandblasted off of them, and having the cabinet and doors re-powder coated the way they were originally.

Most of the places listed under "Industrial Coatings" in your yellow pages will powder coat metal. Powder coating is completely different than painting. When they powder coat a metal object, they electrostatically spray a mixture of coloured particles called (pigments) and clear plastic blobs (called resins) onto the metal. Then they bake the metal so that the clear plastic blobs melt and flow together, encasing the coloured pigments in a layer of clear plastic very much like raisins in raisin bread. When that plastic (typically polyester) coating cools, it'll be about 3 times as hard and durable as an oil based paint.

If you really want a durable coating that will last forever, sand blast all of the old coatings off, and have the cabinet and doors nickel plated at any chrome plating shop. Typically, you nickel plates steel before chrome plating it. However, you don't need to chrome plate over the nickel plating. Nickel provides a very hard and durable finish that will literally last forever. Have you ever seen a rusty nickel? No, even the oldest nickels grandpa has in his coin collection are undeteriorated.

That's because nickel, like copper and stainless steel, "rusts". However, the oxide layer it forms is highly impermeable to oxygen and H2O molecules in the air, and so as that oxide layer grows in thickness, it better and better protects the underlying metal from further "rusting". This is why a new copper penny is orange (the colour of copper metal), whereas an old copper penny is brown (the colour of copper oxide). However, the thickness of the brown copper oxide on a 100 year old copper penny is only about twice the thickness as on a 10 year old penny, and that is only about twice as thick as the oxide layer on a 1 year old penny. The rate of growth of the oxide layer progressively becomes slower and slower the thicker it gets because of the relatively low permeability of that oxide film to oxygen atoms and molecules.

Nickel, chromium and stainless steel all "rust" the same way as copper, but their oxide layers are even more impermeable to oxygen, and under normal circumstances never grow so thick as to interfere with light sufficiently to become visible. The coating on a low-e window is typically about 70 silver atoms thick, and you have to have a trained eye to see if glass has a low-e coating on it or not. So, anything less than 70 metal atoms thick is essentially transparent, and the oxide coating on nickel and stainless steel would be thinner than 70 atoms.

I would caution against using a metallic "paint" to get a metallic look on your metal cabinets. Paint simply isn't as hard as metal, and it might look OK when it's new, but it's not going to look like metal once it gets all scratched up from pots and dishes sliding over it's surface. Dirt will become embedded in it's relatively soft surface, and scrubbing it hard enough to remove that surface dirt is going to leave a dull surface, not "metallic" looking at all.

Consider having the cabinets sandblasted and nickel plated to get an extremely durable metal finish that'll be both maintenance free and last forever.

(Then consider getting stainless steel appliances to complement your cabinets.)

audra73 07-13-2010 04:59 AM

Nestor - Thank you for all of your information. I've been pondering this project for 2 years and have been way intimidated by my own lack of knowledge. Both layers of paint were latex. I was afraid to use an oil over the latex that was already there when I moved in. I would love to have them powder coated again, but I was given a high level estimate of $5,000 (includes removal of old paint). Yikes! Is that estimate over the top? I didn't seem it to me given all of the work involved in the process, but I obviously have much to learn on this topic.

The insides of the cabinets are perfect. The powder coating and stainless steel shelving look brand new (not even one scratch), which speaks to the durability of that particular coating as you stated. I will definitely remove all of the old latex using the method you outlined and go with an oil paint.

oldog/ newtrick - I love that car!!! Yours? If so, you are a lucky dog. Was it painted with a foam roller? And, how do I thin the paint? One of the people that had an auto body shop paint their old cabinets said that they use auto wax and a buffer to keep them polished, which also protects them from dirt, etc. Would the final coat of paint be a clear coat or is that not necessary?

Thanks again to all of you for your insights!

oldognewtrick 07-13-2010 06:06 AM


Originally Posted by audra73 (Post 46554)
Nestor -

oldog/ newtrick - I love that car!!! Yours? If so, you are a lucky dog. Was it painted with a foam roller?

Thanks again to all of you for your insights!

I wish it was mine. And yes it was painted with a foam roller pad and thinned rustoleum. Google "Rustoleum Charger" and you will find the link where the person who painted it describes how he did it. He painted a VW also.

handyguys 07-13-2010 06:55 AM

So to strip the doors - Use a chemical stripper. Citris Strip will work but take a long time possibly but it isnt as noxious. The Other strippers that are Methyl Chloride based (I think) will work better but will burn your skin and should be used outside only.

To fill the recesses just use bondo auto body filler. Its easy to work with and will sand smooth.

Nestor_Kelebay 07-13-2010 03:02 PM

If the insides of the cupboards are in good condition, then all you need to do is powder coat the doors. $5,000 to powder coat a set of steel cupboard doors? That sounds extremely high to me. I think the guy just didn't want the work. I'd try a different shop.

The active ingredient in conventional paint strippers is methylene chloride. It's a methane molecule (CH4) with two of the hydrogens replaced with chlorine atoms.
So, it's CH2Cl2.

I'd just try xylene first as you very well could find that it cleans up the latex paint without any of the mess you typically get with gelled paint strippers.

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