Need to replace laminate countertop
August 23, 2011 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Most people want to salvage the laminate, I want the opposite. I have a bathroom vanity that is 50"x22" with sink. Three sides have tile on them as backsplash. How do I remove the laminate without wrecking the plywood underneath? I've heard soaking it in tolulene or lacquer thinner or acetone works but wouldn't that soak the wood as well and swell/ruin it (The acetone would evaporate quick though)? I used to be a floor layer so I'm thinking heat. Would a seam sealing iron work? It's basically a flat rectangular iron that can go from low to very high heat. It's safe to use on underlay so I assume plywood could handle it. I don't care about salvaging the laminate top. I just need to put a new one on and I heard that sanding and putting laminate on laminate is asking for trouble. Although I have contractor friends that with the owners permission have used liquid sandpaper and put it on existing laminate and have not had problems, 5-10 years on.
posted by penguinkeys to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, the easiest way to remove old laminate without damaging the substrate is with a sharp toothed plane followed by a belt sander. When working on installed pieces, though, sometimes there isn't room to get into corners that way.
posted by introp at 5:05 PM on August 23, 2011

Laminate like Formica, or laminate like wood veneer?

If it is Formica, if it doesn't want to get removed, it is going to take some effort. If you can't get a scraper under it, you might be stuck having to get a router and make a jig to take it all off. Or a belt sander with an aggressive tooth. If you are lucky and have a good eye for such things, perhaps a sharp chisel.

If it is veneer, just sand it down with a belt sander.
posted by gjc at 5:29 PM on August 23, 2011

Can you put up a picture?
posted by mhoye at 5:49 PM on August 23, 2011

I would at least see if you can just buy a one piece vanity top at home depot (or whatever similair store is near you). It will save you tons of time and hassle trying to get the laminate off. Plus it is a more durable and usually (to me) more attrictive surface that is far easier to keep clean (since their is no sink lip). Cost may be prohibitive buy I sometimes see one piece small vanity tops for 100 or so.

If that doesnt work it isn't too hard to just make a new plywood top using a drill and jigsaw and than stick the laminate to the new top. The tops on these vanity cabinets usually pop right off and sometimes are attached with screws on the inside of the cabinet with brackets. Either one sounds way easier than trying to get old laminate off plywood. I think you are more likely to just take off the top layer of plywood as well.
posted by bartonlong at 5:55 PM on August 23, 2011

Plywood is relatively cheap and easy to come by. I'm just sayin'.
posted by humboldt32 at 6:01 PM on August 23, 2011

Best answer: If you're re-laminating, you can do so over existing laminate, so long as it's in good solid shape.
posted by xingcat at 6:14 PM on August 23, 2011

Yeah I have to say I don't really understand why you want to preserve the plywood underneath? (If it even IS plywood, could easily just be MDF or particle board)
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:52 PM on August 23, 2011

Best answer: I've done this type of work before.

I've never tried heat before but that would be a good first idea. It might save you from doing it the hard way as I've detailed below. I've only seen heat applied to plastic laminate once when a drywaller left a huge lightbulb on one of our countertops for about an hour. The laminate actually separated and created a bubble mid-thickness (not between the laminate and the plywood.)

Here's the hard way.

First you lift the edge or corner of the laminate with a chisel and then squirt some lacquer thinner as far under the lifted part as you can.

Then you kind of pry up and down with the chisel to help the glue release better. Then you squirt more lacquer thinner and keep prying. Repeat until the job is done. As you get larger areas lifted free of the plywood, you can cut or break them off to allow easier access for squirting. If you want to cut them then tin snips or side cutters will work okay. If you want to break it, you can do it with your hands but you'll have to wear gloves and eye protection. The edges of broken laminate can be very sharp and, as you break it, small pieces will spall off of the bottom side and can fly anywhere, including into your eye(s.)

I see that the countertop has tile on three sides. I'm sure the tile was installed above the laminate and that means the left and right front corners will be tucked under the tile and nearly impossible to lift with a chisel.

I assume that the sink will be removed while you're doing this job, so I suggest taking a hand-held skil saw (circular saw) and setting it to a cut depth of about 1.2mm (a bit less than 1/16 of an inch.) Cut from the front edge to the back wall (or as close as you can get to the back wall) scoring only thru the laminate. It's better to cut *slightly* too deep than not quite deep enough. This will provide you with two freshly-created "corners" at the middle of the front edge to start working on.

Once you get close to the side and back tile, it's going to become a pain in the butt as you won't be able to lift the laminate where the tile is 'holding it down.' At these locations, break off as much as you can and then pull the remaining laminate away from the wall with pliers.


The lacquer thinner will not damage the plywood or make it swell up, but let it dry really well before you try to apply new laminate. Also, scrape any globs of old glue off the plywood before you put the new stuff on.

Open a window as the fumes from the lacquer thinner get extremely thick and will cause a headache pretty quick.

Wear gloves. Although it looks like the thinner is just evaporating off your skin, some of it is being absorbed *into* the skin.

Obviously no open flames or other sources of ignition in the area. Don't ask me how I know this.

Good luck.
posted by WalterDekter at 7:02 PM on August 23, 2011

Best answer: I'm assuming it's formica-type laminate, not melamine-type laminate (the really thin plastic film that should never be used on counter tops anyway).

Assuming the laminate was fixed down with contact adhesive, your seam sealing iron would work for removing it (it will melt the glue). It will damage the surface of the laminate, but you don't care about that.

There should be no problem with fixing new laminate over the existing surface, as long as you prepare it properly. Remove the sink and taps, make sure the surface is absolutely clean and give it a thorough sand with 40 grit sandpaper and the surface will take the laminate just as well as a bare wood surface. Seal between the edges of the laminate and the tiles with a thin bead of silicon and replace the hardware.

Soaking the laminate in thinners/acetone whatever won't help. WalterDekter's method will, but it's hard work that way. If you do decide to use any sort of solvent, make sure you provide ventilation that doesn't involve an electric motor anywhere within the area you are working. Don't ask me how I know this ;-)

I strongly recommend just fixing new laminate over the existing, BTW.
posted by dg at 7:21 PM on August 23, 2011

I would probably start with my hand-held power planer set really deep, knowing that I'd be replacing the blades ($15) after the job. Belt sander's going to be a pain even with a big dog, and once you get down to the glue the belt sander is just gonna clog up anyway.

You could, however, try one of those infrared paint remover dinguses and see if it softens the glue enough in a big area to be worthwhile, but it's going to take a long time to heat through the laminate and those things are expensive anyway.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:31 PM on August 23, 2011

Response by poster: Hey everybody, thanks for the input . yes this is formica style laminate. The cheapo apartment style stuff. Originally I was just going to use a chemical acid designed to make the laminate porous enough so that I could lay down the new piece on top of it but I thought I'd try heat for a second.

I ended up using a floor laying seam seal iron as a first resort because that was handy. It actually worked and in about 10 minutes too. I used lacquer thinner on the remaining glue underneath and you guys were right, it didn't damage the wood.

I would have taken the whole counter off but it had tiles put on tight to the top as a backsplash on three sides. The front of the counter was set into an offset part of the base, so no sliding the counter off once I unscrewed it, it had to be lifted. And to lift it, I had to remove the tiles. Then I would likely have to repair some drywall and repaint, which I didn't have the colour swatch for. Too much work for a place I don't own.

The heat didn't work as well on the 2" strip on the face so I'm going to use chemical sander on it and put another strip on top. I'm going to hand file the corner.

My friend happened to be doing his kitchen island as well and he told me that he just sanded the existing laminate (Formica laminate) and put on a new sheet. He said there are no bumps and you can't tell. So I guess if you can't remove the plywood, other options do work well.
posted by penguinkeys at 11:59 AM on August 24, 2011

Response by poster: Just want to add that I didn't put down a towel or cloth as a buffer between the iron and the laminate. I burned the laminate but if I had put a buffer, I believe that I could have reused it, if that was my intent. It was a very clean removal, although my floor laying iron has a much wider temperature range than a clothes iron.

I didn't end up pulling the remaining 1/2" laminate from under the tile border. They had put such a huge hideous caulking bead around where the tile meets the laminate that I had a lot of room for error. I'll instead butt it up against the tile when I lay the new sheet down and put a much nicer bead down. If they notice anything it'll be that.
posted by penguinkeys at 12:05 PM on August 24, 2011

penguinkeys writes "I used lacquer thinner on the remaining glue underneath and you guys were right, it didn't damage the wood. "

This is a common trick to get an idea how a wetting finish like shellac will alter the appearance of the wood without making it wet.

penguinkeys writes "he just sanded the existing laminate (Formica laminate) and put on a new sheet. He said there are no bumps and you can't tell."

Yep. As long as the existing laminate is well adhered you can just lay the new right over the old.
posted by Mitheral at 1:26 PM on August 24, 2011

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