Paint Tips

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CA Escapee

Oct 20, 2018
I have seen a number of questions about painting an RV and RV cabinets in particular.  Some of the information I have seen elsewhere on blogs and videos just won?t provide a long-standing finish, so here are my suggestions and tips that as a contractor having painted home cabinets without a callback should translate over to your RV.

First you need to understand what type of cabinets you have in your RV.  I read a lot about cabinets that have this thin almost paper layer.  Those cabinets are what we call thermofoil the least expensive cabinets and perhaps the most challenging to paint.  Next step up would be, cabinets with a box and frame that is either plywood or particle board with a wood veneer, chances are the doors may have a hardwood frame and an inset panel of the same ply veneer.  Most all cabinets will have the ply or PB box, but the next step would be cabinets that have a wood frame on both the cabinet and the doors. Chances are any wood veneers may be 1/16 to 3/32 of an inch while the thermofoil is paper thin or thinner.  Cabinets that have the wood veneer also have what we call an edge band that is somewhere between the thickness of the thermofoil and the thinnest veneer, this is used on exposed edges of the plywood. 

The reason for such a long discussion is to know how to prep the cabinet.  No matter what type of cabinet the first thing is to wash the cabinets with either TSP, simple green or another mild degreaser or cleaning agent.  After cleaning the cabinets then use a 180 ? 220 grit sandpaper to lightly, and I repeat lightly sand the cabinets.  The idea is just to rough up the surface enough to get the primer to adhere better.  Over sanding through the thermofoil or veneers will lead to a challenging fix.

Hidden in all of this before the wash I recommend removing all the doors and drawers to paint separately and please remove the hardware and do not just paint them - yuk. TIP ? number or mark all your doors under where the hinge will go so you know where they reinstall too.  You can either mark the cabinet as well or draw yourself a picture. After the sand you need to carefully wipe the cabinets down to remove any dust.  Start with a smooth rag like an old T-shirt or a good micofiber cloth avoid terry cloth to minimize lint on the cabinet.  Then we like to use a tack cloth found in any big box store to make sure the dust is gone. A tack cloth is a cheesecloth with a sticking rosen type material to pick up the finest dust.

Of course, in all of this comes the masking and prep before you prime. How much depends on whether you spray or brush/roll.  If the interiors are not that bad, we suggest not painting the interiors, that can get to be a lot more work. 

Taking care of nicks or perhaps in the case of thermofoil some missing material you may want to consider Bondo.  Yep the same Bondo filler that is used to repair a dent in a car, Bondo is a painter's magic trick  It is the hardest material once dry and can be sanded the smoothest. Bondo is a two-part system and you need both parts to make it work.  Just a small amount of catalyst ? the small tube, goes a long way.  Too much and it dries too quickly.

Now to prime or not to prime or use an all in one.  From experience coming in behind other messes made by inexperience people I am a firm believer in priming before the finish product goes on.  Sorry but we do not recomend an all in one primer paint for the cabinets, just too much abuse. We like to use an oil base primer, yes it stinks, yes, it is more difficult to work with, yes it has higher VOC?s but in the end how long do you want your work to look good.  The other thing about oil primer, a lot of cabinets that have some form of wood will use a lacquer finish, the oil primer is best suited to cover this surface.  We recommend Zinsser Cover Stain for an oil primer, however if you don?t want to use oil the Zinsser 1-2-3 is a good water base primer.  PRO TIP ? if your finish color is something other than white, ask you paint shop if they can tint the primer to a 50% color of your finish paint color. 

Once you?re this far with a little effort your finish product should come out nice.  We use a product called Alkyd from Behr for a lot of our finish paint, but any high-quality paint will work. You've come this far do not skimk on the cost of a good paint.  If interested I can add a post and give advice on painting the walls and another on for tips if you want to spray rather than brush/roll.  Happy Painting, hope this helps!


Well-known member
Dec 26, 2009
on the move, USA
Fabulous write up!

Thank you.

Now, what time can you be here to start work?  ;D

In my old motorhome (1994 Class C) I removed and painted the cabinet fronts and drawers an off white and left the rest of the wood natural. It surely brightened up the place and the two tone look surprisingly nice. I was living in it 24/7 so that's why the rest wasn't painted.

Now I am in another old RV, a 1992 5th wheel with solid oak cabinets. They are so beautiful I am going to just leave them as they are.

You didn't cover solid wood cabinets but those are rare these days in RV's.

THANKS for taking the time to post this.


Jan 2, 2019
Thank you for taking the time to write this. I will start painting my old girl's cabinets this spring and will follow your suggestions. I never want to have to do it again, so want to do it right the first time.

tc tom

Well-known member
Jun 19, 2010
We have been using a high quality water based clear coat over high quality acrylic paint in high use areas. Drawer fronts, cabinet doors, entrance doors etc. Our test for this procedure was on a high use newel post with a ball shaped finial on top. All day long a family 7 was grabbing the finial. We tried oil and acrylic paints. After a short time, with in several months, the paint would become tacky, dirty and was not able to be cleaned. Come to find out the natural oil on our hands brakes down the paint. We sanded down to bare wood, repainted with a high quality acrylic paint and coated the new paint with and acrylic clear floor finish. To this day, 7 years later, it looks like the day we clear coated it except for a few scratches in the clear coat only.

Hope this helps, Tom


tc tom said:
with and acrylic clear floor finish. To this day, 7 years later, it looks like the day we clear coated it except for a few scratches in the clear coat only.

Hope this helps, Tom

The same stuff many people are using on fiberglass motorhomes.... :)
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