My lifelong relationship with laminate countertops is finally over. Gracing the kitchen in which I grew up, laminate seemed to me the workhorse of countertops—most homes seemed to have them. For better or for worse, many rentals in my adult life continued my kitchen kinship with laminate. But from afar I envied elegant marble, beautiful soapstone, natural butcher block, metals like stainless steel and copper, and most of all, modern and easy quartz.
It was no surprise that when I bought my home, the countertops were laminate. I tried to embrace them. But the coffee, red wine and Campari stains took a lot of scrubbing to get out. And I kept on having to glue back down the strips along the sides of the counter and the top of the back splash. The time had come for a change.
Earlier this year I resolved to upgrade the kitchen–essentially with little or no budget. Some paint on the cabinets did wonders to lighten the space, so the countertops were next on the list. I wanted something durable, attractive, easy, inexpensive, maintenance-free, and stain-proof. My needs were great, and my budget small. I figured concrete counters would fit those constraints.
From what I’ve read, a concrete skim-coat would transform my laminate without having to remove or rebuild the counters. It’s applied straight on top of the laminate in troweled-on layers. And it is inexpensive. Perfect! Easy DIY concrete countertops over my laminate counters. I have about 25 sq. ft. of surface area, so I figured it wasn’t too large for me to take on. I was up for the challenge.
The product I used is Henry brand Feather Finish concrete Underlayment Patch and Skimcoat. I got mine from Home Depot in a 7lb. box for around $17, but you can also get it now through Amazon Prime under the Ardex brand name (10lbs is around $33). The 7lb. box covers about 24sq. ft. to 1/8″, which I gambled would be just about enough.
The entire process (in concept) is simple, summarized below.
DIY Concrete Countertops
Step 1: Prep. Clean and rough up your laminate to create a surface to which concrete can bond.
Step 2: Application. Skim on the concrete (I applied four layers).
Step 3: Seal (covered in the next post).
Step 4: Cure (and apply silicone at sink if needed).
I finally had a window to start the project. It was still warm enough so that we could grill most of our meals, and we had a weekend out of town approaching during which the sealer could cure.
- Bucket for mixing. I was able to get by with a small one gallon tub.
- Trowels. I ended up using a plastic putty knife, but also experimented with a drywall taping knife.
- Orbital sander and sandpaper in a range of grits.
- Painters Tape
- Vinyl gloves, safety glasses, mask
- At first I used the drill and paddle for mixing, but as I went along it was easier to mix by hand.
Step 1: Prep
Clean your surfaces. Get everything out of the way, clear everything off, take down anything on the wall right over the counter. It’s time to rough it up and prep the surface. I started by using 40 grit pads on an orbital sander but it didn’t quite have the effect I was looking for. It just seemed to smooth the surface.
So I took the pad off the sander and started using it with my own elbow grease.
This worked much better. You can see the scratches in the surface. I have to admit it was a little satisfying—cathartic almost—to scratch up that laminate.
Next I removed all the loose strips that came off easily (one of my big gripes with the laminate), to ensure they wouldn’t be peeling off with the concrete on top of them. I gave the glue-laden surface underneath a quick sand with the orbital sander.
Finally, I taped around the whole area with painters tape. I don’t have an image of the painters tape, but you can see it in the photos of the application process.
Step 2: Application
Mix your concrete. Follow the directions. Mine required two parts mix to one part water. I mixed a lot the first time and it started drying on me pretty quickly. The temps were in the mid-70s, but it’s very arid here. I started to mix smaller batches (one half to one cup concrete mix) after that first one to keep it wet enough to apply easily.
Now you’re ready to start spreading it on. I tried a few different tools for application, but ultimately chose the plastic one you see here. My first coat was quite thin, I wanted to be sure I had flat, level finished surface to I kept the layers thin. You can still see the laminate through the first layer.
Be sure to get the sides, too. You can see the tape in these pics as well, I found I only needed it along the top and against the stove, I didn’t apply it along the bottom where the drawers were. If I did happen to get a glob on them, I could sponge it off very easily and quickly.
Let the first layer dry. In my semi-desert area, that meant only a half hour to fully dry. Lightly sand in between the layers. I mostly focused on the uneven areas. Wipe off the surface with a dry rag to prep for your second layer.
I got right to applying the second coat. (I must have forgotten the side—see, I needed the reminder!)
The second layer left a few thin areas and a third layer seemed to cover well. I decided to sand it smooth for the sealer. I started with an 80 grit, then 120 grit, then 220. Besides making a dusty mess in the house, I probably took off almost an entire layer doing this. PLUS, when I read the instructions for the sealer, it warned to not sand the surface with a grit finer than 200. Lesson learned. So I decided to rebuild it with a fourth coat. This was a painful decision ONLY because I had to order another box of concrete and so I had to wait a few days to finish the application. In the meantime, we were doing our best not to destroy the surface with food stains.
Another advantage of a fourth layer was that I could focus on a few thin spots on the edges, and to beef up and smooth out some of the corners. I used my fingers to literally sculpt a layer of the mix onto the edges and corners.
Now’s the time to clean up everything before the sealer. I sanded some of the globs that formed under the sides, and cleaned up around the sink.
Now the countertops will dry overnight and they will be ready for the sealer! More on the sealer in the next post (completion photos posted here as well).
I love the industrial look the DIY Concrete Countertops add to the kitchen and especially the variation and imperfections in the surface (of course!). In fact, the areas where the concrete is smooth and even are the least interesting parts of the counter. In hindsight I wish I hadn’t sanded those areas so much. Think about the aesthetic you would like for your surface–smooth and even, or a little imperfect? You know what gets my vote!
I’m so excited to add the sealer and start using these babies! More pics of the “after” counters and the sealer process next!
Interested in the whole kitchen? See other posts about renovating my kitchen on a $500 budget: