Laminate-countertop repair options
I have a Formica kitchen countertop with a small area of swollen substrate due to water seeping into a joint. Is there any way I can remove the swelling, such as applying moderate heat/steam with pressure from above?
Gary Lemkuhl, via email, None
Sven Hanson, a cabinetmaker in Albuquerque, New Mexico, replies: If moderate means about 10,000 lb. of pressure at a temperature of 450°F applied for two weeks, then yes, you can remove the swelling.
Seriously, though, repairing damage to particleboard and plywood substrates costs more then replacing the counter, so for a small kitchen, just yank the tops and start over. If you’ve got a huge kitchen with a lot of laminate counters of the same pattern (and you don’t hate it), then locate a sheet of the same material or a ready-made section of countertop. The old and new colors can’t match perfectly, so you’ll need to replace more than just the damaged area. Replace out to the side of the fridge or to the middle of the sink to hide the differences.
If you can’t find a match to the color/pattern and can’t afford to replace the whole top at this point, then you can try to repair the damaged area. You need to peel back the laminate carefully with a broad putty knife while loosening the adhesive with lacquer thinner. Make sure to open all nearby windows.
When you’ve exposed the swollen part of the substrate, sand it flat and stabilize it (lock all those loose fibers together) with a thick coating of cyanoacrylate glue. Sand a little more, and check the flatness. Bear in mind that it’s not a wedding cake or even a brand-new countertop; it doesn’t have to be perfect.
The next day, clean and vacuum; then apply a double coat of contact cement to the substrate and a single coat to the peeledback laminate. When dry, work both of them down with a roller toward the original joint.
I think you should spring for a new countertop. You must have an anniversary or a birthday or something coming up. Skip the fancy dinner in favor of a nicely updated kitchen.