Re-Finishing Kitchen Cabinets to Hide Yellowing

      Five years down the road, a white lacquer finish on cabinets has yellowed. What are the choices for a re-coat? November 12, 2006

We have to repaint a 5 year old kitchen our shop built, but hired out for finishing. It has all yellowed from the UV. The customer will be on holidays for 2 weeks coming up. What options do I have? The kitchen will stay in place except doors and drawers, which will come back to the shop. I know that post cat over NC is probably not a good idea, but what if I sprayed BIN shellac primer first?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor L:
The post cat is too hot and will melt/crack/wrinkle to NC laq. I'm not sure, but I think if you used a vinyl sealer you could get away with a post cat. It will still be weaker than if it was on new wood because you have a softer finish under a harder one.

From contributor M:
Do you yourself a favor, strip the lacquer off. You could do it with acetone it's an easy strip. Take the doors and drawers back to the shop, strip the frames in the house. Then do all your finishing on the raw woods. Your plan is weak and will backfire it's only a matter of time. Even if you have to hand finish the frames in the house, you will be ahead of the game.

From contributor J:
Strip the old finish? Only if you're getting paid for it, and I don't think you could pay me enough. And if I were to get enough money to consider it, it would certainly be enough to order new paint grade doors! Are you married to the post-cat idea? Special sealers and extra steps can bite you. How about a good scuff and pre-cat instead?

From contributor M:
"How about a good scuff and pre-cat instead?"
I don't think this would solve the yellowing problem.

From contributor J:
We use ML Campbell Magna-Max (catalyzed by the distributor the day of delivery, 120 day shelf life). It will certainly solve the yellowing problem. But you're right, not forever. I've had several white painted jobs in the field for more than a few years that still look great.

From contributor A:
What was the original finish, lacquer white wash?

From contributor M:
The finish has yellowed over time, regardless if it's just a clear coat finish, or if it's a stain and clear coats, or if it's a colored base coat. I don't think any clear coat can help the yellowing unless you first strip the old yellow finish.

From contributor D:
Magnamax is not a non-yellowing finish. Neither is Duravar. Krystal is a non-yellowing finish.

From contributor J:
The original post said repaint. Paint, not stain and clearcoat. I'm talking about white paint.

From contributor M:
I know, but it will not work.

From contributor J:

From contributor M:
Because you cannot hide or stop the oxidation. It will come back, and then he will be in the same position he is right now. It's just not the right thing to do.

From contributor J:
I disagree. You can certainly hide the yellowing with primer and paint. You will also significantly slow the oxidization. No white finish is forever. I just posted a picture of a 5 year old painted mantel and paneling in the Project Gallery. It's in an oceanfront beach house on the Jersey shore. Still looks good.

From contributor T:
I would not use shellac under any catalyzed product. Too risky.

Magnamax is a yellowing finish. If it looks amber in the can, it will amber on the cabinets in time. I like Magnamax anyway. The only non-yellowing products I'm aware of are products that contain absolutely no nitrocellulose. This would be conversion varnishes like Krystal, or CAB lacquers.

Since Krystal can't be used over NC (regardless of what you seal it with, in my opinion), I would paint with CAB lacquer, though I hate to admit it. CAB is supposed to be non-yellowing. Clear CAB is clear as water and should remain that way. Opaques should be the same non-yellowing, so I've been told and has been my experience.

Note that if the first coats of finish are clears, you will potentially have bonding issues if you don't use a good primer. I've seen jokers paint white lacquers over clear finishes. It peels every time. There is just too much pigment in white lacquer for it to bond properly to clear. It will bond quite well to primer.

My recommendation is you use a white vinyl primer (MLC makes a very good one), one coat - this is a thick white primer version of vinyl sealer. Scuff sand. Then one, or max, two topcoats of CAB. The yellow will not show through. I personally wouldn't strip them. I've used the above concoction for a couple of kitchens based on the recommendation of MLC and it has worked well.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your responses. My boss says stripping is not an option. This finish is a white NC. Is recoating in a white pigmented cab acrylic the best option, and does cab have UV inhibitors? Can you just scuff sand and shoot the white cab, no primer coat? We use Chemcraft products.

From contributor Y:
Talk with your Chemcraft rep and see if using the 401-033 Isolante over the old NC would work with the CAB lacquer you are using. Have you used this white CAB lacquer before? How are the hiding properties? You may need to go with a couple of coats, or you can have your distributor add some more colorants to help with the hiding. You can use the Isolante on substrates such as plastic to make the wood coating adhere to it. It is made especially for this purpose.

From the original questioner:
This is how it goes. Boss says stripping is not an option. I have to come up with a solution to repaint so that it does not yellow again. We want to get in and get out because it's likely a freebee, but I don't know for sure. What product can I use to coat over NC with no real apparent issues? Is cab my best option?

From contributor Y:
We must have posted at the same time. See my response above your last one. If your Chemcraft rep says you can go over the NC with the 401-033 Isolante, you can use any coating Chemcraft has to offer. And it being a kitchen, I would recommend one of the Plasticolor (Plastofix) whites Chemcraft has to offer. I would also recommend the 117-10XX Series; it will do a good job of hiding the old coat that is already on there. The 117 series of white Plastofix's are pretty slow in the yellowing department. They are actually rated the same as cab lacquer for yellowing and a lot tougher finish. They are rated better than cab lacquers for household chemicals also.

From contributor Y:
Something just popped into my mind as I was leaving for lunch. If your customer used an ammonia based cleaner on the white cabinets, that would be one thing that would cause your 5 year old cabinets to yellow so fast. Maybe it wasn't so much the UV from the sun!

From contributor M:
If you don't want to strip the old finish, as I would do, here is another option you might want to talk with your supplier about. First of all, you definitely must clean and dewax the old coating. I would suggest you use a silver base coat as your sealer and primer to seal in the yellowing in the old finish. But you will need to ask your supplier what white color coat and clear coats you can use that would be compatible with the silver base coats. You then may only need a few white topcoats to complete the finish. They may suggest using a white primer/sealer first over the silver basecoat, and then a white topcoat to complete the finish.

From contributor L:
If this is going to be a freebie, then I would make sure to do it right the second time around - lest there be a third time a'comin'. You will need to dewax, degrease the whole surface to be repainted. I would suggest TSP and water. Does a good job, doesn't cost much and works quick. I've never used it on NC laq, so do a test on the back of a door. Then I would do a good job of scuffing and priming, something that will block the yellow and give a good surface for the next coat(s) of paint to adhere to. If you do the job right, you won't be back again. Write in the contract that you refinished the kitchen under warranty and that the refinish has a warranty of 6 months and only for adhesion. I wouldn't guaranty a color to "not yellow," especially if you are using a product known to yellow with time. If it were me, I wouldn't be redoing the kitchen for free. Who knows what has been done to the surfaces in 5 years. The yellow could be a thick coating of grease because the client never cleaned the cabinets (yuk).

From contributor R:
White vinyl sealer followed with white CAB lacquer. No clear coat.

From contributor W:
Just a word of caution: TSP is an alkaline solution. NC lacquer is more resistant to alkalines than shellac, but it is not impervious to it. If you use TSP, make it a very weak solution. Same applies to lacquer thinner (acetone) and toluene, which are both components of ATM strippers. If you use them, go easy. If I was sure it's NC lacquer, I'd use a Dawn soap solution, MS and scuff sand.

Also FYI, The white pigment titanium dioxide is a an excellent UV absorber and is also more resistant to heat, alkalis and acidic solutions than other whites. Micronized titanium dioxide is used in sunscreen to provide UV protection for your skin. It is not as warm as flake white and not as transparent as zinc white, but it is an excellent white. If you put a non-yellowing finish pigmented with titanium dioxide over a good sealer, I think the boss will be happy a few years from now if not today.

By the way, I've had bad luck with NC and CAB lacquers in my kitchens - don't seem to stand up to my wife's chemicals and cleaning. I'm not a cabinet finisher, but if it were me, I'd use a catalyzed product.

From contributor M:
If you use the TSP, start with 1 cupful to a gallon of water. Mineral spirits is a good cleaner and dewaxer and will not effect either shellac or lacquer. You will find that most white or light colored coatings today all use TD pigments (Ti02) in their coatings. I would go with all acrylics if your supplier has them, as they come in primer/sealers, color coats, and water clear coatings. Acrylics have been used on appliances and autos for decades. I think that's a pretty good reason why I suggested that you use acrylics to do your finishing on this job.

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