Non Wood Substrates

3 Non Wood Substrate FAQs

Can Milk Paint or Gel Stain Be Used Over Laminate?

GF advises extra care and prep when applying any finish over laminate surfaces because they are specifically designed not to mar and therefore they are not very "sand-able", making adherence difficult.

In addition to this non-permeable surface factor, General Finishes Gel Stain is an oil-based product, and it is more difficult to obtain proper drying characteristics over a dense manufactured surface such as laminate. Gel stains, as all wood stains, were formulated to go over raw wood which has an "open" surface and can absorb some of the stain.

Customers have reported the successful use of Gel products over laminate surfaces. Here are two techniques:

  1. Using Dark Chocolate Milk Paint as a Base under Gel Stain (Dark Chocolate Milk Paint was formulated to mimic the color of Java Gel Stain)
  2. Several techniques using only Gel Stain/no paint or primer


  • If you can abrade the surface by sanding, you will increase your chances of success. If you choose to proceed, test for adhesion on a hidden area of your project before getting started.
  • If you are applying GF Gel Stains over existing "sealed" finished wood or any impenetrable surface, TRIPLE OR QUADRUPLE the drying times of all the finishes used because the stain cannot soak into the surface.
  • De-Glossers: GF does not recommend the use of a de-glosser as a REPLACEMENT for prep sanding and cleaning. They are sold by manufacturers that advocate that it is ok to cover up dirt and grime, which can create a problem. GF feels that appropriate cleaning and sanding delivers a better result and saves money.

    If you have physical issues with the labor of sanding, at least clean the project before using a de-glosser.


  1. “Power clean” by scrubbing with a solution of water and a strong detergent such as Dawn or Spic & Span, using a Scotch-Brite pad. Rinse thoroughly.

    Then follow with a second scrubbing with a 50:50 mix of denatured alcohol and water, also using a Scotch-Brite pad. Let dry completely.
  2. Sand with a power sander. 150-grit followed by 180 grit sandpaper. (some users report using 220 grit sandpaper). Wipe off the dust.
  3. Apply XIM 400 White Primer Sealer Bonder (follow label applications instructions but let dry longer, 12 hours or overnight.)
  4. Apply 2 coats of Milk Paint allowing triple drying time. Use Dark Chocolate if you are trying to mimic the look of Java Gel Stain.
  5. Apply Java Gel Stain. While wet, immediately use a mineral spirit dry brush technique to create a wood grain effect. Dip a clean brush in mineral spirits and drag over the surface until you achieve the effect you want, continually discharging the excess stain.

    Watch a good video demonstrating a dry brush technique here.

    Allow the Gel Stain to DRY 72 HOURS or longer if necessary.
  6. Seal with a topcoat, allowing extra dry time. In GF's finish line, you can use General Finishes Arm-R-Seal (this topcoat ambers) over dark colors and General Finishes High Performance over light colors.


  • “Power clean” by scrubbing with a solution of water and a strong detergent such as Dawn or Spic & Span, using a Scotch-Brite pad. Rinse thoroughly.

    Then follow with a second scrubbing with a 50:50 mix of denatured alcohol and water, also using a Scotch-Brite pad. Let dry completely.
  • Sand with a power sander. 150-grit followed by 180-grit sandpaper. (some users reported using 220 grit sandpaper). Wipe off the dust.

You can apply Java Gel Stain several ways:

  • With a roller for a painted effect (from ABHall), painting on with a chip brush followed by pouncing with a plastic bag for a textured effect from Denise Wonders Beatty.
  • Brushing on followed by a mineral spirit dry-brush technique. See mineral spirits dry-brushing technique in this video. 
  • Apply a slip-coat of mineral spirits first using a chip brush to give you more open time. While the mineral spirits is still wet, paint the Gel Stain on using a chip brush. While the Gel Stain is still wet, GENTLY smooth out the surface with a folded blue shop towel going in the direction of the grain.

    Tip from Andrea Allred: Dry brush Gray Gel Stain on top the next day for a weathered look. 
  • Paint on two coats of Gel Stain, letting each coat dry 72 hours. Create the look of faux wood by sanding each coat lightly.
  • Allow the Gel Stain to DRY 72 HOURS. If it is still tacky and cool to the touch, let it dry for days. Let it dry, let it dry, let it dry. Lack of dry time over existing surfaces is the number one reason for Gel Stain failure!
  • Seal with 3 coats of topcoat, allowing triple dry time. As previously stated, you can use Arm-R-Seal over dark colors and High Performance over light colors.

NOTE: When using fine wood finishes, water and spills must be wiped up in a timely fashion. If this a high-use area near a sink, consider replacing the countertop instead. If this a low-use area such as a bedroom dresser that needs a tune-up, you will be fine.

Test your entire procedure (preparation to topcoat) on a hidden area first and let it cure for 7-10 days. Then further test the finish by duplicating normal wear and tear: washing, scrubbing, scratching, etc. to make sure the finish bonds to the surface.

How Can I Get GF Water Based Finishes Off of a Mirror?

Any GF water-based finish can be removed from a mirror using 0000 steel wool and Windex.

Wet the steel wool with Windex and buff the glass. (The steel wool won't harm the mirror but make sure that you don't apply so much liquid that it seeps into the backing.) Wipe the mirror down with a clean/dry paper towel.

However, you can prevent a mistake from happening by applying Frisket to your mirror BEFORE applying finish to the frame. Frisket is a clear finish that brushes on, dries and peels off when you are done painting.

*Windex Warning: Make sure you do not get Windex on water-based finishes. The ammonia in Windex may cause a cloudy appearance to the finish.

How Do I Prep MDF Before Painting?

MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) is tricky because there are several grades of MDF and the quality varies.

If you cannot determine the quality of the MDF, play it safe and use best practices. The concern is with the edges and ends. The core of MDF is compressed sawdust, glue and resins so when you apply paint to those areas it soaks right up.

Sand the edges and ends very well with 150-grit sandpaper, then apply a light coat of filler (such as Timbermate water-based wood filler or even joint compound). That will seal the open pores, making it easier to obtain a smooth and consistent finish when painting. The sealing of the ends is even more important than wood because MDF will swell upon contact with moisture.

The front and back of MDF are pressed and sanding during production, but should also be primed with a primer such as Kilz, Bin 123 Primer, or General Finishes Stain Blocker to ensure a better outcome. Then follow with two coats of paint. MDF is not as absorbent as natural wood, so wait 2 days between coats of paint or primer.

Also, MDF also tends to cast a brown color. If you are using a white paint, you can apply a coat of a light gray paint such as General Finishes Seagull Gray Milk Paint first to counter the brown instead of primer, and then apply a few coats of white over it. Let each coat dry 2 days before adding the next.

As always, we recommend that you test your procedure on a hidden area of your project to ensure the product adheres well and desired color.