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This countertop appears to be laminated particle board. I suspect the damage shown in these photos happened likely due to excess water being present on the countertop and seeping in between the sections of countertop, getting absorbed, and causing this swelling.

swollen kitchen countertop

swollen bathroom countertop

I think that swollen section is called an "end splash", a "return splash", or a "backsplash" (although I thought the last one may be reserved for when the material is tile).

Can the swollen section can be repaired? Or would it simply be replaced? How would I ensure that the replacement will have the same color/design on the laminate? What would a professional do?

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    You said this was a kitchen countertop yet it appears that you have a mirror behind the sink. Are you showing us damage in both a kitchen and a bathroom? – Michael Karas Jul 2 at 10:04
  • Yes it is a backsplash, can it be repaired ,,, easier to replace, update with new Formica. – Ed Beal Jul 2 at 15:10
  • @MichaelKaras Yes I first posted only the kitchen one, but then I added the photo from the bathroom as well. I'll update the title as well to reflect that. – user453441 Jul 2 at 21:08
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Particle board and water are not good friends. Trying to "repair" water damaged particle board is not particularly feasible and the real solution is replacement.

In your case the particle board has been covered with a hard laminate product called Formica (or other similar product) that is bonded to the particle board substrate with contact cement. If you were to just want to focus on replacing the back splash it would entail removing all of the old back splash and replacing with new. Doing so does however impose a number of potential big problems. Here are some of the considerations:

  1. The back splash of the countertop is likely built right into the top as an integral assembly of the substrates and then was covered with the Formica and trimmed in place with a laminate trimming router. Partial disassembly in this case would likely not be successful.
  2. If there is any age to this countertop it is unlikely that you can find matching replacement laminate material in the same pattern. The manufacturers of this material come out with dozens of new patterns and colors every year to keep pace with current trends and tastes. In addition the material can change looks over time and even new material of the same pattern may look obviously different.
  3. Even if the back splash can be individually removed it may become very difficult to install a new suitable substrate fastened to the wall and then having laminate installed in place. This would be due to how a laminate trimming router cannot be used on a narrow 1" top that is wedged up against the wall. If the replacement back splash was made up in the shop and then brought to the installation site there would be little choice but to try to glue it to the wall and the chances of getting a very good fit down to the existing counter top are highly unlikely. After all you would not want to see screws or nails through the back splash to hold it in place.

I can see two general repair strategies that may work for you. The first is to cut out the existing back splash and replace it with something contrasting and different. Tiles can be installed in a row across the back of the counter (in fact that is what my current 35 year old house has; laminate countertop with ceramic tile back splashes in the kitchen and laminate countertops in the bathrooms with red oak board back splash trimming).

The second strategy would be to remove all of the back splash and countertop materials and build in new replacements. A professional may very well suggest a replacement countertop material that comes pre-made with an integrated back splash and laminate that is continuous across the surface from the front edge all the way across and curved up and over the rounded edges of the back splash. If you want to retain the rectangular style like you currently have that can surely be built anew by a good craftsman but if you go that route consider using plywood as the substrate instead if particle board.

Covering a countertop with Formica laminate is a style that has really gone by the wayside in the recent decades in favor or other materials such as tile, stone, marble and other fake imitations of these. This may be a time to consider an upgrade to a more modern style.

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  • But retro is in - mark my words, 70's Formica will make a comeback! :) There is a possibility, a very slim possibility, that with a lot of work, one might be able to remove the particle board from the back of the Formica and be left with a usable piece. I've never attempted this, I'm not sure what would be involved (beyond a lot of hard work), but it might be possible if the desire to keep the Formica is strong enough. There are a lot of creative minds out there, I'm sure someone could come up with a workable solution. Why, though, I'm not sure... – FreeMan Jul 2 at 12:50
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    I really do not like those molded tops, I have regularly on my own homes used hardwood and brass (fancy screws washers) then sealed with varathane / polyurethane looks awesome brass stays bright. I think we all hate particle board cabinets and trim for this exact problem, once it starts falling apart it is toast. – Ed Beal Jul 2 at 15:17
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    @freeman not the 70’s I had in my last home orange and avocado counter tops. I have put a strip in water and surfactant (jet dry) took the particle board wiped the rubber cement down with solvent , and could not get it right, new wood behind slightly undersized wasted 1/2 a day until I grabbed some oak and made a new back splash. Trying to go cheap cost me more in time than the oak& finishing. – Ed Beal Jul 2 at 22:44
  • I upvoted your answer as it offered some valuable information, however I added my own as an accepted answer. I disagree with some of what you said, specifically: partial disassembly of the backsplash sections was actually fairly easy, as was removing the laminate from the wood. Your answer did not suggest the reuse of the laminate, though that ended up being my solution. And finally I believe that laminate countertops are still quite common even in new construction from what I can tell. – user453441 Aug 3 at 21:51
  • @user453441 - Thanks for first vote to my answer. I still stand by all of what I wrote. Reusing laminate is something I never consider because often the labor spent trying to do so is spoiled by the material breaking and cracking despite best efforts. Sometimes removal of the laminate can be aided by the application of some heat from a hot air gun. I hope you are happy with your solution...clearly you were looking for the lowest $ project. – Michael Karas Aug 4 at 3:22
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The local countertop businesses that I contacted all told me they would not perform such a repair, and some suggested a replacement of all of the countertops instead ($$$). Some handymen told me it would be silly to reuse the laminate, and that either all of the countertop can be replaced or they suggested replacing the damaged portions with a tile backsplash ($$).

One handyman however did offer to help with the repair as I had planned it.

Here's what we ended up doing to fix this:

  1. Remove the damaged backsplash sections from the wall Use a couple of screwdrivers and gently pry it away from the wall. Do this slowly.

  2. Remove the plastic laminate (often referred to as Formica, though that is actually just the name of one brand of plastic laminate) from the wood. This was also done using a couple of flat headed screwdrivers. You get one screwdriver in between the laminate and the wood, and you pry in a second one beside it and slowly pry more and more off of the wood until the whole thing comes off. The plastic laminate is delicate, and it is easy to break it if you are not careful or if you move too fast. Here is a source that has a similar list of steps though not identical to what I did.

  3. Clean the wall. Ensure large chunks of old glue are removed. Might need to do some light sanding.

  4. Purchase new wood and cut to size. In my case particle board is what was used previously. According to the research I've done, particle board is cheap but a poor choice in terms of water resistance. You can upgrade to MDF (still not the best for water resistance), or plywood or some other type of wood. Ensure that you get the measurements right for the new wood. In my case the thickness of the old wood seemed to be 5/8", so you can purchase a board of that thickness and then cut the required sections.

  5. Glue the plastic laminate to the new wood. I used contact cement.

  6. Glue the newly laminated pieces of wood back in place on the wall. I used construction adhesive (such as No More Nails) between the wood and the wall.

  7. Caulk all the seams generously.

Moving forward, it is important to ensure the caulking is redone periodically to avoid any future water issues.

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    Wow! Very impressed that you were able to do this. Thanks for coming back to write up what you did - somewhere, sometime, someone else will want to do this and now we've got a great answer to direct them to. – FreeMan Aug 5 at 12:38

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