How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets (Definitive Guide)

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Cost of Project

$$

Difficulty
2/5
Time to Complete

2 to 3 Days

  1. Buckets
  2. Manual Screw Drive
  3. Paint roller tray and liners
  4. Paint roller and additional foam covers
  5. Flexible putty knife
  6. Canvas drop cloth
  7. Clean dry cloth
  8. Drill (Optional – For Drilling Hardware)
  9. Shop vacuum (Optional)
  10. Dust Mask & Work Gloves
  11. Step Ladder
  12. 2 – 3 Inch painters brush

  1. New cabinet hardware (Optional)
  2. Wood filler
  3. Primer
  4. Acrylic Latex Paint – Satin Finish
  5. Water-based urethane
  6. Water
  7. Paint Stripper (Optional)
  8. Painter’s tape
  9. Trisodium phosphate (TSP) cleaner
  10. Shelf Liners


Are your kitchen cabinets starting to look a little outdated?

When it comes to old cabinets you only really have two options, you can either rip them all out and spend the money to replace them, which can be expensive and time consuming. 

Or you can just take the time to repaint them – It’s a simple project and generally inexpensive. 

Today we’ll break down how to paint kitchen cabinets in 8 steps, starting with prep, then painting, and concluding with reassembly. 

Note: If you are planning on painting laminate cabinets you will also want to ensure that their are no nicks or dings on the cabinets ahead of prepping and sanding them. 

If the cabinets are already painted you will also want to take the time to strip them prior to painting so you have a nice clean finish to start with. It is important to strip the cabinets in a well ventilated area to prevent the build up of toxic fumes. With that being said, let’s cover the required steps you will need to take.

Step 1

Empty Cabinets then Remove Cabinet Doors and Drawers

Once you are ready you can begin emptying all your cabinets of any items left in them. Once all items have been removed you can start taking off all the hardware, including hinges, knobs, handles and any leftover screws.

To help with reassembly it is suggested that you place these parts in individual plastic bags and label them, then leave them in the cabinet sections they came from.

When all the hardware has been taken off you then remove the drawers and also apply labels to these parts, this ensures each component of your cabinets go back in their original place.

Step 2

Clean and Wipe Down the Cabinets

Now that your cabinets are disassembled you should take the time to wipe them down with water and trisodium phosphate (TSP) cleaner. Taking this step ensures you remove any leftover grime, grease or dirt that’s stuck on over time, this is especially important as these are kitchen cabinets.

You will want to wear rubber gloves for this step to protect your hands and ensure all cabinets are wiped down fully upon being cleaned with your TSP solution.

Step 3

Fill and Repair any Holes or Dents

After you are done cleaning your cabinets you will want to give them a once over and note any imperfections or dents. Take the time to fill these with a wood filler of your choice – this will require the use of a flexible putty knife. Once all repairs are done make sure to give the filler ample time to dry. 

If you are not replacing your hardware you should be fine with your current cabinet holes but if you are going to be updating your cabinet hardware you will want to either fill in your holes or readjust them to accommodate your new fittings. 

Step 4

Protect Your Area

Now that we are ready for the main job, it is important to prep your area and protect your work surface. I typically lay down a drop cloth on the counter top then finish with painters tape, taping off any border areas and places touching the cabinets. You will also want to move any items that could get in your way when painting.

Step 5

Sand and Clean the Cabinets

With your area protected you can begin sanding your cabinets using a medium/fine grit sandpaper.

The important part to focus on in this step is ensuring you are sanding with the grain of the wood and getting through the first layer of the finish that still remains on the cabinets, as well as getting the corners and edges. You should follow the same process for both the doors and drawers. 

Laminate cabinets are also paintable, you just have to ensure that you give them a proper sanding, and don’t allow the edges to splinter.

When you are done prepping and sanding your cabinets you will want to give them a quick vacuum and wipe down with a dry cloth to remove any leftover dust.

Step 6

Apply a Coat of Primer

With your surface prepared you are ready to prime. This is where your brush and roller will come into play. You will want to start with a brush that is coated but not over soaked. Use the brush to cut in the edges under the counter tops, around outlets, and molding and than use the foam roller for the larger areas, such as frames and cabinet fronts. 

It is important to note that when you are painting with a roller you will want to paint in a W motion and always end in a wet area. While your primer layer does not have to be perfect, you do want to lay down a relatively thick and even coat, this will ensure your paint really shines. 

The first step to painting your cabinet doors and drawer fronts is to get them slightly off your work surface, this will help you keep the cabinet cleaner and get into all the small cracks, allowing you to get a really nice coat of primer on all sides.

Don’t forget to let each side of the drawer or cabinet dry before painting the other side and repeat the process. It should be noted if you are painting drawers, you should consider not painting the sides, as the paint can often wear off from these areas over time. As always, make sure to read the manufacturer’s directions on drying time to ensure your giving your primer the appropriate time to settle.

To ensure you have an ultra smooth surface, you may also want to do a light sanding between your primer and full paint job. 

Step 7

Introduction image for cabinet painting article

Apply Acrylic Latex-Based Paint

Now it’s time for the real fun, painting the cabinets! We suggest using an acrylic latex-based paint because it’s durable and easy to clean. In terms of paint finish, you will want to avoid a high gloss or flat finish as these can be difficult to clean and scuff easily. It is suggested you go for either a semi-gloss or satin finish but only you can really decide what you prefer.

Just as with the primer, use the brush for cutting in and painting your frames and your paint roller for painting the larger areas and similarly for the cabinet and door fronts. 

Make sure you try to leave as little tool marks as possible during this section. Then let the paint dry and cure according to the manufacturer’s directions. As long as you give your cabinets the appropriate time to dry you can rest assured knowing they will come out with a good hard finish.

Once your finish coat is dry and the paint has hardened you can put on an optional coat of urethane. If you choose to do this step, utilize a water-based urethane over the acrylic paint. This can add some additional durability to your cabinet finish and enable your paint job to last longer

Step 8

Reassemble the Cabinets and Hardware

With your cabinets ready for reassembly you can begin replacing the hardware. During this section make sure you use a manual screwdriver so that you don’t cross thread any of the screws or damage the finish of the cabinets.

If you choose to use brand new hardware now is the time to break that out, if you are using your old hardware, take it out of your labeled bags and screw into it’s matching spot. 

Adding a new shelf liner can also be a nice touch – this adds to the overall finish and again adds to the long term durability of the cabinet finish. 

Summary

That’s it, now take a step back and relish in the fact that you did a full remodel of your kitchen cabinets all on your own. If you are still stuck on painting your cabinets, we’ve provided some answers to common questions below, important tips, as well as some kitchen inspiration.


Common Questions When Painting Cabinets


Can you just paint over cabinets?

It depends on what your cabinets are made of. If you are painting wood cabinets you should be fine, this also goes for any surface that can be properly sanded and primed. One exception is laminate cabinets, these will require the special use of a bonding primer, and additional care when sanding, though it is still possible.


What is the best paint to use on kitchen cabinets?

It is suggested that you use an acrylic latex-based paint that is a semi-gloss or satin finish. There are a range of quality brands such as Valspar, Behr, Benjamin Moore, and Rust-oleum  that will stock this type of paint. It is important that you do not choose a high-gloss finish as these paints are suscpetioable to scuffs and marks.

 


Important Tips when Painting Cabinets:

 

  • When choosing paint, make sure to choose the appropriate type for your cabinet material (i.e. laminate, wood, other) otherwise your primer and paint may not adhere to the surface properly, or can show wear sooner than expected

     

  • When using a new primer or paint you are unfamiliar with it is always suggested you check out the manufacturer’s directions, specifically regarding any required protection when using the material and the proper drying and curing times.

     

  • It is worth the time and money to find and purchase a high quality paint, in this case a high quality acrylic latex-based paint, this will ensure your end results look professional and achieve a smooth durable finish.

     

  • It should go without saying, but if you are doing all this painting yourself, it will be messy so we suggest you have a set of painting clothes on hand that you are willing to get paint on, as well as all respective safety gear, including gloves and a painters mask to protect yourself from fumes – this is especially important if you are painting your cabinets in a poorly ventilated area *(which we do not suggest you do)*.


Kitchen Inspiration

To help with kitchen cabinet inspiration for your project we have listed some of our favorite kitchen cabinet remodels below. Check them out and let our team know what you think of them in the comments section below!


Sources:

Photos Courtesy of: Flickr – Keith Rowley – CC BY-SA 2.0

Photos Courtesy of: Flickr – Chispita_666 – CC BY-SA 2.0

Photos Courtesy of: Canva.

Glen

Glen

Glen is the main writer for ToolboxAdvice.com. He's been a hobbyist and painter for a long time, and now enjoys teaching others. His content primarly focuses on reviews and guides for painters and construction professionals.

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