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How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets

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Revamp your kitchen by painting the cabinets.

It comes as no surprise that kitchen remodels are among the most expensive upgrades in your entire home. The cost of replacing appliances, countertops, and kitchen cupboards can add up to a small fortune. But there is a cheaper alternative that involves repainting old kitchen cabinets.

We show you how to paint kitchen cabinets to maximize the impact of your showpiece room for the lowest price tag.


What Type of Paint Should Be Used on Kitchen Cabinets?

The type of paint you use makes a difference in the kitchen cabinet’s durability and overall look. Oil-based products were the favorite choice of decorators in the past, but latex paints are becoming more popular, especially with beginners, because they are easier to use.

The advantage of water-based paints is that they dry faster and are easily cleaned with soap and water. However, achieving a super smooth finish can be more challenging, and some acrylic paints take up to three weeks to fully cure.

Oil-based paints dry to a hard protective shell, which is why many think they are more durable against heat, moisture, bangs, and scrapes. However, oil-based products are high in VOCs, which emit low ozone levels during the curing process.

It all comes down to personal choice at the end of the day. However, it is advisable to get a latex paint with 100 percent acrylic formulation for better adherence and durability.

What You Need to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of how to paint kitchen cabinets, it’s worth setting up a temporary kitchen elsewhere in your home for when your kitchen is out of action. This can be something as simple as a table with a portable gas cooker and a few choice appliances.

You also need to gather all the necessary tools to complete the task.

Paint

Choose a paint designed for trim and go for a product with a higher sheen like satin, eggshell, and semi-gloss because it dries with a harder shell thanks to increased levels of resin and binders.

Roller

A 4 or 6-inch foam roller should be suitable to cover the wooden kitchen cabinet sides and face. They leave a smoother surface.

Square Brush

Choose a 3 or 4-inch square edge brush. It speeds up the painting process and is the ideal choice for flat cabinet panels.

Angled Brush

To get into corners and edges, a synthetic 2.5 to 3-inch brush helps lay the paint on smoother and can coat the surfaces in one pass.

HVLP Spray Gun

If hand brushing proves too difficult to get the finish smooth so there are no brush marks, try a HVLP (high volume, low pressure) spray gun. It delivers enough paint to coat the cabinet surfaces without too much overspray and leaves a super smooth, factory-standard finish.

Recommended Tools

  • Flat-head screwdriver.
  • Phillips screwdriver.
  • Putty knife.
  • Drill/driver.

How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Follow our step-by-step guide to help you paint your kitchen cabinets.

1. Prepare The Room

Every quality finish has its foundations rooted at the start with the prep work. Clear off the counters and empty the cabinets and drawers. Move furniture and tables into another room, so you have a clear space to work.

Cover all the areas where you want to avoid getting paint by using plastic sheeting and painter’s tape. This includes masking the walls behind cabinets and the sink splashback.

2. Set Up a Workstation

Grab a pair of step ladders and a couple of wood planks to make a temporary workstation to paint the cabinet doors and drawers. Screw eye hooks into each end of the wooden boards, as well as underneath to hang freshly painted doors.

Next, screw corresponding hooks into each door and drawer edge, ensuring that you use the bottom where the screw holes will remain hidden.

3. Dismantle The Cabinets and Drawers

Start by working from left to right, removing the screws that hold the hinges in place. Label each door and drawer unit with a number that corresponds with a matching number on each cabinet.

Take the loose cabinet fronts to the workstation and remove any door hardware, including hinges and handles.

4. Time To Clean

Start by using household detergent to remove surface grime and dust. If the dirt is stubborn, you may need to step it up and use trisodium phosphate (TSP) to get the surfaces clean. You can get TSP from most paint and hardware stores.

Once the cabinets and drawer fronts are clean, rinse them off using soapy water and leave them to dry.

5. Sand The Cabinets

Don safety gear like gloves and a face mask before using a liquid deglosser. Grab an abrasive pad soaked in deglosser and wipe it over the surfaces to remove any grease residue and old lacquer.

Wipe it clean with a damp cloth and leave it to dry before getting to work with 100-grit sandpaper. Remove the top layer of paint so the surface has a key for the paint to adhere to. Without sanding, the paint will be less durable and will peel and crack sooner.

Use a vacuum cleaner to remove all traces of the sawdust, both inside and outside the kitchen cabinets.

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6. It’s Time To Prime

If the cabinets are heavily stained, use a stain-blocking primer to seal the surface and stop the stains from bleeding through into the topcoat. Apply the primer across the grain, starting from the top of the cabinet.

Tip off by passing the brush in the direction of the grain and lifting off in a single brush stroke. Tipping off is the art of sweeping your brush over freshly applied paint to leave minimal brushstrokes and a neat edge.

It also helps to reduce drips by removing excess paint. Now leave the cabinets to dry.

7. Sand and Fill

Once the first coat of primer has dried, grab the sander and load it with a 220-grit sanding disc. Work across the surface of the wood, grinding away any lumps and bumps, so the wooden surface is glass smooth. Vacuum off the sawdust and fill in any gaps and cracks using latex caulk. Smooth the caulk with a damp finger and wait while it dries.

After roughly an hour, the caulk should have set. Now sand the surface again, sucking the dust with a vacuum cleaner, and wipe it clean with a tack cloth.

8. It’s Time To Paint

If you are painting a similar shade to the existing one, two coats should be enough, but you might need three coats if you are covering a darker finish.

Working from the top, apply the paint across the grain, making sure you tip off in the direction of the grain. For the inside of the cabinet, you can use the roller to speed up the process. Between each coat, lightly sand the surface and vacuum up the debris.

9. Get Started on The Cabinet Doors and Drawers

Always start with the outer panel, working with the grain. Use the angled brush to get into every corner and edge, but be careful not to overload the brush with paint so that you get drips. Once you have primed the outer edges of the doors and drawers, move onto the inner panels.

Allow the paint to dry, and then give the entire surface a light sand with 220-grit paper. Vacuum up the dust and repeat the priming process all over again. Once the paint is dry, you can begin by adding your chosen topcoat.

Using the flat brush, work from the top down in straight strokes, tipping off at the end in single movements. If you are unhappy with brush marks, you could always switch to the HVLP spray gun. Spray painting is more efficient, and you get a smooth paint finish.

Be Aware

Using a spray gun can cause overspray, so it might be better to take the doors and drawers outside and set up another workstation. When working with the HVLP gun, hold the nozzle about 8 to 12 inches from the surface and work in sweeping motions.

Hang the doors by the eye hooks to allow them to dry faster. You can even hang them from a washing line. Once the first coat has dried, apply the second layer using the same technique.

10. Time To Reassemble

Remembering that you numbered the doors and drawers, it’s time to match them back up. First, reattach the hinges and handles and reassemble the doors and drawers onto the cabinets. Remove the labels and throw them in the trash.

If you want to speed up this process, grab a drill/driver. It makes inserting the screws a whole lot easier, and it saves strain on your hands and wrist.

If you are not reattaching the handles and drawer pulls, now is an ideal time to fit new ones to enhance your kitchen makeover.

Top Tips for Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Painting like a pro takes practice and patience, and while you might not get the same smooth finish as the professionals, you should still try and set your bar high. As with any skill, there are techniques that help you achieve the desired results. So, what are the hints and tips that the pros use? Let’s take a look at a few.

Protect Surfaces With Rosin Paper

Rosin paper is ideal for protecting your work surfaces and splashback. You can also use builder’s brown paper. They come in rolls 35 inches wide by 140 feet long, so you should have enough to protect your precious surfaces.

Label The Doors

Instead of using sticky labels for numbering the doors, you could use a marker pen and write the number in the recess under the hinge. That way, it remains hidden when the hinge is reinserted. You could also create a hand-drawn plan of the kitchen, showing the corresponding numbers.

Choose Fast-Drying Primer

Primer takes about four hours to dry between coats, and you should lay down two coats. So, that’s eight hours of drying time. You could save a couple of hours by choosing a fast-drying primer.

Use Anti-Mold Paint

Kitchens are high humidity areas because all that cooking creates steam and moisture. The paint you use needs to handle the high level of vapors, or it will peel and crack and allow unsightly mold and mildew to take hold.

Anti-mold paints contain inhibitors to reduce instances of fungal growth, keeping your paint looking special for longer.

FAQs

Can I Paint Over Painted Kitchen Cabinets?

You can paint over existing paint, provided you are using a similar color. If you try to cover dark surfaces with lighter paint, it could take several coats, and the paint might still show through. It would be better to use an undercoat to neutralize the original color if you were going from dark to light.

Can I Paint My Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding?

You can as long as you use a liquid deglosser to remove any varnish or lacquer and you prime the paintwork beforehand. Obviously, you should sand the woodwork if you have blemishes that need attention.

Do I Need to Prime Cabinets Before Painting?

If the surfaces are already painted, the original color should act as a primer, but if you are starting on bare wood or removing the old paint, you should prime for better adherence and seal the surface.

Plus, some primers contain stain blockers, which help to reduce unsightly blemishes seeping through the paintwork.

Should You Paint Cabinets With a Brush or Roller?

You should use both. The brush is better for the outside edge, while the roller is better for the inner panels on the doors and inside the cabinet.

Is It Better to Spray Paint Kitchen Cabinets?

For the smoothest finish, spraying the paint is better. You don’t get brush strokes, and the paint applies smoother. The only downside is you use about 40 percent more paint when spraying, which could be costly.

Do Painted Kitchen Cabinets Hold Up?

They do as long as you follow the steps carefully. If you don’t use primer, the paint doesn’t adhere as well, and it will flake and peel. If you don’t use anti-mold paint, you could suffer from fungal growth, which is hard to get rid of when it takes hold.

The amount of time you invest in prep work has an impact on how durable your paintwork is and how well it stands up to punishment.

How Can I Paint My Kitchen Cabinets Without Brush Marks?

There are two ways to achieve this. The first is to use a foam roller because it lays the paint on smoothly, and you get the job done quicker. The second method is to use a HVLP spray gun. While it takes a little practice, it produces an incredibly smooth finish that dries quickly.

How Can I Paint My Kitchen Cabinets Without Removing the Door?

Remove all the door furniture like knobs and handles. Lay a towel at the base of the cabinet on the floor. Start sanding, using the towel to catch the dust. Wash the cabinets with a damp cloth to remove all the sawdust and leave them to dry.

Start painting, working from top to bottom in long and steady strokes. Always work to the wet edge of the previous pass with the paint and tip off using a single motion when you reach the end of the stroke.

Use a small artist’s brush to go around hinges and other obstacles and to reach tight spots.


Headshot of Mark Weir

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.