Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Lead Image for Painting Kitchen Cabinets
  • 4-12 hours
  • Beginner
  • 75-250
What You'll Need
Rags (paint stores sell these by the box)
TSP (optional)
Screwdriver, drill, and hammer (for removing cabinet doors)
Drop cloth
Sandpaper (100-grit)
Caulk & caulk gun
Putty knife
Hole filler
High-quality washable paint
Paint sprayer (optional)

Few home improvement projects have the high impact/low cost ratio of painting. Think of the dramatic effect a fresh coat of colorful paint has on a front door, an old sideboard, or a nursery. And, with the high cost of refacing or replacing faded, dated kitchen cabinets, painting them is a great option. So, if you're ready to give the most used room in your house a face lift, we'll help you plan the project out like a pro.

Preparation is the key to all quality paint jobs. This has never been more true than when painting kitchen cabinets. It’s tempting to skip steps and get to the fun part of putting on the color to finish the job early. But, discipline yourself and you will be richly rewarded with a paint job that has longevity and a smooth professional finish.

It’s probably a good idea to read through all the instructions before you get started. Get a feel for what steps have to be taken and plan out your days, and your space. Give yourself at least an hour for clean-up each day.

Step 1 - Clean the Cabinets

It is very important to make sure that all of the surfaces you are going to paint are completely free of all grease, grime, food residue, and whatever else may be stuck to them. You will find the entire process is much easier if you remove all the cabinet doors. Once you have taken them all down, find a place where you can lay them out flat. Use an all-purpose cleaner and a rag and then allow them to dry thoroughly.

Step 2 - Sand the Cabinets

Once they are dry, use a piece of fine grit sandpaper—150 or finer—and make a few passes over all the flat surfaces of the doors. Don't forget to do the thin facing pieces on the cabinet boxes themselves. The slightly sanded surface will allow the primer to bite and hold onto the cabinet surface. It can be a tedious process, but taking the time to lightly sand your cabinets before you prime and paint them will greatly increase longevity of the paint job. Don't underestimate the importance of this step!

Step 3 - Apply Primer

After sanding, it's time to prime the cabinets. Primer forms a better bond with the surface than paint alone does. This means that the paint is less likely to chip and peel if it gets bumped with dishes or pots and pans. If your cabinets are already painted and you are repainting them the same color, it is OK to skip this step and go ahead and apply the paint. If, however, your cabinets are stained and you are trying to cover up the natural wood grain with paint, you must prime them first. The paint will not stick to the varnished surface and the color of the stain will most likely bleed right through your paint.

There are several types of primer that you can use, and which one you choose is largely based on what kind of paint you want to use over the top. If you are using an oil-based paint, an interior oil-based primer is recommended. These products tend to have a very strong odor and they are best used when you can properly ventilate the room. The best option would be to take all the doors that you removed out to the garage and paint them there with the overhead door open.

If you are planning to use a latex paint for your top coat, then a shellac-based primer is recommended. This product tends to dry fairly quickly, so make sure that you are ready to go before you begin applying it. The shellac-based primers, just like the oil-based, carry a very strong odor and caution should be used.

Step 4 - Paint the Cabinets

At this point, after sanding and priming, your cabinet doors probably look awful! Don't worry, you've built a great foundation for the top coats of paint, which will bring your kitchen bouncing back to life. There are several ways to apply the paint. A pneumatic sprayer is the best way to get a smooth and glossy finish. If you don't have access to one, however, don't panic. You can still get a great finish by using a high quality paint brush. 2 1/2-inch to 3-inch would be ideal.

The key to achieving a professional finish with a brush is to use very thin coats. It may be tempting, after all the work you've already to done, to try to coat the paint on as thick as possible just so you can be finished. This is not a good idea. The best and most durable paint jobs are built up by consecutive thin layers of paint, not just one thick one.

Step 5 - Add Additional Coats

Lightly apply your first coat and let it dry completely. If you really want to achieve a professional finish, take some 400-grit sandpaper and very lightly sand the flat surfaces again. You are not trying to remove the paint, but instead are ensuring that the next coat has the smoothest possible surface to adhere to. Once that is complete, add your second coat.

In most cases two coats of paint will be sufficient. Occasionally, though, you may find that you get better results from three. This is often true with woods that carry a heavier grain, like oak. Once the doors are painted and fully dry, simply hang them back up, sit back, and enjoy the bright, clean, and renewed space that you've worked so hard to achieve.