How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Painting kitchen cabinets can update your kitchen without the cost or challenge of a major remodel. See step-by-step instructions on how to update old cabinets with paint.

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Painting kitchen cabinets can save you the headache (and expense) of a big remodeling project. Before you start painting kitchen cabinets, it pays to prepare for the job. If possible, take one of your cabinet doors to a local paint retailer and talk with a pro about what kind of material you're working with and what products will help you achieve the best results. The pros can give specific advice for painting kitchen cabinets if they know more about your project.

Pick Your Paint

Primer: Select a primer and have it tinted to the color of the top coat. This will prevent dark or stained surfaces from showing through the top coat. Be sure the paint you choose is suitable for the wood, metal, or laminate surface you're working with. Consult with the expert at your local paint store who can help you select the appropriate primer and tint for your project.

Paint: You'll need to choose between acrylic enamel paint and alkyd paint for cabinets. Acrylic, or water-base, paints are low-fume and clean up easily with water. Alkyd, or oil-base, paints require good ventilation because the paint contains solvents that can irritate your lungs and make you feel sick. Alkyd options require mineral spirits for cleanup, but they provide a hard, durable paint finish. Whichever you use, buy the best-quality paint you can afford for a lasting kitchen cabinet finish.

A self-leveling paint is one that smooths out as it dries, making it perfect for cabinets. However, this type of paint does dry quickly, which can make blending brushstrokes tricky.

Popular Kitchen Cabinet Paint Colors

What You Need

  • Cordless drill or screwdriver
  • Rubber gloves
  • Protective goggles
  • Putty knife
  • Spackling compound or wood filler
  • 120- to 220-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth or rag
  • Deglosser
  • Painters tape
  • Drop cloth
  • Primer
  • Synthetic-fiber paintbrushes: 1.5-inch tapered and 2-inch
  • Microfiber paint rollers, 2-3 inches wide
  • Paint
  • Paint tray and stir sticks

Step 1: Remove Hardware

Before you start to paint cabinets, remove the cabinet doors and drawers from the cabinet boxes, and uninstall hardware. Painting over hinges and handles can affect the way the door functions. 

Make a key or use tape to label where the doors and drawers should return for easy reassembly. Use a cordless drill or screwdriver to remove hinges and hardware. Depending on the type of hinge your cabinets have, you may be able to label your cabinet doors where your hinge will be reinstalled and cover it with a small piece of painter's tape. Don't forget to remove interior adjustable shelves, too!

Stylish Ideas for Kitchen Cabinet Doors

Step 2: Clean and Prep

Before starting, clean the faces of cabinet boxes and drawers and both sides of doors and shelves with a product that removes dirt, grease, and the glossy finish. A deglosser should do the trick for this step. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the packaging, wearing protective goggles and rubber gloves. 

On extra-glossy surfaces, sand the cabinet with 120- to 220-grit sandpaper to dull and smooth down the surface. A contoured sander works great for reaching the contours of paneled doors, but if you don't have that, a small sponge wrapped with sandpaper or a commercial sanding sponge will work. Use a tack cloth or damp rag to remove dust after sanding.

Step 3: Test Paint and Prime

Lay down a drop-cloth to catch any drips and cover your walls and backsplash before painting. 

Use a high-density foam roller or a paintbrush to apply a stain-blocking, oil based bonding primer to the cabinets. Let dry according to manufacturer's directions. If brush strokes are visable, lightly sand away until smooth. 

Make sure you have a color you like by testing the new color on the back of a cabinet door. This gives you a chance to make sure that you like the look and, more importantly, that the paint finish you've chosen will adhere to the cabinetry and your prep steps will yield a smooth finish. 

Next, brush, roll, or spray your cabinets with one coat of paint. Let dry completely before applying the second coat. Most quality paints will level as they dry, so don't over brush. If your shelves are adjustable and the insides of your cabinets need a fresh coat of paint, now is the time to start painting those, too. If they have never been painted, don't start now. 

Pretty Blue Kitchen Cabinets

Step 4: Reattach Doors and Drawers

Once the kitchen cabinet paint finish has dried completely, it's time to reattach drawer pulls, screw the hinges onto the doors, and hang the doors on the cabinetry boxes. This is easy if you labeled everything accurately.  If desired, spray-paint hardware and let dry before reattaching. Slide each drawer back in place.

Bonus: How to Get an Ultra-Smooth Finish

If brushing and rolling your cabinets looks like too much to tackle, a power sprayer might be the way to go. These tools are easy to use and guarantee a smooth finish. A paint professional can help figure out what tools you need and let you know if there are any rentals you can use instead of buying a new one. This may include an air compressor, sprayer gun, and tubing. 

You can also send your cabinet doors and drawers to a professional paint shop or cabinetmaker. For cabinets that look as good as new, ask your paint retailer for a recommendation or search online for painting contractors. However, you won't be able to send off your cabinet boxes — that, you'll have to do yourself!

Kitchen Cabinet Details That Wow

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