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.

Remove adjustable shelves and paint them first so they'll be dry when you're ready to reinstall them. If possible, paint them in another room to get them out of your way, and support their edges with nails driven into predrilled holes in the ends. That way, you don't have to wait for one surface to dry before painting the other one. Be sure to remove the shelf supports before you paint the inside of the cabinet.

You can paint the cabinet doors either on or off the cabinet, but removing them makes painting easier. Remove the hardware from both the cabinet and the doors. If you prefer to leave the doors on, you probably won't need to paint the interior of the cabinets. If you do, paint them from the inside out. Our how-to guide shows you both painting methods, so pick the one that's right for your ability and time frame. 

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

How to Paint Cabinets with the Doors Off

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.

How to Paint Cabinets with the Doors On

What You Need:

  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Paintbrushes
  • Rollers
  • Sandpaper
  • Primer
  • Paint

Step 1: Prep Cabinets

Prepare the cabinets as you would any other surface, cleaning mildewed spots and washing the entire surface to remove dirt and grease. Repair or replace damaged wood and cover any surface you want protected.

Then, since paint won't stick to glossy surfaces, scuff-sand cabinets with 150-grit sandpaper or use a commercial deglossing agent. To get your sandpaper into all the contours of paneled doors, use a contoured sander, a small sponge wrapped with sandpaper, or a commercial sanding sponge. Apply the deglosser in sections small enough that you can paint them within an hour. Applying paint within an hour after the deglosser will give you better adhesion.

Step 2: Paint Reverse Side

Open the cabinet doors and paint the reverse side with a brush, holding the door open with your free hand. Paint the interior of all the cabinet doors, and leave them open.

Step 3: Paint Doors and Rails

While the inside faces of the doors are drying, paint the front edge of the shelving and the cabinet frame. When the front faces of the doors are dry, close them and paint the stiles and rails of the frame, always painting the longest piece of the structure last to avoid crossed brush strokes.

Step 4: Paint Sides

Paint the sides and other open areas of the cabinets. You can speed this application with a roller, but if you do, back-brush the rolled paint to level it and make its surface consistent with the rest of the unit.

Step 5: Paint Back Wall

If you're painting the back wall under the wall cabinets, cut in the edges first, just as you would any other wall. While the cut-in edges are still wet, fill in the remainder of the wall. You can use a roller here without going to the trouble of back-brushing, but you may find it more convenient to apply the paint with a 7-inch or smaller roller.

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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