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Popular in Kitchens

Choosing Paint for Cabinets

Here's how to choose a durable and long-lasting paint for your kitchen cabinets—and give your kitchen a whole new look.

Add a new coat of paint to drab, dated kitchen cabinets and transform your kitchen at a budget-friendly price. Several different types of paint will work for the job and they all have specific advantages and disadvantages.

Before applying any paint, be sure to clean and sand the surface and apply a primer. Which primer you choose will depend on the type of cabinets you're painting. "For stained wood, bare wood, glossy surfaces, laminate, and surfaces you're not sure of, reach for oil-base primer," says Danielle Hirsch, a designer and color expert. Water-base or latex primers won't provide the best adhesion to oil stain or glossy surfaces, she explains. She recommends using a quick-dry oil primer, some of which dry faster than latex versions. Keep in mind that although you can paint glossy plastic laminate surfaces, it's likely to only be a temporary fix for cabinets that are used every day.

For the topcoat, you can choose either an oil-base paint or a water-base latex paint. Oil paints form a harder shell when they dry, so they tend to be more durable. However, they have a strong odor, take longer to dry, and are more difficult to clean up.

Latex paints, meanwhile, minimize toxic fumes, dry quickly, and can be easily cleaned up with soap and water. Waterborne acrylic enamel paint is a third option. This type of paint offers the hard shell of oil paint without the strong odors and long drying times. However, it's a little more difficult to apply because it starts to harden very quickly. "If you have to go in with a brush after it tacks up, the brush will leave channel-like streaks in the final coating," Hirsch says. "If you're not familiar with its characteristics, it could be a little tricky." 

Regardless of what paint you choose, plan to apply two or three coats for extra durability. If you're working with latex paint, you may also want to add a layer of polyurethane on top to protect the paint.

Choose paint with a higher sheen to make the cabinets easier to clean; semigloss is a good choice. For the smoothest finish, Hirsch recommends using a paint sprayer. If you're not comfortable with that option, she recommends using a foam roller to apply the paint, then using a brush to spread the paint and create a smooth finish. Luckily, if you make a mistake—or decide you don't like the color—you can always paint the cabinets again. "Light sanding, followed by paint topped with polyurethane and they'll look like new," Hirsh says. 

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