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.

By BH&G Editors
Updated June 10, 2019
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Read step by step instructions after the video.

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. We like to hang them on sawhorses by hammering nails into predrilled holes on 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 on or off the cabinet, but removing them eases painting. 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 the interiors, work from the inside out. Our how-to guide shows you both painting methods, so pick the one right for your ability and time frame.

  • Working time 2 days
  • Start to finish 3 days
  • Difficulty Kind of hard
  • Involves Painting, Power Tools, Sanding
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What you need

Tools
Materials
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How to do it

Step 1

Select Cabinet 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 cabinet paint you choose is suitable for the wood, metal, or laminate surface you're working on. Consult with the expert at your local paint store to select the appropriate primer and tint for your project.

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Step 2

Select Cabinet Paint Color

You'll need to choose between acrylic enamel paint and alkyd paint for cabinets. Acrylic, or water-base, cabinet 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 finish. Whichever you use, buy the best-quality kitchen cupboard paint you can afford.

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. Make sure to work in small areas if you plan on using this type of paint.

Step 3

Remove Cabinet Hardware

Before you start to paint kitchen cabinets, you'll need to remove the doors and drawers from the cabinet boxes and uninstall hardware. Painting over hinges and handles affects 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 might be able to label your cabinet doors where your hinge will be reinstalled and cover it with a small piece of painters tape. Don't forget to remove interior adjustable shelves, too!

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Step 4

Clean and 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.

Before painting, 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 liquid deglosser ($6, The Home Depot) should do the trick for this step. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the packaging, wearing protective goggles and rubber gloves. Apply the deglosser in sections small enough that you can paint them within an hour.

Alternatively, you can scuff-sand cabinets with 150-grit sandpaper. 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.

On extra-glossy surfaces, sand the cabinet with 120- to 220-grit sandpaper ($3, The Home Depot) to dull and smooth 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.

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Step 5

Prime Cabinets

Lay down a drop-cloth ($8, Amazon) 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-base bonding primer to the cabinets. Let dry according to the manufacturer's directions. If brush strokes are visible, lightly sand to smooth. 

Make sure you have kitchen cabinet paint colors you like by testing the new color on the back of a cabinet door (if in doubt, white kitchen cabinets are a classic choice.) This gives you a chance to make sure 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. 

Step 6

Paint Cabinet Doors

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 paint those, too.

Editor's Tip: If brushing or rolling your cabinets look like too much to tackle, a paint sprayer might be the way to go. These tools are easy to use, widely available, fairly affordable (starting at $50 on Amazon), and guarantee a smooth finish. 

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Step 7

Paint Cabinet Frame and Rails

While the cabinet doors dry, paint the front edge of the shelving and the cabinet frame. Always paint the longest piece of the structure last to avoid crossed brushstrokes.

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Step 8

Paint Cabinet 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 the surface consistent with the rest of the unit.

Step 9

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. Be sure to clean the hardware before you begin painting. To get all sides and angles of the hardware painted, elevate each piece off your work surface. Protect with a clear sealer and let dry. Slide each drawer back in place when complete.

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Step 10

Paint Backsplash Wall (Optional)

If you're painting the backsplash wall between the upper wall cabinets and the countertop, 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 it might be more convenient to apply the paint with a 7-inch or smaller roller ($10, Amazon).

Comments (1)

How difficult was this project?
Anonymous
October 16, 2019
Difficulty: Very easy
I really doubt the ability and skill level of the person who wrote this article. The type of cabinet paint was really vague - good brands, ones that work well, most paint and primer is combined these days and nothing on using them or not using them. Then, the advice to brush (I did see the brush, roll, etc. but it was just a blurb and not advice at all) the cabinets, shelves, etc. was just so wrong. I've painted so many doors, cabinets, walls, trim, etc. over the last 40 years that I learned about 39 years ago it's best to roll any and all flat surfaces to avoid the dreaded brush strokes. Even when painting walls, I roll as close to the trim and ceiling as possible. If you have a really good roller matched to your paint and surface and take your time (so you don't make bubbles in the paint), rolling gives a really good finish.

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