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.

How to Paint Cabinets

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         Select Projects Kind of Hard
  • Involves Painting, Power Tools

What you need

Tools

  • Cordless drill or screwdriver
  • Rubber gloves
  • Protective goggles
  • Putty knife
  • Tack cloth or rag
  • Drop cloth
  • Synthetic-fiber paintbrushes: 1.5-inch tapered and 2-inch
  • Microfiber paint rollers, 2-3 inches wide
  • Paint tray and stir sticks
  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers

Materials

  • Spackling compound or wood filler
  • Painters tape
  • 120- to 220-grit sandpaper
  • Deglosser
  • Primer
  • Paint

How to do it

Part 1 Pick Your Paint

Step 1 Select 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 on. Consult with the expert at your local paint store to select the appropriate primer and tint for your project.

Step 2 Select Paint

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.

Part 2 How to Paint Cabinets with the Doors Off

Step 1 Remove Hardware

Before you start to DIY kitchen cabinets, 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 may 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!

Step 2 Clean and Prep

rubbing liquid sander deglosser on cabinets

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 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

priming cabinet door with paint

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-base bonding primer to the cabinets. Let dry according to 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. 

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. If they have never been painted, don't start now. 

Step 4 Reattach Doors and Drawers

priming cabinet door with paint

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.

Part 3 How to Paint Cabinets with the Doors On

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.

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 for 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 doors with your desired kitchen cabinet colors, and leave them open while drying.

Step 3 Paint Doors and Rails

While the inside faces of the doors dry, paint the front edge of the shelving and the cabinet frame. When the door fronts 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 brushstrokes.

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 the surface consistent with the rest of the unit.

Step 5 Paint Backsplash Wall

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 you may find it more convenient to apply the paint with a 7-inch or smaller roller.

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