Yesterday we had an interesting discussion about whether or not painting kitchen cabinets was a simple, one-weekend project. On Twitter, this commonly-repeated idea was referred to as "commercial break cabinets" and "design on a crashing dime". I'm here to burst a few bubbles and tell you that painting kitchen cabinets is absolutely NOT a one-weekend project. But you know what? It's still easy! And doing it the right way first will save you time and money later. That's a promise. So, if you've got a few weekends set aside for the lowest-cost, biggest-impact change you can make to your kitchen (and I haven't scared you away yet), read on!
We painted our kitchen cabinets as part of our recent kitchen makeover (which you can see more of here). Going in, I, like many earnest DIYers of the past, had high hopes of turning our cabinets into sparkly white wonders within a single weekend. Turns out, it takes a lot longer than that. In fact, it took us 5 weekends. You could probably cut out at least one of those if you used an orbital sander and probably another on top of that if you are using a paint sprayer. But we're hardcore and sanded and painted everything by hand. Yippee! But enough about that, you're here to learn how to paint your own kitchen cabinets and that's just what I'm going to show you! Ready?
Materials! My favorite. Before you get started, you're going to need to do a little shopping and gather up the following items:
- Paint - Oil based OR 100% acrylic latex, semi-gloss or gloss. We went with acrylic latex, semi-gloss.
- Primer - Don't skip this! If you can, try to use a primer labeled "high build" or "sandable".
- Degreaser or TSP
- An angled brush OR rent/buy a paint sprayer. Using a sprayer will probably save you about one (of our five) weekends.
- Sandpaper - You're going to need 100 grit (medium) and 220 grit (extra fine/fine).
- Sponge (to use with your degreaser/TSP)
- Gloves (to use with your degreaser/TSP)
- Tack Cloth
Other items you will need: rosin paper OR plastic sheeting to protect your counters, painters pyramids OR 2x4s with nails hammered through (to set your cabinet doors on while drying), and a shop vacuum. And that's it. Let's start painting!
Step 1: Remove cabinet doors and drawer fronts, plus any hardware that might be attached. (If you're protecting your countertops, now's the time to cover them with your rosin paper/plastic sheeting.)
Step 2: Take your degreaser/TSP and thoroughly clean all areas of your cabinet doors/drawer fronts as well as the cabinet boxes. If you have sensitive skin (or don't want chemicals all over your hands) wear gloves!
Step 3: If your cabinets have dings or you're replacing your hardware with something different, fill in all the holes/divots with wood putty. (We didn't have this issue.) Next, sand your cabinets and cabinet boxes with 100 grit sandpaper, going with the grain. Really get in there and rough up that surface.
Step 4: Vacuum up as much sawdust as you can.
Step 5: Using your tack cloth, wipe off any remaining sawdust. You want your surface to be as clean and dust-free as possible. Taking the time to adequately prep is KEY.
Step 6: Prime time! Apply your primer, starting with the inner panel. Go against the grain first, then with it. This will help to fill in the grain and create a smoother surface. Allow the primer to dry thoroughly; consider priming your cabinet boxes while you wait.
Step 7: Once your primer is dry, it's time to sand again! Using a fine or extra-fine grit sandpaper (around 220 or so), sand away any brush strokes or uneven primer. Create as smooth a surface as you possibly can. Like I said, taking the time to adequately prep your surface is KEY.
Step 8: Vacuum off all the sawdust.
Step 9: Wipe everything down with your tack cloth, making sure to get any remaining sawdust.
Repeat steps 6-9 again at least once, if not twice. That means you'll be applying 2-3 coats of primer, sanding in between each and once more before painting. DO THIS. Remember what I said about surface prep.
Step 10: It's finally time to paint! Using your angled brush, start on the back panels of your cabinets like you did with the primer. This time, go with the grain only. Apply a relatively thin coat, don't slop it on there. Let this coat dry to-the-touch before flipping it over and painting the other side. Allow this coat to dry thoroughly, on a level surface. Meanwhile, go paint your cabinet boxes, following the same technique.
Once dry, make a quick pass with your tack cloth to get any dust, then repeat Step 10 to apply a second coat. (A third coat will probably not be necessary, but if it is, you know what to do now!)
Optional Step: Some people suggest finishing your cabinets with a coat (or two) of a water-based polyurethane, sanding once between coats. This is semi-controversial, as others claim it will cause your cabinets to yellow over time. It's up to you; we didn't do this.
After your cabinets have completely dried and cured (which takes a day or two), you can reattach them and install the hardware.
And now? Now you celebrate, because you just spent 4-5 weekends creating the prettiest, most properly-prepped painted kitchen cabinets on the planet! Go wild, you earned it.