How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets: A Step-by-Step Guide to DIY Bliss!

By: Capreek Mar 14, 2012

created at: 03/13/2012

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!   

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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?

created at: 03/13/2012

created at: 03/13/2012

created at: 03/13/2012

Materials!  My favorite.  Before you get started, you're going to need to do a little shopping and gather up the following items:

  1. Paint - Oil based OR 100% acrylic latex, semi-gloss or gloss. We went with acrylic latex, semi-gloss.
  2. Primer - Don't skip this! If you can, try to use a primer labeled "high build" or "sandable".
  3. Degreaser or TSP
  4. An angled brush OR rent/buy a paint sprayer. Using a sprayer will probably save you about one (of our five) weekends.
  5. Sandpaper - You're going to need 100 grit (medium) and 220 grit (extra fine/fine).
  6. Sponge (to use with your degreaser/TSP)
  7. Gloves (to use with your degreaser/TSP)
  8. 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!

created at: 03/13/2012

created at: 03/13/2012

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!

created at: 03/13/2012

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.

created at: 03/13/2012

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.

created at: 03/13/2012

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.

created at: 03/13/2012

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.

This post was sponsored by Caesarstone (thanks!), makers of quality natural quartz surfaces for your home. Although we were compensated for writing this post, the opinions expressed here are ours alone.
   Caesarstone - natural quartz surfaces for kitchen and countertop

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Comments

If you are going to go through all the work, use OIL BASE! 13years ago, we did all the prep work and painted with very high quality white latex. White begs to be washed. Within 5 years, the paint was washing off. It took on a rustic look that was OK for a few years, but now we are doing it all over again. We really did not want to renovate again so soon!

I with Kerry on this one. I am afraid if I paint my cabinets it will look like a DIY. That would be sad after doing all the prep work.  

Do I need to sand everything down if my cabinets are already painted? Just bought my first house and wow the kitchen is ugly.

What prep steps are recommended if the cabinets have already been painted before? Appreciate any advice.

Hello EMH you can get those tiles at Bunnings
I love the true white color. I see it was by Benjamin Moore. What was the actual name?
2 much hard work lol I will just by a whole new kitchen make it easier haha

I was wondering if you do the sides of the cabinet drawers as well or just the outer doors???

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THANK YOU! We just started our cabinet re-painting project and my first thought was "Those young whippersnappers who get this done in a weekend must have some magic skills that we old farts lack...proper prep alone is going to take a weekend!". Glad to see we're not the only ones who will need more than a couple of days!

I love the tile in the backsplash in the picture. Anyone know where I could find something similar?

Chipboard laminate  is certainly paintable.  Depending on what kind of a surface it has, it should be sanded - just enough to "etch" the surface; cleaned well, and a good adhesive type primer applied.  I think RustOleum has a good primer that adheres very well to just about any surface.  Don't use Kilz.   It's adherence is poor.

My cabinets are awful chipboard laminate, do you think that they can be sanded and painted. Has anyone ever tried it successfully? Many people have told me that the paint would chip.

Hey there! I have cabinets that are chipboard laminate type, awful, do you think they can be painted as well. People have told me that I can't paint them because the paint will chip and come off. Does anyone even know if I can sand down chopboard laminate??

Hi where can you buy the materials needed.

One gallon of paint or primer will go a long way because there is no absorption of paint like you have on walls and ceilings or plain wood.  Your biggest investment (besides your undiverted attenion to the detail of perfoming the job) is brushes.  You must use fine haired brushes of high quality, recommended for the paint you are using - they run more than $10 a piece - so clean them carefully after each use. A thinning agent such as Floetrol (for latex) is useful to avoid streaking.  Mineral spirits is used for oil - based paint.  This is referred to as a "leveler." and affords a professional look by minimizing the streaks you get with brush strokes.  Practice on a board to test how much thinning is optimal. 

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How many gallons of paint and primer did you end up needing? We want to do this SOON! Thanks!

Don't use standard quality latex paint and never ever the paint plus primer in one - you'll wind up with a streaky gummy mess that you'll have trouble sanding between coats and it will not stick to the cabinet like it needs to.  It is best to use an "oil based enamel" or its more modern counterpart (acrylic?) and in fact, go to a Benjamin Moore or similar specialty paint store with knowledgeable staff and ask what they recommend.  The cost of the paint is not that big an issue because the amount you'll use is amazingly little (one gallon will paint 2 dozen cabinets at least).  Your time and  careful effort will be the biggest investment in this project. 

And to the person who inquired about laminate... it paints up great but you should clean it well, then give it a fine sanding and prime it first.  There are some really great primers out by Rustoleum, for example, designed for priming specific surfaces - just inquire if you're not sure what type is best. 

Do you have to clean with a degreaser?  We pulled our cabinet doors off and just started sanding with an electric sander.  Do we need to go back and degrease?  Didn't we kind of sand all the grease and grime off?

hiya, thanks for sharing this article. If one looked close up at the end result, does it look like it's been a home job/DIY'd or does it look like white kitchen cabinet's you'd buy in the shop? Please let me know before I ruin my light brown wood kitchen cupboards, as I don't like the homemade look and would rather just buy new ones or leave as is. Thanks for your honesty in advance!

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I am painting cabinets that are simi gloss white to a white gloss do I still need to sand down my cabinets? Also the paint I am using is a one coat with primer in it...Velspar is that a good paint?

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