Wanting to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets? Don’t go out and buy paint until you read these tips for painting cabinets the right way!
There is no question that painting kitchen cabinets is a big project, and it’s tempting to just slap some paint on them and be done. But if you want a paint job that will look great with a finish that will last, it’s best to take the time to do it the right way. I have done many, many furniture painting tutorials and troubleshot lots of paint projects for clients, so this is THE guide and the process for getting a finish that is long lasting and professional looking!
How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets
Supply List with Links
This is just a handy list to refer to. Many of these are your preference based on your specific situation, but I will explain in the steps below.
- TSP Cleaner
- Sander – Palm sander, mouse sander or muli-tool cutter/sander, sandpaper blocks
- Primer – Stainblocker or High Binding Primer or Shellac Based Primer
- Microfiber rollers or Foam Rollers
- Paint Sprayer that We Use and Recommend
- Paint – Benjamin Moore Advance, Cabinet Transformations, Fusion Mineral, Rust-Oleum Chalked Ultra Matte
- Protective Top Coat – Here is my list of favorite protective top coats.
Some of these may be available at your local Home Depot or Lowes, but you can also order online for easy in-store pickup.
*This post may contain affiliate links.
These are pretty standard old oak kitchen cabinets. Oak has a very distinctive grain, and if you are looking to smooth that out, check out my post on removing wood grain in oak cabinets. Today, I am sharing our tried and true painting techniques for painting kitchen cabinets.
REMOVE HARDWARE AND HOW TO CLEAN
First, remove all the hardware and use this cleaner for getting any and all grime and dirt off of them. Kitchen cabinets are one of the dirtiest furniture surfaces, so I recommend using a trisodium phosphate cleaner, which you can purchase at most hardware stores. We made our space in the basement with a huge tarp and a large piece of the nasty carpet we replaced when we moved in.
Pro Tip: Number the doors when you remove them so that you know where each one goes when your putting the kitchen back together.
These particular cabinets are a solid wood front with sides that are laminate covering fiber board (aka very common style kitchen cabinets).
SANDING, SANDING, SANDING (aka my least favorite thing ever!)
There are two ways of removing the varnish/sheen that kitchen cabinets: sanding and deglossing.
The first way is to sand it off with a palm sander or a mouse sander (we use a multi-tool for corners, which is one of our best ever purchases and the sandpaper is easy to find at local stores.). You don’t necessarily need to get every bit of varnish off. In fact, that may not be the best idea because certain stains can seap into paint. I give a general rule of sand it a just bit more when you there is not gloss left. Sanding is going to give the best bond, particularly for old kitchen cabinets where the top coat is degraded. For us, we sanded the cabinet fronts because they were flat and it was only a small area. We lightly sanded the laminate sides as well. We did not bother sanding the interiors.
However, there is a second method that doesn’t require sanding. You can use a deglossing product, sometimes called liquid sander. Deglosser only works on wood and varnished veneers. It generally won’t work well on laminate or paper covered surfaces, like the sides of our cabinets in the picture above. Simply spray on the deglosser and it puts a coating on the cabinets that paint can bond to. Spray it on and after 15-20 minutes, and then test your surface. It should look etched, but not gummy or glossy. If it is, the surface may need to be cleaned again or sanded. For other surfaces that you can’t sand, you can also use a bonding agent like this one. It’s not available at many hardware stores, but you can buy it online.
PRIMING AND STAIN BLOCKER
Wipe down and remove all dust. I recommend vacuuming with a brush ->very lightly damp cloth (denatured alcohol is best but not absolutely necessary)-> dry microfiber cloth method, making sure to get in the crevices.
Now, the cabinets are ready for priming. Even if you use a paint that does not require priming, I still recommend priming in 2 situations:
- Painting over dark cabinets with a light or white color (less coats = saves money)
- Painting used kitchen cabinets (generally because stains may have seaped into the pores)
Two coats of primer (with a sprayer, only one if brushing) will give good coverage on painted kitchen cabinets. With old cabinets and really any furniture, I recommend a stain sealer. Because these are used kitchen cabinets, they have been exposed to all kinds of kitchen oils and cooking products. At first, I used Bullseye primer and the door fronts yellowed. What happens is that the natural and kitchen oils to which they were subjected were bleeding out into the paint. Therefore, I added one layer of stain blocker and voila, no more yellow streaks! You can also use a shellac based primer if you have knotty pine cabinets, and that works well.
Remember: use the same base for all layers. For example, if you are using a water-based paint (like latex enamel), you would need a water based primer, sealer, clear coat, etc.
BEST PAINTS FOR KITCHEN CABINETS
This is one of the biggest decisions to make, honestly. There are a few paints that I recommend for painting kitchen cabinets, depending on your style, budget and availability. Spending the extra money on a quality paint will save you so much heartache in the long run. I would say that at least 1/3 of my clients have me fix bad paint jobs on cabinets and the number 1 problem is using the wrong paint.
If you want a satin finish, I generally recommend Benjamin Moore’s Advance Alkyd Paint. I have used it on several projects, including a staircase Bannister that is used every day. It is extremely durable, does not require priming, and very easy to wipe down. It also does not require a protective top coat. There is also a flat finish, but I have not personally used it. If this is not available in your area, I also have heard great things about this Cabinet Paint Kit which comes in several colors.
For a matte finish, I recommend either Fusion Mineral or Rust-Oleum Ultra Matte Chalked Paint. Fusion Mineral, in this case, is probably going to be very pricey. We painted our kitchen island with Fusion Mineral, and it’s awesome. However, both paints will require a protective top coat.
PAINTING CABINETS WITH A SPRAYER
Here is another tip that saved me a TON of time on painting kitchen cabinets: get a sprayer! I have used a few paint sprayers now, and I recommend this paint sprayer which is great for small and large projects including furniture, walls, and decor. Even better, do like we did and go halfsies with someone on it. Each coat took about 10-15 minutes to spray for all 4 cabinets!
There is a learning curve however with the sprayer and I suggest playing with it and testing before each coat. Getting the correct pressure and paint flow is essential to a smooth finish. Also, remember to thin out the paint and it will go on much smoother. I got orange peel all over 2 of the doors and that was a nightmare to sand out. If that happens, WIPE IT DOWN BEFORE IT DRIES and start over with that coat. I learned the hard way so you don’t have to.
We sprayed 4 coats of white paint on these. Because these coats are much lighter than a brush coat, I lightly sanded between every other coat with 220 grit sand paper.
Pulling out the cabinets certainly makes this easier. However, the process isn’t impossible if that is not feasible. Personally, I would roll the cabinet fronts with a dense foam roller or microfiber roller but still spray the doors and drawer fronts.
ADDING A PROTECTIVE CLEAR COAT
After we let the paint dry for a few weeks, I really wanted to protect my cabinets from my loveable Tasmanian devil (ahem, my son who has already banged many a chair against the drawers). I spent hours researching clear coats and I see a lot of recommendations for Minwax from bloggers. However, in my search, I came across more than one forum post of a poor, frustrated DIYer saying that the Minwax turned yellow when used over white. Oh, bleep no! I love DIY bloggers and I have gotten so much great information from them. However, I am also careful about the advice I take. I have written a great guide to The Best Protective Top Coats for Furniture and Cabinets if you want more information.
For this project, I used Benwood Stays Clear Acrylic Polyurethane. First, it comes in 3 different sheens – flat, low-lustre, and high gloss. I chose the low-lustre finish. Second, it’s made for painted floors, so I know it is durable. And third, the name says it all – STAYS CLEAR.
This product is absolutely meant to be applied with a sprayer. You can brush it on with a bristled brush but for a project like this, I would recommend thinning it out about 5-10% to prevent any air bubbles in the surface. If you do use a brush, definitely use a high-quality finishing brush such as a Purdy or Corona China Bristle. You can also use a microfiber roller but it will put on a heavier, shinier coat. Do not use a foam roller. I did 2 very light coats 2 hours apart and let dry overnight before installing the doors back on.
DRY TIME VS CURE TIME
After installing the doors and drawers back on the cabinets, I left them open to allow the paint/poly to cure. It took about two and a half weeks for mine to fully cure inside, but it can take up to 60 days to fully cure in high humidity. What do I mean by curing? Paint can be dry to the touch and not actually be fully dry. If I were to close all my drawers so that there was paint to paint contact, and then opened them a day or so later, I risk the paint sticking together and (horror) pulling some of the paint off.
I know today’s tutorial was kind of in-depth and chocked full of information, but if you ever go about painting kitchen cabinets, you will love this!
If you liked this, here are more furniture painting tutorials
- How to Protect Furniture
- The Best Paints for Cabinets and Furniture
- How to Ceruse a Table Top
- How to Paint a Refridgerator
- Executive Desk Makeover
- Military Footlocker Trash to Treasure Makeover
- Amazing Furniture Transformations