Painting Kitchen Cabinets: How to Do it The Right Way

Painting Kitchen Cabinets: How to Do it The Right Way

You can easily update your kitchen cabinets by painting them. However, a good paint job depends on a great prep job. Prepare the surface properly so the paint will adhere and not peel or chip over time.

While you can paint cabinets with a brush, a sprayer is faster and leaves a smoother surface.

Woman sands cabinet door before painting it
Sanding kitchen cabinets before painting them is important to ensure the paint will adhere to them.

Preparing the Surface

Before you can start painting the kitchen cabinets, you need to prepare the surface. Prepping usually is the longest part of the job, and it’s the most important part to ensure the finishing coats properly cover the cabinets.

1. Remove doors and drawers: Take the doors and hardware off the cabinet boxes and remove drawers and hardware from the cabinets. You will paint the doors and drawers separately.

2. Place the doors on sawhorses. Spreading the doors on two-by-fours stretched between sawhorses will allow you to prep and paint without moving the doors.

3. Clean the Cabinets: Clean all surfaces thoroughly with a household cleaner to remove any grease or grime.

4. Sand the Cabinets: Lightly sand all the surfaces. If the old finish is in good condition, you don’t have to sand it down to bare wood, just until it’s smooth and free of gloss.

A pad sander with 220-grit paper will make quick work of the flat areas and a sanding sponge is ideal for curved edges and recesses. The goal here is to rough up the surface enough to accept the primer.

If there is any greasy residue left after sanding, mineral spirits will remove it.

5. Remove the dust: Vacuum off any sanding dust, and then wipe the cabinets down with a clean, damp cloth.

“Today’s Homeowner” host Chelsea Lipford Wolf discusses painting safety with a homeowner on the set of Today's Homeowner.
Before you prime and paint your kitchen cabinets, make sure you know who’s doing what, if you’re working in pairs or groups. In addition, wear the proper safety gear, such as safety glasses and a respirator.

Priming and Painting the Kitchen Cabinets

1. Prime the cabinets: Apply an oil-based, stain-blocking primer to the cabinets. Oil-based primers adhere and block stains better than latex primers.

We’re using a high-volume, low-pressure spray gun to apply both the primer and paint. These sprayers are inexpensive and user-friendly but the operator should be protected by a respirator.

When you spray paint, it’s important to keep the spray tip a consistent distance from the surface and make slow passes back and forth. Each pass should begin and end beyond the edge of the door so there’s no buildup of paint on the edges.

We’re using the same sprayer on the cabinet boxes inside since the floors are covered and the room is sealed.

In this case, we’re painting the inside of the cabinets to avoid overspray marks or the need to mask each opening of the cabinets.

2. Cover imperfections. After the primer dries, fill any holes or dents with a two-part auto body filler. After the filler has hardened, sand it smooth with the surface. You also may need to putty nail holes or caulk cracks and seams.

3. Paint the cabinets: Use a high-quality woodwork enamel paint on your kitchen cabinets. You can use oil or latex paints, though they each have their advantages and disadvantages:

    • Oil-based paint has a smoother surface and dries harder than latex; but it requires a solvent like mineral spirits for clean-up, has a strong odor, and slowly dries.
    • Latex paint cleans up easily with water, comes in low and no VOC (volatile organic compounds) formulas, and dries quickly; but it shows brush marks more, is softer, and tends to imprint, allowing items placed on shelves to stick unless shelf paper is applied.

I prefer a medium gloss (such as semigloss or eggshell) paint for kitchen cabinets, though high gloss holds up well. Avoid using flat paint on kitchen cabinets, since it doesn’t clean as well.

Apply the paint, sanding lightly between coats. Spraying the doors horizontally reduces the risk of drips, which can mar the finish.

Allow the two coats of finish paint to dry thoroughly before handling the doors and replacing the hardware.

If you’re changing hardware, consider buying new hinges with the same footprint as the old ones. This will simplify installation and hide any indentations left by the old hinges.

Watch the video above to see the entire process!


Further Reading

Your Source for Beautiful Kitchen Cabinets and Organizers
Rain Chain: A Stylish Alternative to Downspouts