Step-by-step detailed tutorial on how to paint kitchen cabinets to ensure success.
If you have been following my kitchen makeover updates, then you know doing the makeover myself did take time so if you plan on painting your kitchen cabinets by yourself, the best advice I can give you is create a block of time to devote to it. It is not impossible, in fact once you get everything set up, the actual painting process is easy. Waiting for the paint to dry is what takes time.
This post is long, but I wanted to make sure I covered all the questions I have received about painting the kitchen cabinets and the process I used to take my cabinets from brown and dated to white and fresh!
At the end of this post I have linked to the other aspects of my budget friendly kitchen makeover,
I am happy to report that the cabinets are all painted…
and are enjoying their shiny new chrome drawer pulls…
and glass hardware from D. Lawless Hardware.
The new deep single basin sink is from Kohler. I wanted a white one, but it didn’t fit. We had to take it back and find one that would. I bought it at Home Depot. The faucet is from Delta.
I have not finished painting the counter around the sink yet. It only has a few layers of the countertop paint on it so far. Once it is sealed and dry, I will run a bead of caulk around the sink and along the back of the counter where it meets the subway tile. I will have a separate post all about the counter top paint and process.
I ran into one problem with the cabinets that had nothing to do with the cabinet painting itself, but when the new dishwasher was installed. It was a smidge wider than the previous one. It pushed the row of base cabinets to the left about 1/8″. I will have to sand the inside of one of the cabinets under the sink to make it close properly now.
The white subway tile backsplash is done. I am going to paint the last section of the brown counter to resemble Carrara marble this weekend and then do a few finishing touches.
The one big thing that is going to make a huge difference it the removal of the scalloped wood valance over the sink. Check out this post that shows—-> how we removed the wood valance.
We did run into a problem with our 40 year GE double-oven. Sadly it will have to go to oven heaven. :-( During the holidays, the glass on the upper oven cracked while baking Christmas cookies. :-( It probably has not been used to the extent we have been using it in years. It is a very old oven, original to the house – 1974.
It was painted once by the previous owner, but was rarely used since the house was a second home for the summer months only. We had the local appliance store installer out to measure to tell us what size we will need. I will be buying a new oven soon. I will keep you posted.
So let’s get to it….
How To Tips for Painting Kitchen Cabinets
What paint finish to use… Semigloss, gloss, or satin?
Rule of thumb, the harder the finish the better. Look for enamel and/or acrylic on the paint label.
I considered using chalk paint to paint the cabinets, but I wanted the cabinets to have a semi-gloss finish to make cleaning them easy. I LOVE chalk paint on furniture, but for my cabinets, it would have been an extra step to have to wax and buff or poly both sides of each door after priming and painting, drawers and the cabinet framework. I would also have to still prime since most white chalk paints will not totally block heavy tannins/stains which my cabinets had. Stains will bleed through paint and change the paint color. In my case, the white paint would turn a brownish/orange.
There are many paints and gel stains on the market that you can use that claim you don’t need to sand or prime, but they all have matte or satin finishes. If you know you want a satin or matte finish on your cabinets then these paint stains if they have a color you like could be a good choice to use.
Spring for High Quality Paint and Primer
One of the most frequently asked questions I have received is what type of paint did I use. There are so many choices of paints to use to paint your kitchen cabinets… latex, oil, enamels, acrylic, chalk, and gel stains along with a few others.
The choice came down to a few things for me. My cabinets were old with brown stain and some unknown type of sealer. I knew I was going to have to use a stain blocking primer. I decided to try Valspar Stainblocking Bonding primer. It is a gel formula and covered beautifully.
I also wanted a smooth surface and used Sherwin Williams ProClassic® Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd Enamel. It is a tough and durable coating that enhances the look of doors, trim, cabinets and furniture. It has excellent adhesion, flow and leveling to lessen the look of roller and brush marks, plus it is non-yellowing. This was important for me since I was using white paint. It also comes in an interior latex enamel. Both are great. I used that formula in my previous kitchen and my staircase makeover.
Paint is not cheap and Pro Classic is pricey, but I felt it was worth it since I only want to paint once and have it last. You could add a product called Floetrol to the paint to lessen the look of brush strokes, but that just adds to the paint cost.
Prepare for Prep Work
Prepping your cabinets and work space can take more time than the actual painting process does. Take the time to set up the area you are going to paint. It will save you time in the long run.
The prep work entails removing hardware, labeling and bagging it, sanding, and cleaning the cabinets. I needed to fill in the holes on the center of the cabinet doors where the previous door pulls were so that took even more prep time.
I removed every door and drawer and painted them out in my garage…
…and then when the weather turned too chilly to paint outside, I brought my painting production line inside.
I started using a roll of Tape & Drape when I painted the staircase in my foyer. What a great invention. I used it again in the kitchen. It is the best drop cloth ever. I used brown paper drop cloths to protect the floor and used painter’s tape to hold it in place.
Use Quality Brushes and Rollers
Many have asked me why I didn’t spray the cabinets. The main reason is that most paint sprayers require the paint be thinned. I didn’t want the stain blocking quality of the primer and paint to be compromised. I also find that spraying can be more of a hassle. I know my way around a roller and a paint brush and stuck to my tried and true.
Don’t skimp on cheap rollers and brushes to save money. Your painted finish will thank you for using quality brushes and rollers. Purdy are my go-to, but Wooster makes great products also. I used a 1-1/2″ wide angled paint brush to paint around the edges and the molding on each cabinet and drawer. I used a flocked foam roller to paint the rest.
Hinges, Pulls, and Knobs
Previous holes in cabinet doors and drawers can easily be filled with wood filler so you can add new size pulls and place knobs where you would like. I had big center pulls on every door that left two holes on the center of each door that I had to fill. Luckily on the drawers I found pulls that I liked that fit into the existing pull holes.
If you need to drill new holes, check out this post: How to Install Cabinet Knobs Using a Template
Important: I did not paint the cabinet hinges, instead I bought brand new white hinges. When replacing hinges, especially for cabinets that have an inset, they need to be the exact type of hinge or the cabinets will not go back on properly.
Derek at D. Lawless Hardware was such a huge help in tracking down the exact hinges I needed in white. Many looked the same, but were not.
How I Painted My Kitchen Cabinets
Source and supplies list:
- Stain blocking/bonding primer – Valspar Stain Blocking and Bonding Primer
- Latex acrylic enamel paint –Sherwin Williams ProClassic® Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd Enamel in the color: Pure White #7005
- 4″ – Flocked foam roller cover with rounded ends and roller
- 1-1/2″ angled Purdy paint brush
- Mini roller tray
- Tack cloths
- Wood Filler
- Electric sander and 100 grit sandpaper
- Hand sanding block
- SOS or Brillo pads
- Bucket, scrub brush, hot water, dish detergent or TSP
- Painter’s tape
- Small plastic bags to put hardware in while it is off door and drawers
- Drape & Tape Drop cloths and brown paper drop cloths
- Saw horses and 2 – 8 feet long 2 x 4’s to use as a place to set up the cabinets to paint
Set up a place to paint that is out of the way and as dust-free as possible. I set up my production line in my garage. Other places to consider would be the least used room in your home. A dining room would be ideal since it is usually near the kitchen. Just move the furniture to one side and lay down drop cloths to protect the floor, then set up your workspace. It is also a good place that can be roped or closed off so the paint can dry without family in and out that may cause dust or dirt to get in the paint as it dries.
I worked on one section of the cabinets at a time. I removed the doors and drawers from the cabinets and then removed the hardware. Once I had them painted, I hung them back up with the new hardware and then started the process on the next section of cabinets.
IMPORTANT: Before removing hinges make sure to mark exactly where each hinge went on the cabinet so you can put it back on the same cabinet in the same exact place. This will ensure the cabinets go back on and will fit. If you mix up the hinges, you may run into problems where a door does not close correctly. If buying new hinges, make sure they are the exact same style of hinge. I bought new hinges that fit perfectly.
You also need to keep track of where each cabinet and drawer is from. For each section I painted, I gave each one a number marked with painter’s tape. When I placed them on the 2 x 4’s to get painted, I removed the tape and placed it right next to the cabinet. Door or drawer. I left the drawer numbers right inside each drawer since I only painted the drawer fronts.
I filled the existing center pull holes with wood filler and a Spackle knife. Once it was dry, I used 100 grit sandpaper on an electric sander on the entire door to smooth. I did not sand to the bare wood, only to rough up the surface to provide some tooth for the paint to adhere to.
I used a sanding block to sand the molding on the front of each door.
After the wood filler was completely dry, I took the cabinets one by one outside to clean. I used a bucket of hot water, dish detergent and a scrub brush. I used an SOS pad to scrub around the molding to make sure no dirt or grease was still on the surface. I dried the cabinet with a big towel immediately after I rinsed off all the soap.
I placed painter’s tape on the sides of each drawer to keep paint from getting on them. I only painted the drawer fronts.
My drawers had wheel guides attached to the center back so I could not simply place them on the floor to paint. Lining them up to paint on the 2 x 4’s worked perfectly so I didn’t have to remove the guides.
Once I had everything set up. I went over each cabinet before I primed or painted with a tack cloth. Tack cloths are sold in the paint aisle at the home improvement store. They are sticky cloths that you wipe over the surface before painting to pick up dust, dirt and sanding grit before painting. They come folded. To use, unfold and cut a section off with scissors. Throw away the used cloth when it loses its stickiness or gets dirty.
I used 2 light coats of the primer and then 2 light coats of the paint on each cabinet and drawer. I did both sides of the doors, so they took the longest to paint. Once the doors and drawers got a new coat, I went back to the kitchen and painted the base and wall cabinets using the same rollers and brush.
I used a mini roller tray and a 4″ – long flocked foam roller for the flat sections and an angled brush for the molding and sides of each cabinet and drawer. I used 2 rollers for the entire project. One for the primer and the other for the paint. Once I was done painting for a few hours, I wrapped the roller covers tightly in a plastic bags marked with “Primer” and “Paint” and placed them in my refrigerator. Not the freezer. I took them out of the fridge about 15 minutes before I needed to use them again. I did this to save me from having to wash out the roller covers after each coat of paint or primer.
I allowed the primer to dry for a few hours and the paint 4 hours before I recoated. I also lightly sanded the surface with 220 grit sandpaper in between coats to make sure there was no dirt or bugs had dried in the painted surface.
I used quite a few tack cloths, they are the best way to make sure you remove even the tiniest specks from the surface before painting.
Did I Use Polyurethane to Seal My Kitchen Cabinets?
I did not use the Polycrylic on the cabinets. The Pro Classic paint is durable enough on its own.
I did however, poly a few cabinet shelves. I removed 2 cabinet doors to create open shelving in the kitchen. After I painted the inside of these cabinets, I used Polycrylic in satin, but you can use semi-gloss also on the shelves.
It is worth the time to do this on painted shelves. Once the paint is dry (24 hours) roll on 2 light coats of Polycrylic on the top of painted shelves on the interior cabinets This seals the latex paint so you will never hear that latex sticky sound when you remove objects on the shelves.
When Painting Kitchen Cabinets…
- Don’t rush. Remember to take your time to get it right the first time so you will have a lasting finish.
- Don’t paint in the dark or with uneven room lighting. You will miss sections and not see drips.
- More light coats are better than one heavy one for the best adhesion.
If you have any questions about any of the steps or products I used, please leave them in the comments.
To read more about this kitchen makeover: