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Painting Kitchen Cabinets – Best Tips For a Factory Smooth Finish

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In this post you will find all your kitchen cabinet painting questions answered along with a step-by-step detailed tutorial on how to paint kitchen cabinets to ensure success and a smooth factory-like finish.

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 ensure that you have the success.

I will answer all the FAQ’s about painting kitchen cabinets first. Followed by step-by-step kitchen cabinet painting process.

How Long Does It Take to Paint Kitchen Cabinets?


When you want to paint your kitchen cabinets the best advise I can give you from years of cabinet painting experience is to plan.

Plan out not only the color of paint and finish you want your cabinets, but create a block of time daily to devote to the entire process from prep work to clean-up.

white kitchen

Make a schedule and devote as much time each day as you can to the prep work, actual time painting to getting the room back together again.

Depending on how many cabinets you have in your kitchen, the cabinet painting process can take up to a week because of waiting for dry times.

kitchen cabinet makeover and cabinet hardware

The task 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.

I made over every part of my kitchen. I have a separate post all about the how to paint counters to look like Carrara marble.

Prepping-to-paint-kitchen-cabinets

Section-off areas of cabinets and do one section at a time, to that you can still use the kitchen.

If your kitchen as other features that you will be painting, make sure it is prepared to paint. For instance, this scalloped wood valance over the kitchen sink was removed which left uneven edges that needed to be sanded and caulked.

Get all this work done before you begin the process of painting cabinets so any of the dirt and dust won’t get on any wet or drying paint.

So let’s get to it….

What Kind of Paint Should be Used on Kitchen Cabinets?

When painting kitchen or even bathroom cabinets that will get a lot of wear make sure to use a high quality paint and primer. Using a high quality paint is worth the extra expense as the finish will last for years.

Best paint and primer to use to paint kitchen cabinets

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 found Valspar Stainblocking Bonding primer. It is a gel formula and covered beautifully. It is no longer sold, but you should use a brand name stain blocking bonding primer.

If you want a factory 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.  

What Paint Finish to Use… Semigloss, Gloss, or Satin?

When it comes time to decide what paint finish to use when painting kitchen cabinets the rule of thumb is the harder the finish the better. Look for enamel and/or acrylic on the paint label.

How to paint kitchen cabinets the right way

Can You Use Chalk Paint to Paint Kitchen Cabinets?

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.

Is it Better to Spray or Brush Paint Kitchen Cabinets?

Using a paint sprayer to paint kitchen cabinets may sound easier to a DIYer, but it is a big task as you have to buy expensive sprayers, mask surrounding areas, thin paint and apply it just right to get a smooth finish.

For most homeowners – using a paint brush and roller is the way to go to ensure a perfect long lasting finish.

Do I Have to Sand Cabinets Before Painting?

Prepping your cabinets and work space can take more time than the actual painting process does, but it is the most important step, but don’t fear.

When sanding kitchen cabinets to prep them for painting, you don’t have to take the finish down to the bare wood. All you need to do is a quick going over the surface with 100 grit sandpaper to rough up the surface a bit to provide some “tooth” for the primer and paint to stick to.

the-best-way-to-paint-kitchen-cabinets

What Happens If You Don’t Sand Before Painting?

If you don’t sand before painting your efforts will likely fail and you will end up with bleed through of the stained finish you are painting over, paint peeling off, an uneven finish after a short amount of time.

Other Prep Work Needed Before Painting

Besides sanding, the other prep work when painting kitchen cabinets entails removing hardware, labeling and bagging it, sanding, and cleaning the cabinets.

If changing where new cabinet pulls and knobs will be placed, you will also need to fill in the old holes on the cabinet doors where the previous door pulls were.

Tips on how to paint kitchen cabinets

I removed every door and drawer and painted them out in my garage…

Kitchen Makeover cabinet painting tips

…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.

What Is the Best Degreaser for Kitchen Cabinets Before Painting?

If your cabinets are only slightly dirty, hot sudsy water and dish detergent will do the job to clean the cabinets before painting.

If they are extremely dirty or have built-up grease on them, as cabinets around a stove may have, it is best to use a degreaser first.

Krud Kutter or Zep Heavy-Duty Citrus Cleaner are the best ones I have used. Both of these degreasers are concentrated formulas that you mix with water.

Once the cabinets are degreased and feel clean, go over with the hot sudsy water and then rinse with clear water and dry.

Should I Use a Brush or Roller to Paint Cabinets?

When painting kitchen cabinets you will need to use both a high quality paint brush and a roller.

Many readers 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.

The Best Paint Roller and Paint Brush for Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Best paint rollers and brushes to use to paint kitchen cabinets

When it is time to choose a paint roller and paint brush, 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.

Organize, Mark and Bag Hinges, Pulls, and Knobs

kitchen cabinet makeover and cabinet hardware

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.

White Kitchen cabinet hardware

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.

Do You Paint Both Sides of Kitchen Cabinet Doors?

If you want your cabinets to look their best, then the answer is you need to paint both sides of the cabinet doors. I explain how to do this below in the step-by-step tutorial.

How To Step-by-Step for Painting Kitchen Cabinets to Ensure a Smooth Finish

painting-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
  • Screwdriver
  • Painter’s tape
  • Marker
  • 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
diy-ktichen-cabinet-makeover-tutorial

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.

Hinge and Hardware Removal

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.

tips-for-painting-kitchen-cabinets

You also need to keep track of where each cabinet and drawer goes.For each section I painted, I gave each door and drawer 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. I left the drawer numbers right inside each drawer since I only painted the drawer fronts.

Doing this extra step will save you frustration when you go to but the newly painted doors and drawers back on to the cabinet bases as they need to go where they originally were or they may not fit or close correctly.

How-to-fill-holes-on-kitchen-cabients

Fill the existing center pull holes with wood filler and a Spackle knife. Once it is dry, use 100 grit sandpaper on an electric sander on the entire door to smooth.

You do not have to sand to the bare wood, only enough to rough up the surface to provide some tooth for the paint to adhere.

how-to-sand-kitchen-cabinets

Use a sanding block to sand the molding on the front of each door.

Cleaning Cabinets Before Painting

After the wood filler is completely dry, the best way to clean cabinets before painting is to take the cabinets outside one by one to clean.

Steps-required-to-paint-kitchen-cabinets

Use a bucket of hot water, dish detergent and a scrub brush. Try an SOS pad to scrub around the molding to make sure no dirt or grease is left on the surface.

Dry the cabinet with a big towel immediately after rinsing off all the soap and let dry.

Kitchen-cabinet-painting-tutorial

Place painter’s tape on the sides of each drawer to keep paint from getting on the fronts. I only painted the drawer fronts so this keeps the sides looking nicer when the drawers are opened.

Painting-kitchen-drawers-tips

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.

Go Over With a Tack Cloth

how-to-use-a-tack-cloth-when-painting-cabinets-and-furniture

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 a tack cloth, unfold and cut a section off with scissors. Throw away the used cloth when it loses its stickiness or gets dirty.

Apply Primer

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.

Best paint roller and paint brush to use when painting kitchen cabinets
Instructions on how to paint kitchen cabinets

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.

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.

How to paint kitchen cabinets

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.

Where to Store Brushes and Rollers Between Paint Coats

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.

Did I Use Polyurethane to Seal My Kitchen Cabinets?

Christmas decorating ideas for kitchen shelves

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.

More Best Practices 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.
White Kitchen with hardwood floor

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:

This is the kitchen cabinet how to post you have been looking for. It covers everything you need to know to paint your kitchen cabinets so the paint finish will last for years. Painting kitchen cabinets white. Tips and tricks as well as do and dont's.

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110 Comments

  1. Beautiful job on the cabinets! They look amazing with new pulls and knobs. Nice that you have the space to set everything out for prep. I am looking forward to seeing how the counter turns out. I have a burgundy counter in the laundry room that would look great with a new color. One question I have – Is it possible to remove the sink temporarily in order to paint the counter and then put the sink back in? I have been hesitant to paint the laundry counter as I wasn’t sure how close I could get the paint to the edge of the sink. Please comment on the durability when you’ve got it done.
    Thanks for all the ideas.

    1. Hi Alexis – Thanks – I will do updates all through the year on how the counter top is holding up. So far so good with the section around the stove and cutting board that I did back in October. I just did the section in the back of the kitchen right before Christmas. It does take 2 weeks to cure so that section is just ready to see use again. You can remove the sink to paint around it, that would be the best way, but if you don’t have a plumber handy, you can paint around it. I have not sealed around it yet so, I can push some of the paint under it. I used painter’s tape along the sink edge to protect it from getting any of the paint on it. Even if you did get paint on it when you were painting, you could remove it before it dries. Once the paint is sealed and cured, then you need to take a bead of caulk around the sink anyway, so you could remove the existing caulking around your sink, paint and then reapply a new bead of caulk after painting and you would not even see where the paint meets the sink.

  2. What an informative and detailed description of what and how to do cabinets. Have pinned to refer to when I get to mine! Beautiful work and I know you will be so very pleased at your re-do when you get done!

  3. Your painted kitchen looks fabulous. I know you are happy to see that light at the end of the tunnel. I still can not believe how you can get your counter top to look like marble. You do a fantastic job. I am amazed at how quickly you have been able to tackle all these DIY’s. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished counters, the new oven and the look of the window with the curvy trim removed. By the way, your wooden kitchen floor design is killer…love it!!! Vikki in VA.