Want to know how to paint your kitchen cabinets and have them look just as good many years from now? Then I have the method for you.
Eight years later, our kitchen cabinets look just as good as when we first painted them. No joke. This method works and is long-lasting. It has survived two crazy boys, a husband, a dog, numerous holiday baking marathons, and daily meals.
Our kitchen is heavily used because my husband works from home and I am a stay at home Mom. We live in our kitchen – the boys are always in there helping me make something, running their trucks into the cabinets, or leaning a chair against the cabinets so they can sneak on to the counters to get something.
A lot of kitchen cabinet posts you read people have just finished their kitchens. While they may have some great information, they haven’t lived in their kitchens yet so it’s unknown whether or not the paint will last.
The process of painting cabinets isn’t hard. It’s just a little tedious (the same goes for any method of painting cabinets).
Although tedious, it is well worth the time it takes. Even eight years later when we got ready to move, I still loved my cabinets. They looked just as good as when I first painted them.
One last thing before the directions, I wasn’t blogging at the time I redid these cabinets so these pictures were taken just for memory sake.
So I don’t have a picture of every step and they aren’t picture-perfect. Needless to say, they are far from perfect. But, they are a real-life example of a renovation process.
If you missed my first post on our kitchen, don’t forget to check it out! You can find it here.
Want to skip the how-to and see the finished cabinets? Click here to see our big kitchen reveal!
Our Kitchen Before Painting
Just in case you forgot how our 1980’s kitchen looked, here is how it looked before.
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How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets – Materials
Materials & Tools for Painting Kitchen Cabinets:
What do you need to repaint kitchen cabinets? You’ll need the following materials.
- Screwdriver (whatever type/size needed for your cabinet hardware)
- Sanding block
- Liquid Sandpaper
- 120 Grit sandpaper
- Tack cloth
- Angled paintbrushes (I used a couple of different sizes)
- A small and standard size paint roller (I found it much quicker to roll the paint).
- Oil Based Paint (we used Sherwin Williams)
- Flood – Penetrol
- Painters tape
- Cleaning Cloth (such as microfiber cloths)
- Mineral Spirits
- Wood putty if you want to put on new pulls or knobs that have different hole spacing than the old ones.
- Drop cloths/plastic sheeting
- New handles/knobs and hinges if desired (we replaced mine because they were unattractive).
10 Tips for How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets So They’ll Last & Why
1. Use oil-based paint. And not the cheap stuff.
Why? Latex paint isn’t as strong as oil paint. It can dent and chip much easier than oil-based paint. In a heavily used area, such as a kitchen, it’s important to use a stronger paint that can take some wear and tear. Oil paint cures over time and hardens. It has a thicker coverage and has a smoother finish. Don’t use cheap paint. You get what you pay for.
What are the downsides of oil paint? It is stinky. Be prepared to paint with the windows open and if possible, paint the doors in the garage or outside. Clean up is tough. You have to use mineral spirits to clean any paint off of your hands, brushes, etc.
2. Use Penetrol mixed with the oil paint.
Why? Penetrol reduces visible brush strokes/roller marks. Why is that important? You want your cabinets to look professionally painted – smooth and free of lines caused by the brush dragging and the roller.
3. For each coat, paint the backs of the cabinet doors first.
Why? Paint the backs of the cabinet doors first. Then flip them over and paint the front. If the paint happens to drip from the back to the front, you can lightly sand the drips off before painting the fronts of the cabinets. I didn’t worry about minor drip marks on the backs of the cabinet doors.
4. Use small pieces of foam, scrap wood, blocks, etc. to prop your cabinet doors up off the surface.
Why? When painting cabinet doors, you want to be able to paint the edges of the cabinets. If the cabinet doors are sitting directly on top of a surface, the paint may drip down and pool on the surface causing major drip marks and paint build up.
5. Let your cabinets “cure” before you start using them.
Why? I know, you’ve been without cabinets for weeks. You just want to get your life back to normal again. But don’t do it. Oil paint takes some time to cure. It gets harder as time goes on. It also takes a long time to dry. Don’t accidentally ruin all of the work you just did because you moved your dishes in too soon.
6. Clean your cabinets before you start.
Why? Cabinets get a lot of built-up oil, grease, and dirt on them over the years. Just take a sponge or my favorite, the magic eraser, to clean your cabinets.
7. Use a deglosser before you sand.
Why? Cabinets generally have a high gloss finish which can be extremely sticky and will gum up your sandpaper when you go to sand. It’s better to get rid of the glass before you sand.
8. Sand & Use a Tack Cloth after.
Why? I know, sanding isn’t fun. But it makes such a difference in the quality of the cabinets you put out. Skipping this step isn’t worth it. A tack cloth picks up the residue from sanding so you paint on a clean surface.
9. Number your cabinet doors and drawer fronts.
Why? You don’t want to mix up your doors and drawer fronts. It’s just easier if they go back in the same spot. Trust me. Just use a small piece of painters tape on each with a corresponding number.
10. Take a picture of the contents of your cabinets before you empty them.
Why? If you’re comfortable and happy with the way your contents are laid out in your cabinets, you don’t want to waste time trying to remember where everything goes. You may think you’ll remember, but after weeks of empty cabinets, you’ll be surprised at how hard it is put everything back in the right place.
Directions for How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets So They Last
Prepare the Cabinets
Step 1: First, take a picture of the contents in your cabinets. Then empty them. Don’t try to keep the contents in your cabinets while you’re painting. If you do, you’ll have to take everything out and clean it from all of the sanding dust and debris.
Step 2: Scrub your cabinets. Make sure they are clean and free of food residue and oil.
Step 3: Prep the space. Place painters tape where needed (such as at the ceiling and floor). Place drop cloths on the floor. Use plastic sheeting and tape to cover the counters and appliances (I didn’t use drop clothes because we were replacing the flooring, counters, and we had no appliances).
Step 4: Place a small piece of painters tape on the inside of each cabinet with a number. Then, place a small piece of painters tape on the door or drawer front you are going to be removing. Trust me.
Step 5: Remove all of the door, drawer fronts, and hardware. In our kitchen, we also removed the scallop trim above the sink. If you’re modifying any cabinets (such as the one above the stove), remove the cabinet you’re modifying. If you’re replacing the counters or appliances, remove them now. It will be so much easier.
Step 6: Then lay out all of your cabinet doors in an area they can be housed while painting them. I used my living room. We took saw horses and laid two eight foot 2 x 4s across them to create a “table” type surface. Use small pieces of something such as Styrofoam to prop the doors up off of the surface.
Step 7: Remove the number from the door or drawer front and place it on the one of the 8 foot 2 x 4s just below the door/drawer front. This way you will remember which cabinet door or drawer front so that you can place it back on correctly.
Step 8: De-gloss all of the cabinet surfaces and doors using a cloth.
Step 9: If you are going to use hardware or hinges that have different hole spacing, use wood putty to fill the holes in the cabinets. Let the putty dry.
Step 10: Next, sand all of the cabinets and doors with 120 grit sandpaper.
Step 11: Go over all of the surfaces with a tack cloth to make sure there is no residue left behind.
Painting the Cabinets
Step 12: Mix Penetrol in with the paint. Stir well.
Step 13: Paint one coat of paint on all surfaces using a brush and/or roller. Paint the back side of the cabinet doors. I preferred the rollers for the large areas such as doors and then I used the brush to cut in and do small spaces.
Step 14: Next, flip the cabinet doors and drawer fronts over and paint the front.
Step 15: Then Repeat steps 13 & 14. If your paint is starting to show more brush strokes or roller lines, add a little more penetrol.
Step 16: Repeat steps 12 & 13 again for a third coat if needed (I needed 3). When finished, let the cabinets, doors, and drawer fronts dry and “cure.”
Put it All Back Together
Step 17: Lastly, assemble everything back together (including drilling new holes for handles/hinges if needed). I’ll share in another post how my Dad was able to cut the cabinet above the stove so that it could hold a microwave.
**Before filling our cabinets, we let them cure another week longer.
Ready to see the finished cabinets? Click here to see our big kitchen reveal!
FAQs about Painting Kitchen Cabinets
Here are the frequently asked questions about how to paint kitchen cabinets. I’ll share my insider tips on how to paint kitchen cabinets so they last.
Question 1: Is it better to do it yourself or hire someone?
Answer: Believe it or not, you can totally paint your own kitchen cabinets. It is a lot of work but it isn’t hard work. I don’t think of it as an advanced DIY project. It’s more of an intermediate level. We priced out hiring someone and it was way more expensive than we thought. So decided it was worth taking the time to just do them ourselves.
Question 2: What is the biggest mistake people make when painting their kitchen cabinets?
The biggest mistake people make when painting their kitchen cabinets is not sanding them first. I know, I know, you have seen all of the “no sanding necessary” methods of painting kitchen cabinets.
From my experience refinishing furniture over the years, sanding the furniture first makes a HUGE difference in how long the finished product works.
Can you paint cabinets without sanding? Sure. But will they last as long as cabinets you sanded? Probably not.
Cabinets that have not been sanded first are more prone to getting chips because the paint does not adhere as well to the cabinet. The extra time it takes to sand and degloss will be well worth it in the long run.
Wouldn’t you rather do the job right the first time instead of having to sand and touch up chipped cabinets?
Question 3: Is painting cabinets with a brush or spray paint method better?
Painting cabinets with a brush or using a spray paint method both work well for different reasons.
Spray painting cabinets (not with spray paint but with a rented or purchased paint sprayer) can be quicker. Another bonus is that you don’t end up with brush strokes.
BUT, when you spray paint cabinets, it can be more difficult to catch drip marks. Also, the paint sprayer can get clogged which can cause it to sputter and make a real mess.
When you paint cabinets with a paintbrush and a roller, you can end up with brush strokes. But, if you add a flooding agent, you are much less likely to have brush strokes and roller lines.
Painting cabinets with a brush and roller also takes longer than sprayer.
In all honesty, you’re going to find people that are team brush and people that are team spray. I am totally on team brush.
Question 4: What color paint did you use for your cabinets?
I actually no longer have the color selection. But, it was a bright white paint from Sherwin Williams. They have a guide for how to pick a good white paint.
If I were to paint my cabinets today, I would probably go for a creamier white instead of a bright white. But that’s because my taste has changed – not because I didn’t love my cabinet color because it was bright and light!
Some great Sherwin Williams white paint options for kitchen cabinets include: Alabaster, Marshmallow, Pure White, and Spare White.
Question 5: Do you need to take the cabinet doors off to paint?
Yes, you do need to take your kitchen cabinet doors off to paint your kitchen cabinets. You need to really clean your cabinets and cabinet doors before painting. If you leave the hinges on, you’re not going to be able to clean the entire cabinet or frame.
The same goes for drawer fronts. It’s much easier to work with drawer fronts if you unscrew them from the drawers.
Question 6: What time of paint do you need to use for painting cabinets?
There are a few options you can try. BUT, for mine, the cabinets that still looked just as amazing 8 years later, I used oil-based paint. Once the paint cured, they looked like they were professionally painted.
If oil-based paint isn’t available in your area, Advance by Benjamin Moore is often raved about for kitchen cabinets. I don’t have any experience with it but so many people give it glowing reviews.
Another option is chalk paint. I have heard very mixed reviews on chalk paint. While I use it for lower traffic items such as dressers, I can’t speak to how long the paint job would last in a busy kitchen.
The last option is to try a special paint kit such as Rust-oleum or this brand, Nuvo.
Monday 25th of January 2021
I just saw this blog and had a couple questions;
1. Did you use a separate primer or was it a paint and primer in one? 2. Did you use any kind of top coat?
Sunday 31st of January 2021
Hi Dan! No, I did not use a separate primer first. But you definitely can! No, I didn't use any type of topcoat. The paint being oil-based will harden and is super durable. Hope this helps!
Tuesday 5th of June 2018
Where do you buy the oil based paint. I live in California and they do not sell oil based paint here.
Monday 11th of June 2018
Oh no! I didn't realize that they no longer sell oil-based paint there. Since I painted my cabinets, both chalk paint and milk paint have come out. I think if I were to do them today and couldn't use oil based paint, I would use chalk paint. But, I would make sure to seal them with something other than wax so that they would hold up better.
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Friday 30th of March 2018
What do you is to degloss? Any tips for painting the cabinet frames (not sure if that's what it's called, but the part that you are unhinging the cabinet from)?
Thursday 5th of April 2018
You can purchase a deglosser at any home improvement store. It's actually really easy - you take a soft, clean rag and get a little deglosser on it and scrub the cabinets (making sure you don't miss any spots). You'll start to see the top layer of varnish come off. To pain the frames, I placed them on top of long strips of wood to keep them elevated (so that I could get the edges). I painted the backs first, sanded any drip marks, and then flipped them and painted the fronts. I used a paint brush on mine to get in the little lines and then rolled the rest. Hope this helps!