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

24 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the video. Do you put anything on after the paint to stop scratches and minor dings from happening.
    Thanks again.

    David

  2. Hi!
    I have a small upstairs bathroom with a fiberglass tub, it’s wearing thin. What can I use to reinforce the surface? Does marine epoxy work? My kitchen is below, is there anything less toxic I can use?
    Love your show! Especially the banter between you and your daughter!
    Thanks ?
    JJ

  3. Just a quick comment about the how to videos or any videos for that matter. They all start out great and then stop for about 10-15 seconds. I mentioned this before but apparently nothing has been corrected as of yet. It is just a little annoying when a person is trying to learn how to do something and the actual video stops and then starts numerous times.
    Thank you for allowing me to express my comments.

    • Hi, Pat,

      Thanks for sharing your concern. Videos play from beginning to end for us, so we recommend a couple of things.
      First, check your internet connection and make sure it’s strong.
      Second, run a virus and spyware check, because malware can slow things down, too.

      Also: A representative from our support team will contact you directly — watch your email! 🙂
      Take care.

    • Hi, Abby,
      TSP’s basic function is to clean, not degloss. So sanding would be your best bet for this project.
      Good luck!

  4. What brand of paint sprayer was used on the kitchen cabinets in today’s episode. It looked easy to use and had great coverage. We’ve bought sorayers in the past and wasn’t happy with the results. Thank you!

  5. Hello! Thank you providing DIY assistance. I need to resurface the bathtub but not sure what products to use, ease of prepping and any additional info you can provide.
    Thank you!

  6. How do you get rid of the wood grain so the end result is a completely smooth finish? I have those pesky 80s orange oak cabinets.

    • Hi, Beverly! You’ll need to hand-apply wood filler between primer coats to cover the wood grain. Happy painting. 🙂

  7. Glad to see you suggested to spay past the end of the doors and drawers to stop build up on the ends. DIYs think you are saving paint by stopping, but you are just making yourself a mess!

    • Glad you enjoyed this content! Please share it with friends — that’s how we’re able to create similar content.

  8. My cabinets have been painted. Now that summer is here some of them won’t shut. I am thinking it may be the humidity as this has happened to some doors also and they shut fine in the winter. What should I do ?

  9. I have a bathroom cabinets that I have painted .But I have no one to hold them so I can put the hardware back How can I put the hardware back by my self.

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