Feb 18 , 2016

How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like a Pro

Painting your kitchen cabinets is an easy way to transform your kitchen and if you do it yourself, it will cost you less than $200 bucks.

In this article, I’m going to discuss:

  • Different painting methods and which one to use for the best results
  • How to paint your kitchen cabinets step by step
  • Supplies you’ll need
  • The best paint to use on kitchen cabinets

This project is more difficult than painting a room and it will take more time. But, most handy homeowners can paint their cabinets and end up with a quality finish – assuming you aren’t going to skip steps or rush the project.

First, let’s talk about…

3 Common Painting Methods for Cabinets

There are several different methods you can use to apply the paint, and each will result in a different quality of finish.

#1 – Paintbrush Only – This takes the longest and will yield a poor finish so it’s not recommended. If you go this route, you’ll end up with brush strokes covering the cabinets. What you want is a nice smooth, consistent finish.

#2 – Paint Sprayer – This is not only the fastest way to paint your cabinets, but it will also give you the best finish. Since you are spraying the paint on, there are no brush strokes. And, if you are using a quality paint, you will end up with a smooth finish. Of course, there are downsides to this method. It requires more prep and you’ll need to mask off all surrounding surfaces and setup a spray booth to paint the doors and drawer fronts. Plus, you’ll need to clean the sprayer when you’re done. This method requires the most skill.

#3 – Roller/Brush – You can also use a paint roller in combination with the brush to get a pretty good finish. The brush would be used to get into tight corners and the roller would be used to produce a somewhat smooth finish on the larger surfaces. The finish won’t be as smooth as it would if you used a sprayer, but it will be much better than just using a paintbrush.

Ideally, you would use a paint sprayer to paint everything. But, when you are living in the house (or your customer is living in the house) you might consider using a roller/brush on the cabinet boxes and using a paint sprayer on the cabinet doors. The cabinets will be filled with stuff, and you’ll need to mask everything off really well. And, since you will be doing multiple coats (1 coat of primer, 2 coats of paint), you won’t be able to use your kitchen for at least a day if you attempt to spray the boxes. For me, this extra work wasn’t worth it, and the roller/paint brush combo still gives a quality finish.

Watch the video above for more detail on this process.

Prepping The Cabinets For Paint

Step 1: Remove the Doors and Drawers – Take a screwdriver or a drill and remove all of the hinges and any other hardware attached to the cabinets. The doors and drawers will be painted in another area, like the garage.

Step 2: Clean all cabinet surfaces – Wipe the cabinets down well to clean off any dirt, grime, or grease. Then, go back over everything and use a degreaser. This step is important unless you don’t mind your paint peeling off.

Step 3: Sand all cabinet surfaces – I typically use 180 grit sandpaper, but this doesn’t really matter much since the surface will be painted. Anything between 120 and 220 will work just fine. This is the most time consuming part, but an orbital sander it will make the job go much quicker. Also, you don’t need to sand off the entire existing finish, just sand enough to rough up the surface so the paint will have something to adhere to. Make sure you get the edges well since these surfaces will see the most use.

Step 4: Clean the cabinets again – First, vacuum the area to get the majority of the dust you produced while sanding. Then wipe the cabinets down with a damp cloth.

Step 5: Mask off surrounding surfaces – Grab your masking tape and tape off walls, floors, countertops, and shelves inside of cabinets. Basically, tape any surface you don’t want to paint.

Step 6: Setup a drying station – You’ll need some racks to set the doors and drawers on while they dry. Watch the video above to see what I mean.

Painting the Cabinets

Step 1: Prime the cabinets – Apply a coat of high quality primer to all surfaces of the cabinets. The primer will help the paint stick to the surface better, giving you a longer lasting finish and it will reduce the amount of paint you need. Since primer is much cheaper than paint, this will save you some cash. Let the primer dry according to the label on the primer you are using.

Step 2: First coat of paint – Once the primer is dry, it’s time to start painting! Apply an even coat of paint using whichever method you decide to use (ideally a paint sprayer). Don’t put it on too thick or you might have drips or other blemishes in the paint. I’ll usually start by painting the cabinet doors and drawers first, and while they are drying in the garage, I’ll work on painting the cabinet boxes. Let the paint dry according to the application instructions on the paint can before applying a second coat.

Step 3: Second coat of paint – You might be asking, do I really need a second coat? YES! I don’t care how good the paint is that you are using, what they say on the latest paint commercial, or how well you apply the first coat. A second coat is always required if you want a quality finish. Two thin coats will always have a better finish and better coverage than one thick coat. So stop wasting time trying to cut corners and just plan on doing a second coat.

Step 4: Attach the hardware – Before attaching hardware, let the cabinets dry for at least 24 hrs so the paint has a chance to harden (ideally even longer). Put the doors and drawers back on, install any handles or hardware you want on the doors, and you’re all set!

Step 5: Enjoy your new kitchen!

Supplies You’ll Need To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets

Click any of the links below to be taken directly to the product. (These are affiliate links and I get a small commission if you click and buy through the link. This doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog.)

Optional Power Tools – These will help speed up the project, but are not necessary.



What’s The Best Paint For Kitchen Cabinets?

This is a question that I struggled with and did a lot of research on. And, as with everything, there are tradeoffs.

After my research and experience, I highly recommend the Benjamin Moore Aura Semi-Gloss paint. It’s not cheap (I think I paid like $50/gallon) but you don’t need much paint. I only used a single gallon for all of my cabinets. This is a great paint because it’s durable, it gives a smooth finish, and is easy to work with. It’s water based so it’s easy to clean and is friendly to the environment and your health.

Of course, there are plenty of other high quality paints out there, but I definitely recommend going high end. You won’t want to repaint your cabinets 2 years down the road because you used a cheap paint.

Now, a lot of professional painters out there will use Solvent-Based paints. That’s because of their superior durability and finish. (They dry harder and smoother.) But, they have a lot of downsides that aren’t worth dealing with. #1 – your house will smell like chemicals for days or even weeks, to the point you wouldn’t even want to stay there. #2 – These paints are a bitch to clean up. You need to clean everything with mineral spirits or paint thinner. #3 – It’s difficult to patch solvent-based paint. Unlike water based paint, you can’t just easily paint over chips or scratches in the future. #4 – You need to properly dispose of the paint thinner or mineral spirits you used to clean up. You can’t just throw this stuff away.

So, bottom line, use a high quality semi-gloss water-based paint and you’ll end with up with a professional result, a healthier environment, and less headaches when it comes to cleaning up.

I painted the cabinets in the video about 2 years ago and they still look great, as I’m sure they will for years to come.

Hopefully that helps you get those cabinets painted! It’s a lot of work, but it will make such a huge difference. Good luck.

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