How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like a Pro

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Feb 21, 2023

If you have a house that was built in the 80's, 90's or even early 2000's, it's a GREAT idea to paint your cabinets. Most kitchen from 20+ years ago are pretty ugly, but may not actually need to be replaced. Buying and installing brand new cabinets and countertops can cost about $8,000 on average, while painting cabinets on your own can be done for under $500 in most cases.

Transforming a kitchen by freshening the cabinets is a fantastic way to add value to your home and create a new WOW factor for your kitchen. After painting your cabinets, we also recommend adding a new backsplash to complete the look!

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like a Pro

Let's go through the steps to paint your kitchen cabinets like a professional. Later we'll discuss things like supplies, types of paint and optional paint sprayer use.

Prep the room

The first few steps are focused on prepping the room and cabinets for painting. Start by emptying the cabinets, clearing off the counters, and removing any freestanding appliances. Relocate tables and other furniture to another room. Tape rosin paper over the countertops and flooring, and to protect the rest of the house from dust and fumes, tape plastic sheeting over the backsplash, windows, fixed appliances, and interior doorways.

Mask off the wall around the cabinets, and set up a worktable for painting each cabinet door, drawer, and shelf. Like many DIY projects, the quality of your kitchen cabinet paint job depends largely on doing all the right prep work.

Remove the cabinet doors, drawers, and shelves

Be sure to mark each drawer front and door with a marker to prevent mixing up the cabinet doors. Back out the hinge screws from the cabinet frames and remove the doors. Working from left to right, top to bottom. Clean the faces of the cabinet boxes and drawers and both sides of doors and shelves with a product that removes dirt, grease, and glossy finishes. A liquid deglosser should do the trick for this step.

Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets

Assuming that everything is still in fine shape and good working order, let's examine some of the questions you'll need to address before you start repainting your kitchen cabinets.

How Much Does it Cost to Paint Kitchen Cabinets?

As mentioned earlier, painting your kitchen cabinets is a cost-effective alternative to a full kitchen renovation. Most kitchens can be painted DIY for less than $500. On the other hand, paying a professional painting company to paint your kitchen cabinets can range from about $2,000 - $3,500 on average.

Should I Paint My Cabinets?

Before you head out to the paint store, however, examine your cabinets to see if they can be resuscitated in the first place. Even the highest-quality paint job can't revive cheap cabinets that have grown frail with age. Thin veneers peel or delaminate, particle board cabinet bottoms or shelves sag or break, and hanging rails come loose. If these are the issues you’re dealing with, you’d actually be better off replacing your kitchen's wood cabinets.

Assuming that everything is still in fine shape and good working order, let’s examine some of the questions you’ll need to address before you start repainting your kitchen cabinets.

What Type of Paint Do I Need for Cabinets?

Oil or latex? Latex paints have been improving steadily, leading some pros to give up oil-based paints entirely. Because they dry quickly and clean up with water, latex paints are more user-friendly than oil-based paints. But many pros still favor oil-based topcoats, arguing that they form a harder, more durable paint film and level out to a smoother finished surface. Latex paints also take longer (up to three weeks) than oil-based paints to fully cure. In the meantime, they’re susceptible to damage.

Bottom line: Either oil or latex will provide a good, smooth finish and an enamel paint is usually the best option. If you do use a latex paint, make sure it’s a 100 percent acrylic formulation, which offers greater durability and adhesion than vinyl acrylic paints.

Choosing the Right Kitchen Cabinet Paint

You can choose from a variety of colors for your cabinets, including oil or latex. There are benefits to each, but in general, you want to get a paint that produces a hard, durable finish that won't scratch or fade. Alkyd, or oil-based paints require good ventilation, since the paint contains solvents that can irritate your lungs and make you feel sick. Oil based options require mineral spirits or paint thinner for cleanup, but they provide the most durable finish.

A self-leveling paint option is one that smooths out as it dries, making it perfect for cabinets. However, this type of paint does dry quickly, which can make blending brush strokes tricky.

Is it better to roll on or brush on paint for kitchen cabinets?

Both would certainly be useful. A brush can easily penetrate any holes such as in an interior border in a traditional shaker doors design. Get the roller when paint reaches larger dimensions. It can make painting easier and it may even speed up the completion.

Brush paint or spray paint? A sprayed-on finish is the smoothest option, but there's a learning curve for doing it properly. You'll also likely need to rent the spray equipment, which drives up your costs, and you'll have to mask off all the areas in the kitchen that could accidentally get sprayed, including countertops. Don't forget that you'll typically need a second coat of paint or a final coat if you use an initial primer.

Painting Tools and Techniques: The Basics

Paint with a 3" mini roller if possible. These types of rollers seem to work best for flat surfaces and brushes tend to work better for creases and crevices - if you have shaker style cabinets or edge details on your drawers and doors.

Do you need to sand cabinets before painting?

Skipping this time-intensive step will only result in messy finished items. Sanding keeps re-painted areas from chipping up and helps prevent scuffs. Also, it would be a good idea to dust two-fold to remove the paint.

Tip: Label Cabinet Doors

Start with making a few sketches showing doors and drawers when learning to paint kitchen cabinets. Number this if necessary. Then mark the doors and drawers with their respective numbers. Specify under hinges if they are not visible. Cover these numbers in a masking cloth for protection during painting.

Tools and Supplies for Painting Cabinets

Before you begin, you'll need to gather all the necessary tools and supplies to ensure that your cabinet painting project is a success. Here are some of the items you'll need before you paint cabinets:

  • Screwdriver
  • Painter's tape
  • Rosin paper
  • Plastic sheeting
  • 3" mini paint roller
  • 3- to 4-inch-wide square brush
  • 2½- or 3-inch-wide angled brush
  • Synthetic bristle brush for latex paint
  • Natural-bristle brush for oil-based paint
  • Sandpaper (220- and 280-grit)
  • Tack cloth
  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP) or degreaser
  • Liquid deglosser
  • Caulk
  • Vinyl spackle or wood filler
  • Paint primer
  • Enamel paint

Final Tips for Painting Kitchen Cabinets

If possible, take one of your cabinet doors to a local paint retailer and talk with a pro about what kind of material you're working with and what products will help you achieve the best results. The pros can give specific advice for painting kitchen cabinets if they know more about your project.

Before you head out to the paint store, examine your cabinets to see if they can be renovated in the first place. Even the highest-quality paint job can't revive cheap cabinets that are in rough shape. Thin veneers can peel and older particle board cabinet bottoms can sag or break. If these are the issues you're dealing with, you'd actually be better off replacing your kitchen cabinets, unfortunately.

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