How to Properly Paint Kitchen Cabinets


To properly paint kitchen cabinets, you need to remove the doors and hardware, clean the doors and base fram of the cabinets with a degreaser, lightly sand the surfaces to be painted, apply a water-based primer, then finish with 2 coats of a kitchen Cabinet Coat paint.

Painting cabinets has become a very popular way to spice up a dreary outdated kitchen.  Certainly much less expensive than installing new cabinets, and it’s a project that most DIY’ers can tackle.  Remodeling or updating your kitchen is one of the best ways to add value to your property, especially if you are thinking about selling your home.

We recently completed this project at our shore house, unfortunately, I didn’t take dedicated before and after photos with the intent of using them in a blog post, so we don’t have exact side by sides, but we do have before and after pictures of the kitchen taken for our own purposes.   The first picture on the left is the before and the middle is after the cabinets were painted.  The picture on the right was taken after I decided to add some trim and paint to the upper soffit, using an old decorator’s trick to fool the eye, giving the appearance that the cabinets go all the way to the ceiling, which is a more contemporary finish.

Remove and Label Your Doors and Drawer fronts!  

Before you remove your doors, make sure you label them in a way that you will be able to easily identify exactly which cabinet position they came from.  We numbered the doors using painters tape, placing the label in the hinge bore after the adjustable hardware was removed. This simple step will make re-installing them much easier and save time.  It may be tempting to think you’ll be able to put them back where they go by matching the size of the door with the size of the base cabinet, but in a typical kitchen there are 30, 40 or 50+ doors and drawer fronts of varying sizes, this can be much more problematic than it may seem. 


Label Hardware and Hardware locations (Optional). 

This is optional, however, taking the time to label your individual hinges and even door/drawer handles will make replacing them much easier.  Since all of the hinges in our project were identical, I didn’t do this, but after replacing the first few doors, I wished I did.    Most cabinet hinges are adjustable, when the doors were originally installed, the installer had to make minor adjustments to align the doors.  Since I just replaced the hinges randomly, I had to make minor adjustments on almost every cabinet door.  It didn’t take long, but a few minutes for 30+ doors adds up.  If I had I put the hinges back in the original locations with the exact doors, I would have saved about 2 hours so on the replacement step.


Degrease the Doors and Base Cabinets

This is not optional.  Since kitchen cabinets are located where you cook, they will have a thin layer of grease buildup that must be removed.  Even if you are a clean freak, this buildup will slowly happen over time, and it will not be visible.    Make sure you use a quality degreaser such as:


 Degreaser Choices

 Lightly Sand the Doors and Base Cabinets:

Most professionals will do a light sanding with a 220 grit sanding block or sponge.  Make sure you sand thoroughly getting into the groves and corners.  If the cabinets are stained, you should sand until you see a white haze on the surfaces to be painted.  This is the polyurethane dust that the cabinets were coated with.  If the cabinets are painted, just make sure you sand thoroughly sand to avoid premature failure of the paint your about to apply.  Here’s a few options that would be perfect.

The sanding can be done by hand, however, if you want to use a power sander, take a look at my article on “The Best Sanders for Furniture”.  This is a great overview of what’s available for this application.


Sanding Block Choices


Use a Tack Cloth to Remove Sanding Residue:

Use a quality tack cloth to get all of the sanding dust off of the surface.  Don’t use any cleaners at this point or a wet paper towel or even try to vacuum the dust off.  A tack cloth is your best option such as these by Pure Gold or S&F (Stead and Fast)

Tack Cloth Choices

Use a Quality Water Based Primer:

Roll on a base coat of a quality water based bonding primer.  Below, is our top 3 choices for primers.  You will need to use a brush to get into the corners and edges. 


Primer Choices

Apply at least 2 coats of a High-Quality Cabinet Paint

Use a 4” foam roller, letting dry between coats, rolling on 2 coats of a high quality paint designed for cabinets.  Most of these paints have been formulated with a self-leveling compound, so with a good foam roller, you should get a factory type finish on your newly painted cabinets.   We opted for the Insl-X Cabinet coat on the left and were thrilled with it, however, the All in one on the right is an excellent choice as well.  Always follow the manufacturers directions on the can to get the best results.

Paint Choices

Take the time to complete all of the steps, reinstall your doors and enjoy your almost “brand new” kitchen.

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