How to paint kitchen cabinets

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
The Arts and Crafts Kent Kitchen by deVOL, deVOL Kitchens deVOL Kitchens Nhà bếp phong cách công nghiệp Blue
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Want to give your kitchen a stunning new look? Then we bring good news today: you don’t need to spend a fortune! You only need to know your facts in terms of painting those kitchen cabinets (which can also make for a fun DIY project if you don’t feel like hiring a seasoned painter for the job). 

New types of water-based paint like acrylic alkyds and acrylic urethanes have made it much easier to get a durable, professional-looking job. These finishes can be cleaned up with water and don't make your house smell like a chemical factory. And quality tools like mini rollers and good consumer-grade sprayers allow even beginners to get pro results.

Let’s check out a few important things you need to keep in mind…

1. Protection is key

Tradition with stripey glass splashback Intoto Kitchens Salisbury Nhà bếp phong cách kinh điển
Intoto Kitchens Salisbury

Tradition with stripey glass splashback

Intoto Kitchens Salisbury

Painting is always a messy job and the last thing you want is paint all over your countertops. An easy way to protect your countertops, backsplash and floor is to cover them with inexpensive rosin or brown builder's paper.

On the other hand, a decent layering of old newspaper can work just as well.

2. Remove all doors, drawer fronts and hardware

Modern Classic Kitchen homify Nhà bếp phong cách kinh điển White kitchen,farmhouse kitchen,modern,classic,dark wood,white units,aga

Modern Classic Kitchen


Hinges and hardware covered in paint won’t do much for your kitchen’s look. And although it’s tempting to leave the doors in place, you'll get a much neater and more professional-looking job by removing them, as well as all the hardware. 

On many modern cabinets, drawer fronts can be removed from the drawer by backing out a few screws. But if your drawer fronts are part of the drawer and can't be removed, use masking tape to cover the drawer sides and bottom if you don't want to paint them.

3. Label the doors

Edenbridge, Johnny Grey Johnny Grey Nhà bếp phong cách chiết trung
Johnny Grey


Johnny Grey

Kick this off by making a quick sketch or two showing all the doors and drawers as you learn how to paint kitchen cabinets. Number them however you want. 

Next, label the doors and drawers with the corresponding number when you remove them. Write under the hinge locations where it won't be visible. Then cover the numbers with masking tape to protect them while you're painting.

4. Get the grease off

Timeless Greys Rencraft Nhà bếp phong cách kinh điển Gỗ Grey

Timeless Greys


A greasy cabinet is definitely going to make that painting job much harder. Dishwashing liquid can work great as a grease-cutting solution, but a dedicated grease remover like TSP substitute is even better. 

Simply mix some up according to the instructions and scrub the cabinets. Then rinse them with clear water and wipe them dry with a clean rag.

5. Beware of too much sanding

Cabinets should be sanded before you start painting anything, as it gives the new paint a firm gripping surface. But you don't need to sand to bare wood. If your cabinets have a factory finish, sand lightly with 120-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge. If the surface is rough from a previous paint job or poor varnishing job, start with coarser 100-grit paper to remove bumps. 

Follow this up with more sanding by using 120-grit to get rid of any sanding marks.

6. Pick a fast-drying primer

The Arts and Crafts Kent Kitchen by deVOL deVOL Kitchens Nhà bếp phong cách công nghiệp Blue
deVOL Kitchens

The Arts and Crafts Kent Kitchen by deVOL

deVOL Kitchens

Using a fast-drying primer for the first coat will speed up the process. Be sure to check the label for information on recoating time and to make sure the primer is compatible with the paint you're planning to use.

7. Consider filling open grain

Certain types of wood, like oak, have grain with many open pores. These pores show through finishes and are especially noticeable under paint. Although it’s acceptable to leave the grain showing, you’ll have to fill the pores before painting if you want a smooth, grain-free look. 

Several options exist: You can apply numerous coats of a high-build primer, sanding between coats until the pores are filled. Or you can fill the grain with spackling. If your cabinets have a lot of curves and moulded edges, filling with spackling is more difficult. When the filler dries, sand and prime as usual to finish the job.

8. Vacuum, then use a tack cloth

For a smooth paint job and good adhesion, it’s important that you remove all the sanding dust from the doors, drawer fronts and cabinet frames. Start by vacuuming everything using a soft bristle brush attachment to banish loose dust.

Next up is to use tack cloth, which you can buy in packs at just about any paint department store. To use a tack cloth, completely unfold it and loosely bunch it up. Wipe it gently over the surface to pick up dust. Shake it out frequently and re-form the bundle to use it again. 

As soon as the cloth has lost its dust-grabbing ability, toss it away and start using a new one.

9. Sand lightly between coats

Cottage Kitchen By Luxmoore & Co Luxmoore & Co Nhà bếp phong cách đồng quê
Luxmoore & Co

Cottage Kitchen By Luxmoore & Co

Luxmoore & Co

Beware of dust settling in the paint or primer as it dries – sand between coats of primer or paint with 220-grit sandpaper or an extra-fine sanding sponge. Then vacuum and tack as usual before recoating.

10. Ensure you use the right paint

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Fancy Wood


Check the label and make sure you pick paint that’s formulated for painting woodwork and cabinets. And remember: glossier surfaces highlight imperfections, so unless you're a very meticulous painter, consider an eggshell or a satin sheen.

If it looks like your paint is too thick and isn't levelling out after it's applied, try mixing in a paint conditioner like Floetrol. 

Up next: How to paint your outdoor furniture.

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