How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets the right way for a lasting, beautiful finish!
If you are looking for help on how to paint kitchen cabinets, you have come to the right place. To do a quality job, painting your kitchen cabinets will take a little time. For all of the prep work, sanding, painting and allowing time for the paint to cure, my kitchen took about 6 weeks, including cure time.
To get lasting results with any paint, you need to allow it to cure. Curing lets the paint reach its maximum hardness and durability. And you definitely want your kitchen cabinets cured before you hang them back up! The curing time for waterborne or latex paint is 21 – 30 days.
For my cabinets, I used Benjamin Moore Advance Alkyd Paint in Cloud White. Alkyd is a waterborne paint, that has the durability of an oil-based paint. It can be cleaned up easily with soap and water, but has the self-leveling and longer work-time of an oil paint. It was the first time I had used an Alkyd paint and I was not disappointed. Kitchens are high traffic areas that get used every day, so it makes sense to buy the best paint that you can afford.
This is what my kitchen looked like before the project started. Not too bad. The cabinets were structurally in good shape, but the finish was wearing off on the drawer fronts. I have wanted a white kitchen for forever so we decided to paint the cabinets rather than have them sanded and re-stained. After getting estimates of over $3000 from several contractor, I decided I would try painting them myself.
This is the list of supplies I used to get the job done. Let me tell you from experience, gather everything before you get started to save aggravation.
1 Gallon of Benjamin Moore Advance Paint in Cloud White – plenty for this size kitchen
1 Gallon Stix Waterborne Bonding Primer
2 Purdy angled paint brushes, one for primer and one for painting
1 paint tray (I used my rusty 20 year old one)
Aluminum foil for lining the paint tray
60 grit and 240 grit sandpaper sheets (I recommend sanding blocks to save your hands)
1 cheap paint brush for dusting sanding residue off the cabinets
2 tack cloth sheets, the low tack kind
2 food storage bags – for bagging and refrigerating paint brushes when not in use
small tube of white paintable caulk
painters tape – I used 3M medium release tape that could be used on wood floors
canvas tarps and plastic sheets to protect floors and furniture – get plastic sheets at the dollar store to save money
drill – to easily remove pulls and hinges (screwdriver works fine too)
The total cost of this project by doing it myself was less than $150.
To get started, remove the doors and drawers from the cabinets. Remove the hinges and pulls. IMPORTANT – label which cabinet each door and drawer go to. I wrote with a marker inside the recessed hinge cutout (would be covered up when the hinge went back on) or use a piece of tape. Be sure to label each set of door or drawer hardware too. Put them into plastic bags (I recycled plastic grocery bags) then label the bag with a Sharpie.
Our kitchen has 23 doors and 13 drawers. There wasn’t room to do them all at once, so I started with the island and worked my way around them room. It took longer this way, but allowed me to keep my sanity.
Next, get to cleaning. You want to get every bit of the dirt and grease off your cabinets before doing anything else. I used Mean Green and a damp rag. Keep rinsing the rag until when you wipe down the cabinet, there is no dirt on the rag. A five-in-one tool works great to scrape out the crevices if you have raised panel cabinets. Allow everything to dry completely before sanding.
This is my designated sanding station on the screened porch.I was out there so much i pulled up chairs to sit on! Every door and drawer got sanded out here at least 4 times. Here’s how it goes…sand then prime,sand then prime again, sand then paint, sand then paint again. Sanding is the difference between a good paint job and great results. Repeat the same sanding steps inside on the cabinets too!
If you are starting with stained wood cabinets, sand until the old finish looks cloudy. You do not want to sand down to bare wood. Once done, use the brush to remove loose sanding particles, then wipe down with a cheesecloth. After the final sanding, I used tack cloth to wipe the doors and drawers before the final coat of paint.
I knew I had sanded enough when the old urethane wax coating started rolling up on the doors. I used up about 10 sheets of 60 grit sandpaper getting all of the doors and drawers sanded down before priming. Now, you are ready for primer.
Hands down, this is the best primer I have ever used. It was recommended to me at the paint store to use with alkyd paint. From what I understand, it is manufactured by Benjamin Moore and that is all I needed to know. A gallon of this primer cost almost as much as the Benjamin Moore paint I used, but it was worth every penny.
You can use plastic tray liners, but why spend the money? Line your tray with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. At the end of the day just throw it away, or allow it to dry overnight and then turn it over to reuse the other side of the same sheet the next day!
I used a paint brush to apply all of the primer and paint. I like the smooth, hand brushed finish on the raised panels and the great coverage. If you like using rollers, make sure you get one with a nap made for the type of cabinet surface you are painting.
A trick I learned to save time is to store your used paintbrush in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. The next day, just set out the plastic bag, let the brush get to room temperature and you are ready to paint again.
This is what a wood cabinet door will look like with one coat of primer. If you are painting wood (mine are oak) the surface will still be rough. Whether you are putting on primer or paint, brush with the grain of the wood. You will get a smoother finish that way.
This is what my cabinet door looked like after 2 coats of primer. Now it is ready for paint.
To get a completely smooth finish on most wood, all the surfaces will need to be filled then sealed. That is just a bridge too far for me. I am happy with how my 23 year old cabinets turned out without doing that extra step.
See my crafty use of soup cans for drying risers?I was able to use these because I covered only one side of the door each day. I wasn’t taking any chances that the paint might get smeared. I primed the back side of the cabinets first, and caulked any seams. Then I primed the front side and caulked. I repeated this sequence for the paint.
Each drawer was primed and painted on both sides at the same time. Make sure to tape off the drawer sides if you are not painting them. Once everything is painted and cured, put the hinges and pulls back on and re-install the doors and drawers.
IMPORTANT – allow your primer and paint to dry completely between coats. I allowed all the coats to dry overnight just to be sure. Not allowing the primer to dry completely may lead to stain bleed thru. And most Alkyd paint requires 16 hours to dry between coats.
It was tempting to use a roller on the sides of the cabinets and island. But I ended up sticking with the brush. The sides of my cabinets are veneer, so I needed to apply a thicker coat of both primer and paint to get adequate coverage. Be careful when sanding if you have any veneer on your cabinets. It is easy to sand thru the veneer into the plywood.
The last set of cabinet doors were left to cure on the kitchen table. See my crafty use of bowls for drying risers? You do not need fancy holders for drying, unless you want them. Honestly, I never got a single mark on my doors from my drying holders.
If you have raised panel doors or drawers, you may have noticed some warping over time. It becomes really noticeable with light colored paint. After the second coat of primer is dry to the touch, use caulk to fill in these spaces for a finished look. Then let dry overnight…I know, I know, I keep repeating myself. You want to do this after the second coat of primer so that you get two coats of paint on the caulk to cover it.
A small tube of caulk is easier to handle than a caulk gun. And it does’t take much caulk to do this. Keep a damp cloth or paper towels handy to wipe up any areas that have gone over the edges or are not smooth. I just used my finger to smooth the caulk into the cracks.
Yikes, this happens sometimes. I had only two tiny spots of bleed thru in the entire kitchen, which I consider a victory! I have seen photos of kitchens with bleed thru on all of the cabinets. Not sanding between coats or not allowing primer/paint to dry thoroughly is usually the culprit, but not always.
To fix the two spots, I used my finger to apply a dab of caulk over the stain. I smoothed it almost flat. When it was dry, I painted over the spot and it was gone. I had to darken this photo a little to be able to see the spot where the I fixed it. No one in the house even knows this spot exists on the cabinet but me.
This is my lovely curing area. I kept the room darkened to keep the sunlight off the curing paint. Its not a requirement, but after all this work I wasn’t taking any chances.
The finished product! The kitchen is so light and bright now that friends have asked if we had new cabinets installed! There were other changes made to the kitchen too. The marble tile back splash was painted, and a new stove and range hood were installed.
I hope this helped you with how to paint kitchen cabinets for yourself. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.