A thorough guide on how to paint your kitchen cabinets; from preparing the cabinets to the tools you will need, and painting them.
Painting your old kitchen cabinets can be a great way to refresh an outdated look. By simply applying a fresh coat of paint to match your new color scheme, you can seriously improve your kitchen’s aesthetic without the high cost of replacing the cabinets completely.
This guide to painting your kitchen cabinets will cover everything from the prep work to the actual painting, including all the tools, supplies, and materials you will need to get the job done well, and all whilst staying within your budget, whatever that may be!
How Much Will it Cost to Paint the Kitchen Cabinets?
Before we go into any further detail, one of the biggest questions you probably have is how much it will cost to paint your kitchen cabinets. While this will likely depend on a number of variables, such as your chosen materials and the number of cabinets you have, you can rest assured that painting your cabinets will cost a lot less than it would to replace them.
As a rough estimate, it can cost anything between $75 to $100 per cabinet to have them professionally painted. If you have a kitchen with 10 cabinets that need repainting, for example, you can expect to pay upwards of around $750 for the cost of labor and materials.
Choosing to paint your kitchen cabinets yourself, however, means the costs will be a lot cheaper. All you will need to account for is the type of paint you’re using, the shape and size of the cabinets, and the method you use for painting.
Without the additional cost of labor, this typically leaves you looking at a total cost of $200, plus around 2 or 3 days of your time.
That doesn’t necessarily make it the cheapest option for every situation, as doing it wrong might require restarting and painting the cabinets all over again, incurring additional costs.
Preparing to Paint the Kitchen Cabinets
When it comes to DIY work around the home, 9 times out of 10 it’s the prep work that takes the longest and is arguably the most important part of most tasks. Painting your kitchen cabinets is no different, so it’s important to properly prepare to paint them before you start.
Prepare the Room for Painting
Provided that you don’t want to end up with a bunch of splatter marks on your kitchen walls to match the newly-painted cabinets, it’s a good idea to prepare the room prior to painting.
This can include a range of steps or can be as simple as covering up the counters and floors to protect them from paint splatters. However, there are a few steps we would recommend as essential for prepping your kitchen before painting the cabinets, including the following:
- Pick a paint color: It might sound obvious, but choosing your materials is one of the first things you’ll need to do to prepare after deciding to paint your kitchen cabinets.
- Empty the cabinets: Before painting, you’ll need to remove everything from inside the cabinets and temporarily store them somewhere else until the job is complete.
- Cover everything you don’t want to get paint on: Cover your counters, floors, walls, appliances, skirting boards, and everything you can’t remove from the room.
- Check for damage: To prepare your kitchen cabinets, you’ll need to assess them for and repair any damage on the surface to achieve a better paint finish.
These are just the basic measures, but there is plenty more you can do to more thoroughly prepare your kitchen before painting the cabinets a new color.
Set up a Temporary Kitchen if Needed
One of the hardest parts of painting your kitchen cabinets is the limited access you will have to what’s inside once the doors have been painted. You will need to ensure that you leave them to dry fully before touching the surfaces, or you could risk ruining the finish of the paint.
This is especially tricky if you have young children or animals at home with access to the floor cabinets, as grabby hands and noses that sniff out new scents can cause smudges.
The best way around this issue is to set up a temporary kitchen that you can use to make your morning cup of coffee or so you can stop for your lunch break halfway through the day.
It will require taking everything you’ll need and setting it up in another room, so make sure you have the space for this elsewhere in your home. Otherwise, prepare to spend more time cooking in your neighbor's kitchen or more money on getting takeout food this month!
Remove the Doors, Drawers, and Shelves from the Cabinets
Have you ever tried painting around the handles and hinges on your kitchen cabinets?
Trust us when we say you don’t want to. This can make the whole process take a lot longer due to the additional care that is required when painting to avoid getting it in any of the places where you don’t want the paint to show up.
You can use masking tape to cover the handles and hinges if you’d prefer, but any doors, drawers, and wood shelves should be fully removed in preparation for painting for the best results.
This means that when you come to sand down the surfaces of your kitchen cabinets, you’ll avoid covering your cupboard staples in dust. If you’re worried about how long this step will take you, check out this tutorial on how to remove your kitchen cabinets.
Clean Cabinets Thoroughly
The next step of preparing your kitchen cabinets for painting is to clean them thoroughly.
Painting surfaces that haven’t been cleaned first or wiped down to remove any dust particles or bits of debris can result in there being lumps and bumps in the paint finish. So, it’s important to ensure that your cabinets are free from dirt and grease, ready for painting.
This is especially important if you’ve sanded down the surfaces of your kitchen cabinets in order to achieve a smoother, more even finish, and you may even need to run the vacuum over the insides to collect all of the dust created when sanding your wooden cabinets.
You can use any type of TSP cleaner for this which should effectively remove any residue that lingers on the cabinet’s surfaces, but make sure this is allowed to dry before painting. If you paint the first coat before it’s dry, you could end up ruining the paint finish.
Prime the Cabinet Boxes
One question that many people face when they’re painting their kitchen cabinets is whether or not you need to prime the cabinets first, and which type of primer you will need if so.
Start by priming the center panel of the cabinet then continue to work outward to the rails and stiles. When you’re painting it on with the brush, try to follow the grain and the layout of the cabinet. For example, when painting the rail, you can overlap the stile and paint this too before it has a chance to dry to prevent the brush strokes from being visible once it has dried.
Our top tip would be to use a primer like this KILZ all-purpose stain-blocking primer if your cabinets are already heavily stained, but an oil-based or acrylic latex primer would otherwise be more than suitable. We’ll also go into more detail about paint primers a little later on.
Choosing the Right Paint You Will Need
We’ve already mentioned the importance of choosing the right paint for the job, but when painting your kitchen cabinets, it really is worth splashing out on high-quality paint. This way you won’t have to redo it in a few years due to the paint being chipped or peeling in places.
But how do you know which is the right paint you will need? This section will cover any and all potential paint queries so you can feel confident that you’ll end up with the right one.
Oil or Latex?
Most people will probably be more concerned about choosing the right color paint for their kitchen, but it’s equally as (if not more) important to choose the right type of paint.
This can vary depending on the job you’re working on, but for repainting your kitchen cabinets, the two main options you have are between using oil or latex-based paint. Your choice will determine how well the color adheres to the surfaces and how it lasts over time.
The Benefits of Oil-Based Paints
Most oil-based paints contain “ natural oils, like linseed oil, or a synthetic alkyd” which consists “of a pigment and a resin in a solvent thinner” according to House Beautiful. This leaves a hard coating of the resin once the thinner has evaporated, resulting in a durable finish that’s perfect if you’re planning to leave your cabinets as one color for a while.
This also means that oil-based paint can be great for painting your cabinets, as the long-lasting, high-coverage finish can withstand the constant contact when opening and closing your cabinets, without leaving any signs of wear and tear.
The non-breathable hard coating from the resin also ensures that this is a stain and rust-resistant option for your kitchen cabinets, and will stand up to scrubbing and cleaning.
On the other hand, you will likely notice a stronger odor when using oil-based paints, which can be off-putting to some, and will typically take longer to dry.
The Benefits of Latex-Based Paints
Also known as water-based paint, latex paint is often considered the longer-lasting of the two types of paint that are best suited for the task of repainting your kitchen cabinets.
It typically provides greater pigmentation and better color retention over the years making it a common choice. Another advantage of using latex-based paint is that it’s considered the more environmentally-friendly option, and will usually dry faster than oil-based paint would.
Plus, you can choose to go over old oil-based paint with a fresh coat of latex paint, although you would not be able to do the same if the paint types were reversed. Easily cleaned with a simple solution of soap and water, there is also plenty of color and finish options available.
If it comes down to choosing a paint based on their VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) levels, latex-based paints will always contain lower levels than oil-based paints.
It’s often recommended that you try to pick the paint that contains the lowest levels of VOC possible, as they can be toxic to people and contribute more to carbon dioxide emissions.
The Bottom Line
Whether you end up choosing an oil or latex-based paint for your kitchen cabinets, either one will provide a great finish. Ultimately, choosing the right type will depend on your specific needs for your cabinets and any personal preferences regarding the paint or finish.
Brush or Spray Paint?
Another either/or that you will need to choose between is whether to use a brush or to spray paint your kitchen cabinets, and there are pros and cons for both methods of painting.
Spray painting your cabinets is widely considered the way to achieve a smoother finish, but this comes with its own problems as it can take some practice to master this method of painting. There’s also the cost of the extra equipment that you’ll need to consider.
When you add in the additional need to cover any potential spray area with masking tape or another type of covering, it’s clear that spray painting, whilst able to provide you with a smooth finish, can take a lot longer and can cost a lot more than painting them with a brush.
We therefore recommend that you stick to using a good, old-fashioned paintbrush when you’re painting your kitchen cabinets, although it’s important to make sure that you use ones that are of high quality to ensure the best results.
Can You Just Paint Over Cabinets or Should You Strip Them?
Painting directly onto a wooden surface is generally the best option when it comes to freshening up your kitchen cabinets. Although, if your cabinets are significantly aged and grimy-looking, you might have to consider some options to remove paint from wood before you get started.
However, this is not always necessary, nor is it always practical, leaving anyone who isn’t a painting purist to wonder - should you strip or paint over your kitchen cabinets?
Cleaning and gently sanding down the surface of your cabinets will suffice in most situations, but if in doubt about the condition of your cabinets, stripping them first will eliminate any potential adhesion problems when it comes to the new clinging on to the old paint.
There are plenty of methods you can follow to successfully and easily strip your kitchen cabinets, but if you’ve chosen not to, you can follow these steps instead.
Regular or Faux Finish?
Finally, you should also think about the type of finish you’d like your kitchen cabinets to have once they’re painted. This will depend on your personal preferences and on the rest of the kitchen’s design, and whether you’re leaning into a more traditional or innovative aesthetic.
Regular finishes are the more common choice, but by choosing a faux finish you can really experiment with your style which gives you the option to totally transform your kitchen space.
Some of the most popular faux finish options include:
- Crackling glaze: Applying a coat of the aptly named “crackling glaze” will create thin cracks or lines in your cabinets for a slightly worn look, which will fit in nicely with kitchen styles that are already shabby chic or rustic. Simply paint a coat of the glaze onto the base (make sure to brush in one direction only, using thick strokes for larger cracks or thin strokes for smaller, fine cracks) and allow it to dry before painting on a top coat of your chosen base color. As it dries, the paint will start to form cracks.
- Distressed finish: For an even more rustic look, you could choose a distressed finish. This is easier to achieve than using a crackling glaze on your cabinets. All you will need to do is rough up the surfaces slightly with a chain and lightly sand any areas that commonly come into contact with your hands as you open and close them.
- Slowly aged: Alternatively, you can “age” your cabinets nicely to create an antique sort of look by dipping just the tip of your paintbrush into a lighter color paint, wiping away any excess until it’s practically dry, and lightly brushing this over the surface.
- High gloss: One of the most classic finishes for kitchen cabinets is high-gloss, which will instantly turn your kitchen into a modern, polished space. One way to improve the glossy-ness of your cabinets is to finish with a clear, high-gloss acrylic varnish, which will create a greater depth of color and improve the sheen on the cabinet’s surfaces.
All the Material You Will Need
Gathering the materials you will need before you begin painting your kitchen cabinets will make the task infinitely more manageable. This means it’ll be far less likely that you’ll end up looking for your favorite paintbrush halfway through applying the first coat.
When trying to decide which paint to use, you should remember to consider your cabinets and the material they’re made from. This should inform the type of paint you end up choosing, as certain types of paint or finishes will work better with certain surfaces.
Also, pay close attention to the label on the paint tin, as this will indicate whether or not the paint is suitable for painting woodwork and cabinets and will help you make the right choice.
It’s best to opt for a square brush that’s around 3- to 4-inches wide because the outspread, straight edge means you’ll be able to cover the panels with even fewer strokes. You can use this in combination with a smaller, angled brush that’s around 2 ½- to 3-inches wide, as this can be used to paint corners, alcoves, and edges with the highest precision and accuracy.
For latex paint, you need to use a synthetic bristle brush for the application as this will not absorb any water, whereas you can use a natural bristle brush for oil-based paint instead.
Purchasing a set like this set of 5 Pro-Grade paintbrushes will often work out cheaper than buying them individually, and will provide you with brush options for different paint jobs.
If your kitchen cabinets have flat doors, you’ll be able to whizz through the painting process with a paint roller that features a ¼ nap and you’ll achieve an even, smooth application.
Applying paint with a roller instead of a brush can be useful when you’re doing the center panels of your kitchen cabinets due to its broader coverage.
A roller is a less suitable option if you will also have to paint around inset panels and raised edges, however, which will require more precision that is only achievable with a paintbrush.
In the event that you need to take off the doors and drawers from your kitchen cabinets, having a power drill to hand will make light work of their removal.
Using a cordless drill will also make it much easier to reinstall your cabinets once they’ve been painted, so you can get back to using your kitchen in no time!
Although incredibly useful, a power drill is not an essential tool, and an alternative option would be to remove and reinstall your kitchen cabinets using your standard type of screwdriver.
We’ve already briefly discussed the importance of primer, but for more information on how to choose the right type of primer, you can check out this up-to-date buyer’s guide from Lowe’s.
As mentioned earlier, you should only really need to opt for a stain-blocking primer in particular if your cabinets are already heavily stained. Avoid all-in-one paint primers as they rarely do either job to the standard you would expect for a central feature in your kitchen.
We’d recommend using a primer such as acrylic bonding primer or even latex primer if you’re not planning on stripping the cabinets beforehand, or if you’re concerned about an eventual build-up of mold or mildew, you can take preventative action by priming your cabinets with a primer that is mildew-resistant.
Painters tape is often overlooked, yet is one of the most essential pieces of equipment you can have when painting your kitchen cabinets, or when doing any type of DIY furniture makeover, for that matter).
It will be a lifesaver when it comes to covering areas you’d like to keep paint-free, and it can be used to mark out the layout of the cabinets in your kitchen so that when you come to reinstall them after being painted, they’ll be in the same places they were before you started.
Finally, it can be useful to keep a bit of liquid deglosser on you when you’re painting your kitchen cabinets, as this can be used to dull old paint, gloss, or varnish rather than sanding down the surfaces completely.
One of the best liquid deglossers we can recommend is this Klean Strip liquid sander deglosser pack of 2, which is rated as Amazon’s top choice. It’s an affordable option and you should have plenty to complete your kitchen cabinets, as well as having some left over!
Painting the Kitchen Cabinets
It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. All your hard work is about to pay off, and now the cabinets have been prepped and primed, there’s nothing left to do to procrastinate. Finally, it’s time to paint your cabinets!
Thin Your Alkyd-Based Paint
The first thing you’ll need to do before applying alkyd paint if this is what you’re using is to thin it. This will make your oil-based paint more user-friendly as it reduces the level of VOCs that can be toxic to humans and animals if ingested or inhaled in large quantities.
You will need to thin an alkyd-based paint using a paint additive such as Penetrol and you’ll have more time between brush strokes to even out the coverage before the paint dries and leaves these marks behind. You’ll also find it much easier to apply once it has been thinned.
This is especially important if you’re applying the paint to your cabinets using a spray gun, as using an alkyd-based paint without thinning it first can result in the tool’s interior mechanisms becoming clogged or jammed with paint, and this can cause costly or irreparable damage.
Start by Painting The Cabinet Frames
It’s a good idea to start by painting the frames of your cabinets and working your way out from the inner corners. If painting the interiors of the cabinets, you can also start by painting the back of the insides first, then bringing the paint forward to cover the front.
Remember to switch to a smaller brush for tighter areas, and try to keep your strokes even across the entire cabinet for the best finish.
Paint the Cabinet Back and Fronts
Use a smaller brush to paint the cabinet back and front pieces, starting with the rear surfaces and allowing them to dry before painting the front-facing areas of the cabinets.
It’s important to let the paint cure completely, so make sure you adhere to the dry time given on the paint tin, and resist the temptation to rush and move on to painting the fronts of your kitchen cabinets too quickly or you’ll risk smudging and ruining the finish.
Apply a Second Coat
If you manage to achieve an even, consistent coverage with your first coat of paint, it can be tempting to skip the second coat, especially if you’ve already primed it with an undercoat.
However, this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when painting your kitchen cabinets. Once the first coat has fully dried, you should always go in with a second coat of paint, which can be your finish coat if you desire.
Alternatively, you can also choose to apply an additional coat of polyurethane for extra durability and protection against peeling paint in the near future, but this is not always necessary. Provided you’ve used quality paint and allowed it to dry completely so it can cure, the hard, durable finish it leaves behind should be enough without the polyurethane.
Reinstall Doors, and Drawers, Hinges, and Catches
Now that everything has been painted and has been allowed to fully dry, you can begin to put your kitchen back together again by reinstalling the doors, drawers, hinges, and catches.
This will be an easier task with the help of a power drill, hence why we included one in our list of tools and materials you will need, but you can also use a screwdriver to reinstall your kitchen cabinets instead. Just be aware that it will take longer and requires a lot more effort when screwing or removing a screw with a screwdriver.
And voila! Now you can simply step back and admire all of your efforts and hard work.
We hope that after reaching the end of this guide on how to paint your kitchen cabinets, you have realized that this is actually an entirely achievable DIY project that you can complete yourself, saving you a whole lot of money, despite potentially taking up more of your time.
If you follow the advice and the instructions we’ve provided you with throughout this article, we’re confident that you’ll be able to conquer your kitchen cabinets without issue, but if you do run into any problems, feel free to check back here to see if we can clear anything up!