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How to Prep and Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Looking to update your old kitchen cabinets? Rather than replacing them, an easier and more budget-friendly solution is to paint them. The following instructions are for painting wood or laminate cabinets.

See How Your Neighbor Did It

Painted cabinet refresh in the bathroom

Don't just take our word for it. Hilary of Embellishments, took on this project in her bathroom and the results are impressive. She'll walk you through her real-life process of painting cabinets.

See how she did it.

Choose the Right Paint

White painted kitchen cabinets.
  • Purchase the appropriate supplies for your type of cabinets: solid wood, laminate or metal.
  • Check the paint label on the can for specific instructions.
  • Wood cabinets are ideal for painting, but any surface that can be scuffed with sandpaper can be painted.
  • Laminate cabinets require a special bonding primer. The laminate must be in good condition for best results.
  • Choose a high-quality paint. Special cabinet paints are available that provide a smooth finish, but any high-quality paint should work.
  • Make sure your paint is acrylic, not vinyl. Acrylic latex-based paint is durable and easy to clean up.
  • With latex paints, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding cure time.
  • A gloss finish will make your cabinets sheen, but it may show a lot of dings or mistakes. Semi-gloss or satin finishes are typically used for kitchens. Some flat finish paints can be difficult to clean. Check the instructions for details.

Prepare to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Painting cabinets will take several days to complete, so plan accordingly. Always wear the appropriate safety gear and open the windows for ventilation. Also, for best results you should remove the doors and drawers and work on them in an area that’s out of the way, like a garage or basement. Make sure you’ll have proper ventilation there too.

Step 1

Stripping old paint from kitchen cabinets.

Determine the condition of your cabinets. Surfaces that are already painted can be painted again if the existing paint is in good condition. If not, the old paint will need to be removed. Stripping products are available that make this process easy. Simply apply with a brush, wait for the stripper to react with the old paint, then use a plastic scraper to peel it away. Once dry, remove the last of the paint with sandpaper. For more details on how to properly strip your cabinets, including tips for determining their type of finish and the right products to use, see Refinishing and Cleaning Kitchen Cabinets.

Also, while assessing the condition of your cabinet doors, you may determine that one or more of them needs to be replaced. For instructions, see How to Make Replacement Cabinet Doors.

Caution

If your cabinets were previously painted and your house was built before 1978, the paint may be lead-based. Use a testing kit or call a professional for help. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions on all paint-stripping products.

Step 2

Labeling cabinet door hardware.

Empty the cabinets. You’ll be sanding later, which might get dusty. Remove the doors, drawers and hardware. As you’re removing the doors and drawers, label where they go with painter’s tape so you can reinstall them in the rights spots. Place the hardware in a plastic bag or cup and label where it goes.

Good to Know

If you run into difficulties while removing your cabinet hardware, see How Do I Remove A Stripped Screw? for help.

Step 3

Filling cabinet holes with wood filler.

Clean all surfaces with TSP cleaner to remove any grease and dirt. Repair damaged areas. Dents and holes can be filled with a wood filler. Use a putty knife to press it in and smooth it out. Let it dry according to the directions.

Don’t fill the hardware holes if you’re planning on using the same hardware. If you’re replacing your hardware, you might have to use wood filler for holes that don’t line up with the new hardware.

Step 4

Sanding cabinet doors.

Cover your countertops, appliances and other areas you want to protect. Placing painter’s tape on the wall along the cabinet edges is helpful. Sand everything with a medium grit sandpaper to help the paint stick to the surface. Fold the sandpaper to get into the detailed areas on doors and drawers, and in the corners on the frames. How Do I Use Sandpaper?

Good to Know

Laminate paint requires a special bonding primer. Some primers require sanding the laminate. Be careful not to sand too deep and damage the laminate. Just a light once-over will do.

Step 5

Cleaning sanded cabinets with vacuum.

Clean all surfaces with a vacuum and a tack cloth. Everything should be dust free before painting.

Prime Kitchen Cabinets

Step 1

Applying primer to cabinet interiors.

On the cabinet frames, work from the inside out. If you’re painting the inside of the cabinets, start at the back and work toward the front. Use a brush to get into corners and detailed areas. It’s important to use even strokes and finish back into the wet primer.

Step 2

Priming kitchen cabinets.

Use a mini roller on large, flat areas. Primer doesn’t have to look perfect. Its purpose is to cover the surface and provide a good base for the finish paint. Work on one area at a time. How Do I Load a Paint Roller?

Step 3

When you’ve covered the surface, take your dry roller or brush (don’t reload it) and lightly go over the surface once again to remove any buildup. This is called “laying off.”

Step 4

Applying primer to drawer fronts.

Paint the doors and drawers. Remove the tape labels but keep them nearby. Start with the backside and apply a smooth even coat. When its dry, flip the door over and paint the front. Start with the detailed areas, making sure the primer doesn’t pool in the corners, and feather out the edges. Then work on the larger, flat surfaces with a foam roller. Use painter’s tripods to lift the doors and drawers up from your painting surface. This allows you to paint the edges more easily.

For drawers, it’s typically best to paint just the drawer front piece rather than the entire drawer. Sometimes painting the sides and bottom can cause the drawers to stick in the frames. Allow the primer to dry according to the directions. It usually takes a few hours.

Good to Know

Some primers recommend sanding before painting. Follow all directions.

Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Paint can be applied with a bush and roller (DIY-friendly) or a sprayer (advanced). The following directions are for applying with a brush and roller.

Step 1

Painting cabinet frames, cover bottom layer of primer.

Start with the cabinet frames, using a high-quality brush for smaller areas and a foam roller for larger surfaces. The technique is the same as for the primer — use even strokes with the brush and finish the stroke back into the wet paint and feather out the edges. Also, remember to lay off after the surface has been painted.

Step 2

On the cabinet doors and drawer fronts pieces, paint the backs, let them dry, then paint the fronts. Follow the paint directions for the correct dry time. Do not rush, let the paint completely cure.

Step 3

Applying a second coat of paint.

Apply a second coat of paint. This should be your finish coat. Allow the paint to dry. Avoid putting everything back together before the paint has completely cured.

Good to Know

Some painters like to follow up with a coat of polyurethane for added protection. Others say it isn’t necessary. Allowing high-quality paint to fully cure will provide a hard, durable finish.

Refinish Cabinet Hardware

New cabinet hardware.

If you’re using your old hardware, you can clean it or refinish it with spray paint for a new look. If your hardware simply needs cleaning, see Refinishing and Cleaning Kitchen Cabinets for instructions. If you want to replace your hardware instead, see our Cabinet Hardware Buying Guide for options.

Good to Know

Work on the hardware in between coats of paint to save time.

Step 1

Scrub the hardware in warm water with dish soap. Pat dry.

 

Step 2

Lightly scuff the hardware with fine grade steel wool.

Step 3

Attach the handles or knobs to a piece of cardboard so they’re upright and easier to work on.

Step 4

Lightly spray the hardware with an appropriate primer and let dry. Follow up with a coat of paint. The key is to apply light coats to prevent buildup.

Finish: Reassemble Kitchen Cabinets

Step 1

Consider adding shelf liners. Some liners are decorative and stick to the surface. Others are padded to help protect the surface.

Step 2

Reassemble the cabinets and hardware. Use the labels to make sure the doors and drawers go back in the right spots.

Good to Know

If you’re using new cabinet hardware that requires drilling new holes, use a special jig designed for cabinet or drawer hardware (sometimes referred to as a mounting template) to make sure everything is lined up correctly.

Step 3

Completed kitchen cabinets.

After you have completed your cabinet refresh, this may also be a good time to install under cabinet lighting or even a new backsplash. Check out our buying guides and how-to videos for help:

Ready to take on more painting projects? Check out How to Paint a Door?