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How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets

A kitchen cabinet can be a lot of things: functional, beautiful, theme-setting, or even a standout from the rest of the kitchen. But what it must be above all, is durable. Over the years, it has to undergo thousands of push and pull movements, get slammed unintentionally (or intentionally) by users, and despite that its hinges must remain strong for years.

Sure, buying a premium cabinet which is built by trusted names and comes with a warranty is a good way to ensure you don’t have to worry about the doors falling off, but is functionality enough to give your creative juices a rest? What if we told you you could salvage your current cabinets with just a fresh coat of paint? Unless of course, the quality of the material is bad…in which case the best thing to do is to buy sturdy cabinetry and customize it later. You can read about all the elements of the right cabinetry here.

Can You Paint Your Kitchen Cabinetry Without the Help of a Professional?

Assuming you just want to up the aesthetic of your kitchen, you have to ask yourself: Do you have the time, energy and the skillset to take on the job and go DIY? If you have never done any home improvements by yourself, a paint job can be one of the easiest ways to pick it up. That being said, if you have a family and do not have the time for it — take no shame in calling a professional and letting them take care of it. The last thing you want is for the job to be done shabbily.

Ultimately, whether or not you engage a professional, it never hurts to have some facts up your sleeve. Proper research and planning can save you a lot of hassle during the process. In fact, even conveying your preferences or supervising the painter will be easy when you know what to expect.

Gathering the Tools

Painting a cabinet might look like a fairly simple deal and truth be told, it is. But there is a process that must be followed and having proper tools is key to it all. You will need:

  • A sanding block: This is great for keeping a flat surface. Grit sandpaper. 220 works best for this purpose.
  • Primer: If you want long-lasting paint, you have to invest in a primer. Although you can choose between water-based primer or oil-based primer, we recommend a water-based primer for cabinets because it makes cleaning a breeze.
  • Paint: Self-explanatory! Pick anything that takes your fancy. Just remember that it must be easy on the eye for you to like it in the long term. But then again, what is a rule that cannot be broken? So, go easy or go bonkers! Your kitchen, your rules!
  • Paint roller or Paint Sprayer: While a roller is easier to operate, a spray is more uniform and gives a more professional look. The choice is completely yours, but make sure you get a respirator mask and eye protection if you go the spray way.

Things to Do BEFORE Painting

Let’s start with something simple but very crucial: labeling all the doors and hardware. To make sure they are easy to find later, it can be helpful to number them as well (say, number all parts of the left cabinet as 1). Next, clean and remove any grease off the cabinet doors (you will be surprised to see HOW MUCH grease is there!) with mild soap and let them dry completely. You don’t want to apply paint to a damp door — it will not last.

Picking the Right Paint

When it comes to choices of colors, there are absolutely no boundaries. As long as you pick something that goes with the rest of your decor, it’s all good. But what is important is that you pick the right type of paint. If you want cabinetry that’s easier to maintain, don’t think twice and go for water-based paints. They are much easier to clean than oil-based paints and they are extremely durable. Within water-based paints, of course, you can choose between satin, semi-gloss or high gloss finishes based on your taste.

The Importance of Sanding

The only scenario wherein you do not need to sand is if your cabinets are made of raw wood. But that is rare these days; which is why most cabinets need some sanding before they are ready to be painted. Sanding is important since it creates a slightly uneven surface. As a result, when you put the primer it really sticks — and we all know how important that is for the health of your paints.

Priming Cabinets Before Painting

If your cabinet has a matte finish, water-based primer works best since it is the easiest to work with. On the other hand, something like shellac-based primer works best when you want a gloss finish. But remember, a shellac-based primer must ONLY be applied with a brush and not a spray. The key is to make fast strokes with the shellac-primer as it dries very quickly. One coat shall suffice, but there’s no harm going for two. Just wait for a few hours for the first coat to dry completely before you apply the next one.


Setting Up Space for the Painting Process

Once the primer is dry, you are ready to start painting. Now, remember: the painting process will either be with a brush or a spray. Both need a dust-free environment, so remember to set up a place (a tent, a tarp or even some old cardboard) on the floor. In case of spray paint, you need to make sure the area is covered on all sides to ensure that paint particles do not stick to the wrong surfaces. Not to mention, if you have not used a spray before, practice first! It is a good idea to test the paint on some scrap pieces for paint consistency (and change if needed) before the final job. In case you are using a brush or a roller, the most important thing is to keep the area as dust-free as possible and ensure that the brush remains clean during the entire process.

How many Coats of Paint Should You Put?

The answer entirely depends on the material you are working with and the paint you have chosen. But remember, each coat can take a little over an hour to dry. Depending on the finish you want, you might want three coats, although two work fine in most cases. Check with your dealer to see which paints require fewer coats as that can help you save some bucks.

Don’ts After the Painting Job

Mention the word ‘curing’ and the first thing you might think of is meat. But paint needs to be cured too. You might wonder, “Do you mean the paint must be dry?”. Well, sort of. But curing is a much longer process than drying. While paint only takes an hour or two to dry,  curing needs weeks. And this is where people make the mistake of immediately trying to touch or stick something on the painted cabinets. The process of curing ensures that the paint hardens over time and becomes durable, and we can’t stress this enough, is VERY important.


Here are some factors that will determine how long it takes for paint to cure:

  • The thickness of your paint
  • The surface it’s painted on
  • Type of Paint: Oil, latex, chalk, acrylic, etc
  • The color of the paint: Darker the color, the longer the curing time
  • Airflow/humidity/temperature in the place where the painted product is kept
  • Number of coats applied

Remember, water-based/latex-based paints can take up to 2 hours to dry, but almost 4 weeks to cure! Oil-based paints, on the other hand, take longer to dry (about 6 hours) but lesser time to cure.

You will know the paint is cured when you try to press your nails (or something sharp) onto it. If it leaves an indent, it is not cured and you need to leave it alone to set. We recommend waiting a few weeks to test the waters as you don’t want to end up redoing the whole thing again. Lastly, if you have doubts, your supplier should be able to help you with any queries.

Also Read: How Much Does Kitchen Remodeling Cost in 2021? [9 Tips to Save]