DIY Guide: How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

DIY Guide: How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Looking to give your kitchen a new look?

Repainting your cabinets is the perfect way to do this. The project is affordable, fun, and great for DIY beginners.

You’ll finish with a refreshed kitchen space that fits your aesthetic and fulfills your redecorating needs. Plus, you’ll save money by completing this home improvement project yourself.

This article will provide a step-by-step tutorial on painting your kitchen cabinets. We’ll cover the tools and materials you need, the costs associated with the project, and tips for painting like a pro.

Tools and Materials

Tools

  • Paintbrushes
  • Mini paint roller
  • Sanding block
  • Screwdriver or power drill
  • Paint tray
  • Clean tack cloth

Materials

  • TSP cleaner
  • Paint
  • Primer
  • Wood filler
  • Painter’s tape

Associated Costs

We’ve listed some cost estimates for the project’s tools and materials. These prices will vary depending on the brands and quantities needed, so keep that in mind while shopping. 

You’ll likely have a few of these already on hand, which will reduce your project’s overall cost.

Tool or Material Average Cost
3-pack of paintbrushes $20
Painter’s tape $8
Mini paint roller $10
Sanding block $10
Screwdriver $10
Cordless drill $80 to buy

$25 for a 24-hour rental

Paint tray $5
Tack cloth $5
TSP cleaner spray $20
Paint $30 per quart
Primer $10 per quart
Wood filler $5

Assuming you already have some of these tools and materials, you won’t generally need to spend a lot on this painting project. You’ll likely spend the most money on a fresh quart of paint and clean painting supplies to get the job done right.

Given these estimates, you can paint your cabinets for under $150. You would pay thousands of dollars to install brand-new cabinets, so the costs associated with repainting are well worth it.

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets in Nine Steps

Step One: Select the Best Paint for the Project

Before wetting your brush, ensure you’ve chosen the right paint for the job. 

Oil-based and latex paint are the two most common options for cabinetry projects.

Latex paint is a popular DIY option because it’s easy to clean up and adheres to various surfaces. It also emits fewer vapors, making it a more eco-friendly option.

Latex paint is water-based and tends to dry quicker than oil-based varieties. However, the thinner nature of the product leads to a less durable finish and a need for multiple coats. It also doesn’t last as long on wood, the primary material in many cabinets.

Oil-based paints consist of pigments suspended in oils and solvents. These paints are typically slower to dry than water-based options, but they cure with a durable, scuff-resistant surface. Oil-based paint has a smooth, glossy finish if allowed to dry thoroughly.

Oil paints were traditionally the most common cabinet option because of their strength and shine. However, latex paints are developing with new drying technologies and finishes.

Research your specific cabinet material ahead of time to find the best paint option for your home. Make your selection based on your drying time, safety, and durability needs.

The paint color is totally up to you; choose something that complements the other fixtures and furniture in your kitchen while meeting your design goals. However, opt for a satin or semi-gloss finish in your chosen color. These options clean easier and resist stains better than high-gloss varieties.

Step Two: Remove the Cabinet Doors and Hardware

The first step in painting your kitchen cabinets is to remove the doors and hardware from the frames.

Use a manual screwdriver or cordless drill to take the doors off their hinges.

The hardware is the knobs or handles attached to the cabinets. We suggest removing these for an easier paint job and less risk of marking them up with paint.

Although the knobs are likely easy to clean, you still don’t want to get paint on them. Plus, having them out of the way will provide a smoother paint finish on each door.

Depending on the hardware the doors have, you may need to remove screws from these too. Otherwise, you can twist the threaded portion of the knobs and pull them out.

Place all knobs, handles, screws, washers, and hinges in a sealed plastic bag to avoid losing them throughout the process. 

Next, label each door with a piece of painter’s tape. 

This step will make the reassembly process much easier because you’ll know which door goes to which frame. We suggest placing a numbered piece of tape on the back of each cabinet door. Place a companion piece with a corresponding number label inside each cabinet.

After removing the doors and organizing your pieces, it’s time to prep.

Step Three: Preparation

Adequate preparation is essential to the cabinet painting process. Thorough prep ensures a mess-free process and a worthwhile finished product.

Prep also involves creating a safe project space with healthy painting techniques.

The Environmental Protection Agency provides these guidelines for indoor painting:

  • Open windows for adequate ventilation
  • Set up box fans to keep air circulating
  • Spend minimal time in rooms with drying paint 

Start by covering your countertops, backsplashes, and appliances with drop cloths to prevent damage from wandering paint.

Next, wipe down the surfaces you’ll paint with an all-purpose degreaser. We suggest using a TSP cleaner spray to remove dust, dirt, and grime from the cabinet doors and frames.

Once the surfaces are fresh and clean, inspect them for nicks, dents, and holes. Then, create a smoother painting surface by topping off holes and dents with wood filler.

Finish your painting preparation by applying painter’s tape around the cabinet edges.

Step Four: Sand Each Surface

After thoroughly preparing your project area, you’re ready to get sanding. 

Use a fine-grit sandpaper or foam sanding block to wear down the surface of each cabinet. Sand with the grain of the wood until each surface is free of any glossy paint or smooth lacquer.

This step prepares the cabinets for priming and rubs away any existing imperfections. While sanding, ensure you tackle every cabinet surface you plan to paint. This includes the cabinet frames, drawer fronts, and all sides of the cabinet doors.

You can also repaint laminate cabinet sides if you sand them down first.

After sanding, use a tack cloth to wipe away dust and debris. Then, clean up the rest of the mess with a vacuum cleaner hose.

Cleanup is crucial to a solid paint job; you won’t want the fine powder or sand particles to interfere with smooth application.

Step Five: Apply Primer

Applying a coat of primer to the cabinets is the next step.

Some people think skipping primer is OK, but this isn’t the case. Primer prepares a surface for smooth paint application. It also provides a stronger adhesion and stain-blocking effect.

Apply a thin coat of primer to each cabinet surface you plan to paint. Dip your painting tools into the primer, knocking off any excess liquid before applying it to the cabinets. You don’t want your brush or roller to be dripping with primer.

Use a paintbrush for smaller areas like frames and edges. Make smooth brushstrokes that follow the wood grain in an up-and-down motion.

A mini paint roller is the best applicator for large, flat areas like cabinet doors and laminate siding. Continue painting with the grain, but move the roller in a vertical zigzag motion for the smoothest application.

Let the primer dry completely before moving on to the next step. This process can take anywhere from one to eight hours, depending on the room temperature and type of paint primer you use.

If the primer coat feels rough after drying, lightly sand the surface before applying paint.

Step Six: Apply the First Coat of Paint

Remove each numbered label before painting. Stick the labels nearby to keep track of each cabinet door’s number throughout the painting and drying processes.

Apply your first coat of paint using the same techniques you used for the primer. 

Knock your brush on the inner sides of the can to remove excess liquid and prevent drips. Then, apply a thin coat of paint, using up-and-down strokes to go along the grain. 

Paint the narrow, tricky areas of the cabinet doors and frames with a brush. Use a clean foam roller for the larger surfaces. 

Let each surface cure according to the manufacturer’s suggested drying time. 

Step Seven: Apply a Second Coat of Paint

This step is optional, depending on whether you want to apply multiple coats of paint. We suggest doing at least two coats to ensure your cabinets have a solid, even finish.

Before applying the second coat of paint, go over the surfaces with your sanding sponge. This technique smooths the freshly painted surfaces and wears down uneven brush marks.

The key to this step is to avoid over-sanding; you don’t want to scrape off the paint you just applied to the cabinets.

After lightly sanding each area, repeat Step Five to apply a second layer of paint. 

This layer should provide a durable finish coat for your cabinets if you use high-quality oil-based paint. 

Apply a thin top coat of polyurethane sealer for added durability and stain resistance.

Step Eight: Wait!

If you’re like us, you get excited to see the finished product of your DIY project. 

However, patience is critical when it comes to painting. If you start moving pieces around and reinstalling hardware before the paint has cured, you’re setting yourself up for nicks, chipping, and frustration.

You’ll likely ruin the fresh, smooth finish you just spent hours preparing. 

We recommend letting your cabinets dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Thoroughly cured paint is more durable, scuff resistant, and easy to handle – so you’re doing yourself a favor by letting everything dry.

Pass the time by cleaning up your project area. 

Wash out paint-covered brushes, rollers, and trays before they have the chance to harden. Seal opened paint cans by tapping down their lids with a hammer. Store them somewhere cool and dry.

Check the cabinets after a few hours. You can proceed with reassembly if each surface is dry to the touch.

Step Nine: Reassemble the Cabinets

The last step of your kitchen cabinet painting project is reinstalling the cabinet doors and hardware.

If you organized the pieces at the beginning of the process, this step should be painless and satisfying.

Reinstall the hardware pieces before putting the doors up. You’ll have less difficulty screwing in small pieces while the doors remain unattached.

If you purchased new hardware pieces to complement the new paint, install these now and make adjustments while the doors are down.

Once the handles, knobs, and hardware are in place, reattach the cabinet doors to their corresponding frames.

Check to ensure the doors open and close correctly and that the hardware is sturdy.

Then, step back and marvel at your handiwork. 

Final Thoughts

With this easy DIY kitchen remodel idea, you’ll surely wow visitors and create a space you love.

Repainting your existing cabinetry is an excellent way to give your kitchen a new look without spending thousands of dollars on new fixtures.

If you like how your kitchen painting project turns out, try the process on other cabinets throughout your home. You’ll have a blast touching up your bathrooms, offices, and laundry room with fresh coats of paint.

You’ll also save buckets of time and money with stunning cabinets and DIY expertise to show for it.

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