How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets So They Look Brand New

Spend any time on Instagram—or paging through the latest issue of House Beautiful—and you’ll see: painted kitchen cabinets are everywhere. From inky blues and rich greens to of-the-moment mushroom and taupe, painting your kitchen cabinets is a great way to add instant personality and charm. Unfortunately there’s a catch: Unless you’re lucky enough to be building your dream kitchen from scratch (go you!), you’re probably going to have to work a little DIY magic to get the colorful cooking space you desire.

The good news? Painting kitchen cabinets is easier than you might think. Going with a pro team is always a great option (and practically guarantees a perfect end product), but you can also DIY your painted kitchen cabinets with a few easy steps and a bit of elbow grease. Like with many home improvement projects, what you’ll save in money, you’ll spend in time—but with our easy guide to painting your kitchen cabinets, you know you’re about to love the end result. Below, we’re taking you through each and every step—from purchasing the right paint to reassembling your space—to help you achieve expertly-painted kitchen cabinets in just one weekend (ok, maybe two).

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Noe DeWitt

The Cost of Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets

When it comes to painting your kitchen cabinets, pricing can range drastically depending on how much help you want to hire and how big your space is. Generally, if you’re looking for someone to come in and professionally spray your kitchen cabinetry, you can expect to spend anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000—occasionally a bit more depending on the complexity of the job. This hefty (but worthy!) price tag explains why many homeowners opt to tackle painting themselves to significantly cut down on costs. Though you’ll need to buy many of your own supplies for the project (more on that later), painting your kitchen cabinets should run you in the ballpark of $500, give or take. Plus the cost of a massage afterward (we kid, we kid—this is going to be fun, promise).


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Choosing the Right Kitchen Cabinet Paint

You have two main options when it comes to selecting paint for your kitchen cabinets (and by this we mean paint type—we’ll leave the color up to you!): oil or latex. Each has its own perks and pitfalls, which we’ll dive into a bit more below.

Oil Paint for Kitchen Cabinets

Oil paint is a go-to pick for many cabinet painting pros, and for good reason. It goes on incredibly smooth and boasts excellent coverage, allowing you to cover tough surfaces (like dark work or previously black cabinetry) with fewer coats than you might otherwise need. Oil-based paints dry slower but also cure (aka harden) quicker and—some would argue—provide a more durable, long-lasting surface for your kitchen cabinets, which can undergo a lot of wear and tear over time.

That’s not to say oil-based paint is without its pitfalls, though. It’s incredibly difficult to clean up (you’ll need a chemical like turpentine or mineral spirits to clean your tools, as well as any spills or messes), and many caution against the heavy fumes that come with usage. Never painted with oil paint before? It may take you a bit of trial and error to figure out the right technique for your kitchen cabinets. If you choose to paint your kitchen cabinets with an oil-based formula, make sure you do plenty of research ahead of time when it comes to properly handling and disposing of the formula.

Latex Paint for Kitchen Cabinets

Because latex paints are the most popular on the market, chances are you’re already pretty familiar with their application. Latex is a very forgiving water-based paint, meaning application and cleanup is a breeze (just use a synthetic bristle brush and clean with mild dish soap and water). They’ll dry quicker and keep their true color for longer than oil-based paints will, though they do take longer to cure, which can leave them susceptible to nicks and dents for a few weeks. Prep work is super important when working with latex paint, especially if you’re coating your color directly onto a bare wood surface. You’ll need to make sure to sand, prep, and carefully seal the wood before applying your latex paint, or you could find your project chipping and swelling in a few short weeks.

Brushing vs. Spraying

But wait! There’s one more consideration when it comes to choosing how you paint your kitchen cabinetry: brushing versus spraying. Many pro painting teams rely on spray applications when it comes to painting kitchen cabinets, thanks to the smooth, flaw-free application. However, there’s a major learning curve when it comes to properly using a paint sprayer (no, it’s not like a spray paint can) and you’ll either need to invest in purchasing a model or look to rent one from your local hardware store. Another factor to consider? All the surrounding prep work that goes into spraying your kitchen cabinets. You’ll need to mask off everything in the nearby area (including appliances, floors, and windows) with plastic sheeting to prevent overspray from tinting areas where no color is intended. This step alone can take several hours to a day, and if you’re a weekend warrior, you know that is precious time you could be making painting progress on your cabinets instead. In general, it’s a good idea for novice DIYers to paint their kitchen cabinets by hand, using a combination of a brush and roller.

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Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Prepping Your Kitchen Cabinets for Painting

Like many DIY projects, the quality of your kitchen cabinet paint job depends largely on doing all the right prep work. Start by taking all your cabinet doors and drawers off their boxes and putting the hardware into a labeled bag for easy reassembly (it’s also a good idea to label the doors themselves so you don’t get confused as to what belongs where). Tape off any appliances or spots where the cabinetry meets wall or tile so you end up with crisp and clean lines. Finally, lay down a drop cloth or construction paper to protect your floors. All set? Great—now you’re ready to prep the cabinets themselves.

Clean and Sand Your Cabinets

Whether you’re starting with a stained wood finish or are painting on top of previously-painted cabinetry, you’ll want to kick things off by roughing up the surface a bit so primer and paint and properly stick to your cabinets. Start by cleaning the cabinets with TSP, which will remove any oil or gunk, then sand the cabinets using 80- to 100-grit sandpaper. The goal here isn’t to necessarily remove the entire existing finish—though you can do so if you choose. Rather, you want to make it so the surface is permeable and therefore able to “latch” onto primer when you coat it on.

Fill Any Dents or Holes

If you’re planning to change the placement of existing hardware or have cabinets that have seen a few particularly tough years, you’ll want to fill any holes or dents with wood filler. Apply according to the package instructions, allowing it to dry completely before sanding the filler flush with the surface of the cabinet.

Clean Your Cabinets Again

Yes, really! As an added precaution, you’ll want to do a final vacuum and wipe down of your cabinet fronts and boxes (as well as the surrounding area) to remove any remaining dust and debris that could impact how smooth your cabinets look when done. Make sure to wipe down the surface with a tack cloth or other lint-free fabric that won’t leave any fuzzies or threads behind.

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Katie Newburn

How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets

Phew—you’re halfway there, and now it’s time for the transformative part of the process…painting! You’ll want to set aside at least a full weekend for this part of the process, depending on the size of your kitchen. While not all of the time will be spent actively painting, it’s important to leave ample time for drying in between coats in order to get the smoothest, most durable finish possible. Here’s what’s on the agenda:

Step 1: Prime the Cabinets

Start by choosing a latex or oil-based primer based on the type of paint you’ve decided to use. Using a brush and roller, coat the primer onto the cabinetry in a thin, even layer. Allow the primer to dry completely before gently sanding the surface with 220-grit sandpaper. Make sure the cabinets are free of dust and debris by using a vacuum and cloth, then top your surfaces with another coat of primer, paying close attention to any spots where the cabinet’s base stain or color is still showing through. Allow the second coat of primer to dry completely before going over the surface with sandpaper yet again, this time with a finer 280-grit selection. Wipe the surface clean and set it aside.

Step 2: Paint the Cabinets and Boxes

Once your primer is set, it’s time to move on to your chosen hue. Using a brush and foam roller, coat each piece with a thin, even layer of paint. Make sure to feather out the edges and always make quick work of removing any puddles or drips of excess paint. Remember, it’s ok if areas of the primer are still showing through at this stage—you’ll cover ’em all up during your next coat! Once your first layer is complete, wrap your brush and roller in a plastic bag to keep them wet while you wait for your cabinets to dry.

Like you did with priming, it’s a good idea to sand the surface gently in-between coats of paint to ensure a smooth and flawless finish. Brush the cabinets clean with a new cloth, making sure to get any excess dust that could have settled into the cracks. From there, you can add your second coat of paint in the same manner as the first—only this time, turn your attention to a consistent finish that looks saturated and even. You can always do a third coat if you need it, but in most instances, two coats of primer and two coats of paint should be plenty.

Step 3: Allow Painted Cabinets to Dry Completely

Give your cabinets at least 24 hours to dry completely, more time if you can. While they’ll feel dry-to-the-touch after just a few hours, it’s important to allow the paint to harden completely before replacing the cabinet fronts and screwing hardware back on.

Step 4: Reassemble Your Cabinetry

When you’re confident the surface of your paint is no longer tacky, you can feel free to (finally!) put your kitchen back together. Replace the drawer fronts, reattach hardware, and generally focus on making your room fit for cooking again. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to wait at least three weeks to scrub your cabinets in any way (that means no Magic Eraser, please!) to give the paint extra time to cure—especially if you’ve chosen a latex formula. If you happen to spill some pasta sauce or oil on your newly-painted cabinets, clean it immediately with just warm water and a paper towel, resorting to “tougher” methods only if absolutely necessary. You’re officially done—time to pour your favorite beverage, put on a big pot of pasta, and enjoy your colorful new kitchen!

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