Painting kitchen cabinets can transform the look of your kitchen without a full renovation. With the right preparation and painting technique, you can achieve a fresh, updated look without sanding or stripping the existing cabinet finish. This guide will walk you through the process of how to paint cabinets without sanding to save time and effort.

Assess the Existing Finish

Before painting, examine the existing finish on your cabinets closely. Sanding may not be necessary if the finish is intact without peeling, chipping, or scratched areas. Sanding provides the best adhesion for new paint but can be avoided if the cabinets are in good condition.

Run your hand over the cabinet doors and boxes, feeling for any rough areas or edges. Check drawers as well. If the surfaces are smooth without bumps, painting without sanding is possible.

Also look closely for any dirt, grease, or grime. Degrease cabinets using a strong cleaner like trisodium phosphate (TSP). Rinse thoroughly and let dry before painting. Clean surfaces allow paint to adhere properly.

Choose the Right Paint

Using the correct type of paint ensures maximum adhesion and a smooth, hardwearing finish. For cabinets, alkyd enamel paints work best. They provide a harder, more durable coating compared to latex or acrylic paints.

Opt for satin, semi-gloss, or gloss sheens. Avoid flat paints as they show scuffs and stains too easily. Primer formulated specifically for painting laminate and wood surfaces also helps paint stick tight without sanding first.

Proper Preparation

Taking time to prepare properly allows you to paint cabinets without sanding:

  • Remove doors, drawers, and hardware. Working with pieces individually makes painting easier. Number pieces to keep organized.
  • Clean surfaces thoroughly with TSP or another degreaser. Rinse and let dry.
  • Fill any cracks, holes, or imperfections with wood filler. Let dry completely.
  • Lightly scuff shiny areas with extra fine (220-grit) sandpaper. This helps paint adhere to slick surfaces.
  • Wipe away any dust with a tack cloth.

These steps allow paint to cling tightly for a smooth finish.

Apply Primer

Priming before painting is crucial for good adhesion. Use an oil-based or shellac-based primer made for laminate and wood. Apply a thin coat using a good quality brush or spray gun.

Let the primer dry fully before painting. Drying between coats prevents drips and runs in the paint. Lightly sand primed surfaces if any rough areas remain. Wipe away dust with a tack cloth before painting.

Add Paint in Thin Coats

The key to avoiding brush marks and drips when painting cabinets without sanding is using thin, even coats of paint. Thick coats tend to sag and run, ruining the smooth finish.

Use a high-quality, soft bristle brush or spray gun to apply the paint. Brush in the same direction for a smoother look. Let each coat dry fully before adding another.

Typically 2-3 coats provides good coverage and an even color. Sand lightly between coats if any bits of dust or debris get stuck. Wipe clean before adding another layer of paint.

Tips for Painting Without Sanding

Follow these tips for the best results when painting cabinets without sanding:

  • Always paint in a dust-free area to prevent debris getting stuck in the wet paint.
  • Maintain a wet edge by brushing back into freshly painted areas. This prevents lap marks.
  • Keep your painting tools clean for the smoothest finish.
  • Use painter’s tape around hinges, edges, and where cabinets meet walls or the ceiling. Remove before the paint dries completely.
  • Work methodically and take your time. Rushing leads to drips and errors.

Let Paint Cure Fully

Paint may feel dry to the touch in just a couple of hours but will take much longer to fully cure and harden. It’s crucial to let cabinet paint cure for several days before reinstalling doors and drawers.

Test a hidden spot on the paint by pressing firmly with your fingernail. If it leaves an indent, it needs more time to cure. The paint should feel completely hard before use.

Leaving freshly painted cabinets to cure for at least 5-7 days prevents damage when putting your kitchen back into use.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you prep cabinets for painting without sanding?

Thorough cleaning with TSP or degreaser is essential. Fill any holes and imperfections with wood filler, then spot prime unpainted areas. Lightly scuff very slick surfaces before priming and painting.

What kind of paint adheres best without sanding cabinets?

Oil-based and shellac-based primer, followed by an alkyd enamel paint, will adhere tightly without sanding. Use satin, semi-gloss, or gloss paint for durability.

Can you paint over cabinets without priming?

It’s not recommended. Primer provides superior adhesion, especially on laminate and wood surfaces. It prevents paint peeling or chipping down the road.

How long should you let painted cabinets dry before reinstalling?

Painted cabinets need 5-7 days to fully cure before reinstalling doors, drawers, and hardware. Test paint hardness by pressing firmly with a fingernail before use.

How do you get a smooth finish on cabinets without sanding?

Use high-quality primer and paint, apply in thin even coats, allow proper drying time between coats, and work in a dust-free space. Following proper techniques ensures smooth results.


With the right preparation and painting method, it is possible to achieve beautiful, smooth painted cabinets without extensive sanding or stripping. Assess the condition of existing finishes, use adhesion-promoting primer and paint suited for cabinets, apply multiple thin coats, and allow proper curing time. The result will be a durable, updated kitchen at a fraction of the cost of new cabinetry. Just be sure to prep properly and have patience as you work. Beautiful painted cabinets are within your reach, even without sanding!