Giving your kitchen cabinets a fresh coat of paint is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to transform the look of your kitchen. With some preparation, high-quality paint and tools, and attention to detail, you can paint your kitchen cabinets and give them an updated, custom look for a fraction of the cost of installing new cabinets. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps for repainting kitchen cabinets, from proper prep work and choosing paint sheens and colors, to techniques for applying the paint for a smooth, durable finish. With these tips, you can refresh your kitchen cabinets with a beautiful new painted finish.

Getting Started with Your Kitchen Cabinet Paint Job

Before you start slapping paint on your cabinets, take the time to properly prepare. Rushing through prep work can lead to peeling, chipping, or uneven paint down the road. Follow these steps for prep work that helps the new paint adhere smoothly and last.

Clean the Cabinets Thoroughly

The first step is to clean your cabinets well, removing all grease, dirt, dust and grime so the new paint adheres properly. Fill a bucket with warm water and add a degreaser or detergent. Scrub all cabinet surfaces, doors, and interior shelves with a sponge or rag. Pay close attention to especially greasy areas near stove tops or ovens. Rinse surfaces and let dry fully. Consider lightly sanding surfaces with fine sandpaper to remove any residue and really rough up the existing finish for better paint adhesion.

Remove Doors, Handles and Hinges

Take cabinet doors off their hinges and remove all handles and knobs for easier access to all the nooks and crannies. Lay doors on a flat surface like a garage floor or cover saw horses when painting. Number doors and shelves so you can easily reinstall everything in the proper spot later.

Place hinges and handles in bags labeled for each cabinet so hardware goes back in the right place. Check hinge holes on doors and cabinets and fill any that are stripped with wood filler before painting.

Fill Holes and Imperfections

Inspect all cabinets, doors and shelves and fill any screw holes, cracks, gouges or imperfections with wood filler formulated for the material you’re painting. Let filler dry completely according to package directions. Lightly sand dried filler smooth and wipe away dust.

Sand Cabinets and Use Primer

Lightly sand all cabinet surfaces using fine sandpaper (at least 150 grit) to rough up the existing finish. This helps the paint adhere better. Thoroughly wipe away any dust with a tack cloth.

Next, apply a high-quality primer made for painting cabinets, such as Zinsser’s BIN Primer. Primer creates a surface the paint can stick to. Opt for a shellac-based primer for slick surfaces like laminate or melamine cabinets. Apply a coat of primer and let dry fully. Then lightly sand again and apply a second coat of primer, if needed, for the smoothest finish.

Set Up Your Workspace

Choose a well-ventilated area that you can keep dust-free while painting, like a garage, basement or outdoors on a dry, mild day. Lay down tarps or drop cloths to protect the flooring. Have all your painting supplies ready to go in the work area before starting.

Choosing the Right Paint Finish and Color

One of the most important aspects of refinishing kitchen cabinets is choosing the right paint. The type of paint and finish dictates how durable, scratch-resistant and washable your painted cabinets will be. Consider how heavily your cabinets get used and what look you want before selecting paint. Here are the most popular options:

Paint Sheens for Cabinets

Eggshell or Satin Finish – These mid-sheen paints have a soft glow and hide minor imperfections well. They’re easy to clean and resist yellowing. Ideal for low to medium use cabinets.

Semi-Gloss Finish – Semi-gloss has a crisp, smooth appearance and hides surface flaws. It’s very durable and easy to clean, making it a top choice for high-traffic cabinets.

High-Gloss Finish – High-gloss gives cabinets a bright, shiny, lacquered look. It resists moisture, stains and dirt well. But it shows imperfections so requires the most prep work.

Enamel Paint – Enamel paint is extremely hard, glossy and scratch-resistant. Often used on trim and doors, it provides a smooth, glass-like finish.

Cabinet Paint Brands

Look for cabinet paint or enamel formulated especially for painting kitchen cabinets, not standard wall paint which won’t hold up. Here are quality top cabinet paint brands to consider:

  • Benjamin Moore Advance – Water-based polyurethane acrylic
  • Sherwin-Williams ProClassic – Water-based acrylic-alkyd
  • BEHR Premium Cabinet & Trim – Acrylic-alkyd enamel
  • Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations – All-in-one kit

Paint Colors for Kitchen Cabinets

The choices are endless when selecting a color palette for your kitchen. From soft neutrals to bold, saturated shades, painted cabinets let you customize your kitchen’s look. Some top paint colors for kitchen cabinets include:

  • White – Classic, clean and opens up smaller kitchens
  • Light gray – Calming shade with a hint of color
  • Navy – Bold accent color or goes well with stainless appliances
  • Soft sage green – Warm, earthy color
  • Turquoise – Vibrant pop of color
  • Charcoal – Sophisticated alternative to black
  • Cherry red – For traditional or farmhouse kitchens
  • Yellow – Cheery; works well with white cabinets

Look at color wheel pairings if using two colors. Test paint samples on cabinets to see the color in the space.

Prep Work for Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets

To achieve the best painted finish on your kitchen cabinets, proper prep work is crucial before painting. Follow these tips for prepping cabinets for a paint job that will last for years to come:

Remove Cabinet Doors and Hardware

Take off all cabinet doors by unscrewing door hinges. Label each door and shelf so you can reinstall in the right spot later. Remove all handles and knobs and place door hardware in labeled bags for each cabinet section.

Check all hinge holes and fill any that are stripped or misshapen with wood filler. Let dry completely.

Clean and Degrease Cabinets

Give all cabinet surfaces a thorough cleaning to remove grease and grime so paint adheres well. Mix warm water and a degreaser or detergent in a bucket. Scrub the cabinets, doors, interior shelving, exterior trim and any other surfaces getting painted.

Pay close attention to greasy areas around the stove vent or near ovens. Rinse well and let cabinets dry fully before painting.

Repair Damage and Fill Holes

Inspect all cabinets and doors for any damages, cracks, holes or imperfections. Use a wood filler formulated for the cabinet material to patch and fill any problem areas so they’re smooth. Allow the filler to dry fully, then lightly sand smooth.

Use painter’s putty or spackle for small holes. Sand and wipe any dust off repaired spots with a tack cloth.

Lightly Sand and Apply Primer

Use fine 150 grit or higher sandpaper to lightly sand all cabinet surfaces, wiping away dust with a tack cloth afterward. This scuffs the finish for better paint adhesion.

Follow up by applying a high-quality primer made for painting cabinets and woodwork. Allow primer to dry fully, then do any final sanding if needed.

Set Up Your Workspace

Choose a well-ventilated spot to paint the cabinets where you can control dust and overspray, like a garage, basement or outdoors. Place tarps or drop cloths on the flooring.

Set up everything you need for the project – paint, brushes, paint trays, rags, etc. – within easy reach of your workspace before starting.

Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets: Application Tips

Applying cabinet paint properly is key to achieving a smooth, professional-looking finish. Follow these techniques as you apply paint:

Work in Sections

Paint one or two cabinet sections at a time. Do the door frames first, then outer sides of cabinet boxes. Next do backs/bottoms, then the interior shelving and doors last.

Use a High-Quality Brush

Invest in a good nylon or polyester brush made for painting trim and cabinets. Avoid cheap, rough bristle brushes that could leave streaks. Choose angled sash brush for cutting in corners.

Maintain a Wet Edge

Always maintain a “wet edge” as you paint, so each brushstroke blends into the last while the paint is still wet. This avoids lap marks or visible seams in the finish.

Apply Multiple Thin Coats

Apply multiple thin, even coats of paint rather than trying to get full coverage in one thick coat. Thin coats result in a smoother finish. Lightly sand and wipe dust between coats.

Use Steady, Even Strokes

Move your paintbrush in a steady, continuous motion as you apply paint. Work from unpainted areas into painted wet edges to blend seamlessly. Avoid excessive brushing in one area that could pull up paint and leave marks.

Paint Both Sides of Doors

For cabinet doors, use sawhorses or spacers to raise doors off work surface. Paint door top and bottom edges first. Then do outer edges, followed by inside of the door. Flip over and repeat process.

Check Coverage and Let Dry

Inspect each section after painting to ensure you’ve evenly covered everything. Catch any missed spots for smooth coverage. Let paint dry fully between coats. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for dry time before distressing or applying topcoat.

How to Get a Professional Painted Cabinet Finish

Achieving a flawless, professional-quality finish when painting kitchen cabinets requires careful attention to detail and the right painting approach. Follow these tips for expert results:

Prep Well to Get Smooth Results

Proper prep before painting is vital to getting perfectly smooth painted cabinets. Thoroughly clean, sand, fill imperfections and apply primer so paint looks seamless.

Spray Paint for a Flawless Look

While brush painting works, spraying cabinets gives the most seamless, professional finish. Invest in a quality paint sprayer or hire a pro if you don’t have experience spraying.

Replace Any Damaged Cabinets

Repairing paint flaws is difficult on damaged or warped cabinets. You’re better off replacing any cabinets that are structurally unsound for best results.

Paint Interior Cabinet Surfaces Too

Don’t stop at just the cabinet fronts. Painting inside cabinet boxes and shelving ensures all visible areas look uniform when doors open.

Caulk Around Trim Before Painting

Run a smooth bead of painter’s caulk around the perimeter of cabinets, near joints and trim. Let dry fully, then paint for a flawless sealed edge.

Distress Cabinets for an Antique Look

For cottage or farmhouse style kitchens, consider distressing painted cabinets. Create worn edges, sand paint off corners or exposed woodgrain for character. Seal the finish.

Apply Protective Topcoat to Cabinets

Using a clear polyurethane or topcoat after painting helps protect the finish from wear, moisture and scratches. This keeps painted cabinets looking pristine longer.

With careful preparation and application of cabinet paint, you can give your kitchen a breathtaking designer look. Invest the time in proper prep work and technique for painted cabinets that look professionally done.

Common Questions About Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about repainting kitchen cabinets to help ensure success on your paint project:

Should I Remove Cabinet Doors to Paint?

Yes, you should remove doors, drawers and hardware before painting cabinets for the easiest access to all surfaces. Lay doors on a flat work surface protected by a tarp or cardboard when spraying or brushing paint.

How Do I Avoid Brush Marks When Painting Cabinets?

Use high-quality synthetic brushes and apply paint in thin, even coats rather than thicker coats. Always maintain a wet edge and work from unpainted into painted areas to blend seamlessly.

How Many Coats of Paint for Cabinets?

Most cabinet paints require 2-3 coats for full coverage, allowing proper drying time between coats. Opt for thinner coats over trying to get full coverage in one thick coat, which causes drips and uneven finish.

Can I Use Regular Paint on Cabinets?

For best durability on kitchen cabinets, use cabinet paint or enamel formulated especially for painting cabinets and woodwork rather than standard wall paints. The specially-formulated paints hold up better to wear and tear.

What Sheen is Best for Painted Cabinets?

The most popular sheens for cabinet paint are satin, semi-gloss and high-gloss. Satin is easy to clean but hides flaws. Semi-gloss is very durable and glossy is most moisture/stain resistant. Avoid flat paint on cabinets as it’s harder to clean.

How Do I Achieve a Smooth Painted Finish on Cabinets?

Proper prep, priming, applying thin coats of paint and sanding between coats helps achieve the smoothest painted cabinet finish. Spray painting typically yields the best finish results versus brushing.


With the right prep work, materials and painting techniques, it’s possible to refinish your kitchen cabinets with a painted finish that looks brand new. Follow the steps here for cleaning cabinets, proper priming, choosing cabinet paint finishes and colors, application tips for a smooth coat, and getting a professional-quality finish. With some time and care taken during the process, you can paint kitchen cabinets and give your kitchen a beautiful facelift for a reasonable cost.