Painting your kitchen cabinets can completely transform the look of your kitchen without the high cost of installing brand new cabinets. With some time and effort, you can change the color, finish, and style of your cabinets and give your kitchen an updated, custom look. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps needed to paint kitchen cabinets and achieve professional-looking results.

Planning Your Kitchen Cabinet Paint Project

Before starting to paint, take the time to properly plan your project. Proper planning and preparation can mean the difference between a successful paint job and a disappointing finish.

Determine Your Goals

First, decide why you want to paint your cabinets and what your ideal outcome is. Are you looking to change the color, refresh worn cabinets, or create a whole new style? Defining your goals will help guide your decisions on paint type, color, and technique.

Some common reasons to paint kitchen cabinets are:

  • To refresh worn or dated cabinets
  • To brighten up a dark kitchen
  • To change the color scheme of your kitchen
  • To update cabinets to a more modern style
  • To cover discolored or damaged areas

Choose Your Paint Type

Once you decide on your goals, you can select the best type of paint to use. The three main options are:

Latex (acrylic) paint: Best for DIYers as it is affordable, easy to apply, and fast drying. Ideal for changing cabinet color or refreshing cabinets. More prone to chipping over time.

Enamel paint: Provides a smooth, hard finish that is very durable and scratch resistant. More challenging to apply. Best for a lasting update.

Lacquer: Offers a durable, factory-like finish. Requires spraying to apply. Most challenging option but provides a flawless finish.

Consider how much use and wear your cabinets get along with your painting skill level when deciding on paint. Enamel and lacquer are best for heavily used cabinets. Latex works well for most DIY updates.

Select Your Color

Choosing a color may be the most exciting part of planning your kitchen cabinet paint project! Evaluate the existing colors, finishes, and styles in your kitchen along with the look you hope to achieve.

Some tips for selecting a color:

  • Opt for neutral colors like grays, creams or whites for a clean and classic look.
  • Complement other finishes already in your kitchen, like your countertops or backsplash tile.
  • Consider the style of your home and kitchen – pastels for cottage style or bold colors for modern.
  • Look at color palettes online or in design magazines for inspiration.
  • Choose samples chips and test colors right on your cabinets before fully committing to a color.

Whatever color you select, be sure it ties in with the overall style of your kitchen and home.

Clean Cabinets Thoroughly

Before painting, all surfaces need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove grease, dirt, and grime which can negatively affect paint adhesion.

Follow these cleaning tips:

  • Remove all doors and drawers from cabinets and clean separately.
  • Use a degreasing agent like TSP substitute to clean cabinet boxes and frames.
  • For doors and drawers, use a liquid deglosser or mild sandpaper to remove sticky residue or glossy finishes.
  • Clean all surfaces with a lint-free cloth and soapy water.
  • Rinse with clean water and let fully dry before painting.

Proper cleaning is a critical first step for successful painting results.

Gather Your Painting Supplies

With your paint type, color, and cabinets cleaned, now you can gather the necessary supplies to complete your kitchen cabinet paint project.

Here is a list of recommended supplies:

  • Paintbrushes – angled sash brush for trim and high quality synthetic bristle brushes for door panels
  • Paint roller & roller covers – microfiber or foam for smooth finishes
  • Paint trays, liners, and stir sticks
  • Painters tape for masking and drop cloths for protecting surfaces
  • Sandpaper – 220-400 grit for between coats and de-glossing
  • Tack cloth for removing dust before painting
  • Rags, paint thinner, and cleaning supplies
  • Primer – oil based preferred for best adhesion
  • Topcoat cabinet paint in your selected color and finish
  • Replacement hardware like hinges and handles if needed

Gather all materials before starting to paint so everything is on hand when needed.

Apply Primer

Priming is a key step that should not be skipped. Primer creates a uniform surface for the paint to adhere to, improving coverage and durability.

For painting kitchen cabinets:

  • Use a high-quality oil-based primer designed for wood. Oil-based primers provide the strongest adhesion on slick surfaces like cabinet doors.
  • Apply primer liberally to all cabinet surfaces using a brush or paint sprayer.
  • Allow primer to fully dry per manufacturer guidelines before painting – usually 24 hrs.
  • Lightly sand primed surfaces with fine sandpaper before painting for proper adhesion.

Priming prepares your cabinets for accepting the new paint and ensures a long lasting finish.

Step-by-Step Painting Process

With all of your planning and prep work completed, now the process of painting your kitchen cabinets can begin! Follow these key steps for best results:

1. Remove Doors, Drawers & Hardware

  • Take off all cabinet doors and drawers to make painting easier.
  • Number each door and drawer to ensure an organized reinstallation.
  • Remove all hardware like knobs and hinges and store together.

Painting is much simpler with everything removed from the cabinets.

2. Mask Off Areas

  • Use painters tape to mask off any walls, backsplashes, floors or other areas near the cabinets to protect from drips.
  • Cover counter tops and appliances with drop cloths.
  • Use extra caution when painting near floors and be sure to immediately wipe up any drips.

Masking off will keep the painting contained to just your cabinets.

3. Apply Primer Coat

As discussed in the planning stage, apply a quality oil-based primer designed for wood to all cabinet surfaces – boxes, doors, frames, etc. Allow to fully dry overnight before painting.

4. Lightly Sand Primed Surfaces

  • Use 220 grit sandpaper to lightly sand all primed surfaces.
  • This allows the paint to properly grip the primer coat.
  • Wipe off all dust with a tack cloth when finished sanding before painting.

Sanding provides an optimal surface for the paint.

5. Paint Cabinet Boxes & Frames

With surfaces primed and prepped, now painting can begin!

  • Use a small roller or high quality brush to apply the first coat of paint on the cabinet boxes and frames.
  • Start with the backs/tops/bottoms of the upper cabinets. Then move to base cabinets and islands.
  • Apply paint in thin, even coats using overlapping strokes.
  • Paint all sides and interior frames as well for full coverage.
  • Allow the first coat to dry fully according to manufacturer guidelines before second coat – usually 2-4 hours.

Painting the cabinet frames first is best, then doors can be done separately for efficiency.

6. Apply Second Coat to Boxes & Frames

Applying two coats of paint ensures full, even coverage and a durable finish:

  • Lightly re-sand all painted surfaces to smooth any textures between coats.
  • Use a tack cloth to remove any dust before reapplying paint.
  • Apply the second coat just like the first, using thin, even brushstrokes.
  • Allow paint to dry fully before reassembling cabinets – 24 hours is ideal to allow paint to cure.

Two coats give your painted cabinets a flawless look.

7. Paint Cabinet Doors

Doors should be painted laying flat for the smoothest finish:

  • Place doors on a covered work surface with adequate lighting and ventilation.
  • Starting with the door fronts, apply the first coat using brushstrokes following the wood grain. Apply to door sides as well.
  • Allow drying per manufacturer instructions – usually 2-4 hours between coats.
  • Lightly sand then wipe doors with a tack cloth to remove any dust.
  • Apply the second coat to the front and sides. Allow to dry fully.
  • Flip doors over and repeat the process on the backside.

Painting doors separately from the frames streamlines the process.

8. Paint Drawer Fronts

  • Remove all hardware from drawers just like doors. Number pieces to keep organized.
  • Clean thoroughly following the same process used for doors.
  • Lay drawer fronts flat on work surface protected by drop cloth.
  • Paint fronts and sides with two coats just like doors, allowing full drying between coats.
  • For smaller pieces, use painters tape to mask off edges for super sharp paint lines.
  • Let painted drawers fully cure before reinstalling – 24 hours is recommended.

Drawers should be painted with the same careful approach as doors.

9. Reinstall Doors & Drawers

Once doors, drawers, and frames are fully cured and ready, it’s time for reassembly:

  • Working in reverse order, reinstall drawers first sliding them into place.
  • Next, rehang all doors using your original hinges. Refer to numbering system to get doors back in their original positions.
  • Tighten hinges and test opening/closing motion before moving on. Make adjustments as needed.
  • Clean up any smudges or fingerprints on doors/drawers using soap and water before they dry.
  • Finish by reinstalling all hardware like knobs and pulls.

With everything back in place, your painted kitchen cabinets are complete!

10. Remove Masking & Sheets

The final step is removing all the masking tape, drop cloths, and protective sheets used during painting.

  • Carefully peel off all tape, being cautious not to disturb any freshly painted edges.
  • Clean up any paint drips or spills immediately with soap and water.
  • Wipe down countertops, floors and other areas to remove dust.
  • Properly dispose of soiled rags, paint cans, brushes and other waste.
  • Reinstall any removed fixtures or items like decorative trim molding.

Thoroughly cleaning up the workspace protects your painted finish.

Achieving a Flawless Painted Finish

Following proper techniques and paying attention to details will ensure your freshly painted kitchen cabinets look like new:

Mind the Prep Work

As discussed above, the upfront work of thoroughly cleaning, sanding, priming, and masking is imperative for success. Rushing the prep steps can ruin the finished look.

Allow Proper Dry Times

Rushing the paint drying stages can ruin a paint job and cause tackiness, cracking, or chipping down the road. Be patient and let each coat fully cure before adding another.

Work In a Dust-Free Space

Paint does not adhere well to surfaces with any dirt, dust or grease. Keep your painting area clean and wipe cabinet surfaces with a tack cloth before applying paint.

Apply Thin, Even Coats

Use less paint on your brush or roller and apply thin coats front to back instead of side to side. Overloading paint leads to drips and uneven coverage.

Sand Between Coats

Gently sanding knocks down any raised grain or debris between coats. Always wipe and tack surfaces before adding the next coat.

Check for Full Coverage

Inspect each coat as you work to ensure you are getting consistent coverage on all surfaces. Touch up thin spots as you go to prevent bleed-through.

Work Methodically

Stay organized by finishing all frames first, then doors, then drawers. Working assembly line style improves efficiency.

Maintain a Clean Workspace

Paint splatters and spills left to dry on cabinets will ruin the new finish. Immediately clean up any drips or messes.

FAQs: Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Some commonly asked questions about painting kitchen cabinets:

Should I remove my cabinet doors and drawers before painting?

Yes, you should always remove doors, drawers, and hardware before painting cabinets for the best results. This allows you to paint the inside frames and provides the easiest access to all surfaces when separated.

What is the best primer to use?

An oil-based primer designed specifically for wood is ideal for kitchen cabinets. Oil-based primers provide a superior bond on slick surfaces like doors and drawers.

How long does it take for primer and paint to dry between coats?

A minimum of 2-4 hours drying time is needed between coats, but letting primer and paint fully cure overnight before adding the next coat is best. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

What type of paint brush should I use?

Use high quality synthetic bristle brushes made for applying paint. Angled sash brushes are ideal for cutting in on trim. Wider brushes work best for applying paint to flat door panels and cabinet boxes.

Is it okay to use a paint sprayer?

Yes, you can use a paint sprayer to paint cabinets if you are comfortable operating one. Be sure to mask off the kitchen very well and apply thin coats to prevent drips and runs.

How do I get a smooth finish on doors?

Work on a level surface and always apply paint front to back along the wood grain. Sand lightly between coats and use a small foam roller for the final coat to level out brush marks.

What sheen should I use?

A satin or semi-gloss finish is ideal for cabinets. It provides shine while still hiding imperfections well. Gloss shows more defects while matte tends to show scuffs.

How soon can I use my cabinets after painting?

It’s best to avoid use for 2-3 days to allow the new paint to fully cure. Limit opening/closing doors and avoid setting heavy objects inside cabinets at first to prevent damage.


Painting kitchen cabinets is an effective way to give your space an affordable makeover. With proper planning and by following the techniques outlined above, you can achieve stunning, professional-looking results on your own. The effort is well worth it for a revamped kitchen updated to match your unique style!


  • Proper planning and preparation are key to a successful cabinet paint job. Thoroughly clean cabinets, choose your paint and supplies, and prime before painting.
  • Remove doors, drawers, and hardware prior to painting for easier access. Work in sections – frames first, then doors, then drawers.
  • Apply paint in thin coats using quality brushes or rollers, allowing ample drying time between coats. Lightly sand between coats for proper adhesion.
  • Work carefully on doors and drawers for a flawless finish. Reinstall all pieces methodically once fully cured.
  • Mind details like cleanliness, dry times, and coverage when painting. Follow tips for a professional finish that will last for years to come.