How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets in 8 Simple Steps

Kenzi Wilbur

Painting kitchen cabinets is a straightforward DIY task that makes a major impact. If you're looking to upgrade your kitchen, it's time to learn how to paint kitchen cabinets. It's relatively cheap, totally transformative, and will put one of the better feathers in your DIY cap.

Make no mistake, however: Painting kitchen cabinets is not for the faint of heart. You’ll need grit, determination, and at least two pairs of pants you don’t mind getting paint on. The more kitchen cabinets you have, of course, the more time-intensive the job will be. You’ll also need a significant amount of space to lay out your cabinet doors for sanding, priming, painting, and drying in between. If you’re banking on borrowing sawhorses and using your front yard, great—just check the weather first. If you’re doing the job indoors, invest in these nifty little plastic tripods, and don’t forget to get some fans going and open the windows.

The time it takes to get through the project is a solid investment, however. With a fresh coat of paint, your cabinets (and your whole kitchen) will be entirely transformed and the kitchen just might become your new favorite room in the house. Read on to discover exactly how to paint your kitchen cabinets, step by step.

1. Gather your painting supplies.

The first step for painting kitchen cabinets is to gather your supplies, of course. You’ll need:

  • Masking tape
  • TSP cleaner
  • Wood filler
  • TSP cleaner
  • Coarse sandpaper (60-grit)
  • Fine sandpaper (360-grit)
  • A block or a mechanical sander
  • Bonding primer
  • Top-coat paint (matte or glossy, your choice)
  • A brush and a small foam roller

Rick Watson, the VP of product innovation at Sherwin-Williams, warns against blindly choosing the cheapest brushes and rollers: “If you end up going with the dollar-store brushes and the $5 gallon of paint, it’ll look like it.” Spend the time to vet each supply with your local paint store professional.

2. Remove cabinet doors, drawer fronts, and hardware.

You’ll be able to paint every surface a lot more quickly if you take all of the cabinet doors and drawer fronts off their hinges before you start. To avoid one of the cruelest jigsaw puzzles you’ve ever done with reassembly, label each cabinet with a number, and give its corresponding door the same one. (You’ll thank yourself later.) You'll also want to remove all cabinet hardware.

3. Clean the cabinets like you've never cleaned before.

“Eighty percent of all kitchen painting complaints are due to lack of surface prep,” Rick says, and you shouldn’t let yourself fall into that percentage. You’re looking to degrease months (and possibly years) of cooking splatters and kitchen oils so your paint will be sticking to a clean surface. And for those of you who think you can just sand all that grime off—I see you. You can’t sand all that grime off. If you try, you’ll just be grinding all of that dirt right into the wood. Clean your kitchen cabinets thoroughly, using trisodium phosphate (TSP) cleaner to really get all that debris, oil, and grease off.

4. Use wood filler to repair any nicks.

Look for any imperfections like nicks, holes, gouges, or scratches. Squeeze your wood filler into the imperfection, and spread it out with a putty knife. Let it dry according to the wood filler directions before proceeding to the next step.

5. Sand the cabinet surfaces.

"Sanding scuffs up the surface of the cabinet and opens up the pores of the wood for primers to sink in and create adhesion," says Rick. You can do this by hand if you’re a hero, but if you don’t want your arm to feel like it might fall off in the first ten minutes, I’d recommend investing in a mechanical sander—or borrow one from a DIY-ing friend. (Heads up: The removal of old paint can generate dust or fumes that have lead in them, so speak to your landlord before you start, or call 800-424-LEAD for more information.)

6. Prime the cabinets.

Consult your paint store professional to be sure you have the right primer for your job; laminate cabinets will need a slightly different kind than wood cabinets. And test a patch in an obscure section before you give everything a coat. “If the primer fisheyes, meaning you see a bubble forming on the surface, that tells you your surface isn’t clean enough,” Rick says. While everything dries, pour yourself an icy beverage—you’ve already accomplished a lot!

7. Sand the cabinets again.

Note: this step is strictly optional. But if you roll with the Type-A crowd (or you’re looking for a very professional-looking paint job), consider sanding the dry primer just to make sure there’s no grit, dust, or hairs from the brushes left behind. If you opt into this step, you’ll need fine-grain sandpaper—look for 360-grit or above. Doing this extra step ensures a smooth finish.

8. Paint the kitchen cabinets.

Wipe your cleaned, sanded, and primed kitchen cabinets down with a damp rag to get rid of any dust that may have settled while you ordered pizza, and get to painting. Kitchens are high-traffic, so you’ll want something that’s really durable (Rick suggests this interior/exterior paint) for painting kitchen cabinets, but the finish—glossy or no—is totally up to you. And there’s no need for a protective clear coat over the top. “If you want extra insurance,” Rick says, “just do a second coat of your pigmented paint.”

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Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest