Expert Tips for Painting Kitchen Cabinets

worker painting kitchen cabinets

One of the best ways to update your kitchen is to do something about your kitchen cabinets. You may want to reface the cabinet doors if it is in good condition, or to replace them if they are not. However, it is not always easy to find kitchen cabinets that are exactly what you want.
You can choose from a wide range of cabinet finishes for ready to assemble or stock cabinets, but it may not be precisely what you have in mind. You might have better luck with custom cabinets, but those are pricey. Also you can ask for special finishes for your cabinets, but that is pricey as well.

Another option might be available to you: paint. You can undoubtedly find or mix the right color and combination of paint you need for your kitchen, so it is the easy and practical way to update your kitchen.

The good news is, you can probably do this part yourself in most cases after having your contractor install or reface your cabinets. If you plan to update existing cabinets, you will need to strip the existing finish down to the core material. This is messy work, and it may be better to order new cabinet doors.

The thing is, you need to make sure the cabinet fronts are unfinished. Paint looks much better if you start with an unfinished surface. Here are other expert tips for painting kitchen cabinets for best results.

1. Choose wood or wood-like surfaces

wood cabinetsThe thing with paint is you need it to stick to the surface, and that usually requires scuffing it up to increase the surface area. The best material for this is unfinished solid wood, but you can do almost as well with any type of engineered wood such as medium density fiberboard (MDF) or even particleboard. You take some sandpaper to it and give it a good scuffing.

Veneers, laminates, and thermofoil surfaces are not going to give you a good surface for holding paint. You may be able to apply the paint on quite easily, and it will dry on well enough, but it will not take long before it will begin to flake and peel off.

When ordering your cabinets, you can have the cabinet boxes finished or laminated. The important part is the cabinet front, which is where you will apply the paint.

2. Take time to prep the surface

sanding the surfaceMost people think that slapping on paint is as easy as falling off a log, and it is. That is, if you want it to look like you fell off a log while you were doing it. The most important (and tedious) part in painting kitchen cabinets is prepping it. It will take a bit of time, but you have to do it if you want your paint job to look fantastic.

Make sure you have a good supply of painters tape and plastic to cover up anything you are not planning to paint. This includes surrounding appliances, sockets, light switch plates, hinges, and counters.
If you are painting the whole cabinet, you need to empty and clean it as thoroughly as you can. If you are only painting the cabinet doors, you will not have to empty the cabinets at all. In either case, remove the cabinet doors so you can get at all the nooks and crannies. Make sure all the surfaces are completely free of dirt, grime, grease, and oils.

Once it is clean and dry, fill up any fissures, cracks, or holes in the surface with wood filler. You then need to sand the surface. You can use a rotary sander (messy but fast) or 220-grade sandpaper (less messy but slow) for unfinished surfaces. If you are working with a smooth painted, glossed, or stained surface, you need to make it less smooth.

You can remove the paint with a stripper such as Rock Miracle, or if the paint is not that thick, you can also use 120-grade sandpaper first, before moving to a finer grade. You can remove a gloss finish using some type of deglosser, such as a liquid sander.
If you are just painting the doors, you can use either plastic sheeting or newspaper to catch any mess. Better yet, clean and prep them outside or in the garage to make cleanup easier.

3. Follow the prime directives

primer paint cans
Once you have prepped your cabinet surfaces properly, it is time to put on the primer. This is not the same as paint, and you should not get a primer-and-paint product. These all-in-one types do not work so well.

The reason a primer (or undercoat) is important is that it seals the surface against the top coat and makes it adhere better at the same time. The best type of primer is oil-based, but these usually contain VOCs, which is not healthy to people.

The next best thing for unfinished wood is a latex-oil combination such as Benjamin Moor’s Advance. Most of these types of primer dry quickly, so you may need an extender or conditioner such as Floetrol, This will help you achieve a nice, smooth, brush mark-less coat.

It is also a good idea to tint the primer a similar color as your top coat, unless you are using white or a light colored finishing paint. Doing so you will give you an even and vibrant look to your kitchen cabinets using fewer coats of paint, which is always a good thing. A good rule of thumb is to get 75% saturation for your primer if you are having the paint store tint it for you.
Once your primer dries, sand it all over again, but more lightly than the first time. This will make the top coats stick better over the long term.

4. Go for quality

damaged old cabinetsThe quality of kitchen cabinets is very important if you are going to the trouble of painting them. Do not try to repaint old cabinets that are the worst for wear, or choose new ones that are of poor quality. You will waste your time and money. If you are buying new cabinets, make sure you get one from a reliable supplier of high-quality cabinets, such as Cabinet Land.
The quality of the primer and paint is just as important. Two coats of the finish paint are essential, but you will need more to give you satisfactory results if you choose cheaper paint. The cost will come out about the same if you choose good quality ones, and you will spend less time and effort.

You should also choose the paintbrushes you will use carefully. A good one for a nice finish is a 2½-inch brush with a fine bristle. Have finer and smaller brushes on hand to do difficult spots such as corners.
Don’t skimp on your health, either. When you are ready to put on primer and paint, make sure you wear a mask and have a lot of ventilation in the room.


The look of your kitchen has a lot to do with the look of your kitchen cabinets. You can make it unique by choosing non-stock paints for your cabinets. And you can save some money (and have some fun) painting it yourself. However, make sure you get good quality cabinets from a reliable contractor. Cabinet Land Kitchen and Beyond is just the one you need if you are in the Chicago, Schaumburg, Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Hoffman Estate, and Elk Grove Village area.

We are a local remodeling company with a showroom located in Schaumburg, Illinois. We carry only the top cabinet brands, including Schrock, Fabuwood, J and K Cabinets, Forevermark, and Wolf Cabinets, at lower prices than big box stores. This goes for all cabinet types, from RTA to custom cabinets. Our turnaround is none too shabby, either, compared to our competitors such as Cabinets To Go, Advance Cabinets and Handsome Cabinets.
Visit us today to see what we have to offer. We offer free consultation services and quotes, so you can have the benefit of our expertise without spending a dime. We have the expertise and resources to complete virtually any type of kitchen cabinets – ON TIME and ON BUDGET with top quality craftsmanship that will exceed your expectations.