Architectural Home Designs & Decorating Ideas

Master a Flawless Kitchen Cabinet Makeover with These Tips

Gabriela Connell
5 minute read

Transforming your kitchen with a fresh coat of paint on the cabinets can make the space look brand new. But between deciding on the right type of paint, proper prep work, and achieving a smooth application, painting cabinets is more complicated than just slapping on a random color. The key to success is understanding how different paint options work specifically on kitchen cabinetry. Once you learn about the unique characteristics of cabinet paints and techniques for applying them, you’ll be equipped to paint your kitchen like a pro.

You’ll find recommendations on types of paint, finishes, prepping properly, application methods, and troubleshooting problems. Follow this guide to get a durable, flawless painted finish on your cabinets that makes your kitchen shine.

Assessing Your Current Kitchen Cabinets

Before selecting a paint, inspect your existing cabinets closely. Look for any damage, stains, or problem areas that need addressed. Test the surfaces by wiping with a wet rag to see if any color comes off, which may indicate a sealed finish or residue. Oak or natural wood grain cabinets require more prep than laminate.

Proper prep work is crucial for successful adhesion. At minimum, you’ll need to thoroughly clean and scuff sand the cabinets to degloss and rough up the surface. Fill any holes from old hardware. Most pros also recommend completely removing doors and drawers to make painting easier.

what paint should i use on kitchen cabinets

Types of Paint for Kitchen Cabinets

Oil-Based Paints

Known for their durability and glossy finish, oil-based paints remain a popular choice for cabinets. Alkyd paint provides a tough, flexible coating that resists yellowing and withstands cleaning. Enamel paint is an extremely hard, glossy finish often used for trim and cabinets due to its protective qualities.

Oil-based paints do contain harsh solvents like mineral spirits for cleanup. Working in a well-ventilated area is crucial. But their adhesion and stain-blocking ability make alkyds and enamels ideal for high-traffic surfaces like kitchen cabinets.

Latex Paints

In recent years, latex paint technology has vastly improved. Water-based acrylics and other latex paints now rival the performance of traditional oil-based options while offering easier cleanup with soap and water. Their quick dry time also allows for faster recoat times.

For kitchen cabinets, stick with a latex paint specifically formulated for trim and cabinetry. Look for “acrylic enamel” or “cabinet paint” on the label. Make sure to use a primer first for best adhesion on surfaces like stained wood or laminate.

Specialty Cabinet Paints

Beyond standard paints, some specialty products cater towards cabinet refinishing. Milk paint creates an eco-friendly, non-toxic option praised for its durability and patina. Chalk paint also provides a unique, matte finish popular for creating distressed, vintage styles.

Keep in mind these paints have different characteristics like lower protection against grease/moisture. They offer unique aesthetics but may not work as all-purpose options.

Comparing Paint Finishes

Paint comes in a spectrum of finishes, from flat matte to ultra-glossy. For cabinets, steer away from flat since it doesn’t stand up to cleaning and magnifies imperfections. Semi-gloss or satin offer good durability and hide scratches well. Gloss provides maximum protection and reflective shine.

Consider your cabinets’ location and usage when choosing a sheen. A rich gloss may accentuate formal cabinetry while satin suits casual spaces. Stick with higher gloss paints on bottom cabinets near sinks and cooktops since they’ll need frequent wiping.

Prep Work Before Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Cleaning and Sanding

To start prepping, empty cabinets and wash all surfaces with a deglossing cleaner or TSP substitute to remove grease and dirt. For laminate cabinets with a glossy coating, use a chemical deglosser. Lightly sand wood cabinets to scuff up the finish – 120-150 grit sandpaper works for this purpose.

Don’t use overly coarse sandpaper that can damage the wood. Wipe away dust before priming. Thorough sanding and deglossing allow the new paint to properly adhere.

Priming Cabinets

Quality primer helps new paint stick to cabinet surfaces while blocking stains, tannins, and grease. For heavily soiled or damaged cabinets, a heavy-duty oil-based primer provides the best staining power. On laminate or previously painted cabinets, a water-based acrylic primer works great.

Zinsser’s B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer or Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Primer are good options. Apply in thin coats according to manufacturer guidelines for full coverage without drips.

Caulking and Filling Holes

Don’t skip this important step! Filling any nicks, holes, and imperfections with wood filler ensures your painted finish will look smooth and professional. Caulk around cabinet frames, countertop joints, and any seams.

Let the caulk or filler fully cure before sanding flush and painting. Addressing these prep steps takes a bit more time up front but prevents problems down the road.

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Paint Application Process

When applying cabinet paint, use quality brushes and foam rollers designed for smooth, fine finishes. Angled sash brushes easily get into corners. Maintain a wet edge and move methodically to prevent lap marks and brush strokes from drying.

Spraying paint on with an HVLP system is the fastest method but requires tenting off the kitchen. For smaller projects, stick to painting by hand for best control.

Painting Cabinet Doors

To paint doors efficiently, set up sawhorses and lay doors flat to coat all sides. Use small foam rollers and angled brushes to get into the recessed panel grooves. Spray paint works great for doors too. Let the paint thoroughly dry before rehanging doors to prevent sticking.

If needed, use painter’s tape and drop cloths to protect surrounding surfaces from drips. Take care not to overload the paintbrush or roller – multiple thin coats provide better results than thick, gloppy paint.

Cleaning and Protecting Finish

Oil-based cabinet paints may take up to 2 weeks to fully cure, while latex cures faster. Don’t scrub or use cleaners until the paint has hardened completely. Topcoating with a layer of non-yellowing polyurethane or paint-on wax protectant adds extra protection.

With the right techniques, you can get a smooth, professional-looking finish on DIY painted cabinets. Common problems like brush marks, inconsistent sheen, or drips come down to improper application. Rushing leads to sloppy work.

Prepping thoroughly, allowing proper dry times between coats, using high-quality application tools, and maintaining a wet edge prevents many painter pitfalls. Check for any imperfections like dust specks or drips as you work. Fixing issues promptly keeps projects on track.

Finally, care for your freshly painted cabinets by cleaning them only with mild soap and water. Avoid abrasive scouring pads. Adding another coat of paint can help refresh the finish after several years. Proper prep work, patience, and the right cabinet paint allows anyone to transform the look of a kitchen.