How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

how to paint kitchen cabinets

Last summer, I tackled the project of painting my worn, outdated kitchen cabinets. I’m super happy with the results, but oof.  It was a big project, and I’m glad I won’t have to do this again soon!

I don’t have a huge kitchen, but it still was a really time consuming project, and having my kitchen taken apart was a little bit inconvenient.

But hello! They look so, so, so much better now.

July 2013

You can see copious amounts of before and after pictures in this post, by the way.

My cabinets are made of real wood, and aside from the worn finish, they were in pretty good shape, so it made a lot of sense to paint them rather than replace them.

The Cost

I spent $50 for a gallon of Benjamin Moore Advance paint, $35 for a gallon of primer, $15 for tack cloth and brushes, and $35 on new hinges (I kept the old handles.)

So I managed to rejuvenate my cabinets for less than $150 (plus lots of labor hours!)

The gallon of paint was more than enough to cover the fronts and backs of all my doors and drawers with multiple coats, so I’ve got plenty left for touch-ups.

The Time

I wish I’d kept a more detailed log of the hours I spent on this, but it’s difficult to calculate.  I did it in bits and pieces while still cooking and doing laundry and grocery shopping and serving at church, so the hours of painting and sanding and such were inextricably mixed in with other activities.

If I’d been able to work on it undistracted, nonstop, I think I could have gotten it done in five days.  As it was, the process spread over a 3-4 week time frame.

If pressed, I’d say it took about 40 hours of labor.

The Paint

I opted to use an oil-based primer and a latex paint.  The oil-based primer helps the paint to stick better, but I read that oil-based white paint sometimes yellows with time. Plus, oil-based paint is really  just a pain to work with, so I wanted to avoid that if possible.

I used Benjamin Moore Advance paint, which is designed for painting cabinets, and after a year of using my newly painted cabinets, I’m pretty pleased with how it’s holding up.  There are a few spots where someone has dinged up a door, but I can touch those up pretty easily, and I think that type of thing can happen no matter what finish you use.

Brushing vs. Spraying

I know that spraying cabinets is the very best way to get a smooth, professional finish, but I did not want to take my cabinet frames off of the wall, and I also wasn’t at all interested in enclosing my whole kitchen in paint-proof plastic drop cloths so I could spray inside.

If I’d had to face that prospect, I’d never have gotten this project done, so I decided to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good and opted for brushing.

If you use good paint and carefully do thin coats of a self-leveling paint like the Benjamin Moore Advance, you can get a pretty darn smooth finish without the headache of spraying.

I’m totally happy with my decision and wouldn’t change a thing.

The How-To

Here are the basic steps I used.

1. Remove cabinet doors and drawer fronts.

removing cabinet doors
remove drawer front for painting

2. Fill hinge screw holes (if changing hardware) and gouges.

I did this on the frames:

fill hinge holes with spackle


And on the doors:

cabinet doors spackled

I used DAP DryDex spackle, which is a pretty handy product. It looks pink when you first apply it, and then when it’s dry and ready to sand, it turns white.

dap drydex spackle

Also, it dries really fast and sands easily, and is generally just perfect for filling small holes.

3. Clean cabinet frames, doors, and drawer fronts with degreaser.

tsp degreaser for cabinets

A reader’s husband suggested this to me, and I must say, it worked great. Kitchen grease is tough to get off of cabinets normally, but the TSP made it pretty easy to scrub off.

This is a pretty heavy duty cleaner, so wear gloves, use ventilation if you’re not outside, and follow the package instructions.

4. Sand frames, doors, and drawer fronts.

sanded cabinet doors

I borrowed my dad’s Bosch orbital sander for this project, and you guys, it was amazing. SO much better than the sander I normally use. It’s much quieter, it spits out very little dust, and it doesn’t vibrate nearly as much (my old sander makes my hands feel numb after a while!)

The dust factor isn’t such an issue for the doors and drawer fronts, but I did not remove my cabinet frames from the kitchen, so I had to sand those indoors, and having the Bosch sander made the dust level so much more manageable.

I used a higher-grit sandpaper at first (80) and then a finer grit paper (120).

After I finished using the orbital sander, I went over all the doors and drawers with steel wool. This was especially helpful for the parts on the doors that the orbital sander couldn’t reach (like the recessed areas).

steel wool sanding

4. Brush off dust and clean with tack cloth.

tack cloth

It’s really important to get all the dust and bits of steel wool off of your surface before you prime. I used a dry t-shirt rags to get a lot of the dust off and then went over all the surfaces with tack cloth.

5. Prime frames, doors, and drawer fronts (single coat)

one coat of oil-based primer

I used an oil-based Zinsser Primer, because from what I read, an oil-based primer helps a cabinet paint job to last a lot longer.

I’m not gonna lie, though. This stuff is stinky. The pail said it was low-VOC, but it smelled baaa-ad. Again, not such an issue for the doors and drawer fronts, because I took care of those outside, but when I primed the cabinet frames, it was super important to open the windows and doors.

I used a mini microfiber roller and a small paint brush to apply the primer.

One coat is all you need, by the way. And I opted to do a light sanding after the primer dried. I don’t know how terribly necessary this is, but I just decided to err on the side of caution.

6. Caulk as necessary

(between any seams that aren’t perfectly tight-fitting) and also where cabinets frames meet walls.

caulk cabinet gaps

I use Dap latex caulk for this kind of job. I find it works a lot better than the bargain basement types of caulk, so spend the extra dollar for the good stuff.

dap latex caulk for cabinet doors

7. Paint frames, doors, and drawer fronts.(2-3 coats)

Based on recommendations I found around the web, I used Benjamin Moore Advance paint (a latex paint). I chose Cloud White, which is slightly warmer than pure white.

I’d never used this paint before, but I really did like it. It’s pretty easy to get a smooth, brush/roller-mark free finish with it, and it dries to a nice, hard, slightly glossy finish that is not at all sticky.

Just like with the primer, I used a microfiber roller and I also used a regular paintbrush and a teensy-weensy paintbrush (like the type you’d use for watercolors).

The teeny paintbrush was FANTASTIC. If you have cabinets with any amount of detail on them, you should definitely get a small brush. It’s perfect for reaching into small recessed areas, and since it’s so small, you don’t end up with tons of excess paint pooling.

Also, without that brush, I would have nearly died painting the trim above my cabinets.

painting trim above cabinets

I did a steel wool/tack cloth treatment between coats. It was really light sanding, though, with very fine steel wool.

I think I ended up doing three coats on nearly everything.

Here’s my super-duper fancy painting set-up (complete with a fan to blow mosquitoes away from my legs)

sawhorses for painting cabinets

I had way more doors than sawhorses, so as I painted the doors, I moved them from the sawhorses to all sorts of makeshift drying spaces…

a wagon,


the fire pit,


a compost bin,


and that ever-handy Cozy Coupe.;)

Whatever works, right??

8. Reinstall doors and drawer fronts and reinstall hardware.

Fortunately for me, my dad came over to help me with this (well, actually he did it and I was the helper!) We were done in just an hour or two, and it would have taken me WAY longer on my own.

reinstall hardware

And then you’re done!

painted kitchen cabinets over fridge

I’m so, so glad I bit the bullet and took this project on, and I’m so, so glad that my kitchen is all neatly back together now.  Yay!


Please do let me know if I’ve inadvertently left out anything, or if you have questions about any part of my process, and I’ll do my best to answer.

P.S. A reader wrote to ask about the hinges I used.  I bought Liberty 1/2 inch overlay hidden hinges. They do make a soft-close variety, but I opted for the regular kind to save money.


  1. says

    Your kitchen is wonderful, I´m thinking about going down that road, but I don´t have that much free time. I´m thinking maybe spraypaint… Anything would be super because our kitchen is old and worn, it would be nice to give it a makeover.

  2. Maggi says

    Your makeover looks FANTASTIC!

    I did the same thing two years ago – painted my 1980’s dark brown cabinets white. I used oil-based primer and paint and yes… they have yellowed slightly. But not in a bad way, if you know what I mean. Anyway, they all still look the same shade in collection so it’s fine. One thing, I only had to touch up one spot in two years (despite my rambunctious 9 year-old boy) and that’s probably because of the oil-based paint.

    Yours looks phenomenal!

  3. Jane says

    I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, starting with two bathrooms (smaller projects: our powder room and the kids’ bathroom). I have a questions about the hinges: do I *really* need to fill in and start fresh, or can I re-use what is currently there? My husband is not super handy and I’m not sure I could do that myself? I was just thinking I could remove, sand, paint, and re-attach? Or no?? Thanks for any advice you can give! Hopefully I’ll have the energy over the summer to complete the tasks! ;)

    • Kristen says

      Oh, yeah, I only filled my holes because I was switching hardware…if you’re keeping your old hardware, you don’t have to bother with all that.

  4. Kris says

    Thank you for doing follow-up posts. I always like to know how products (or paint jobs!) hold up for the long haul and sometimes that can be difficult information to obtain. Your white kitchen rocks!

  5. says

    They look beautiful! Good to know you can get away with latex paint for something like that. I once painted a built-in bookcase with oil paint and not only was it a pain, but it was SUCH a pain that I quit after two coats when it really, really need a third (I was painting over new, primed wood). I probably would have been more willing to keep going if I’d been using latex.

  6. says

    That looks great! We’ll be repainting our door/drawer fronts (but not the frames) next summer. I will opt for a sprayer, as it’s just the fronts, and will do them in the garage again. The other issue with a sprayer is you really need to wear something like a hazmat suit. The fine spray gets on everything, it seems, including in my hair and lungs.

    When I’ve painted our home’s paneled doors, I use a very low-nap roller for the flat areas, then a brush in the indentations from the inset panels. The low-nap roller leaves a nice smooth finish, with barely any pebbling.

    I don’t know if you did this with your kitchen cabinets, but we used tiny labels of masking tape, numbering every door and drawer, so we’d be able to replace them all in the correct spot. Drawers and doors can look like they’re completely interchangeable, but there can be small mismatches that really stand out if a couple of doors or drawers get mixed up.

  7. Staryla says

    Very timely article. You are always a step ahead of me! I’m planning to paint my kitchen cabinets next year (when I no longer have a nursing babe and therefore have more time). But in the meantime I have a few pieces of furniture I’d like to paint to sort of get my feet wet and get experience painting. The paint and primer in this article are different than the ones you used in your ‘how to paint furniture’ discussion. Would you recommend using the paints you used in your kitchen on wood furniture?

    • Kristen says

      Well, I think either method would work, but my furniture method doesn’t require any oil based paint, so I feel like that’s kind of easier.

  8. Carla says

    They look fabulous, Kristin! White is a classic and no matter what other colors you choose to go with it everything will blend beautifully. You did a wonderful job! Congratulations on your new kitchen!

  9. AmyK says

    Your cabinets look great! Thanks for sharing. We moved into our late-80’s house almost 10 years ago with aspirations of re-doing the worn & dated kitchen. 10 years later, it’s even more worn and more dated. I can’t believe I never even thought about paint!! I worked my way through college as a painter and painted the cabinets in our first home (white)! We’ve been waiting to have the money to replace the cabinets with a darker wood – & I don’t think white would “fit” in this house well anyway – I wonder if we could paint a cherry-wood color… Your post is so inspiring, I”ll be pitching this to my husband shortly :)

  10. Diane C says

    Beautiful! One thing I really admire is your willingness to incorporate other’s suggestions into your project ;-). The results are lovely, despite months of hard use since completion. You did a quality job and your hard work should last for years.

  11. Lisa says

    Looks great! This is a well timed post for me as I am painting a built-in book shelf with BM’s Advance paint in Simply White.

    Question for you – did you have any issues with cutting in the edges with a brush and then rolling the rest and seeing the difference between the two techniques? For example, my book shelf meets up with my wall and my roller can’t paint right to the edge so I have to cut in along the wall with a paint brush. After 2 coats I can still see the cut in part noticeably – help!

    • Kristen says

      I didn’t have a big problem with that thanks to the self leveling of that paint. I’m surprised yours is showing marks…and I’m not totally sure what to suggest! Maybe check with your local Benjamin Moore employee? I find them to be super knowledgeable.

      Oh, what about getting a super teeny roller? They make really, really small ones that you could use over your brushed sections.

  12. says

    This was excellent, thank you! I intend to do this myself soon…and paint my dresser, using similar techniques.
    I haven’t purchased a palm/orbiter sander yet, and wondered why you chose they type you did. I saw a highly rated one on amazon that had square-shaped pads, and I wondered, is there was some benefit to a circular one? Obviously, the noise level being low on the model you used is very nice. What was the one you had used before, that you were less excited about? Thanks again for posting this!

        • Kristen says

          Yeah, I’ve not used one before, so I’m going off of what other people say. But I can say that my orbital doesn’t leave marks unless I’m using super rough grit paper (which is fine because that is always followed by finer grit, and I only use the super rough grit to get the top layer of hard finish off.)

  13. Emily says

    Hi. I love this post! I am about to go buy BM Dove White Advance paint to start my kitchen and I wanted to know what finish you used. On BM website, they offer Advance paint in primer, satin, semi and high gloss. It says satin is washable and durable…just wondering what others have used. Thanks!

    • Kristen says

      Mine is satin, and yes, I’d say it’s quite washable and durable…so no need to go with the semi gloss unless you really want the shine.

  14. Megan says

    Hello, do you think that the paint is yellowing at all? We are looking at using the benjamin moore on our cupboards and paint them white.

    • Kristen says

      A year later, I would say it has not. I read that putting a coat of poly on the cabinets would cause them to yellow, so I skipped that step.

  15. Dan says

    Kristen, I commend you on your project. A couple of things though…Advance is water clean-up; but is not a latex paint as stated. It’s an alkyd. You were able to use 80 grit sandpaper because you have hardwood oak doors. For a softer wood, you should be very careful using anything bigger than 150. DryDex is okay for filling small holes; if filling old hardware holes, you should use a better wood filler, not spackle. Alex fast Dry is not a high quality caulk. If you have loose door panels, you should use an “adhesive” caulking like Phenoseal. As you stated, removing dust from the surface between coats is very important. Vacuum the surface first, then tack. The new microfiber towels at Home Depot work very well for removing dust and can be washed and reused (do not use fabric softener). Again, I commend you…I spray cabinets for a living and have have had good luck with Advance. Inslx Cabinet Coat is another good product that is readily available; but it only comes in Satin. When I use Advance, it’s usually because the customer wants a semi-gloss finish. Lastly, if you’re having trouble brushing the doors, thin the product with XIM latex x-tender. It’s much better than water for helping your paint level, and always buy a quality brush. Good luck to all!

    • Emily P says

      Hi Dan. I’m following this post as I love her finished kitchen and am about to go buy my paint to start painting my light maple kitchen cabinets. I researched a ton and had decided on BM Advance satin in simply white for my cabinets and then I read something about Inslx Cabinet Coat and that it’s made by BM and almost sounds identical in properties. I see you said when people want a higher gloss to their cabinets you use advance as opposed to cabinet coat. If there is no price difference, what do you recommend I use to paint my cabinets white if I don’t want them glossy?

  16. Amy says

    I’m using Advance paint on my cabinets and the can says 16 dry time between coats. I have no room in my house so it’s taking forever. I see you painted outside. You didn’t have trouble with dust getting on the paint with the long dry time?

    • Kristen says

      No, I didn’t, interestingly enough. I usually did about one coat a day, and I think the paint got past the tacky stage quickly enough that there weren’t bug/dust issues.

      That said, if you live in a particularly dusty and/or windy climate, your results could be different.

      Also, I did this in not-so-humid weather, which helped the paint to dry quickly. In less ideal conditions, the paint could remain tackier for longer.

  17. Shirley says

    I really liked the way your cabinets turned out, I would like to try that myself but our kitchen cabinets have been refaced do you know if this can still be done to cabinets?

    • Kristen says

      Is the refacing of your cabinets a plasticky material? I’m not super familiar with refaced cabinets, but I know I’ve seen at least one kitchen where the resurfacing was vinyl/plastic.

      If yours were resurfaced with wood, then you should be able to do this project. Just use a light hand with the sanding so you don’t go through the wood veneer.

      If yours were resurfaced with plastic, then this project won’t work properly, as plastic doesn’t absorb paint like wood does.

  18. Melissa says

    Hi Kristen – what’s the cure time on the cabinets after painting? We have 1 and 3 year old boys and I can’t imagine keeping their hands off for weeks!

    • says

      Oh, it dries to touch in just an hour or two (the primer takes a little longer than the paint). I mean, you wouldn’t want to treat the cabinets super roughly after an hour or two (launch a matchbox car at the newly dried paint and there will be trouble), but it’s not like your kids will get paint on their hands after an hour or two.

  19. Jannie says

    Thanks for all the great info. I have a question on how long you let the final coat of Advance cure before hanging?
    Much thanks

    • says

      Well, the frames were dry for probably a week and a half or so, only because I did those first and then tackled the cabinet doors.

      I’d say I left the cabinet doors for several days before hanging them up. When you finish painting them, you need to be careful not to stack them on top of each other or anything as the paint is still a bit tacky even when it feels dry to the touch.

  20. Jason M says

    I’m just finishing spraying my cabinets white – total reface from oak.

    We used the BM Advance Satin 3.5 gallons and BM Advance Primer 2.5 gallons. The finish paint was $50/gallon and I think the primer may have been $48/gallon. The color we chose was Cloud White and we love it. They have to jimmy rig the Advance Primer to tint it, but it’s possible. I sprayed everything in the garage in an enclosed plastic area. I bought the Graco Magnum LTS15 for $270 at Lowes with a 10% off coupon. Got some experience ahead of time by painting the exterior of the house. Used a Graco RAC X Fine Finish Tip 214.

    Finishing our large kitchen in two weeks. First week lowers, then this week uppers. It will be about 100 accumulative hours spent. I paid friends to help me sand on the Saturdays and help brush/roll paint the inside. Our first day spraying was 99F. The max temp for application is 90F with a recommended 77F. I was fanning the AC into the garage as much as possible. One of the boards had a bad cracking effect and eventually had to use stripper and start over on that one. A few of the others had minimal cracking that we got cleared up with sanding and the additional coats. The cracking was noticed mid day and half way through spraying primer. I lowered my sprayer pressure down from the recommended 75% pressure to between 45-55% and intentionally sprayed less and never saw the problem again. I had all the cabinets drying in the garage. Used 2x4s across saw horses, etc. I hot glued golf tees to the boards and set the boards on those. Be mindful not to flip them after the dry to touch time or you’ll get dimples. Wait at a very minimum the recoat time. Make sure to use two finishing coats. The inside required three finishing coats. I cleaned them all with TSP and Klean Strip Sander Deglosser. Also used an orbital sander of 120 grit before primer and then 220 grit after primer. Then a fine sanding block between coats. We also used an Elmers sandable wood filler to fill screw holes. You can see a handful of divets from over sanding. In a perfect world we would have spent more time redoing some things, but who wants to have their kitchen tied up for a minimum of two weeks. Overall we are very pleased with the BM Advance.

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