How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

by Kristen on May 7, 2014 · 21 comments

in DIY, Painting

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Last summer, I tackled the project of painting my worn, outdated kitchen cabinets.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,

IMG_0765

the fire pit,

IMG_0770

a compost bin,

IMG_0766

and that ever-handy Cozy Coupe.;)
IMG_0768

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

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.

Leave a Comment

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cattis May 7, 2014 at 7:54 am

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.

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2 Maggi May 7, 2014 at 9:13 am

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!

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3 Kristen May 7, 2014 at 10:20 pm

It makes such a difference, doesn’t it??

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4 Jane May 7, 2014 at 9:14 am

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! ;)

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5 Kristen May 7, 2014 at 10:19 pm

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.

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6 Kris May 7, 2014 at 9:41 am

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!

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7 Frugal Paragon May 7, 2014 at 9:55 am

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.

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8 Kathy M May 7, 2014 at 9:59 am

You never cease to amaze me. Great job.

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9 Lili@creativesavv May 7, 2014 at 10:01 am

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.

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10 Staryla May 7, 2014 at 11:01 am

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?

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11 Kristen May 7, 2014 at 10:21 pm

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.

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12 Carla May 7, 2014 at 11:12 am

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!

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13 AmyK May 7, 2014 at 12:04 pm

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 :)

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14 Diane C May 7, 2014 at 1:42 pm

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.

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15 Gladys (The Pinay Mom) May 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm

It looks so much work but it’s worth it if my kitchen would look like that

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16 Lisa May 7, 2014 at 9:26 pm

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!

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17 Kristen May 7, 2014 at 10:24 pm

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.

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18 CharleyGirl May 13, 2014 at 9:43 am

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!

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19 Kristen May 13, 2014 at 11:25 am

I think square shaped pads could be helpful, although I have read that they can be poorer at removing material when compared to an orbital sander, and because the pattern isn’t random, it can leave some marks on your surface.

Here’s a helpful article comparing the two: http://www.woodworking-news.com/woodworking-tips/random-vs-sheet-sanders.shtml

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20 CharleyGirl May 13, 2014 at 11:34 am

Thanks so much for clarifying that! Leaving marks behind would be particularly bad on the kitchen cabinets, so I’m glad I know now!

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21 Kristen May 13, 2014 at 11:40 am

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.)

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