How to paint kitchen cabinets

One of the most economical and environmentally friendly ways of remodeling a kitchen is to paint your existing cabinets. And yes, you can achieve professional looking results yourself if you take the time to do it right. Here's how:

how to paint kitchen cabinets

1. Clean the cabinets.

Preparation is the most important step in the process of painting your cabinets, and it is very important to make sure that all of the surfaces you are going to paint are completely free of all grease, grime, food residue and whatever else may be stuck to them.When doing this remove the doors and hardware and lay them out flat. Use an all purpose cleaner and a rag and then allow them to dry thoroughly.

2. Sand the cabinets.

Once dry, use a piece of fine grit sandpaper - 150 or finer - and make a few passes over all the flat surfaces of the doors. Don't forget to do the thin facing pieces on the cabinet boxes themselves. The slightly sanded surface will allow the primer to better hold onto the surface and greatly increase longevity of the paint job. 

3. Apply primer.

After sanding, it's time to prime the cabinets. Primer forms a better bond with the surface than paint alone would.  If your cabinets are already painted and you are re-painting them the same color, it is OK to skip this step and go ahead and apply the paint. If, however, your cabinets are stained and you are trying to cover up the natural wood grain with paint, you must prime them first. The paint will not stick to the varnished surface and the color of the stain will most likely bleed right through your paint.

4.  Paint the cabinets.

There are a couple of ways to apply the paint. A sprayer is the best way to get a smooth and glossy finish - just do this on the doors but taking them off the cabinets and laying them outside on a drop cloth on the ground. If you don't have access to one, however, don't fret. You can still get a great finish by using a high quality paint brush - 2 1/2" to 3" would be ideal.

The key to achieving a professional finish with a brush is to use very thin coats. It may be tempting to try to coat the paint on as thick as possible just so you can be finished, but DON'T. The best and most durable paint jobs are built up by consecutive thin layers of paint.

Note: I always use a latex no-VOC paint to keep as many toxins as possible out of the home. 

5. Sand, then add additional coats.

In between coats, take some 320 grit sandpaper and very lightly sand the flat surfaces again so that you have the smoothest possible surface for your next coat. Use a tack cloth to wipe away all the dust, and go on to your next coat. You will likely need 2-4 coats - depends on how picky you are and the look you're going for. 

6. Seal them. 

Always finish off with a water-based polyurethane product in a satin or matte finish. Again, water based instead of oil, and this will help seal the finish and keep from chipping, without adding fumes to your home. 

7. Put them back together.

Let dry 24 hours and then hang the doors and install the hardware. Viola- new kitchen without consuming new materials or spending a lot of money. 

House to Home


For more ways to make your kitchen refresh sustainable,  check out:

Kelly Anderson

Refreshed Designs

A re-designer focused on natural, sustainable and holistic design.