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How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

There's many reasons to paint kitchen cabinets such as to change the whole look of the kitchen, to update dated cabinets without replacing them and more. But, if you do this wrong, you may end up costing yourself much more money than planned, and end up with a poor job you aren't proud of. I've had customers come to me and tell me exactly this. Customer A went to the big box store and got 'advice' on how to do it. She basically primed them and painted them with ordinary latex paint, and almost immediately started getting chips, scratches etc.

Then, she called me. I advised her that we would have to Strip all that painting she had done, which would take a LOT of time, then do it right. Once it was done, it looked like this-

Here's a closeup of the doors-

Painted kitchen cabinet door closeup
Painted kitchen cabinet door closeup

She was very happy with the results, but it took about twice as much work to 'undo' her mistake, so if you are going to tackle this yourself, be sure you do it right or you may seriously regret it. And please, don't take the advice of a big box store employee on something this important. They try, but many don't have the experience and will do their job of trying to give their best advice, which could easily cause you grief.

If you have other painting questions besides this one, ask someone at a painting store, like Sherwin Williams. They will know their products better and can usually give better advice.

I'll give you some guidelines below.

Here's another example of a job I did painting cabinets. I think you'll see that paint can make a dramatic difference in the overall look. Note that there's also new tile here, trim, counter tops, mirrors, soffit removed, lights and much more, which I did all of, but the paint did make a huge difference.

Cabinet Painting Guidelines

Step One- PREP

Prep is key! With pretty much any paint project you need to start with a clean, dry, dull and sound surface. This means clean of grease, dust, etc, and dull meaning you can't just paint over glossy surfaces, even with a high bonding primer.

First remove all the doors, and the face of the drawers (you can usually remove a few screws just inside the drawer face and the face comes off separately) all hardware of latches, hinges, knobs etc.

Then clean every surface you'll be painting thoroughly. Get into the little nooks and cracks

with a good de-greaser like Krud Kutter, (which the one in this link will also help de-gloss the paint). If in doubt, ask your paint store for a good product. After cleaning with a soapy product, wipe it all down with a clean, damp rag with only clean water to remove the soapy residue. Rinse the rag often. I haven't used this version of Krud Kutter, (but use the standard version often) but it says you don't need to rinse, as it likely etches the paint and softens it slightly to ensure the new paint adheres well. I would suggest applying it with a scotch brite though, as you'll scuff sand it at the same time. But in the end, ensure the surface is clean and dry before proceeding.

Once cleaned, I would apply a test sample of an Extreme Bond Primer in an inconspicuous area. Allow to dry properly and test for adhesion. Because of the exceptional adhesion of these products, used in conjunction with the Krud Kutter above, sanding may not be necessary for most clean, paintable surfaces. But despite the labeling, I would NOT just apply over a glossy surface unless you have prepped it like I've described above. That's what the customer in my story above was led would work. Somehow, you have to give the paint tooth to hold onto and nothing likes to stick to shiny surfaces.

Once you have established good bonding/adhesion, you can prime the entire surface. If you have any dents, holes, or defects, you should fix those before doing any priming. A quality wood filler/putty should be used to patch holes or imperfections in the surface.

If you plan to use a latex finish, do NOT buy an ordinary wall or ceiling paint. They aren't

tough enough to stand up to the abuse cabinet doors get. I would recommend the Emerald® Urethane Trim Enamel, in a gloss, semi- gloss or satin sheen. This product has excellent flow and leveling characteristics for a smooth and durable finish on cabinets, doors and trim. It also meets the most stringent VOC regulations with <50g/L VOC. It is available in a wide range of colors.

Worn down, previously stained and sealed wood

If you have any doubts about the soundness of the old finish, the don't paint over them as your new paint may lift and not stick well. I would recommend that the cabinets be stripped back down to bare wood. (If the stained and finished cabinets are in excellent condition, follow the procedures that I mention in the first question).

Once stripped, I would apply a test sample of a premium wood primer, in an inconspicuous area. Allow to dry properly and test for adhesion. (note read the label for drying times, don't just look at it and guess) This step is key, because we want to make sure the sealer is no longer filling the pores of the wood and the primer is able to penetrate and adhere well to the wood.


The BEST way to paint cabinets is with a sprayer, with a smaller tip size, IF you have one and know how to use it. But that takes a lot of space and you'll have to paint one side, let it dry, flip it, paint the other, and then do it all again. And you will be Amazed at how much space all these doors and drawer faces will occupy, so you may have to do it in several stages, over many days. This will give you the smoothest finish however, with no brush or roller marks.

Here's a short clip of how I spray paint doors. Note that this is the backside, so that's why there's no molding detail.

I have these all spaced up on Painters Pyramids as seen here. You can click on the image to view them on Amazon. The very sharp point allows you to paint the backside first, then flip them over right away because the sharp point will barely leave a mark, which is never seen since it's on the back of the door or drawer face.

You should always plan on putting on two coats of paint for best results, giving it the proper amount of drying time in between coats and before re-installing.

Another clever invention, that I just stumbled on, is these Stak Racks which allow you to paint many more doors in the same amount of space.

And you can flip them over as seen in the 2nd picture allowing you to paint both sides at once.

A warning note on surface prep

*WARNING! Removal of old paint by sanding, scraping or other means may generate dust or fumes that contain lead. Exposure to lead dust or fumes may cause brain damage or other adverse health effects, especially in children or pregnant women. Controlling exposure to lead or other hazardous substances requires the use of proper protective equipment, such as a properly fitted respirator (NIOSH approved) and proper containment and cleanup. For more information, call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (in US) or contact your local health authority.

Thank You

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Guy Purcella

That Kilted Guy Video Productions LLC

Copyright 2020

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