Replacing or refinishing cabinets is part of most kitchen updates. Painting cabinets is a popular option these days that costs a fraction of replacing existing cabinets. You could hire someone to paint kitchen cabinets, but you can also handle the job yourself. Come on, you’ve got this!
Compare with a professional
It doesn’t hurt to get an estimate from contractors who paint kitchen cabinets, even if just for comparison to your DIY cost. Get references online and from friends for three contractors. Ask them about the steps of their process, the type of paint and other supplies they use, and how long the painting will take. Get bids from each. A professional will be able to do the job faster, but if time is not of the essence, doing the job yourself will save you money and teach you a new skill.
If you decide to paint kitchen cabinets yourself, updating only the outwardly visible parts — doors, drawer fronts and the outer surface of the boxes —is the least expensive option. Typically cabinets can be painted for a few hundred dollars. You can paint a typical set of kitchen cabinets in as little as a weekend.
Preparing to paint
The finished look of any paint job depends on how well you prepare.
- Begin preparations by numbering the cabinets and drawers. For each, mark two pieces of masking tape with the appropriate number, then tag the door or drawer and the corresponding box with the matching pieces of tape. This will allow you to easily put doors and drawers back where they belong when you’re done. Unscrew doors from their frames, drawer fronts from their boxes and all hardware, numbering everything.
- Then wipe down all surfaces with a cleaner containing Trisodium Phosphate, or TSP. Clean every surface, rinse with a wet cloth, then dry with a clean cloth. Use the corner of a six-in-one painter’s tool to clean beveled etchings and corners.
- The next step in painting kitchen cabinets is to remove the old finish so that the surfaces can receive and hold the new paint. Stained cabinets are coated with a polyurethane protectant that you must remove. You can do this by deglossing or by sanding.
- If you choose to use a liquid deglosser to lift the polyurethane from the surface, work on doors and drawer fronts laying flat. Do the center panels of each first, then the sides and top and bottom rails. Wipe with the grain of the wood. Afterwards, wipe the entire surface down with a wet cloth, then with a dry cloth. Allow the surface to dry completely before you paint.
- You can also remove the old finish by sanding the flat surfaces with an orbital sander and sanding bevels and corners by hand. Use 220-grit sandpaper. Vacuum and wipe all sanding dust from every surface before you paint the kitchen cabinets.
- If the cabinets are painted without a clear coat, you can skip from the cleaning step directly to sanding using a 120-grit paper to smooth out any rough surfaces.
- Put painter’s tape along the edges of surfaces adjacent to the areas you plan to paint. Place drop cloths or protective paper on counters and floors.
Ready to paint
If you have experience using an airless paint sprayer, or can learn from an online video, spraying will provide the fastest and best coating. With a sprayer you must put drop cloths on every surface within 10 feet of the project to prevent drifting paint mist from landing where you don’t want it
Otherwise, use a foam roller to paint the flat surfaces and a synthetic bristle brush for beveled edges. Oil-based paint generally provides the best look for wood cabinets, but latex acrylic paints work just fine too. Latex paint is easier to work with and doesn’t have the noxious fumes of oil-based.
Before you paint kitchen cabinets, lay doors and drawer fronts flat. Apply a water-based primer. This provides a better surface for the finish coat to adhere to and will prevent the wood grain from peeking through the final coat. Once one side’s primer coat has dried thoroughly, turn them over and prime the other side.
When all primed surfaces are dry, lightly sand again to prepare for the top coat and smooth out visible brush strokes. Then wipe away the sanding dust and apply the finish paint coat.
Putting it all back together
Using the numbering system you devised at the start, restore all hardware to doors and drawers, then reattach the doors and drawer fronts to the boxes. Clean up and enjoy your beautiful new look!