Painting kitchen cabinets can feel intimidating, or even sacreligious, but I believe that it’s one of the easiest, most affordable ways to completely transform your kitchen. I lived in our kitchen for years wanting to paint the cabinets, but felt bad painting them because they looked relatively new and were perfectly fine. But here’s the thing, I LOVE our kitchen after painting the cabinets. It feels so much more “us,” it feels modernized, and custom (vs. basic builder grade).
I’ve painted cabinets in three different kitchens now and I love each transformation. In some, I’ve replaced the upper cabinets with new ones, to freshen up the look (like in the before/after below), or put in open shelving, and in others I’ve painted both the lower and upper cabinets.
01/ Remove doors and hardware
This one is kind of optional. Removing drawer pulls and knobs is not: you’re definitely gonna want to remove those, it only takes a couple minutes and a screwdriver. But removing doors is up to you. It’s definitely easier to prep and paint them separately, but I have painted cabinets with the doors on and it works too! If you don’t have a garage or somewhere that you can set up a painting area, leaving the doors on is workable!
02/ Clean + degrease your cabinets
You’ll want to make sure you have a clean surface to paint, free from kitchen gunk and grease. Lower cabinets that aren’t near the oven don’t tend to have as much grease, but cabinets over the stove can have grease build-up that will definitely need to be removed in order for the paint to stick well. Use TSP or a similar cleaner to clean your cabinets first. Do all the surfaces you plan on painting. I have never painted the interior of cabinets, mostly because it seems like a pain and I don’t mind the insides having the original wood, but you’d follow the same steps laid out here.
03/ Sand and/or degloss your cabinets
Next, you’ll want to remove some of the glossiness on the cabinets so the paint will stick well. I use Liquid Sandpaper first, and then if I feel like I still need to rough up the surface a bit more, I’ll hit it with a fine grit sandpaper like 220 grit.
There are tons of primers out there, some specially designed for furniture and some that say they’ll stick to basically anything. I use Kilz for basically everything, so that’s what I’ve used on all my cabinet painting jobs, as well as to paint metal file cabinets and it seems to work really well.
With primer and paint, you have a couple options. I’d say the best option for a smooth surface is using a paint sprayer. We have a pretty heavy duty sprayer because we bought it to do the exterior of our house, but there are smaller, more affordable ones available that would work for painting cabinets. For spraying, I would recommend just doing the doors and setting up a spray booth in a garage or other workspace with plastic sheeting and drop cloth, unless you feel like masking off your entire kitchen and spraying the whole cabinet. We sprayed the doors, then used brushes and 4-in smooth rollers for the cabinets themselves. One coat of primer should do the trick.
Now the fun part! You’re gonna want to get a nice paint. I’ve used Behr Marquee for all my cabinets because it does a nice job of self leveling and the coverage is amazing. Behr also makes an Alkyd paint that is designed for cabinetry and was recommended, however they have limited paint colors available for that paint and I’m too picky with my colors. I’ve never had a problem with using the Marquee.
When it comes to picking a sheen, I’ve discovered that I prefer eggshell. I’ve used semi-gloss in the past thinking that the glossiness would be easier to wipe down, but I’ve found that semi-gloss and gloss paints tend to, like, not stick as well? I don’t know, they seem like they can be scratched easier, and for cabinets when there are fingernails scratching when you grab for drawer pulls, I’ve had the semi-gloss paint scratch off, but the eggshell doesn’t.
I’d recommend at least two coats, possibly three, depending on how it looks after two. Again, if you’re spraying, spray the doors and then roll + brush the cabinets. Allow the right dry time between coats based on what your paint recommends.
Also, I should note that I have not used a sealer or top coat on my painted cabinets yet, but with my most recent cabinet painting project I’m thinking of finding one so I can see if it’s something I recommend. For some reason I just never thought to put a top coat on, so I’m going to do some research and testing to see if there’s something I like and I’ll update this accordingly!