Kitchen Design Guide: How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

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The right cabinet color can transform your kitchen or bathroom’s look. And because replacing cabinetry can be expensive, a fresh paint color could be the best bet for your budget. But before you start in on this seemingly simple DIY, keep a key point in mind. “The main issue is that with most woodwork — but specifically kitchen cabinets — is that it’s finished with a glossy product designed to be wipeable, and that same property prevents paint from sticking to it,” says painter Alex Davidson.

Although it’s not as simple as painting your dining room, with the right prep, painting cabinets can be an affordable and lasting design solution. See what four painting professionals say about painting kitchen cabinets.

Should you paint your cabinetry? Before making any decisions, figure out what the existing finish is on your cabinet. If you’re not sure, consider taking a door or drawer to your local paint supplier — he or she can help you with what you need to get your cabinet ready for painting.

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Depending on the level of work, you may want to look into hiring a professional. “Think carefully before painting your cabinetry,” says Davidson. “It can be a DIY, but it requires a lot of attention and care.”

“Always consider the cost of possibly refacing your cabinets or replacing them altogether, and how that coordinates with your short- and long-term objectives,” says Wade Thompson of ThomsonHoliday Painting.

How to paint your kitchen cabinets.

1. Remove the hardware and hinges and clean the surfaces thoroughly. Bob Miano of DeGeorge Custom Cabinetry recommends using a clean, soft rag or T-shirt and mineral spirits or TSP (trisodium phosphate). Don’t just wipe them down — give them a good scrub to remove old oils, waxes and grime. This is a crucial step. “Paint is a very forgiving material, but the one thing it refuses to abide is a dirty, greasy surface,” says Philip Storey of Redhill Painting.

2. Lightly sand the painting surfaces to open the finish surfaces. If there are any dents or grooves in the cabinetry, you may want to fill them in with a good wood filler first. After sanding, use a clean cloth to remove any sanding dust.

3. Prime the cabinets with a stain-blocking primer designed for glossy surfaces.

4. Finish the cabinets with at least two coats of the paint you’ve chosen. Let the paint dry thoroughly and lightly sand between coats.

5. After everything has dried thoroughly, put your cabinets back together. “Be sure to keep everything organized,” says Thompson. “Have a system for remembering the positioning of your cabinet doors.”

Choosing the best paint for cabinets. If you’re not working with a professional, look for paint at a local, reputable paint supply store, where the staff can help you pick the right product for your cabinets. Choose a paint that can stand up to repeated washing and is nonblocking, so it won’t stick to itself when the cabinet doors are closed.

Also, know that dark colors tend to show imperfections in the paint and cabinetry much more than light colors do — and, contrary to popular belief, they usually highlight dirt more, too.

Having trouble choosing a color? Check out these kitchen cabinetry palettes.

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Four experts’ favorite paints for kitchen cabinets.

Alex Davidson: Kelly Moore DuraPoxy paint line, or Benjamin Moore’s Regal Select line in a semigloss.

Wade Thompson: Benjamin Moore Advance — a new latex product that compares to the look of oil paint in the way it levels and performs.

Philip Storey: Fine Paints of Europe. Their durable paint products are available in both oil- and water-based paints, and are great for cabinets.

Bob Miano: Use the premium grade when using paint from major paint manufacturers, since they tend to be thicker and have more coverage. Avoid flat finishes, since they’re much harder to clean.

What to watch out for. Painting cabinetry may seem like a quick and easy kitchen solution, bit it’s a big job. Make sure you have the time, skills and patience for the task. Odds are, you’ll be looking at this cabinetry every day — so make sure you have the ability to make it look good.

If you’re feeling unsure, look into hiring a professional painter. While it may be more expensive, these pros can probably get the work done in much less time and with a result of much higher quality. “Always get a few opinions,” says Thomspon. “Regardless of your decision, talking to several companies will be a learning experience.” Many professionals will use spray applications to get the smoothest finish, which can make a huge difference.

Painting cabinetry can be a lot of work — but whether you hire a pro or do the painting yourself, the results are well worth it.

“Above all, have fun with the project,” says Miano. “Remember, it’s only paint.”

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