Tips On How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

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Repainting your kitchen cabinets is one of the easiest, least expensive ways to give your entire kitchen a brand-new look. If you have out-of-date, ugly or chipped cabinets, but can’t afford thousands of dollars for new cabinets, or several hundred dollars for new cabinet doors and drawer fronts, a fresh coat of paint will restore beauty to your cabinets for less than $250.

Is Painting Cabinets Right For Your Kitchen?

Before heading to the home improvement center to purchase supplies, you first must determine that your cabinets are worth painting.

Painting is a good choice if:

  • You like the basic style and trim of your cabinets
  • There are no cracks or breaks in the wood
  • The cabinets are not sagging or pulling away from the wall
  • You’re willing to take the time to do the job right


Preparation is the key to a professional-looking paint finish. Take your time and do a thorough job, and you will be much happier with the results.

  • First, set up a suitable work area. The best choice is a protected outdoor or garage area. If you must paint inside your house, choose a room with good ventilation. You will need enough surface space to spread out the cabinet doors. If you have boards and sawhorses, you can set up a painting table that will spare your back the strain of bending over, otherwise, lay drop cloths on the ground.
  • Remove all cabinet doors and drawers. Unscrew all hinges, knobs and drawer pulls, and store in a bag to keep everything together. Use a pencil to number all doors and drawers in a small, inconspicuous spot where hinges attach so you will be able to return them to their original positions.
  • Use painter’s tape to block off everything around the cabinet frame you want protected from paint. Lay drop cloths on the floor and on cabinet tops.
  • Wash everything with a mixture of warm water and dish detergent. Don’t forget to wash the cabinet frame, and both sides of your cabinet doors. Rinse clean and allow to dry.
  • If there are any dings or small imperfections on your cabinets, fill them with wood filler. Smooth it into the hole, wipe excess from the surface, and let dry.
  • Now it’s time for elbow grease. You need to sand all surfaces to remove shiny or slick finishes, and provide a slightly rough surface to grip primer. Use 120-grit or 150-grit sandpaper. Dust or vacuum all grit and residue from the wood.
  • The next step is primer. Acrylic latex primer is suitable for most painting jobs and dries quickly. Use an inexpensive paintbrush to apply primer, as you do not need to achieve a perfectly smooth surface.
Complementary Color Combinations For Home Decor Complementary Color Combinations For Home Decor


  • Start early in the morning so you will be able to finish priming and apply the first coat of paint in one day. Paint one coat of primer onto the backs of the cabinet doors, the inside of the drawer faces, and the cabinet frame. Let dry for one hour, then flip the cabinet doors and prime the fronts. Let dry for another hour.
  • Get out fresh sandpaper and sand again to remove any brushstrokes or rough spots. Dust or vacuum to remove grit and residue. All surfaces should be free from dust.


Finally, it’s time for the fun part. You’re ready to paint. Good quality latex paint in a gloss finish will give you the best coverage and smoothest surface. Don’t skimp when it comes to buying paint, quality makes a difference in the outcome.

You can apply your paint with a 2 or 3-inch brush or a sprayer. Spraying makes quick work of a tedious task, but requires a little bit of practice to get the feel of the sprayer. It also requires very good ventilation and protection of everything around the area being painted. If you are going to use a sprayer, practice on a large piece of cardboard until you are completely comfortable using it. Remember that you will still need a 1 or 2-inch brush for the cabinet frame.

  • Start with painting the backs of the cabinet doors. Paint around the edges, then in even strokes from the top to the bottom of the doors. If using a sprayer, make even movements with your entire arm for best coverage.
  • Stand the drawers on their faces, and paint the inside of the drawer front.
  • Apply a smooth, even coat of paint to the cabinet frame, starting in a corner and working your way across. Paint shelves and rails, remembering to get the edges.
  • Let everything dry overnight, and get an early start the next morning. Flip over drawers to stand face up, and turn over the cabinet doors.
  • Paint the cabinet doors, starting with the edges. Next, paint over any raised details. Finally, coat the whole door front.
  • Paint the front of the drawers. Use even strokes, and wipe any drips up with a clean rag.
  • Paint the cabinet frame, paying attention to edges and corners. Your brush should not be dripping with paint, and your strokes should be smooth and even.

Take a well-deserved lunch break and rest while the paint is drying. You will be continuing later in the afternoon.

  • Apply the second coat of paint to the cabinet doors, always using smooth strokes. Whether you use a brush or sprayer, avoid applying paint too heavily. It’s better to have several smooth, thin coats than fewer heavy, lumpy coats.
  • Paint another coat on the drawer fronts. If paint drips down the body of the drawer, wipe away with a rag.
  • Let everything dry for a few hours, then examine your painted surfaces. Most likely you are finished, but if you discover any small imperfections, apply another smooth coat.


Professional painters recommend allowing your painted cabinets to dry for at least three days before attaching hardware and rehanging doors. While you wait, shop for new hardware. Fresh new drawer pulls, knobs and hinges will complete your paint job and make your cabinets look brand-new.

  • Take old hardware with you when shopping to make sure sizes match up. If you need to drill new holes, fill the old ones with wood putty, then touch up with paint.
  • Rehang doors and return drawers to their proper spots.

It can be a tedious job, but painting your kitchen cabinets saves you thousands of dollars over replacing them, and gives you the satisfaction of a job well done.

Last Updated: February 16, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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