How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Alright kiddos. This is the epic story of how I painted kitchen cabinets and lived to tell about it. Also known as the longest post ever… but I wanted to give as much detail to anyone thinking about painting their kitchen cabinets.

You’re welcome, Google Searcher.

I tackled this project the first weekend we were in the house. Let’s take a look at the kitchen before I got my hands on it (here’s a tour of the rest of the house, in case you’re curious):

photo 1Home tour: before

Maybe it was the beige color of the kitchen cabinets against the beige walls, against the beige floor, but everything looked, well, beige. Brown. Sandy. This kitchen opens up to the family room and is seen from the dining room, but it looked dark in the corner and the black appliances and counters didn’t help. I knew white kitchen cabinets and a lighter shade of paint on the walls would really open up this corner.

I decided to do it immediately because a) we didn’t have to move out of our apartment right away so we could hold off on using the kitchen for a week or so, and b) I was scared the more I waited, the more I would chicken out and end up not doing it. So the very first day we closed, (you know, after frolicking through the echoy house yelling “We are hooooomeowners!!!!”) we put down drop cloths and got to work.

Before I begin with the steps, let me just emphasize: I am not an experienced DIY expert. So if I can paint kitchen cabinets, anyone can paint kitchen cabinets.

That said, this project is not for the faint of heart. It is tedious and requires a lot of patience. I spent the month before I started studying how-tos and online videos and giving myself a good pep talk: Cabinets are so expensive — what if I mess up? You can do this. Cabinets aren’t like walls — they get used every day! You can do this. But it’s going to take forrrrrever!! It’s just a week or two, you can do this. At one low moment when I was four days in, I started comparing it to my marathon training last year. Dramatic much? (Don’t worry, it’s way easier than running a marathon.)

But, again: if I can do it, then bless your patient heart, you can do it too.

Now that you’ve been adequately warned, let’s get into the steps…

How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets (for less than $60)

First, gather your supplies and decide on the type of primer, and the brand, type and color of the paint.

 SUPPLIES:
- Drop cloths
- Rags for cleaning
- Screwdriver to take down/put up hardware
- Small foam roller and foam refills (I ended up needing three foam roller refills)
- 2″ angled paint brush “best”
- Primer
- Paint
- Wood caulk (optional – I didn’t need this)

Primer: I bought Sherwin William’s oil-based primer, since it was recommended in the store and various cabinet tutorials.

Paint: I am a loyal Behr paint buyer for walls (since I think it’s a good combo of quality + price), but when it comes to cabinets I decided to go with either Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore, since I didn’t want to go cheap. I read lots of reviews on the best cabinet paint and the scale tilted a little in favor of Ben, but Sherwin had a 35% off sale that week so I went with them (after all, this is used to be? a personal finance blog).

Type: Since cabinets get used a lot and need to be wiped down on a regular basis, it’s best to get semi-gloss or high gloss. I bought Pro-Classic in semi-gloss, so it wasn’t too shiny.

Color: I wanted white. Not cream white or yellow white or gray white, but a pure, clean white. I looked online for colors I liked and ended up with Snowbound from Sherwin Williams. I’m happy with the way it turned out… it reminds of milk for some reason.

Supplies - How to paint kitchen cabinets | My Pretty Pennies

DIRECTIONS:

1. Clean the cabinets.
I used a wet microfiber cloth and lightly scrubbed the doors and the frames. Get off all the dirt, dust and grease off. This took about a half hour since my cabinets were pretty dirty at the top.

2. Remove hinges and hardware, and keep track of where the cabinets go.
We used a drill and screwdriver to remove the hinges (we didn’t have any hardware on our cabinets to start with). Each time I took down a cabinet door, I put it on the drop cloth and labeled which one it was with a note underneath it. Some of my notes looked like, “Bottom next to the stove on the left.” “Left cabinet underneath sink.” “Upper cabinet next to sink on the left.” None of the tutorials I read mentioned this, but it helped a lot when I was putting them back on the cabinets after I was done.

Painting cabinets

Cabinets - before

3. Fill in holes, if necessary.
If your cabinets are cracked or you plan to get new hardware, you may want to fill those cracks with wood caulk. I didn’t have any cracks or hardware, so I skipped this step.

4. Sand. Clean. Sand. Clean.
Next you need to sand the heck out of these cabinets, stripping off any gloss or paint. I took each cabinet one at a time out to the garage and sanded them with an electric sander (borrowed from a friend), on both sides. Then I brushed off the sand and wiped it down with a lightly damp rag so it was clean, and sanded it again. Then cleaned it again. The wood needs to feel smooth and raw.

5. Degloss (optional)
A few of the tutorials I read recommended sanding and deglossing, so I decided to use a chemical deglosser just to be safe. It’s supposed to strip off any extra gloss added to the cabinets, but to be honest, I think my sanding job was sufficient, so I could have done without the extra fumes. If you have pre-painted cabinets, you may want to consider this, but I would skip it next time.

6. Primer – 2 coats.
I started first with the backs of the cabinet doors. I used an angled pain brush to get in the cracks of the cabinet doors and along the edges, and then used a foam roller on the rest. Read your primer instructions on timing between coats. My primer said 1 hour between priming, so I tried to get two coats of primer on the back side of the cabinet door in one day, and then two coats on the front side. Don’t forget about your drawers and cabinet frames; those also got two coats of primer.

Painting cabinets

painting cabinets

painting cabinets

7. Paint — 2 coats on back of doors, 3 coats on front, drawers and frames.
I used the same method of painting (angled brush in the cracks and corners, foam roller for all other parts) for the paint. The paint took longer to dry (mine suggested 4 hours between coats), so this was the most arduous part for me and took the longest step to finish. I painted two coats on the backs of the cabinet doors, and three coats of paint on the fronts of the cabinet doors, drawers and frames.

painting cabinets

8. Wait, wait, wait. (At least three days.)
Once everything is painted, it’s a waiting game. Normally it takes at least three days for the paint to dry completely to be durable enough to handle and use. Luckily the timing worked out so the paint would dry while we were away for labor day weekend in DC. :)

Oh btw, we decided to create an open cabinet on the one to the right of the window, so we painted the insides and shelves. That’s what you see in the picture below. We didn’t bother painting the insides of the other cabinets, mainly because it was a lot of work, but also because it doesn’t bother us to have wood-looking shelves inside. But if that bothers you, add another step to the process and paint the inside and shelves.

painting cabinets

painting cabinets

9. Add the hardware back to your drawers and cabinets.
Once you’ve waited at least three days, add the pulls and knobs back to your cabinets. We didn’t have any hardware, so we skipped this step. :)

10. Rehang and throw a party!
Once I felt everything had dried sufficiently, I couldn’t put those bad boys on fast enough. We hung them and then stepped back to marvel at our beautiful work. Below are some pictures after they were hung. It was at dusk, so the lighting is bad.

painting cabinets

painting cabinets

They look fine, I guess, and much better than before… but those beige walls really don’t do the cabinets justice. So here’s a sneak peak at the kitchen with the walls painted (Gray Owl by Benjamin Moore, if you’re curious) and the open cabinet finished:

Cabinets - After

Painting Cabinets - After

Painting Cabinets - After

Much better, no? One last before and after for you: How to Paint Kitchen CabinetsWe spent $57 on paint and primer, since there was a 35% sale at Sherwin Williams, plus I had a $10 off coupon. We still need to add hardware to the cabinets, and I want to add a rug and curtains to bring some color, so I’ll do a total cost breakdown once it’s all done. But overall mucho bueno!

And thus ends the largest home improvement project I’ve ever accomplished… and the longest post I’ve ever written. :D

Has anyone else painted their cabinets? How did it go?
Do you like white kitchens or prefer classic wooden cabinets? 

PS – Linking on ShabbyNest, Home Stories A to Z, A bowl full of lemons, Liz Marie, Blissfully Ever After, House of Rose, Love of Family and Home



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  • Kimberly Symons

    Ginna! I love it! It looks 1000x better! You and Jeff are brave souls for tackling that project!

  • http://www.makingsenseofcents.com/ Michelle

    Wow looks so nice! I want to paint ours white as well.

  • Sara Chidester

    Love it Ginna! Y’all did a great job! :)

  • Erica

    looks awesome!

  • khushboo
  • Rachel Garafola

    What a nice transformation! You are brave and an inspiration for sure. For the Pièce de résistance you might consider some beautiful hardware, the jewelry for your kitchen, and maybe a touch of fabric like a valance or cornice over your window; then you could carry some of those colors into your adjacent dining room for a cohesive look and to warm things up a bit. Fantastic job! Thank you for the great detailed instructions!

  • http://myprettypennies.com ginna

    YES! That is the plan, to add maybe some brushed nickel hardware and some bright curtains and a colorful rug to make the room pop a little. Just gotta save up my moolah for that. ;) Thanks so much for your comment!

  • http://myprettypennies.com ginna

    Thanks Erica! :)

  • http://myprettypennies.com ginna

    Thanks so much Sara! :)

  • http://myprettypennies.com ginna

    Thank you! It’s amazing what a coat or two of paint will do. :)

  • http://myprettypennies.com ginna

    Haha thanks! You’re lucky your house came with white cabinets. ;)

  • http://www.estherandjacob.com/ esther julee

    Wow it looks great! Seems like a lot of work though… :P Can’t wait to get back into nesting mode.

  • Courtney Strautnieks

    How many gallons of primer and paint did you use for your project?

  • http://myprettypennies.com ginna

    I used one gallon of each for the kitchen, and have a lot leftover.