Step by step guide to painting your cabinets.

Ready to paint your kitchen cabinets? Here’s a list of steps to follow to ensure that you get the best possible results for your cabinets. Before starting your project, make sure you have all the proper paints, tools and supplies. In this blog, I will help you know you exactly what all you will need to paint your kitchen cabinets.

Most of these products can be purchased at any paint store. However, some things you find only online.

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  1. Remove doors and hardware
  2. Mask cabinet openings, floor, counters and walls.
  3. Clean with a good degreaser like Krud Kutter
  4. Rinse with 50/50 Denatured alcohol and water
  5. Sand with 150 grit sandpaper to fit your sander
  6. Tack the dust with moist microfiber towel
  7. Spray or brush first coat of primer
  8. Allow to cure before recoating – follow recommend recoat times
  9. Sand smooth with 320 sandpaper
  10. Vac and tack again with microfiber cloth
  11. Do another coat of primer
  12. Allow to dry overnight
  13. Sand lightly with 320
  14. Apply your first color topcoat
  15. Allow to dry
  16. Apply a final coat
  17. Dry overnight
  18. Reassemble everthing!

Now let’s discuss what’s involved in painting cabinets before you dive into it! Below, I’ll explain these steps in more detail.

Should I hire a pro to paint my cabinets, or do it myself?

Painting cabinets requires some skill with a drill, sander, paintbrush or paint roller. But if your kitchen cabinets need an upgrade, and you enjoy learning new skills, then this project is for you! Remember though, that it takes time and patience to clean, sand and carefully paint.

It is very rewarding to paint your own cabinets, if you are willing to invest the time and effort into doing a thorough job. Cabinet painting can be overwhelming, especially if you are busy and use your kitchen a lot, but is definitely worth the effort if done correctly! Be prepared to spend more time and use more space than you think – especially when painting and drying the cabinet doors.

Using a spray painter to paint your your cabinet doors gives you a very professional look with minimal equipment. When using a spray painter, you want to set up a space in a garage for spraying paint on the doors, but you will get a very professional look even with minimal equipment (I’ll show you the best sprayer to use).

For some, it makes more sense to hire a pro. If you’re busy with work or caring for children, you may want to hire a pro.

Some people opt for the option of doing part of the project by painting the cabinet boxes themselves and hiring a pro to take down the doors and hardware, spray the doors, and reinstall them. This option could potentially save you a lot of money. Since the professionally sprayed doors will be the most prominent part of the kitchen,they help hide any imperfections in the painted cabinet frames.

How Much Does it Cost to Paint my Cabinets?

If you paint your cabinets yourself, plan to spend a few hundred dollars to a few thousand – depending on how much you invest in tools. Be prepared to pay up to a hundred dollars a gallon for quality paints. Don’t let this scare you! Investing in quality paint is a small price to pay for something that will serve you well for years.

Hiring a pro to paint your cabinets will probably cost you anywhere from three thousand to eight thousand dollars. Prices vary with locations as well as products used. Many paint companies that paint houses and walls also offer cabinet painting. I have found that a lot of them do not use the best cabinet paints. If you want to hire someone, make sure to ask questions about their products and procedures. Hiring a pro who specializes in cabinet painting is the better option as they tend to use higher quality products made for refinishing cabinets.

Thankfully there are some high-quality products available even for do-it-yourselfers, making this a great option for anyone who is a little handy and wants to save money.

For more on what might affect the price of painting, check out my article on cost of painting cabinets and what goes into determining the price

Pitfalls – Things to know before you start!

Here’s some issues DIY painters run into frequently.

  1. Paint can chip from poor adhesion
  2. Low quality paints are not as durable as the better cabinet coatings. See (Best Cabinet Paints)
  3. Paints can yellow with time – Stains from the previous finish tend to bleed through and yellow the finish.
  4. Cabinet painting requires lots of patience – follow the dry times and recoat times given on the paint can. Remember that even though the paint is dry to the touch, it does not mean that it is not necessarily cured or ready for recoating.
  5. Using a mix and match of products does not always produce the required results. There are hundreds of videos and information online with all kinds of products and methods for doing this, and each one has a different method or system. It’s best to stick with one system and method the whole way through, rather than combining products from various authors. It’s like following a recipe – if you want to get it done right the first time, follow every step and use the products recommended by one pro who has learned by experience. See (Common Mistakes Made When Painting Cabinets.)

What tools will I need?

Here’s some tools that you need to paint your cabinets. Of course you won’t need the top of the line if you’re only doing one kitchen. You can of course do most of this by hand, but you get much better results using power equipment. For instance, a good vacuum attached to your sander cuts the amount of dust going into your house.

Those are the most costly things you’ll need to buy, but when you consider how much money you save, as well as effiency gained, it is definitely worth the investment.

Supplies

Now for small tools and supplies, here’s another list of things you may already have on hand or will need to order ahead of time.

Step by step guide

Remove doors and hardware

Start by removing all doors and drawer fronts. Mark each door as you go, so you don’t need to guess where it goes when you go to reinstall them. Take off the hinges and put them inside the cabinet opening for that specific door – try to reuse the same hinges exactly where they came off to elimate any issues with doors fitting properly. Hinges wear a certain way over time, so if you use the same hinges on the doors they came, your doors will close properly when you reinstall them.

If you want to paint the insides of the cabinets, you will need to mark the hinges with a marker and painters tape and set them aside in a safe place. The best place to mark your cabinet doors and drawer fronts, is where the hinges go again, either in the hinge cuphole, or behind the hinge.

Start at one end of the kitchen, and mark the first door you take off #1, with an arrow to show which way goes up. Also mark the cabinet #1. Then put a small peice of masking tape over it. This protects the number while you paint, and once everything is finished, you just pull the tape off, and you know exactly which door belongs to which cabinet. Plus, you even know which way the cabinet door orients!

To Reuse or Not to Reuse Hinges and Hardware

Now is the time to decide if you want to reuse your existing hardware, handles, and pulls. If you reuse them, store them in a safe place somewhere, like in a drawer somewhere. If you replace your handles and pulls, check to see if they match the holes for your existing hardware. If they don’t, close off the existing holes with a dowel rod the size of your hole, and cover it with Bondo wood putty.

Masking

Before painting the cabinet boxes, make sure to mask anything you don’t want to risk getting paint on. If spraying, this includes all walls, floor, appliances, counter tops and ceiling. If you brush and roll, you get by with masking a lot less. Remember rollers can splatter paint, and it’s easier to throw down a drop cloth and put plastic over appliances than to clean dried paint off of them.

Clean with a good degreaser

DO NOT SAND UNTIL THE SURFACE IS THOROUGHLY CLEAN! Sanding before cleaning will only push the oils deeper into the surface.

Using a good degreaser ensures that all oils and contamination is gone so your paint can adhere properly. Especially important areas to deeply clean are around the stove and over the microwave. The most common adhesion issues with paint is due to contamination. Porous woods like oak can be especially notorius for this.

Any products previously applied to the cabinets containing silicone, such as Pledge will also pose a problem. Clean as thoroughly as you can and make sure to test some primer for adhesion on a few spots before doing the whole kitchen.

Spray the krudkutter directly on the doors to clean them. Use a dental pick or sharp object to clean out the corners and joints between the frame and panel.

You can scrub the surfaces with 3m scotch pad. I like the red ones. I actually put these on my orbital sander to create a power cleaner! If your sander has a velcro pad, the scotch pads will stick to that. just cut them to size with a razor and scrub away! I usually don’t attach my vacuum to the sander to clean as I don’t want that gunk sucked up into the sander.

You may also want to add some plastic zip walls to contain dust and paint spray. Be sure to use proper ventilation, dust masks, respirators etc when sanding or spraying.

Rinse the degreaser with denatured alcohol

Now you want to rinse the surface with a mixture of 50/50 denatured alcohol and water. Krud Kutter can react with some paints, so make sure to rinse it off immeditately. I like to use a spray bottle and lots of disposable shop towels. You don’t want to smear a contaminated rag over the surface, so change your towel often.

Sand with 150 grit sandpaper

After the cabinets are dry you can begin sanding. I like to use a power sander with 150 or 180 grit sandpaper. I like to use 150 grit to get a good bite into the existing finish. You don’t necessarily need to sand down to bare wood. It’s actually better to leave some of the original finish there to help seal in the previous stain. So too much sanding and you might have more stain bleed, and not enough sanding and you’ll have issues with adhesion. But don’t stress out too much. just sand till the surface is not glossy at all and you have a uniform scuff over everything. If you do burn through to the wood in some places, don’t worry about it. A good sanding will have some of that.

Tack the dust with moist microfiber towel

After sanding it’s important to wipe the dust thoroughly. I like to run my vacuum with a brush attachment over it. Then wipe with a lightly moist microfiber towel.

Stay away from tack cloths found at paint stores. They may work with oil based paints and some waterbased products, but have also been known to cause reactions with others. So I don’t use them because I can get excellent results with a vac and microfiber towel.

Spray or roll your first coat of primer

Since doors take the most time (you’ll want to paint both sides), start by painting the back sides of the doors. Doors are best painted by laying them flat so the paint levels nicely. This does require a lot of drying space depending on how many door you have. Set up some sawhorses with some cross beams like 2 x 4s to lay them out to dry. You can also purchase door drying racks which are very beneficial where there’s limited space.

Always paint the back side of the door first, so that in the end you will put the final coat on the face side of the door. Because doors the paint may be a little soft yet when the door is flipped, the rack may leave small marks in the paint. So by painting the backs first, the fronts will always be free from marks. Allow the doors to dry thoroughly before flipping them. Just because they feel dry to the touch doesn’t mean they’re ready to be flipped. The paint needs to cure or it will create dents where it lies against the drying rack.

Now paint all the cabinet faces and exposed ends with primer. You can paint the undersides of the wall cabinets as well if you like, but is not necessary. I don’t usually paint the insides of the cabinets unless its an open cabinet, or cabinet with glass doors. I do paint the inside edges of the face frames on everything for a cleaner look.

When your’e putting on your first coat of primer, you don’t need to try to get full coverage on the first coat. The tempation my be to keep adding more paint and overworking it. It is better to do multiple thin coats, and following the recoat times on the paint can.

How to brush and roll paint on cabinets

It’s possible to get almost spray finish results with a brush a roller. The key is:

  1. Using the right rollers
  2. Thinning the paint correctly
  3. Applying thinner coats rather than one heavy one
  4. Allowing the paint to “flow out”
  5. Sanding smoother between coats

Use a brush to get into the corners and then roll out the rest with a 4 inch roller.

For rollers, I prefer the Whizz concave foam rollers the best. The flock foam rollers also work well. One thing I like about the Whizz foam roller is that it has a concave end with a sharp edge, allowing the edge of the roller to get into tight spots.

Properly thinning the paint is important. Waterbased products can be thinned with distilled water. Start by thinning around 5%. (BIN primer doesn’t need to be thinned) Measure out a quart or pint and mix in the appriate number of onces of water. I use small mixing cups found at most paint stores. you can also use a small scale that can measure onces.

Some paints can be thinned up to 10% if needed. Remember the more you thin, the more runs you will get and the longer it will take to dry, so start with thinning only if needed. To thick paint will not roll or spray well either. So try out some paint on some scrap wood before painting the cabinets.

Start by wetting your roller thoroughly in the paint, and then roll most of the paint back out in the tray. Do this a few times to get all the air bubbles out, especially when using a foam roller. After doing this a few times, apply a little more paint to the roller, roll off the excess on a flat surface like cardboard or paper plate, and then apply to the cabinet. Your roller should not be oversaturated with paint, but still have enough so that it leaves a nice thin surface of paint as you roll it out.

Some paints dry more quickly than others, so be careful not to overwork the paint. Most paints will self-level, so with a little practice you will be able to tell just how much paint to put on and when to stop rolling over it and leave it. The key is to practice till you have this mastered before you start the cabinets. Remember, the paint may look a little “orange peely” when first applied, and you may be tempted to keep going over it with your roller. The goal is to get just the right amount on and work it a little for uniformity, and then let the paint do it’s thing. It will level out beautifully and almost look sprayed. A good roll job will not look too much different from a spray job at 6 feet back!

Don’t apply to much pressure or you will create bubbles and roller marks. Some paints will bubble more than others. But by rolling lightly over the paint a few times you can eliminate most of them. The rest will dissipate in a few minutes.

Again, don’t try to get full coverage on the first coat. It’s ok to see some of the dark original coat “shine” through as it dries. Just leave it to completely dry before adding another coat. Putting another coat on too soon can rewet the first coat, causing adhesion issues. Just because it’s dry to the touch, doesn’t mean it’s cured! Be sure to follow the recoat times on the can.

Sand the primer with 320 sandpaper

Before adding another coat of paint, you will want to scuff the previous coat with 320 Sandpaper. This will need to be done between every coat. It’s best to sand the primer the same day that you plan to recoat it. So if you know you can’t paint for a few days, it’s best to wait on the sanding.

I like to use a power sander with 320 paper for sanding the first coat of primer. This will help smooth out imperfections and help get that near perfect finish in the end. After this intial primer and sanding, the next coats can simply be sanded by hand with a 320 grit sanding pad. Only use the power sander if absolutetly necessary so as to avoid sanding through the primer again.

Always check for paint runs and brush marks when sanding primer and before adding another coat. Making each coat perfect will go a long way in a super smooth end result.

When you do have a run or drip in the paint after it’s hardened, the best way to flatten it is by back scraping it with a razor blade. The run needs to be totally dry for this to work. Simply run the sharp edge of the blade backward over the top of the run, lightly scraping till its down to the flat again. Scuff with 320, and it should be good to go.

Tip – keep on the lookout for paint drips as you’re painting and brush them out immediately.

Vac and tack again with microfiber cloth

Sanding primer will produce a lot of dust. If you attach a good shop vacuum to your sander, it will help eliminate a lot of dust. Vacuum and wipe the cabinets again with a very lightly moist microfiber towel. Mix up your paint and start again! You should have better coverage on the second coat of primer.

Do your next coat of primer

You’re ready to repeat the process again. By now you should be feeling more confident with the roller or sprayer. Remember, the primer will all be sanded again, so don’t worry if there’s some imperfections. Practice spraying or rolling uniformly now, so that your topcoat will be as perfect as possible.

With some primers like Bin Shellac, you can do multiple coats in one day. Bin dries quickly and can be sanded and recoated in a short amount of time. Other primers will take more time to dry before recoating.

Allow primer to dry overnight

While you can do multiple coats of primer in one day, you will want to allow the primer to cure overnight before adding the color topcoats. This helps lock in the stains so they don’t bleed through to your topcoat.

Apply your first topcoat

Now you are ready to paint your topcoats. Here are a list of paints for DIYers who want to brush and roll the paint, as well as some great paints for spraying. A satin sheen is the most common for cabinets. Follow the steps above for rolling the paint color coats. The topcoats will not sand as easily as the primer did, so keep coats light to avoid brush and roller marks.

Allow to dry

Double check the recoat times. Benjamin Moore Advance have a 16 hr recoat time and will need to dry overnight, whereas Insl-X Cabinet Coat needs only 6 hr till recoat. Waterborne polyurethanes made by Milesi and Renner can be recoated in as little as an hour.

Apply final coat

Do a final check for runs, or dust particles that may have dried in the paint. Scuff lightly if needed. Avoid scratching the paint with the sandpaper as scratches or swirl marks from an orbital sander will show through your final coat of paint. Thin your topcoat a little more (up to 10 %) for a smooth final finish. Roll a very light coat. With most paints, two topcoats should be sufficient. But if you feel like you need a little more coverage, go ahead and add another coat or two. Allow to dry according to the recoat times between each coat.

Allow to dry overnight and remove masking

Allow everthing to dry for a day or more (depending on the paint you used) before reassembling everything. Be sure check everything to make sure it’s too your satisfaction before removing the masking tape and plastic. If anything needs touch up paint, it’s easier to do it now rather than after the masking is all removed.

When all touch up is complete allow a few minutes to an hour for things to dry, and then take down all your masking tape and plastic. Carefully remove tape from delicate surfaces like walls and cabinet interiors that may have thin veneers. Touch up paint on the wall if necessary with a small brush.

You may find dried paint on your floor or counter or elsewhere. You can, use a small amount of acetone on hard surfaces like counters or tile. Moisten a cloth with the acetone and scrub gently. You can scrape lighlty with a razor blade on harder surfaces. Do NOT use acetone on walls or hardwood floors. (be careful with acetone – make sure to wear chemical resistant gloves!) If you get paint on a hardwood floor, a sharp razor and lightly backscrape till the paint is removed from the finish on the floor. Be careful not to scrape through the clear coat on your hardwood floor

Install doors and hardware

Finally, reinstall the doors and hardware. If you want to add new hardware, like handles or pulls, you can either find hardware to fit the holes in your doors, or drill new holes. Of course if you want to fill holes for a different size handle, you would need to do this before painting the cabinets.

Thanks for reading my post! I hope it has been helpful!

Feel free to send me questions or comments on Instagram @homesteadcabinetdesign. Check out my cabinet painting posts there, and follow for more tips on cabinet painting.

Coming soon! -A blog on spraying cabinets, and best sprayer for DIY cabinet painters.

How to Spray Cabinets and Doors – Coming soon!