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What Is the Best Paint for Kitchen Cabinets?

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Best Paint for Kitchen Cabinets

2k Waterborne polyurethanes are some of the best cabinet paints. Solvent based lacquers have been the industry standard for years, but in recent  years, the waterborne polyurethanes have entered the profesional cabinet world as well. Italtian brands such as Milesi and Renner, have led the way in producing outstanding products for cabinet makers and refinishers. 2K, two component (paint and hardner) are the most durable and have excellent adhesion. 1K, single component (paint without a hardner), are also very durable and meet the KCMA standards. Single component products are excellent for refinishing cabinets in your house. Many professionals use 2k products which require proper protective gear for spraying. 

To determine what is the best paint for your kitchen cabinets, you need to decide these things:

  1. Will you be spraying, or brushing and rolling
  2. What is the existing finish on the cabinets - paint, stain, laminate, etc...
  3. Does the wood have a lot of open grain  -such as oak?

Best Paints for brushing and rolling


First of all never use a "paint and primer as one" combination. This may be fine for painting walls but is not a good option for cabinetry. No matter what the paint reps may tell you, proper prep such as cleaning, sanding and priming are very important when it comes to painting cabinetry. 

If your cabinets are Oak, or have a dark stain, then be sure to use a primer with stain blocking abilities. Otherise the stain will bleed through the paint and yellow the finish.

Things to consider when buying primer:

  • Sandability
  • Blocking ability
  • Dry time - recoat time
  • Availability
  • Tintable
  • VOCs - 
  • Milesi Primer HBR1  -Waterborne product with good build and sandability. Doesn't block stains without the hardner. Not available at a local paint store but can be ordered online. Good for brushing into oak grain. Can be tinted to match your topcoat for better coverage.
  •  Renner 643 - Another very good Waterborne product with good build and sandability. Doesn't block stains without the hardner. Not available at a local paint store but can be ordered online. Good for brushing into oak grain. Can be tinted to match your topcoat for better coverage.
  • Envirolak - 170 or TB170 is a great primer for raw wood or MDF. The TB170 is a tannin blocking primer. These primers can be used to refinish cabinets as well. 
  • Centurion  - Another great primer available from Clark Deco. This is probably one of the best when it comes to waterborne primers, but also needs a hardner to be able to block stains.
  • Envirolak   - T9000 is a brand new primer that has excellent adhesion for refinishing furniture or cabinets. It is also the first waterborne primer that blocks stains without using the hardner. While you probably can't by this product locally, it can be shipped anywhere in the USA. I would recommend this as the number one 1K water-based  primer for painting over stained cabinets. 

The above products can all be shipped to your door, and I highly recommend any of them above the ones below. But I will list these below as options since there are some that use these with success. I also want to point out what primers you should avoid.

  • Stix - Good waterborne primer with excellent adhesion and sandability. Doesn't block stains but can be used under BIN which does block stains. Stix can be purchased locally.
  • BIN Shellac - BIN Shellac (NOT the Advanced Synthetic!) is a good primer for stain blocking. But BIN doesn't have the best adhesion unless cabinets are sanded very well or if it's used over Stix primer. BIN rolls or sprays well, dries super fast and can be recoated quickly. It also sands very well. Can be tinted to match your topcoat for better coverage. BIN is known to become somewhat brittle and fail in high moisture areas. BIN is not a water-based product, so it needs to cleaned up with denatured alcohol. BIN also has a somewhat strong smell, but dissipates quickly because of how fast it dries. 
  • Coverstain - Coverstain is an oil-based stain that will block stains. But the down side to this is it's strong smell and also dries very slowly. While they say you can recoat it in an hour, I have not found that possible since it does not sand well until it cures which can be hours or overnight. So for these reasons, I don't recommend Coverstain primer.
  • Sherwin Williams Extreme Block - I have not used this personally but have heard of some that have used it with success. One advantage of this one is that it can be purchased locally.
  • DO NOT buy these primers - latex primers such as the Bullseye 123, or Kiltz stain blocking primers (smell is terrible!). BIN Advanced Synthetic. I also do not recommend paints by Behr or Valspar.

Top Coats for Cabinets

The best topcoats for cabinets are not found at your local paint store. There are industrial coatings that meet the KCMA standards that are much better.

Stay away from latex paint! These are meant for walls and are softer than cabinet paints, therefor they will scratch or chip easily.

 Local paint stores may recommend trim paints for cabinets, and while these are much better than latex wall paint, they are still inferior to a good industrial cabinet coating that meets the KMCA standards.

While the best cabinet paints cost more money, it's a small price to pay for quality and durability. This is not the place to try to save money!

Finaly, remember that if your paint does fail, it may not be the paints fault. Even the best paints will fail if the prep work is done poorly!

Here's some recommended paints for DIY:

  • Milesi 1K HKR114 Waterborne topcoat (I don't recommend using a hardner unless you have professional equipment and protective gear.) Milesi can be purchased and shipped to you from Clark Deco in PA. 
  • Renner 1094, or 1245 1K Waterborne topcoats. Renner products can be purchased online at Timberlane Finishing Solutions.

For cabinet paints you can buy localy, see the list below.  These have much longer dry times and do not meet the KCMA standards. However, many DIYers do use them for cabinets. While I would highly recommend using the above coatings, these have been used successfully in kitchens that don't have as much use. Be aware however, that these do not cure as hard as Milesi or Renner, and will be somewhat soft for a long time as they cure.

  • Benjamin Moore Advance
  • Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane
  • Insl-X Cabinet Coat

Best paints for spraying cabinets and professionals

All the above paints and primers can be sprayed. I've included a few more in this list for professionals who only spray.

  1. Milesi 2k or 1kMy favorites! Remember when adding a harder, your product will have a short potlife. Milesi primers and topcoats are around a 2 hour pot life.
  2. Renner 2k or 1K (Renner has lots of different products, so speak to a rep to determine what best fits your needs.) Most Renner products have a 4 hour pot life when adding a hardner. Make sure to check the sheets for your specific product. Renner 643 primer and 1321 topcoat make a great combination. Renner 851 is also great for refinishing as it can be used as a self-seal product over existing conversion varnish. (always test before doing a large project).
  3. EnvirolakA Canadian made product with great primers and topcoats. I like the primers on MDF as they don't pull the fibers of the MDF as much as some others. Their primer also fills oak grain nicely with only 2 coats. I also like Envirolak's clear coats.
  4. CIC - A great american made product! Excellent primer with good build and sandability! Very short pot life when adding the hardner!
  5. Ilva - I've not tested this one, but have heard a lot of good things about it. If you can get this in your area, it would be worth investigating this product.
  6. Kem-Aqua by Sherwin Williams. This is a single component product and must be purchased in there industrial department. This is a great product for cabinet finishing. However, it is not as chemical resistant as the Milesi or Renner coatings when adding crosslinkers.
  7. ChemraftSimilar to Kem Aqua. Single component product without cross linker or hardner.
  8. General Finishes tinted polyurethane is also used successfully by some cabinet painting pros. This can be purchased online or locally in some places. I have not tested this product.

The bottom line on Best Cabinet Paints:

Milesi and Renner are both high quality Italtian products. In my opinion, they are among the best. Kem Aqua and Chemcraft are american made products that are readily availble for local pickup. But for profesional cabinet painters, in my opinion, it's worth buying in the Italian coatings. These coatings can be color matched to most major paint brands. Custom colors are also possible.

Milesi products can be purchased from Clark Deco Moldings in PA.

Renner products can be purchased from Timberlane Finishing Solutions in OH.

Filling Grain in Oak

Heavy grained woods like oak will need to be primed with a high solids pimer. Brush the first coat of primer into the grain by brushing in both directions. When dry, sand flat and add another coat or two, sanding between each coat.

Some people prefer to use a grain filler like Aqua Coat. This takes a number of coats to really work and still needs primer over top. My prefered method is just using primer.

Oak grain will never be made as smooth as maple, but it does help to eliminate the shadow effect of the open pores.

Proper prep is key to success!

Remember that it doesn't matter how good your paint is, this does not replace proper cleaning, sanding, and prep. This is really the determining factor whether you paint job will fail or be a success.

For more info on prepping and tools such as best brushes and rollers see our blog on Painting Cabinets.

Also, check out this article on the cost to paint cabinets.

Happy painting!

Raymond Glick

Homestead Cabinet Design

Recommended products for DIY Cabinet Painters

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