Project Guide: Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Hometalk Guides
by Hometalk Guides
Without spending a fortune on your kitchen space, you can completely change the look of it, by giving your cabinets an easy and budget-friendly makeover with paint. Whether your kitchen set is made from wood or laminate, adding a new coat of color is the quickest way to give it an update. Just make sure to prepare before you get started by keeping these important tips in mind.

Painting Kitchen Cabinets:

- Before You Start

- While You're Working

- After You've Finished

1. Buy the right medium for your project

Before you begin your makeover, it's important to choose your paint type. The major difference in the DIY community is whether you're using latex or oil-based paint, or chalk paint. Latex (or oil-based) paint can give you an overall more finished and polished look, while chalk paint, which is growing increasingly popular because of its easy application and capability to distress, adds a chalky texture to the finished cabinet surface.

2. Prepare Your Work Space

  • Clear your kitchen surfaces, including the floor and all counter tops and shelves

  • Lay down drop cloth or cardboard to protect all other surfaces

  • Clear a spacious open area to paint cabinet doors and inserts (inside or outdoors

  • Open windows and doors to increase ventilation

3. Prepare Yourself for Working

  • Dress in clothing you won't mind marking up with paint

  • Tie back hair

  • Put on a painters mask to protect yourself from fumes and sanding dust

4. Prepare Your Surface

The condition of the surface you're painting on will determine the outcome of your work. Your cabinet pieces generally need to be sanded, repaired, and primed before they can provide a quality surface to work with. Even if you're using chalk paint, there are plenty of surface issues (including water damage) that can seep through into your finished look, so sanding and priming is often a good idea regardless.

  • Remove the cabinet doors

  • Remove all hardware

  • Place hardware in sandwich bags and label each bag, so that no pieces go missing or end up in a different spot when you've finished

  • Remove shelves or drawers

  • Sand all the surfaces you plan to paint

  • Clean the sanding dust and any other debris from the pieces

  • Fill any unwanted holes or cracks with wood filler

  • Sand again

  • Tape off areas around your cabinets that you don't want the paint to spread to accidentally

Basic Tools Include:

  • Drop Clothes or Large Pieces of Cardboard

  • Painter's Tape

  • 3 Grades of Sandpaper (Coarse to Fine)

  • Sanding Block or Orbital/Palm Sander

  • Plastic Paint Trays

  • Brushes or Rollers

  • Small Brushes (for corners)

  • Protective Mask (if sanding)

  • Cloth or Vacuum (for clean-up if sanding)

  • Screw Driver

  • Plastic Sandwich Bags

  • Permanent Marker

Optional Tools Include:

  • Primer

  • Polyurethane or Polycrylic Protective Finish

  • Wax (if using Chalk Paint)

  • Wax Brush

  • Paint Conditioner (if using Latex or Oil-Based paint)

  • Wood Filler (if you're moving your hardware placement or fixing nicks)

  • Putty Knife (if using wood filler)

1. Painting

As you paint, it's important to wait the full amount of drying time between each coat - impatience can ruin the outcome of your cabinets.

  • (If applying primer) apply a coat or two if the piece needs it, then let dry and sand lightly after to create a smooth surface for the paint

  • Don't pour or pool the paint on the cabinet surface and then spread it with your brush

  • Apply paint to your surface in thin coats with a foam roller or brush

  • Edge in the corners and sides of any detailing with a smaller brush

  • Apply paint in long, even strokes in a single direction

  • Avoid going over the same spot after you've painted, because the brush may pick up the drying paint and ruin your smooth finish

  • Sand each layer very lightly with fine grade paper before adding a new one

While your cabinet doors, shelves, and drawers are drying, use the time to paint any surfaces on and inside the cabinet base that will show and could clash with your new color.

2. Finishing Your Cabinets

After the paint has dried, seal your cabinets against any harm or wear. If you're using chalk paint, your pieces will need to be sealed with a protective layer of wax, whereas if you've used latex or oil-based paint, you're more likely to choose a polyurethane or polycrylic protective finish. Not sealing your paint leaves your pieces open to damage, including stains and marks, so sealing is an important step.


  • Clean as much excess wax off your brush as possible before you start

  • Apply in thin coats, making sure to spread it evenly throughout your piece

  • For high-traffic areas, apply 2-3 coats of wax, waiting the proper drying time between each

Polyurethane and Polycrylic Finish:

  • Apply in thin coats

  • Don't retrace your brush strokes, or the surface will get tacky and lose its smooth finish

  • Sand between coats after waiting the proper drying time

Once everything is dry, reassemble your cabinets and reattach the doors.

  1. Place all shelves and drawers inside the cabinet base

  2. Add inner hardware, like hinges and tracks to your cabinet doors

  3. If you have cabinet doors that will be impossible to open without pulls or handles, attach those before reattaching your door to the frame

  4. Begin attaching your doors by starting at the top of the cabinet and working your way down to the counter-level cabinets

  5. Once everything is in its place, add the rest of your outer hardware, like drawer pulls and handles

Projects to Look At

- Painted Cabinet Reveal

- Painted Kitchen Cabinets with Chalk Paint

- White Painted Cabinets
Hometalk Guides
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
3 of 10 questions
  • Rene Smallwood Niblett Rene Smallwood Niblett on Jan 15, 2017
    I have cabinets that have a laminate finish. I have started tearing off the laminate, it appears to sheets glued on by the factory. I want to paint them a sage green. I am having trouble getting all the finish off, what do I do?

  • Skb Skb on Feb 11, 2017
    I'm going from stained to painted white. I've heard and read of using a Rust-O-Leum Transformation kit rather than sanding the cabinets. Sounds so much easier and less expensive. What do you know of this option? Thanks in advance for sharing your knowledge and expertise. Sharon

  • Danny Danny on Mar 20, 2017
    What is the best way to remove the painted inner decorative part of the cabinet doors. Seams like trying to sand the paint would not only be time consuming but may also ruin the wood decoration?

Join the conversation
2 of 46 comments
  • Vivian Reilly Vivian Reilly on Jan 15, 2017
    If one puts wax on the finish of cabinets, what does he have to do when he wants to re-finish them? Wax is waterproof and it seems it would need to be removed before re-finishing the cabinets. In fact, what if the cabinets already have wax on them and you need to remove that before re-finishing them?

  • Joan LaRue Joan LaRue on Sep 30, 2017
    I live in a moble home. the cabinets are not wood it looks like pressed wood do I work with this the same way