How to Choose the Best Paint for Your Kitchen Cabinets

An In-Depth Guide to Selecting the Perfect Paint for a Kitchen Cabinet Makeover

Redecorating your kitchen by painting the cabinets can make a huge difference in the look of your space. The right cabinet paint can transform the room from dated to fresh and modern. However, there are many factors to consider when selecting the best paint for kitchen cabinets. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to choose the ideal paint for your next kitchen cabinet makeover project.


Giving your kitchen cabinets a fresh coat of paint is one of the most affordable and effective ways to update the look of your kitchen. The right paint can give old, worn cabinets an instant facelift. Painting cabinets is also much less expensive and time-consuming than a full cabinet replacement.

When selecting cabinet paint, there are several important considerations:

  • Paint Type – Should you use latex acrylic, oil-based alkyd, or another specialty cabinet paint? Each paint type has pros and cons.
  • Sheen – The paint’s sheen or glossiness impacts aesthetics and durability. Satin and semi-gloss are popular sheens.
  • Color – Select a hue that complements your kitchen’s color scheme. Neutrals like white and gray are versatile.
  • Preparation – Proper prep work like cleaning, sanding, and priming ensures paint adheres and lasts.
  • Application – Brush, roller, or spray? Each technique works for certain cabinet types and paints.

This article will explore all these factors in detail so that you can make the best choice for your kitchen update. Let’s start by looking at the different categories of cabinet paint.

Types of Paint for Kitchen Cabinets

When browsing paint options for kitchen cabinets, you’ll encounter several major paint categories:

Latex Acrylic Paint

Latex acrylic paint is a water-based emulsion paint made from acrylic resins. It’s the most common type of paint for home interiors. Advantages of latex acrylic paint:

  • Dries fairly quickly, within 30 minutes to an hour
  • Produces very little odor and fumes
  • Water-clean up makes it user-friendly
  • Available in many sheen levels from flat to semi-gloss
  • Provides good durability for high-traffic areas
  • Can easily be touched up as needed over time

However, there are some drawbacks to consider:

  • Doesn’t adhere as tightly to slick surfaces as oil-based paints
  • More prone to chipping or peeling if not applied over proper primer
  • Sensitive to moisture – requires fully cured cabinets for best results

Overall, latex acrylics like Behr Premium Plus and Sherwin Williams ProClassic provide an excellent balance of ease-of-use and performance for DIYers.

Oil-Based Alkyd Paint

Alkyd paints utilize oil as the carrier instead of water. Traditionally called oil-based or enamel paints. Benefits of alkyd paint:

  • Harder finish and greater surface adhesion than acrylics
  • Increased durability and scratch/chip resistance
  • Higher gloss potential for very smooth, glass-like finishes
  • Can be used in more extreme environmental conditions

Drawbacks of alkyd paints:

  • Strong odor and fumes require proper ventilation
  • Longer drying times, up to 8-24 hours between coats
  • Difficult cleanup with mineral spirits or paint thinner
  • Limited color selection compared to acrylics
  • Prone to yellowing over time

Oil-based paints like Benjamin Moore’s Advance provide superb durability for cabinets in busy kitchens.

Polyurethane Paints

Polyurethane paints combine acrylic resins with a polyurethane enrichment. Key pros of polyurethane paint:

  • Extremely durable and scratch/chip resistant finish
  • Higher heat resistance up to 300°F makes them great for cabinets near ovens/stoves
  • Resist yellowing and have excellent color retention
  • Can be used directly on laminates, metals, tiles, and plastics

Cons of polyurethane paints:

  • Require additional prep work and careful application for best results
  • Longer drying time between coats, up to 3-4 hours
  • Strong fumes require proper ventilation during application and curing
  • Cost more than standard acrylics and alkyds

Polyurethane paints like Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations are ideal for surfaces that experience a lot of wear and tear.

Chalk and Milk Paints

Chalk paints and milk paints are specialty paints that create unique antique or distressed finishes.

Benefits of chalk and milk paints:

  • Don’t require sanding or priming for most surfaces
  • Can achieve vintage, shabby chic finishes with wax topping
  • Available in a wide array of soft matte colors
  • Water-based and low odor

Limitations of chalk and milk paints:

  • Not as durable as acrylics, alkyds, or polyurethanes
  • Require additional protective topcoat for cabinet use
  • hand-painted finish requires some skill and practice

Products like Annie Sloan Chalk Paint work well for decorative cabinet accents and vintage styles.

Lacquer Finishes

Though not strictly a paint, catalyzed lacquer provides an ultra-smooth and durable coating for cabinets. Advantages of lacquer:

  • Creates a crystal clear, super glossy finish
  • Very strong protective coating resists scratches and wear
  • Rapid drying times, often within 15-30 minutes between coats

Downsides to lacquer:

  • Requires skillful spray application for best results
  • Strong fumes require a professional spray booth
  • Expensive – $$$$
  • Not DIY-friendly

Lacquer is typically used by professionals for a luxury kitchen cabinet upgrade.

Selecting the Right Paint Finish for Your Kitchen Cabinets

One of the most important decisions you’ll make when choosing cabinet paint is the type of paint finish. The finish impacts the overall look, durability and ease of cleaning. Here are the most popular options to consider for kitchen cabinets:

Gloss Paint Finish

Gloss paint has a shiny, light-reflecting finish that provides a bright, bold look. It highlights the natural grain of wood cabinets beautifully. The high-gloss finish is also extremely durable and resistant to stains, dirt, grease and moisture. Frequent cleaning will not dull down the finish over time. Gloss paint is ideal for busy kitchens prone to messes, grease and frequent handling. It offers the most protection for cabinet doors and fronts.

Semi-Gloss Paint Finish

Semi-gloss falls between gloss and satin finishes. It has a luminous sheen that isn’t quite as reflective as gloss. Semi-gloss is still durable and easy to clean. It resists stains and dirt better than satin. Semi-gloss works well for cabinet doors, trim and accents in dry areas not prone to moisture. The luxurious shine dresses up cabinetry for an elegant, finished look.

Satin Paint Finish

Satin paint is currently one of the most popular choices for kitchen cabinets. It offers a smooth, velvety appearance with a subtle glow. Satin is not quite as shiny as semi-gloss but provides more luster than matte. The versatility of satin makes it suitable for many surfaces throughout the kitchen from doors to trim to accent walls. Satin holds up well against minor scuffs and stains while retaining its beautiful finish.

Matte Paint Finish

Matte or flat paint is a great choice if you prefer a more muted, subtle look. The non-reflective, velvety texture hides imperfections beautifully. Matte paint provides excellent stain resistance and durability for high-traffic areas like cabinets. The downside is that dirt, dust and grease show up more easily. Matte paint requires gentle cleaning and more frequent touch-ups than glossier finishes. But the rustic, old-world charm of matte cabinets keeps this finish popular.

When selecting a finish, consider your cabinet’s location and use. High-contact surfaces like doors and drawers often benefit from gloss or semi-gloss for durability and easy cleaning. Satin offers versatility for an elegant, understated look. Matte provides a soft, muted style where hiding wear is a priority over shine. Combining finishes like gloss doors with satin frames highlights each element beautifully.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Paint Finish:

  • Desired look – shiny and reflective vs. soft and matte
  • High-traffic vs. low-contact areas
  • Durability for cleaning, scuffs, etc.
  • Old and flawed surfaces that need hiding
  • Combining finishes for visual interest

Consider where your cabinets are located, how they’re used and the overall look you want before selecting a finish. This ensures your paint not only looks beautiful but wears well.

Highest Quality Cabinet Paint Brands

Picking the right brand of paint makes a big difference in the final look and durability of your kitchen cabinet paint job. With so many options on the market, here are some of the best paint brands for kitchen cabinets:

Benjamin Moore

One of the most popular premium paints, Benjamin Moore offers an extensive color selection including over 3,500 hues. From their top-level Aura line to lower-priced Regal Select, Benjamin Moore paints provide exceptional coverage and a durable, smooth finish on cabinets. Even better, many colors are self-priming to save time and hassle.


For gorgeous color options and durable enamel paints designed specifically for cabinets and woodwork, Sherwin-Williams is a top choice. Their ProClassic line offers self-priming options with a smooth, hard finish that resists yellowing and wear for a long-lasting, professional paint job.

PPG Paints

Under their premium Manor Hall line, PPG offers awesome coverage, leveling and a durable finish for cabinets. With both oil and water-based options, PPG’s cabinet paints provide a smooth, consistent finish. They’re also self-priming to cling to surfaces and provide extra durability.

Behr Premium Plus

Behr offers affordable options like their Premium Plus Ultra line that still provides quality results. Available in all sheens, their multi-surface paints provide great flow and leveling for a seamless finish on cabinets. The durable paints protect against moisture, stains and scuffs.


Specifically designed for painting cabinets, KILZ adhesion lines like Tribute and Complete Coat provide flawless coverage and uniform sheen with self-priming formulas. They resist fading and staining for maximum durability. KILZ budget-friendly paints still offer quality results.

No matter your budget or preferences, you can find high-performing cabinet paint from brands like these. Prioritize paints designed specifically for kitchen cabinet use for the best results. Look for self-priming, stain-resistant paints that provide a hard, durable finish.

Things to Look for in Quality Cabinet Paint:

  • Formulated specifically for cabinets/woodwork
  • Available in multiple sheens – gloss, satin, etc.
  • Self-priming for less coats and better adhesion
  • Resists stains, scuffs, moisture, and cleaning chemicals
  • Provides smooth, consistent finish with minimal brushstrokes
  • Long-lasting, durable hard finish

Investing in premium cabinet paint ensures your kitchen maintains a beautiful, flawless finish for years. Avoid cheaper paints that require more coats or lack the coverage and durability for a lasting paint job.

Key Paint Considerations for Cabinets

Beyond just the paint type, also factor in these key criteria when selecting the best cabinet paint:

Paint Sheen

The paint’s sheen or glossiness impacts the overall look and durability. Common sheen levels include:

  • Flat – Provides a matte, non-reflective look (hardest to clean)
  • Eggshell – Soft velvety appearance, low luster
  • Satin – Medium sheen with slight gloss (easy to clean)
  • Semi-Gloss – Shiny but not overly glossy (most durable)
  • High-Gloss – Very reflective, lacquered look

For most cabinet paint projects, satin or semi-gloss sheens deliver the right balance of aesthetics and resistance to wear-and-tear. Their subtle sheen enhances cabinet details beautifully. Semi-gloss offers the greatest stain protection in high traffic kitchens.

Paint Finish

Look for cabinet paints that deliver a hard, scratch-resistant finish that can withstand daily use. Softer plaster and chalk style finishes mar easily. Prioritize paints that promise excellent adhesion and a durable uniform finish that won’t crack or peel.

Mildew and Moisture Resistance

Kitchens inherently contain lots of moisture. Condensation, steam, and splatters can cause mildew growth. Seek cabinet paints formulated with mildew inhibitors that will resist moisture and humidity. This added protection preserves your painted cabinets.

Color Selection

Select a color that complements your existing kitchen decor. Neutral hues like white, gray, beige, and ivory work universally. For more contrast, consider navy blue, charcoal, hunter green, or black. If your cabinets have elaborate detailing, choose a lighter color that allows the architectural details to stand out.

Also, factor in how the color will interact with your lighting. Darker colors visually recede and can feel imposing in small kitchens with limited light. Lighter whites and grays help brighten dim spaces.

Accent Colors

For a bold statement, use an accent color on the lower cabinets or island to contrast the wall cabinets. Common accent colors include:

  • Navy blue lower cabinets with white uppers
  • Sage green lowers with cream uppers
  • Cherry red island with light gray cabinets

This eye-catching two-tone look is on trend. Or stick with soft complementary hues for a more soothing aesthetic.

How to Prepare Cabinets for Painting

Proper prep work ensures the new paint adheres tightly and delivers a flawless, long-lasting finish. Key steps for prepping cabinets for paint:

Clean Surfaces

Remove all grease, dirt, dust and grime from cabinet surfaces and doors. Use a degreasing cleanser like TSP substitute to cut any oily residue. Rinse thoroughly. Remove doors, drawers and hardware to simplify cleaning.

Lightly Sand

Use 220-400 grit sandpaper to lightly scuff cabinet boxes, doors, and frames. This helps the paint grip. Focus on sanding glossy or damaged areas. Be cautious not to over-sand and damage the underlying wood.

Repair Damage

Fill any holes, gouges or cracks with wood filler. Allow to fully cure before sanding smooth. Use spackling on MDF or plywood cabinets. Reinforce loose joints or component parts.

Remove Doors and Hardware

Detach doors, drawers, and hardware to make painting easier. Remove hinges and reinstall after painting. Label parts to simplify reassembly.

Use Deglosser

For glossy cabinets, use a deglosser/liquid sandpaper like Krud Kutter to dull and etch the slick surface so paint can bond tightly. Rinse completely afterward.

Prime Properly

Apply the correct primer based on your cabinet material. Oil-based primer sticks best. Allow to fully dry overnight before painting.

Now you’re ready to apply the cabinet paint!

How to Choose the Right Paint Finish Technique

Three main techniques exist for applying paint to cabinets:


This traditional hand-painted method works for all paint types. Use high-quality nylon or polyester bristle brushes sized around 2-3″. Load the brush evenly and apply a smooth coat. Use angled “cutting in” brushes for tight edges and corners.

Pros: Inexpensive, good control, catches details

Cons: Most time consuming, risks visible brush strokes


A paint roller quickly applies an even coat across wide flat surfaces. Use shorter nap rollers sized 1/4-3/8″ nap for cabinets. Load the roller evenly to minimize textures. Finish edges with a trim brush.

Pros: Faster than brushing, consistent coverage

Cons: Not as precise, still needs brush work


Using an airless paint sprayer delivers a flawless professional-looking finish. Maintain a constant distance and speed when spraying. Multiple thin coats are better than one thick coat.

Pros: Smooth, seamless finish, fast application

Cons: Overspray and cleanup hassles, steep learning curve

For DIYers, a combination of brushing and rolling typically works best for applying cabinet paint efficiently. Sprayers involve a learning curve and generate significant overspray. Start brushing and transition to a roller once you establish an even coating.

Step-by-Step Painting Directions

Follow these best practices for a smooth, beautiful painted finish:

1. Prep the Space

Clear countertops and remove cabinet doors/drawers. Cover floors, countertops, and appliances with plastic drop cloths. Have sandpaper, primer, paint, brushes, rollers, paint trays, and a paint stick paddle ready to go. Turn on fans for ventilation.

2. Sand and Degloss (If Needed)

Lightly sand cabinet surfaces in the direction of the wood grain. Use deglosser liquid on any glossy areas. Wipe clean with a damp rag afterward.

3. Clean and Dry

Wash all cabinet surfaces with TSP substitute to remove grease and grime. Rinse thoroughly then let dry fully.

4. Repair Damage

Fill any holes, gouges or cracks with appropriate wood filler and let cure fully. Sand smooth. Wipe away all dust with a tack cloth.

5. Prime Cabinets

Use an appropriate primer for your cabinet material. Apply an even coat with a quality brush, covering all edges and sides. Let dry overnight before painting.

6. Paint Doors and Drawer Fronts

Paint the cabinet doors and drawer fronts first. Use brushing and/or rolling to apply several thin, even coats allowing proper drying between coats. Gently sand and de-nib between coats for a smooth finish.

7. Paint Cabinet Boxes

Once doors and drawers are painted, paint the cabinet boxes, sides, frames and face frames. Follow the same methodical process as the doors. Work systematically from top to bottom.

8. Reinstall Doors and Hardware

After all paint is fully cured, reattach the cabinet hardware and doors/drawers. Check that everything operates smoothly. Add any finishing touches like caulk along trim.

9. Admire Your Updated Kitchen!

Step back and enjoy your amazing kitchen transformation! The fresh coat of paint should give your kitchen a brand new modern look and feel.

Helpful Tips for Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Properly preparing and painting your cabinets ensures you achieve flawless, professional-looking results. Follow these tips for painting kitchen cabinets like an expert:

Thoroughly Clean Cabinets First

Remove all hardware, shelf liners and items from cabinets. Use TSP or degreaser to thoroughly clean all surfaces of dirt, oil and grease that can interfere with paint adhesion. Rinse any cleaner residue and let dry completely.

Sand and Repair Flaws

Lightly sand to rough up glossy surfaces for better paint adhesion. Fill any cracks, holes and imperfections with wood filler. Sand again once dry.

Mask Off Areas

Use painter’s tape and plastic to completely mask off nearby walls, ceilings, floors and countertops. This keeps them splatter-free.

Prime Existing Finishes

For vinyl, laminate or previously finished cabinets, apply a quality bonding primer like Kilz or Zinsser first. This helps new paint stick.

Apply Paint in Thin, Even Coats

Use a high-quality angled sash brush for cutting in edges. Then roll paint in thin, uniform coats, avoiding excess paint that can drip or pool. Allow proper drying between coats.

Work in a Systematic Order

Paint sides and frames first. Then do backs of cabinet doors and fronts last for an efficient process from the inside out.

Remove Doors for Easier Access

Detaching doors to paint separately makes the process much easier. Use jigs or numbering to keep organized.

Give New Paint Time to Cure

Allow freshly painted cabinets a full 2-3 weeks to fully cure and harden before reinstalling hardware and items.

Following a systematic process with the right supplies and quality paint ensures your cabinets get a flawless facelift. Take your time prepping and painting for beautiful, professional-looking results. Your dream kitchen is in reach with these helpful tips!

Frequently Asked Questions About Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Painting cabinets on your own for the first time? Here are answers to some common FAQs:

What are the best paint brands for kitchen cabinets?

Top-rated paint options include:

  • Behr Premium Plus Enamel
  • Benjamin Moore Advance
  • Sherwin-Williams ProClassic
  • Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations

Choose premium-quality paints from leading brands for a long-lasting finish.

What is the most popular color for painting kitchen cabinets?

Trendy and timeless cabinet color choices:

  • White
  • Gray
  • Light blue
  • Navy blue
  • Sage green
  • Black
  • Cream

Classic white remains the most popular choice for its clean, bright look. Soft gray is also widely used for its versatility.

What paint finish is best for kitchen cabinets – satin, semi-gloss, or gloss?

For cabinets, satin and semi-gloss finishes offer the best combination of aesthetics and durability. Semi-gloss is the toughest but satin also resists moisture, stains, and scuffs beautifully.

How long does it take to paint kitchen cabinets?

The entire painting process generally takes 2-5 days:

  • 1 day to clean, sand, and spot prime
  • 1 day per paint coat (2-3 coats recommended)
  • 1 day to install hardware and reattach doors

Rushing the job can ruin the paint finish, so allow adequate drying time between steps.

Can you paint over stained cabinets without sanding?

For best adhesion, light sanding is recommended to rough up the existing finish. Deglosser can substitute on varnished cabinets. Proper prep prevents the paint from chipping or peeling later.

Should I remove cabinets doors to paint?

Yes, detaching the doors makes painting easier. Lay doors on sawhorses to paint. Removing doors also decreases drips and brush marks on cabinet frames. Number doors to simplify reinstallation.

Carefully following each preparation step and applying the right paint product will ensure your painted kitchen cabinets look amazing for years to come. Be patient during the process and let adequate drying occur between steps. Sand lightly between coats for a flawless finish. Soon you’ll have a gorgeous kitchen updated at just a fraction of the cost of new cabinets!

What type of paint is best for kitchen cabinets – oil or latex?

Latex acrylic paints are ideal for kitchen cabinets for their durability, ease of use and cleanup, and more consistent finish. Avoid oil-based paints that yellow over time. Opt for 100% acrylic latex paint formulated for cabinet use.

Should I use satin, semi-gloss or high-gloss paint?

Semi-gloss is the most popular choice for easy cleaning and durability on cabinet doors and surfaces. Satin provides an elegant, understated finish. High-gloss offers maximum protection where heavy use, moisture and frequent cleaning are priorities.

How do I achieve a smooth, flawless painted finish?

Proper prep and applying thin, even coats of quality paint designed for cabinets ensures a smooth, consistent finish. Using a high-density foam roller and high-quality polyester brush also prevents unsightly brushstrokes.

Should I remove cabinet doors and hardware before painting?

Yes, removing doors, handles and hinges allows for much easier access and a neater painting process. Use a numbering system to keep doors in order for easy reinstallation.

How long does it take for cabinet paint to cure?

Allow at least 2-3 weeks for cabinet paint to fully cure and harden before regular use. Avoid closing doors tight or hanging hardware until paint has time to properly set.

Do I need to sand or prime existing cabinet surfaces before painting?

Lightly sanding helps paint adhere, especially on glossy surfaces. Priming provides extra grip on laminate, wood or previously painted cabinets. Use a bonding primer for best results.


Painting your kitchen cabinets can provide an instant facelift for a fraction of the cost of new cabinetry. Following this detailed guide will help you select the ideal paint and execute the painting process like a pro. Investing a little time upfront in proper planning and preparation makes all the difference.

The right paint choice depends on factors like paint type, sheen, color, and application method. Satin or semi-gloss latex acrylics or alkyds offer the best performance for most DIYers. Proper sanding, priming, and coating technique will help the paint adhere tightly and provide a durable, uniform finish.

Incorporating enduring neutral colors like white, light gray, or soft blue allows your painted cabinets to stay on-trend for years to come. Adding accent colors on island cabinets creates stylish visual contrast. Take your time and don’t rush the prep work or painting steps. The finished result will be a stunning kitchen updated at a fraction of replacement cost. Your beautiful revitalized space will provide lasting daily enjoyment as the heart of your home.