How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Without Stripping


Painting kitchen cabinets can transform the look of your kitchen in an instant. But many homeowners dread the tedious and messy process of stripping off the old paint or varnish first. Fortunately, with the right prep work and painting techniques, you can get a smooth, professional-looking paint job without having to strip the cabinets down to bare wood.

In this guide, we will walk through the entire process of painting kitchen cabinets without stripping them. We will cover:

  • Pros and cons of painting vs. stripping
  • Supplies needed
  • Preparing and cleaning the cabinets
  • Sanding and deglossing
  • Priming
  • Choosing and applying paint
  • Topcoating for protection
  • Curing and cleaning up

Follow these steps and you can refresh your kitchen cabinets with a bright new paint job without the hassle and mess of paint stripping. With a little time and effort, you can transform the look of your kitchen without breaking the bank.

Pros and Cons of Painting vs. Stripping Kitchen Cabinets

Before diving into the painting process, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of painting kitchen cabinets without stripping compared to stripping them down to the bare wood:


  • It’s much faster. Skipping the paint stripping step saves a ton of time. No need to scrape, sand, or use chemical strippers to remove old paint layers.
  • Minimizes dust and mess. Paint stripping creates a lot of dust and debris to clean up. Painting is cleaner.
  • Less physical labor. Scraping and sanding every inch of cabinets is exhausting. Painting over existing finish is easier.
  • Lower cost. Painting eliminates the cost of paint strippers, scrapers, etc. And you avoid potential repairs needed after stripping.


  • More prep work. While you skip stripping, proper prep is crucial for painted cabinets to look good and last. This involves cleaning, sanding, and deglossing so paint adheres properly.
  • Potential adhesion issues. Paint may not bond as strongly without stripping to bare wood. Proper prep and primer will help.
  • Limiting color choices. Can’t go as dark or bold on color without seeing wood grain. Need to consider existing cabinet color when choosing new paint.
  • Unknowns under old paint. No way to inspect condition of wood or check for repairs needed until you strip. Problems may be hidden under layers of old paint.

Overall, if your cabinets are structurally sound with an intact finish, painting without stripping them first can save huge amounts of effort while still giving your kitchen a fresh new look. Just be prepared to put in elbow grease on prep work.

Supplies Needed for Painting Kitchen Cabinets Without Stripping

To paint your kitchen cabinets without stripping, you’ll need the following supplies:

Cleaning supplies

  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP) substitute or other degreaser
  • Dish soap
  • Scotch-Brite pads or other abrasive sponges
  • Rags

Sanding supplies

  • Sandpaper in various grits (120, 150, 220 grit)
  • Sanding sponge
  • Sanding block
  • Tack cloth
  • Drop cloths
  • Dust mask
  • Eye protection

Painting supplies

  • High-adhesion primer
  • Cabinet paint in desired color
  • Angled paint brushes in 2″ and 3″ size
  • Paint roller and roller covers (3/8″ nap recommended)
  • Paint tray
  • Painter’s tape
  • Rags, paint thinner, etc.


  • Paint sprayer (for applying primer and paint)
  • Deglosser (only if cabinets are shiny or glossy)
  • Cabinet hardware and hinges to replace after painting
  • Wood putty/filler for repairs

It’s better to have supplies on hand than to realize mid-project you’re missing something! Purchase quality brushes, roller covers, primer and paint to get the longest-lasting finish.

Preparing and Cleaning Kitchen Cabinets Before Painting

Thorough preparation and cleaning ensures your painted cabinets come out looking smooth and professional. Here are the key steps:

1. Empty cabinets fully

Remove everything – dishes, food, shelves, hardware, etc. You want full access to the interior and exterior surfaces.

2. Wash cabinet exteriors

Use a degreaser like TSP or a strong dish soap solution and scrub cabinets to remove grease, grime, and residue. Tackle stovetop and range hood cabinets first as they collect the most grease.

3. Clean cabinet interiors

Vacuum out dust and debris. Then wipe down all interior surfaces – shelves, sides, bottoms, fronts. TSP works well to cut through grease.

4. Remove doors and hardware

Taking doors off makes them easier to prep, prime and paint. Number each door and remove hinges carefully to reattach later.

5. Repair damage or flaws

Inspect closely for peeling paint, cracks, rotted areas, etc. Fix issues now before painting over them. Use wood filler for small holes.

6. Fill holes from hardware

Fill old screw holes with wood filler so they don’t show after you paint. Let filler dry fully before sanding smooth.

Thorough cleaning and repairs ensure the new paint job starts on solid footing by adhering tightly to the cabinets.

Sanding and Deglossing Kitchen Cabinets Before Painting

For the best adhesion, you need to scuff up the cabinet surfaces slightly before priming and painting. This is done with sanding to rough up the finish.

Steps for sanding:

  1. Lightly sand entire cabinet box exteriors and doors with 120-150 grit paper to scuff the surface. Don’t sand down to bare wood.
  2. Use a sanding sponge for profiled areas like grooves, ridges and corners.
  3. Sand by hand in the direction of the wood grain. Pay attention to edges.
  4. Once sanded, wipe cabinets with a dry tack cloth to remove all dust.

If existing cabinets have a glossy or shiny finish, do an additional step called deglossing after sanding:

  • Wipe cabinets with deglosser or liquid sandpaper to dull the shiny surface. Allow to fully dry.
  • Lightly sand again with 220 grit paper to smooth any raised grain.

Sanding and deglossing gives the primer and paint something to grip for best adhesion.

Priming Kitchen Cabinets Before Painting

Primer creates a uniform surface for the paint to adhere to. For priming kitchen cabinets without stripping, you’ll need an adhesion primer or bonding primer. Look for ones specifically formulated for slick surfaces like metal or glossy finishes.

Tips for priming cabinets:

  • Carefully read and follow primer instructions for best results.
  • Apply in thin, even coats using a brush or paint sprayer.
  • Use a small foam roller to smooth out brush marks and drips.
  • Allow proper drying time between coats as recommended on primer can.
  • Lightly sand with 220 grit paper between coats to smooth any drips or debris in primer.
  • Be diligent about corners, crevices and cut-outs to avoid missed spots.
  • Prime cabinet interiors, sides and fronts for complete coverage.
  • Primer coat should look consistent, without heavy brush marks or runs.

The primer coat evens out the cabinets, allowing for a smooth finish when you apply the paint.

How to Choose Cabinet Paint Color and Finish

Once your cabinets are cleaned, sanded, primed and ready to go, it’s time to pick out your paint. There are a few considerations for choosing kitchen cabinet paint:


For durability in kitchens, a satin, eggshell or semi-gloss finish works best. High-gloss shows more imperfections.


With white, gray or another light neutral your cabinets will reflect light and seem airy. Bolder colors can look dramatic but show flaws more. Remember cabinets will look darker once on. Test paint samples on cabinets before committing to a color.


Compare undertones of paint colors to your cabinet finish to avoid clash. For example, blue-gray paint on warm wood can look “muddy.”

Existing Cabinets

Factor in current cabinet color when selecting a new shade so it transitions smoothly. Brighter or darker finishes hide old color better than similar neutrals.


Consider how cabinet color will look against countertops and floors. You want some contrast without clashing.

Talk to paint specialists for guidance on choosing the right color and finish for your space. They can help find a hue that coordinates well.

How to Apply Cabinet Paint Without Brush Marks

Now comes the fun part – using your beautiful new paint to give your kitchen a makeover! Follow these tips for smooth results:

1. Carefully stir paint

Stir paint thoroughly before and periodically during use. Don’t shake it.

2. Use good applicators

Invest in quality angled sash brushes made for painting cabinets and trim. Avoid cheap brushes that can leave bristles and streaks.

3. Maintain a wet edge

As you finish a section, brush over it again to blend before moving to avoid lap marks.

4. Thin coats

Apply paint in thin, even coats. Thick paint drips and causes brush marks.

5. Brush direction

Brush in the direction of the wood grain, using smooth strokes.

6. Inside corners

Use a high-quality angled “cutting in” brush to paint inside corners and edges cleanly before rolling.

7. Roll carefully

Use mini foam rollers in thin coats just to even paint, not press heavily. Roll in direction of wood grain.

8. Check for drips

Inspect for drips after each coat, touching up with brush as needed.

9. Box lights

Use cardboard to shield lights, sockets and switches from drips as you paint.

Follow a smooth rhythm of cutting in, rolling then inspecting, and you’ll get a flawless painted finish on your cabinets.

How Many Coats of Paint for Kitchen Cabinets?

For full coverage on most cabinets, plan to apply two to three thin coats of cabinet paint. Here are tips for multiple coats:

  • Allow proper dry time between coats as specified on the paint can. Cooler temperatures or higher humidity increases drying time.
  • Inspect closely after each coat, fixing any drips or flaws with light sanding before the next coat.
  • Look for thin or missed spots and go over those areas again to build coverage.
  • Apply the final coat evenly so no brush strokes or roller marks show.
  • The previous color should not show through the final coat at all. If it does, apply another coat.
  • Resist the urge to apply paint thickly to get coverage faster. Several thinner coats look best.
  • Prime any bare wood or repairs between paint coats for complete coverage.

Patience leads to payoff! Slowly building through multiple coats creates a beautifully smooth finish.

How to Apply an Even Topcoat for Protection

To protect your painted cabinets and give them a perfect surface, apply one final layer using a clear cabinet topcoat.

Tips for applying cabinet topcoat:

  • Lightly sand painted cabinets with 220-grit paper to degloss. Wipe away any dust.
  • Select water-based polyurethane formulated for cabinets. Oil-based yellows over time.
  • Work in thin, even coats like with paint using good quality brushes.
  • Maintain a wet edge and brush away lap marks as you go.
  • Allow topcoat to fully cure following manufacturer instructions before use.
  • If desired, apply a second layer of topcoat after the first fully cures for added protection.

The topcoat seals the painted cabinets to protect your work, while giving surfaces a smooth polished look.

Curing Time Before Using Painted Cabinets

It’s important to let painted cabinets fully cure before using the kitchen normally to prevent damage to the fresh paint. Here are curing guidelines:

  • Allow cabinet paint to dry 24-48 hours between coats.
  • After final paint coat, wait at least 3 days before applying topcoat.
  • Once topcoat is applied, allow 5-7 days curing time before reinstalling shelves, hardware, dishes, etc.
  • Wait 1-2 weeks before closing doors, opening drawers and putting kitchen back into full use.
  • Avoid steam, splatters, cleaners and abrasion until paint has fully hardened.
  • Run ventilation like fans and dehumidifiers to speed cure time.
  • Don’t force doors or drawers closed prematurely or paint may stick.

Be patient – curing allows paint to harden fully so your cabinets develop maximum toughness and durability to last.

Cleaning and Final Steps for Painted Cabinets

Once fully cured, follow these final steps to complete your kitchen cabinet painting project:

  • Clean cabinets with a mild soap and water using a soft rag. Avoid abrasive cleaners.
  • Reinstall door hardware using new screws if needed to avoid old holes stripping.
  • Adjust doors and drawers for proper closure. Add knobs/pulls to drawers as needed.
  • Seal around cabinet tops/walls with caulk for an even look.
  • Touch up any final scratches or flaws with leftover paint.
  • Remove painter’s tape around edges of cabinets carefully when paint is fully hardened.
  • Consider adding trim pieces, molding or decorative feet for extra flair.

Stand back and admire your amazing “new” cabinets! With some strategic TLC, you’ve extended their life without the huge cost or hassle of replacing them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of paint should I use to paint kitchen cabinets?

High quality cabinet paint or enamel paint are good options for painting cabinets. Look for formulas designed for woodwork and cabinets. Satin, semi-gloss or gloss sheens are best for durability in kitchens.

Can I paint over wood stain?

Yes, you can paint over existing wood stain without having to strip the cabinets first. Proper prep, sanding and a good primer will allow paint to adhere to stained wood. The stain color may affect the end paint color slightly.

What color cabinets are best for small kitchens?

Lighter paint colors like white, light gray and soft blue can help a small kitchen feel open and airy. Bolder colors tend to make small kitchens feel closed in.

Should I take doors off to paint cabinets?

It’s ideal to remove doors and hardware to paint cabinets. This allows you to fully paint the box framing and gives easier access to doors for spraying or painting evenly. Lay doors on sawhorses to paint.

How do I fix paint drips on cabinets?

Carefully scrape off any drips with a putty knife once paint is partly dried. Smooth with fine sandpaper, clean and reapply paint to area. Work slowly with thin coats to avoid drips.

Painting your kitchen cabinets is rewarding but challenging. By following the techniques in this guide, you can get a professional-looking finish without tedious stripping or special equipment. Preparation is key – properly cleaning, sanding and priming your cabinets will help the new paint stick and avoid flaws. Apply multiple thin coats, allowing proper dry time between each, for best coverage. Then protect your painted masterpiece with a clear cabinet topcoat for a durable, polished finish.


Refreshing kitchen cabinets by painting them without stripping first may take more elbow grease than starting from bare wood. But the massive time and labor saved by not stripping makes it worthwhile for many busy homeowners. The keys are thorough prep, high-quality primer and paint, patience in applying multiple coats smoothly, and allowing proper curing time. Follow the steps in this guide and you can give your kitchen an affordable makeover while still having weekends and evenings free for life’s more important activities. Here’s to enjoying your renewed kitchen cabinets for years to come!