How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets


Painting your kitchen cabinets can completely transform the look of your kitchen without the high cost of a full remodel. With some time and effort, you can change the color, finish, and style of your cabinets. Painting cabinets yourself rather than hiring a professional can save thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps for painting kitchen cabinets, from proper preparation and choosing paint sheens to application techniques. Follow these tips and techniques for beautiful, long-lasting results.

Should You Paint or Reface Your Kitchen Cabinets?

Before deciding to paint your cabinets, consider whether refacing may be a better option.


  • Keeps existing cabinet box and replaces doors, drawer fronts & hardware
  • Less messy than painting
  • Shorter project timeline
  • Retains wood grain


  • Completely changes color & finish
  • More affordable than refacing
  • Allows you to modify cabinet style
  • Lengthier prep & dry time
  • Hides wood grain

Painting makes sense if your cabinet boxes are in good shape structurally but the doors are worn or damaged. It also allows more dramatic changes in color and style. Refacing may be preferable if you wish to retain a natural wood look. Evaluate the condition of your cabinets to determine if they are good candidates for painting.

How to Prepare Kitchen Cabinets for Painting

Proper prep work is crucial for ensuring the new paint adheres correctly and provides a smooth, durable finish.


The first step is thoroughly cleaning the cabinet surfaces to remove grease, dirt and grime. Use a degreasing cleaner or tsp substitute to cut through oil and dirt. For especially dirty cabinets, a heavy-duty cleaner like Krud Kutter may be required. Scrub all surfaces then rinse with clean water and let dry fully.

Remove Doors and Hardware

Removing the doors, drawers and hardware allows for easier access to all the surfaces. Number each door and drawer to ensure proper re-installation in the original location.

Use a screwdriver to remove hinges and drawer pulls. For hinges that are painted shut, carefully break the seal with a razor blade before unscrewing.


Lightly sanding smooths the surface for improved paint adhesion. Use 150-220 grit sandpaper to scuff the finish. Focus on areas with damage like scratches, chips or cracks.

Be very gentle if sanding laminate cabinets to avoid removing the laminate layer. Only scuff the shiny surface to rough it up for painting.

Fill Holes & Repairs

Inspect for any holes, gouges and cracks that should be filled prior to painting. Use wood filler or spackle as needed then sand smooth. Replace any damaged wood or laminate.

Degloss & Clean

Following sanding, wipe all surfaces with a tack cloth to remove dust. For previously painted cabinets with a glossy finish, deglossing is required so the new paint will stick. Use a liquid deglosser or sand with fine grit sandpaper.

Clean thoroughly after deglossing to remove residue. Denatured alcohol works well to cut through grease and oils.


Priming provides a uniform surface for the new paint to adhere to. For the best results on kitchen cabinets, use an oil-based primer or bonding primer. These offer excellent adhesion on slick and glossy surfaces.

Apply the primer in a well-ventilated area according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Typically 2-3 coats of primer are needed to fully seal the wood. Sand lightly between coats for a smooth finish.

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Once properly prepped, you can achieve a flawless painted finish with these tips:

Paint Selection

For cabinets, an enamel, alkyd or acrylic paint is recommended. These provide a durable, scrubbable finish that stands up to moisture and grease in the kitchen. Options include:

  • Enamel paint – hard, glossy finish that resists scratching and yellowing
  • Alkyd paint – fast drying like latex with hard finish like enamel
  • Acrylic latex – available in various sheens; easy cleanup with water

Semi-gloss is the most popular sheen for cabinets. It resists staining while providing some reflection of light. Use satin for a soft, smooth finish or high-gloss for a bold, shiny look.

Purchase high quality, interior-grade cabinet paint for the most durable results. Budget paints contain less resin, resulting in a less scratch-resistant finish.

Paint Application

Rolling: A high density foam or microfiber roller, 3/8″ nap, minimizes brush strokes on flat surfaces like cabinet sides and doors. Use a small foam roller for painting the cabinet frames.

Brushing: Use a quality synthetic bristle brush for cutting in and smaller detail areas unreachable with a roller. Trim around hinges, corners and edges first.

Spraying: Achieves the smoothest finish but requires tenting off the kitchen to prevent overspray. HVLP spray systems are ideal for applying thin, even coats with minimal mess.

Tips for Smoothest Results:

  • Apply in thin, even coats allowing proper drying time between coats.
  • Always maintain a wet edge when painting to prevent lap marks.
  • Backbrush while spraying to eliminate any drips or sags.
  • Sand lightly between coats for a smooth, level finish.
  • Work in sections starting with the cabinet backs and interior then sides, finally doors and drawer fronts.

Drying & Curing

Allow painted cabinets to dry 24-48 hours before rehanging doors and drawers. Curing takes approximately 2 weeks before the paint reaches maximum hardness and durability. Avoid cleaning or placing heavy items on cabinets during this time.

How Long Does It Take to Paint Kitchen Cabinets?

The total timeframe to paint kitchen cabinets depends on the size of the kitchen and if you are painting the interiors too.

  • Prep work: 2-5 days
  • Painting cabinet boxes: 1-2 days
  • Painting doors: 1-3 days
  • Dry time between coats: 24-48 hrs
  • Total estimated time: 1-2 weeks

Working on one section of cabinets at a time helps the project move along efficiently. Expect the process to take longer if the cabinets require extensive repairs prior to painting.

Cost to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Painting kitchen cabinets can save thousands over a cabinet replacement. Potential cost savings:

  • DIY painting: $2,000-$3,500
  • Professional painting: $4,000-$8,000
  • New cabinet installation: $8,000-$20,000+

The DIY route requires more time and labor but results in dramatic savings over pro painting or cabinet replacement. The total cost to paint cabinets varies based on the:

  • Size of the kitchen
  • Paint chosen (higher quality = higher cost)
  • Addition of new hardware

Even with high-end paint and new hardware, painting your own cabinets is very affordable compared to new cabinet installation.

How to Paint Laminate Kitchen Cabinets

Laminate cabinets require some special preparation methods for successful results painting over laminate.


Degrease laminate cabinets thoroughly using a degreasing agent like tsp substitute. Rinse with clean water.

Lightly Sand

Use 220-400 grit sandpaper to scuff up the shiny laminate surface. This helps the primer and paint adhere properly. Be very careful not to sand through the laminate.


Choose a bonding primer or oil-based primer formulated for use on laminates and glossy surfaces. Apply 2-3 coats following the manufacturer’s application instructions.


For the topcoat, use a high-quality enamel, acrylic or multi-surface paint. Semi-gloss or satin sheens work best on laminate cabinets.

The keys are proper prep, priming with the right product, and using thin coats of paint. This prevents the paint from chipping or peeling later on.

How to Paint Thermofoil Cabinets

Thermofoil cabinets have a plastic laminate film overlay. This requires additional prep steps for successful painting.

Clean & Scuff

Wash cabinets with a degreaser and scuff sand using fine 220 grit paper. Scuffing allows the primer to grip.

Prime with Bonding Primer

A bonding primer like Stix bonds well to the slippery thermofoil surface. Apply 2-3 coats according to manufacturer directions.

Skim Coat

Apply a thin skim coat of filler over the primer to help hide the thermofoil seams and texture. Sand smooth.


Use a high-quality acrylic latex or enamel paint. Semi-gloss provides good durability and hide. Allow proper drying time between coats.

Proper prep and priming are vital when painting over thermofoil cabinets. The bonding primer creates adhesion to the plastic film surface so the paint does not eventually peel or chip.

How to Achieve Different Painted Cabinet Styles

Beyond just changing the color, painting allows you to completely change the style of your kitchen by creating different finishes and painted effects.

Solid Color

Using one single color provides a streamlined, seamless look. Having cabinets, doors, trim and an island the same color makes a space appear larger.

Contrasting Island

Painting the island a different color than the perimeter cabinets creates definition. It makes the island feel like a separate piece of furniture in the kitchen.


Glazing involves applying a translucent paint layer over a base color to add depth. It works well for formal, old world-style kitchens. The process requires some skill to get the hang of.


A distressed paint finish mimics signs of wear and tear like rubs, chips and scratches to add character. Achieve the look with a specialty glaze, rubbing paint layers, or actual physical distressing.

Stained Look

Use a high quality gel stain over properly primed cabinets to emulate the look of real wood stained cabinets. Multiple coats layered build up color intensity. Top coat for protection.

Painted Shaker Style

A clean, shaker style pairs well with painted cabinets for a timeless yet fresh look. Changing just the door style transforms plain cabinets.

Color Blocking

Painting upper and lower cabinets in contrasting colors creates visual interest. Neutral bases with bold uppers work well in color blocking.

Tips for Painting Oak Kitchen Cabinets

Oak cabinets have pronounced wood grain which requires proper prep and primer to achieve an evenly painted surface.

  • Fill grain with wood filler and sand smooth to minimize visible grain through the paint.
  • Use an oil-based wood primer or grain-filling primer to fully seal the wood.
  • Opt for a semi-gloss or gloss paint which helps hide grain better than lower sheens.
  • Apply thin, even coats allowing proper drying time between coats.
  • Use a foam roller and high-quality trim brush for the smoothest finish.
  • Backbrush when spraying paint to help fill grain and prevent drips.

Prepping oak cabinets thoroughly and using the right primer for wood grain will result in a smooth, consistent painted finish.

Can You Paint Over Stained Cabinets?

Changing the color of stained wood cabinets is achievable by following these steps:

  • Clean, lightly sand and degrease cabinets to degloss and remove any wax.
  • Use a tannin-blocking primer to prevent stains from bleeding through paint.
  • Apply 2-3 coats of a quality oil-based primer to seal the wood.
  • Lightly sand between coats for a smooth finish.
  • Topcoat with enamel, acrylic or multi-surface paint in your desired sheen.

Take care to thoroughly degloss and prime stained cabinets prior to painting. Tannins in wood can cause stains to bleed into the new paint if not properly sealed by an oil-based primer.

Can You Paint Thermofoil Cabinets?

Thermofoil cabinets have a plastic laminate coating that makes painting tricky. With proper preparation, it is possible to successfully paint over thermofoil:

  • Clean and scuff cabinets using 220 grit sandpaper. Do not sand through laminate.
  • Apply 2-3 coats of bonding primer specifically designed for laminates.
  • Lightly skim coat with wood filler to hide thermofoil seams.
  • Topcoat with a high-quality enamel, acrylic or multi-surface paint.
  • Use thin, even coats allowing proper drying time between coats.

The keys are using the right primer for plastic surfaces, avoiding heavy sanding, and applying paint carefully. With careful prep, thermofoil cabinets can be painted for a completely new look.

How Long Does Cabinet Paint Last?

When properly prepped and applied, quality cabinet paint should last 5-7 years before needing to be recoated. Factors that affect paint lifespan:

  • Quality of prep work – proper sanding, cleaning, priming
  • Paint type – higher quality paint lasts longer
  • Application method – proper coats, dry time
  • Kitchen environment – heavy grease, moisture shorten lifespan

To maximize durability:

  • Thoroughly degrease and sand cabinets prior to priming
  • Use an oil-based primer for best adhesion
  • Allow proper dry time between paint coats
  • Use satin or semi-gloss paint which resists staining/yellowing
  • Avoid cleaning cabinets until fully cured (at least 2 weeks)

With the right prep and application methods, painted kitchen cabinets can look fresh and new for years before needing a refresh.

Painting Kitchen Cabinets FAQ

How do you prepare cabinets for painting?

  • Clean cabinets thoroughly with a degreaser
  • Lightly sand to rough up the surface
  • Fill any holes and imperfections
  • Prime with oil-based or bonding primer

What kind of paint should you use on kitchen cabinets?

Enamel, acrylic latex and alkyd paints all work well. Opt for satin or semi-gloss sheens which are durable and washable.

How do you get a smooth finish when painting cabinets?

  • Proper prep – sanding, priming, filling imperfections
  • High quality trim brushes and foam rollers
  • Multiple thin coats of paint
  • Sand lightly between coats

Should you paint cabinet interiors?

Painting the interiors provides a finished look and prevents drips/stains inside. Use enamel or cabinet-specific paint to withstand moisture and grease.

How long after painting cabinets can I put them back?

Allow painted cabinets 24-48 hours of dry time before rehanging doors and drawers. Wait at least 2 weeks before cleaning or placing heavy items inside.

Can you paint over oak cabinets?

Yes, use wood filler to smooth grain, oil-based primer, and thin coats of paint. Semi-gloss paint helps hide oak grain.

Do new cabinets need to be primed before painting?

Priming is always recommended, even with new wood cabinets. It creates a uniform surface for paint to adhere to.

Can I paint just the cabinets and not the kitchen walls?

Absolutely. Painting just the cabinets can totally transform the space. Use the existing wall color in your cabinet paint selection.


Painting tired, dated kitchen cabinets provides a budget-friendly kitchen makeover option that can drastically change the look of your space. With some time and effort, you can customize your cabinets with the colors, finishes and styling features of your choice. Use this comprehensive guide to walk through the process from proper prep work to final painted finishes. With these tips for success, you can tackle painting your kitchen cabinets like a pro for stunning results.