How to Repaint Kitchen Cabinets

Give your kitchen a whole new look by repainting your cabinets. With some preparation and the right techniques, you can completely transform the feel of your kitchen. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to repaint kitchen cabinets like a pro.


Tired of your outdated kitchen cabinets? Ready to refresh your kitchen without a full renovation? Repainting your cabinets can give your kitchen an instant facelift for a fraction of the cost. With some elbow grease and the right materials, you can change the whole look and feel of your kitchen in a weekend.

Repainting cabinets isn’t too difficult, but it does require proper preparation and application to get great results. In this guide, you’ll learn step-by-step how to repaint kitchen cabinets, from cleaning and sanding to priming and painting. We’ll also cover cabinet painting tips and tricks the pros use for a flawless finish.

With these techniques, you can update worn or dated cabinets and give your kitchen a fresh new look. So read on to learn everything you need to know to take on this rewarding DIY project.

Why Repaint Kitchen Cabinets?

Here are some of the top reasons for repainting kitchen cabinets:

  • Update the look – A new coat of paint is an easy and affordable way to update the style and color of your cabinets without replacing them. You can go for a modern, minimalist white or opt for a bold, vibrant color to make the cabinets a focal point.
  • Cover blemishes – Painting conceals cracks, stains, and other imperfections better than stain. It can give beat-up cabinets new life.
  • Change color scheme – Tired of oak or maple cabinets? Painting allows you to easily switch color palette to coordinate with new countertops, backsplash, etc.
  • Cost savings – Repainting cabinets can refresh the kitchen for 10-50% of the cost of new cabinetry. If your current cabinets are structurally sound, paint is an affordable update.
  • Increase home value – A fresh coat of paint makes the entire kitchen look updated, potentially boosting your home’s value when it comes time to sell.

As long as the cabinet boxes are in good shape, repainting the doors, drawer fronts, and frames can give you an amazing transformation without the investment of brand new cabinets.

Prep Work – Clean Cabinets Thoroughly

Before painting, take time to thoroughly clean cabinets and remove any surface residue. This prep work leads to better paint adhesion and a smoother finish.

Follow these steps to properly clean cabinets before painting:

  • Remove doors and drawers – Detach all doors, drawers, and hardware. Remove shelves and rack from cabinet interiors as well. Take doors/drawers outside for cleaning.
  • Clean surfaces – Wipe cabinet boxes, doors, drawer fronts and sides with a deglosser or TSP substitute to remove grease and grime. For stubborn areas, use a degreasing dish soap and scrub brush.
  • Fill holes/cracks – Fill any holes or cracks with wood filler and let dry completely. Sand smooth.
  • Sand surfaces – Lightly sand cabinet surfaces to rough up the finish. This helps paint better adhere. Wipe away all dust with a tack cloth.

Thorough cleaning and sanding at this stage will provide the ideal surface for your primer and paint to stick to.

Cleaning Tips

  • Use a product like Dirtex, TSP No-Rinse Substitute or Krud Kutter to cut through grease and grime
  • For tight spaces, use toothbrushes, Q-tips, or small scrub brushes
  • Change rags/scrub pads frequently to prevent spreading dirt around
  • Always wear gloves to protect your hands
  • Work in a well-ventilated area
  • Dispose of rags soaked in chemicals properly

Take your time with the cleaning process – it makes the rest of the painting much easier!

Sand Cabinets Lightly to Improve Paint Adhesion

After a thorough cleaning, it’s time to lightly sand down the cabinets. This helps the new paint stick by roughing up the surface a bit.

You don’t need to strip the cabinets completely or do heavy sanding! The goal is just to scuff up the shiny surface coating.

Here’s how to sand kitchen cabinets properly before painting:

  • Use 150-220 grit sandpaper for light sanding of cabinet doors, boxes and frames. You don’t need anything more coarse.
  • Sand by hand using sanding sponges/blocks. No power tools needed!
  • Focus on the flat surfaces like door/drawer fronts, sides and cabinet frames. Don’t worry about sanding inside shelves.
  • When you’re done, wipe all surfaces with a dry tack cloth to remove dust.

If there are any bumps, ridges or scratches on the cabinet doors or frames, you can sand a bit more in those areas to smooth and flatten them out. But be careful not to over-sand or you could damage the wood.

Always properly prepare and protect the rest of your kitchen so you don’t get dust everywhere! Cover counters, flooring, etc. with plastic sheeting and close off the room if possible.

Fill Any Holes or Gaps with Wood Filler

Examine cabinet surfaces closely and look for any holes, gouges, or gaps in the wood. These should be filled with wood filler prior to painting.

Here’s how to properly patch holes:

  • Clean out any dust or debris from the hole with a vacuum
  • Apply water-based wood filler and use a putty knife to fill the hole flush with the surface
  • Let dry completely. Drying times vary based on product used.
  • Sand patch smooth and flat when dry
  • Wipe away dust with a dry cloth

This helps create an even, smooth surface for painting. Make sure to use exterior-grade wood filler for cabinet doors and drawer fronts.

For small gaps around cabinet frames, you can fill those while you caulk later on. Wood filler works best for actual holes and surface defects in the wood.

Prime Cabinets for Best Paint Coverage

Priming is one of the most important steps when repainting kitchen cabinets. Primer creates a uniform surface for paint to adhere to, preventing blotchiness and uneven coloring.

For refinishing kitchen cabinets, you’ll get the best results using an oil-based primer. Here are some benefits of using oil-based primer on cabinets:

  • Better surface penetration, especially on stained/sealed cabinets
  • Superior adhesion and durability compared to water-based
  • Blocks tannin bleed from wood, preventing staining
  • Enhances topcoat shine and smoothness
  • Resists chipping and scuffing after painting

Oil-based primers like Zinsser Cover Stain or INSL-X Prime Lock Plus work great for priming cabinets. Follow the coverage and application directions on the product.

In general, you will want to apply two coats of primer to fully seal and prepare the wood surface. Make sure to sand lightly between coats with 220 grit sandpaper.

Once fully cured, the surface will be ideal for accepting premium water-based paint finishes.

Choosing the Right Paint Sheen

When researching cabinet paint, you’ll come across various “sheens” like eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss. The sheen refers to the level of light reflection and shine.

Here are some tips for choosing the right sheen:

  • Flat/Matte – Provides no shine and a velvet-like appearance. Hides imperfections well but can look dull on cabinets. Difficult to clean.
  • Eggshell – With subtle shine, this is popular for a classic look. Hides flaws decently and easier to clean than flat.
  • Satin – A good midpoint between eggshell and semi-gloss. Has a smooth, low luster shine. Easy to clean and durable.
  • Semi-gloss – Has a brighter sheen and high durability. Enhances wood grain. Best sheen for cleaning but does show imperfections.
  • High gloss – Very shiny, glass-like sheen. Looks ultra modern but will accentuate any flaws.

For most cabinet refinishing projects, a satin or semi-gloss finish works best. The subtle sheen is smooth and luxurious looking but also practical, long-wearing and easy to clean.

Choosing Paint Colors

Selecting the right paint color for your kitchen is an exciting but sometimes stressful process! Here are some tips to make it easier:

  • Look at photos online or in magazines for inspiration
  • Bring home paint chips from the store to view in your space
  • Pick a neutral palette for an airy, timeless look
  • Use accent colors on island or lowers to make a statement
  • Opt for light, bright colors to open up a small kitchen
  • Don’t be afraid to be bold! Dark colors like navy can be striking
  • Purchase a color sample size to test – colors look different on cabinets

Popular cabinet paint colors include:

  • White – clean, bright, lightens up space
  • Light gray – airy and sophisticated
  • Navy – dramatic yet versatile
  • Sage green – earthy, inviting vibe
  • Black – bold, modern look
  • Cream – soft, understated

Choosing the right color can be tricky, but don’t stress! If you’re feeling unsure, start with a stylish neutral white or gray. You can always change it up down the road.

DIY Painting Techniques

Ready to start painting your cabinets? Here are techniques and tips to do it right:

1. Set up a spray area – Lay down plastic to protect floors. Cover any walls/surfaces you don’t want painted. Set up saw horses to place cabinet doors on.

2. Apply primer – Use an oil-based primer like Zinsser Cover Stain. Apply a smooth, even coat with a high density foam roller. Primer should fully seal the wood.

3. Sand between coats – Once primer has dried, lightly sand with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth. Remove any dust.

4. Topcoat with paint – Use a quality cabinet paint like Benjamin Moore Advance. Roll on an even coat. Do edges first with brush.

5. Sand between paint coats too – Sand again with 220 grit after first coat has dried. Wipe clean.

6. Caulk as needed – Once fully painted, apply painter’s caulk to gaps and cracks for a seamless look.

7. Avoid drips and sags – Apply in smooth, thin coats, not too thick. Too much paint leads to drips.

8. Tackle doors horizontally – Lay doors on sawhorses for painting. Much easier than wrestling them vertically!

Take your time with each coat. Rushing leads to uneven paint and drips. Patience pays off!

How Long Does Cabinet Paint Take to Dry?

When researching cabinet paint, you’ll want to factor in dry times. Oil-based primers dry fastest, within 5-6 hours. Paint cure times are longer:

  • To touch – 1-2 hours
  • To recoat – 16-48 hours
  • For light use – 3 days
  • Full hardness – 1-2 weeks

These times can vary based on temperature, humidity, ventilation, and thickness applied.

The key is having patience! Rushing the process can ruin the paint job. It’s best to clear your calendar for a few days when taking on a cabinet painting project.

How to Paint Cabinet Boxes Professionally

Painting the cabinet boxes/interiors is trickier than doors and requires more prep:

  • Remove fixed shelves and hardware
  • Fill all holes/gaps with caulk
  • Sand interiors thoroughly to rough up surface
  • Clean boxes extremely well – prime won’t stick to grease
  • Apply oil-based primer allowing full drying time
  • Caulk before painting topcoat
  • Use angled trim mini roller to reach tight spots
  • Don’t overload paint – thin coats prevent drips
  • Replace shelves/hardware after full cure time

Take it slow and watch for drips. Having a helper makes painting the cabinet interiors much easier!

Paint Cabinet Doors Like an Expert

These pro tips will help you paint doors flawlessly:

  • Clean and sand doors thoroughly before starting
  • Remove all hardware – paint separately
  • Always use painter’s caulk after priming but before painting
  • Apply primer and paint with a high density foam mini roller
  • Use angled trim brush for edges and details
  • Go slowly to prevent drips and sags
  • Keep wet edge when painting – don’t stop midway!
  • Let primer and paint fully dry between coats
  • Lightly sand before applying topcoat
  • Spray painting doors makes for a smoother finish but has a learning curve

Take your time and don’t rush the process. Lay doors flat for easier, drip-free painting.

Most Common Paint Problems (and How to Avoid Them)

Painting cabinets comes with a learning curve. Here are some common mistakes and how to prevent them:

Drips/runs – Caused by applying paint too thickly or rapidly. Use a high quality mini foam roller and apply in thin, even coats.

Brush marks – Often happens when you press too hard with the brush or don’t maintain a wet edge. Lightly brush paint on in smooth strokes.

Discoloration – Usually caused by inadequate prep and priming. Make sure to thoroughly sand, clean, prime, caulk and follow all preparation steps.

Bubbling – Typically from applying paint too thickly or on a surface that wasn’t properly cleaned and prepped. Prime fully and apply paint in light, even coats.

Peeling/flaking – Results from lack of proper surface preparation and adhesion. Make sure to clean, sand, and prime thoroughly prior to painting.

With careful prep and application using the right tools, you can avoid most common paint problems on DIY cabinet refinishing projects.

How Long Does It Take to Paint Kitchen Cabinets?

The cabinet painting process is actually quicker than many homeowners realize. Here’s a realistic timeline:

  • 1 day – Remove doors/drawers, clean cabinets, sand, fill holes
  • 1 day – Apply primer coats, allowing drying time between
  • 1 day – Lightly sand primer, caulk, and apply first paint coat
  • 1 day – Sand and apply second/final paint coat

That’s only 4 days of actual work time! But factor in 2-3 additional days minimum for the paint to fully cure and dry. Rushing the cure time can ruin the paint job, so be patient.

Many pros estimate a kitchen can be painted in 3-5 days total. Doing it yourself does take more time but saves thousands of dollars compared to hiring it out.

DIY Cost to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Painting your own kitchen cabinets can save you big bucks. Here’s an overview of typical DIY painting costs:

Paint and supplies – $100 to $300
Quality paint, primer, brushes, rollers, etc.

New hardware – Optional – $200 to $500+
Knobs, pulls, hinges

Total – Around $300 to $800+ to paint cabinets yourself.

Compare that to $4,000 to $10,000+ for professionals to paint or refinish your cabinets. While DIY does take more time and effort, you’ll save thousands!

Hiring a Professional – Cost and Process

If you don’t want to tackle painting your cabinets yourself, you can certainly hire professionals. Here’s an overview of what to expect:

The painting process is similar: cleaning, sanding, priming, painting. But pros have specialized tools, experience, and techniques that allow them to work faster and achieve exceptional results.

Most cabinet painters:

  • Remove all hardware and doors themselves
  • Set doors on racks for spray painting
  • Use airless sprayers for fast, flawless coverage
  • Have climate controlled paint booths for ideal drying
  • Reinstall and adjust doors/drawers
  • Provide multiple finish options – stain, paint, glaze finishes

Full professional kitchen cabinet refinishing costs $4,000 to $10,000+ depending on size, location, finish options, etc. Get free estimates from at least 3 trusted pro painters in your area.

Maintaining Newly Painted Cabinets

Once your cabinet painting project is complete, you’ll want to properly care for them to keep them looking fresh. Here are some maintenance tips:

  • Allow full 2-week cure time before putting heavy items back in cabinets
  • Use cutting boards and avoid direct cutting on painted surfaces
  • Immediately wipe up spills and splatters to prevent staining
  • Wash cabinets with mild detergent and soft cloth only
  • Avoid harsh cleaners, abrasive pads/sponges, or bleach
  • Reseal surfaces yearly with satin polyurethane for added protection
  • Touch up paint chips/scratches right away to prevent additional damage

Your freshly painted cabinets should hold up beautifully for years to come with proper care and maintenance. Enjoy the revitalized look and feel of your kitchen!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I Need to Remove Cabinet Doors to Paint Them?

While it is possible to paint cabinets without removing the doors, it is much more difficult. Detaching them allows for easier, more thorough prep and painting. Lay doors on a covered horizontal surface while painting.

Should I Use Paint or Stain on Cabinets?

Paint adheres well to cabinet surfaces and resists moisture, while stain shows off more wood grain but requires more frequent touch ups. For a smooth, consistent look many prefer paint, but stain offers a classic wood finish.

What Kind of Paint Works Best?

High quality cabinetry enamel, either oil or water-based, provides the most durable finish. Use semi-gloss or high-gloss sheen for easier cleaning.

How Long Does Cabinet Paint Need to Dry?

Curing times vary based on paint type, thickness, and humidity levels. Oil-based paints may require up to 2-3 days drying time between coats. Allow at least 24 hours before light use of painted cabinets, and 2-3 weeks for full curing.

Should I Hire a Professional?

An experienced cabinet painter ensures a flawless finish, but DIY painting can work well if you have time for thorough prep and patience applying multiple coats. Professional help is wise for complex cabinet finishes or painting large kitchens.

How Do I Achieve an Antique or Distressed Look?

After thoroughly curing painted cabinets, add a glaze coating in a dark tone over the top. While still wet, wipe some glaze away for an irregular, timeworn appearance. Lightly sanding finished cabinets also mimics a distressed look.


Repainting kitchen cabinets can give an outdated, worn-looking kitchen a whole new lease on life. By properly preparing surfaces, applying primer and paint in thin, even coats, detailing with trim brushes, and allowing adequate drying time between steps, a DIY repaint job can rival a professional finish. The results are well worth the effort and deliver a kitchen that looks fresh, put-together and welcoming for years to come. Be sure to care properly for newly painted cabinets by keeping cooking spills and moisture to a minimum. Follow these tips and even first-time painters can achieve stunning results. Roll up those sleeves and get ready to transform tired cabinets into your kitchen’s crowning jewel.