Tips and Tricks for Painting Kitchen Cabinets

So now that I’ve painted the cabinets in our old home and my parents’ kitchen, I kind of feel like a pro now. Ok… not really. But I’ve learned some tips along the way that I thought might help you when you muster up the courage to transform your own kitchen with a coat of paint. And here we go…

tips and tricks for painting kitchen cabinets

Working on a flat surface will save you from getting the dreaded drip marks.

kitchen view cabinets no doors

Place hardware from each cabinet door (including the hinges) in a separate plastic bag and mark on them with a permanent marker. Then place a sticky note next to the coordinating cabinet door. This way you will know what  screws, hinges and knobs/pulls go with each door and they will perfectly align when you screw them back on.

how to paint kitchen cabinets

Trust me on this: prep work is key. When I painted my kitchen cabinets from builder grade oak to white, I first used a degreaser to clean each cabinet door (front, back, and sides) plus the base of the cabinets. You need a perfectly clean surface for the paint to adhere.

You might also want to sand the surface of your cabinets with light sandpaper to give them a little grit. This will also help the paint smoothly adhere to your surface. Just make sure you properly clean up all of the dust before you begin painting.

tricks for painting cabinets

When I painted my cabinets, I gave each door and base TWO COATS of primer, plus I sanded between each coat. Again, prep is key to long-lasting cabinets.

Now your first coat of primer will not entirely cover the cabinets. In fact, it might look like you white-washed them instead. Do not worry. Your second coat will make them look a lot better! Your cabinets might not even be 100% covered until you add your first coat of paint.

Just remember that primer will help the paint adhere better, give more durability to your cabinets, and give added protection in the long run.

Urgh, this is another prep step that takes a lot of time and gets a little tedious, but it is necessary!

You don’t want to be touching up your wall color or scraping little bits of paint off your floor and countertops when you’re done with your cabinets. Take the time to carefully tape up everything before you start painting.

Also make sure you really press the edge of the tape down so you don’t get any bleeding of the paint.

tips for painting cabinets

Both times I painted kitchen cabinets it was too humid outside to paint so I had to find indoor options. When I painted my cabinets, I used my dining room table. At my mom’s house, I used her granite peninsula. To protect the surfaces, I first put down a plastic drop cloth. On top of that I put a canvas drop cloth.

Why both? The canvas is a nice surface that won’t budge much since the drop cloth is quite thick and durable. BUT paint can easily seep through the textile.

The plastic drop clothes are great for stopping paint, but they can easily tear and get moved around. Yeah, any little gust of wind while opening a front door can fly a little corner into the air if not properly taped down. So, I’ve learned to use the plastic and canvas together and LOVE it. Yeah, it might be an extra $3 in the long run, but oh-so worth it.

tips for painting your kitchen cabinets

Speaking of good work space, make sure you have proper lighting. I love being near windows so you can have some natural light flowing in. This will help you see any runs, drip marks, or areas that you may have missed.

tips on how to paint kitchen cabinets

When I paint kitchen cabinets, I use both a 1.5 inch angled brush (preferable Purdy) and a cabinet/trim roller.

I first use the brush to paint around the inside beveled edges. Don’t lay on the paint too thick, and work the brush back and forth so you don’t get build up and drip marks.

painting cabinets tips and tricks

Once I had the niches and bevels painted I switched to a 4 inch trim and cabinet foam roller. I first painted the inside of the brush strokes, then worked my way around the sides and edges. This really helped give me a smooth finish with no brush strokes.

painting kitchen cabinet tips

To easily paint the edges of your cabinets, elevate them a couple of inches off your work space (I use cookie sheets and stacked plates).

So let’s say that you drip a little paint on the floor or you accidentally paint the ceiling, or just need to clean all of the dirt and grime off the cabinet doors… well, Clorox HandiWipes will save your life.

I bought a 36 pack of these puppies for $6 and they are awesome. Just keep a wet one by your side for those quick clean ups. You can rinse them out or pitch when they get too gross.

kitchen cabinet painting tips

This is only a personal preference here, but I’m a huge fan of latex paints on kitchen cabinets. They don’t yellow over time, have quick drying times for your second or third coats, and it’s easy to clean your brushes after each day (just a little water and dish soap).

Plus the ProClassic Interior Latex finish I used from Sherwin Williams is simply amazing.

    • – Excellent adhesion and a uniform finish make ProClassic® an ideal choice for doors and trim – as well as cabinets and furniture.
    • – Provides excellent flow, leveling and sag resistance – and leaves no brush or roller marks.
    • – A unique wet and dry hide allows you to apply fewer coats – saving valuable time and money.

sherwin williams pure white kitchen paint

I only bought one paint tray, but easily reused it the entire 5 days that I spent painting my mom’s cabinets. How? I simply used a small piece of foil as the liner and pitched it at the end of every day.

When I painted my own kitchen cabinets I used plastic bags. Both work great and are a cheap solution to those pricey paint tray liners.

tips for painting kitchen cabinets

Did you know you can refrigerate your paint brush overnight so you don’t have to clean it out? Yep! Just stick it in a ziplock bag and you’re good to go the next day.

I know you’re going to hate me for this, but you have to sand your cabinets after every coat! And by this I mean…

  • Degrease, SAND
  • Prime, SAND
  • Prime, SAND
  • Paint, SAND
  • Paint

Yep, that’s right. If you’re going from wood to painted cabinets you will need to sand your cabinets 4 times. This takes forever! BUT your cabinets will be silky smooth. You don’t have to sand them so hard to where you’re distressing the edges, but just light enough to get some of the grit out of the finish. Yes, it’s a mess. Yes, it’s annoying. Yes, they will turn out beautifully if you do this!

yellow to white kitchen cabinets

Yes, it will take a LONG TIME to paint your cabinets. I think I did mine over a 30 day period (in phases of course).

I completed my mom’s kitchen in 5 days, about a total of 48 hours! YES, you read that right. 48 hours. Three 12 hours days, and two 6 hour days. Yes, my feet hurt afterwards and I may have needed an adult beverage at the end of each day, but the outcome is worth EVERY MINUTE! Just remember that.

tips and tricks for painting kitchen cabinetsGOOD LUCK TO YOU!


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  1. yurrabazain says

    You have such amazing patience. I consider it a miracle if I get through sanding a project once. :) I’m too lazy and impatient, something I am working on… in my own time. =D

  2. says

    Do I understand this correctly: the LAST step is SANDING????? I always thought the very last step was painting! Please clarify! LOVE the finished product!!

    • says

      You’re right Anne! Unless your last coat isn’t super smooth. Then you would want to lightly sand the flat front and back surfaces (just a once over with your sanding wedge). You would need to stay away from the edges though as you wouldn’t want to accidentally give them a distressed look.

      • says

        Thank you so much for your reply!! Now I understand. Love your site! Sorry you won’t be posting more about your family!! Those posts made me feel like we were long-distance friends of your family. Love your articles and tips!!

  3. Laura says

    Do you paint the back of the cabinet door as well? Do you let the front dry one day and then paint the back? I’m itching to do this but it looks hard and like it would take over our townhouse! We aren’t too handy either!

    • says

      I would paint one side continuously until all coats were finished on that side. Then flip it over. With latex paint it doesn’t take very long to paint per coat so by the time I got to the end of the section I was working on, I took a small break and went back to the beginning of that phase.

      Also, with my mom’s cabinets, I did it in sections (4 total). It took me about 1 day per section (priming and painting, then flipping to the back with priming and painting).

      I hope that helps! and YOU CAN DO IT!!

  4. Jill says

    Hi Erin,
    I have a durability question…do you have any minor chipping occuring after living with your painted cabinets for a while? We both work full time and decided to hire out for the painting of our oak kitchen. I know we could have done it ourselves, but it just came down to the time vs cost, and time won! Anyway, the painters used a 2-step pre-catalytic lacquer paint(I think that’s what it was called), along with Zinser BIN primer and sanding. It’s only been a few months and we have had some minor chipping. Some of it was due to the hinges, so I touched that up and stuck some felt pads on the hinges to prevent it from happening again. But a few of them are in totally random spots. The overall look is awesome, but I worry about the long term durability. Just curious how your latex is holding up in case I ever decide I need to paint cabinets or any other wood again…Thank you!

  5. says

    I’ve never tackled cabinets before, but I’ve got your post pinned for future reference. So many great tips! I love the white! Have a wonderful day!

  6. Amy@HomeRemedies says

    Thank you for the great tips; I’ve been trying to work up the courage to paint my kitchen cabinets. I will definitely be following your advice!

    • says

      Yes, the grain still showed through the paint and primer. The only real way to get rid of that would to be using a light layer of wood putty before you paint. Wasn’t worth the effort for me. Plus the grain wasn’t super noticeable. Just in certain light! Hope that helps ;)

  7. says

    Thank you for taking the time to post this excellent tutorial. The cabinets look beautiful. I am pinning now and will be tackling this project soon. Did you poly or wax to protect the paint?

    • says

      No poly or wax! The Sherwin Williams paint I used has a great protective finish to it already. They assured me I wouldn’t need any top coat. Over a year later and my kitchen cabinets are chip free!

  8. Lusine says

    Fantastic tips, thank you! I have some bathroom cabinets I’m tackling in the coming weeks and these are super useful (for almost any paint project really).

  9. Yvette webster says

    My cabinets are already painted an ivory color. I want to make them a distressed tan/brown color with paint. Tips?

  10. Megan says

    What about the inside of the cabinet? Do you paint the inside too? It seems like the blogs I find about painting cabinets don’t address the inside. In my mind it would look odd if the inside is not painted, but maybe not?

    Also, my older home has tiled counter tops with the wood finish around the edges that matches the cabinets (similar to your photo regarding taping), did you not paint that wood finish?

    Thank you for the post, GREAT information! I have been working up the courage to paint mine for two years now!

    • says

      Yes, definitely paint the inside of the cabinets! Use the same method as the fronts. As for the wood trim, we left it as wood since we have the desk area that has the matching wood top that we did not replace with granite. I wanted some things to match. It’s really your call on whether or not to paint! GOOD LUCK with yours! I know you can do it :)

  11. sherry says

    I painted my kitchen cabinets several years ago like maybe 3 and now they look gross, I didn’t follow these steps, other than painting them what can I do? Is there a easy way to make them look distressed? I kinda regret painting them.

    • says

      What type of paint did you use before, Sherry? And how do they look gross now? My mom’s cabinets before were distressed and they looked fabulous! Just take sandpaper to the edges. I recommend a sanding wedge for the broader areas, then paper to get into any niches if needed. Hope that helps, and good luck to you!

  12. Ainnir says

    Thanks so much for this; it makes the process realistic yet doable, so THANK YOU. I’m going to tackle my 20 year old cabinets soonish (after some other projects). I did want to know what grit sandpaper you used, and if you just hand sanded or what? Also…if you were going to paint walls as well as cabinets in your kitchen, which would you do first? I have wallpaper that needs to come off and be replaced with something.

    • says

      I used a fine sanding block (one of those black thick squares from any hardware store). If I was also going to paint the walls and cabinets, I’d do the cabinets first. It will help you get a nice feel of the rest of the room. You might realize you need something lighter or darker on the walls after seeing the painted cabinets in the light at different times of the day. Hope that helps!

  13. christine says

    Reading all these methods and comments…I just painted my 10 yaer old, stained cabinets to white. I used ANNIE SLOAN CHAULK PAINT…….no sanding…just clean with degreasser, paint three coat of white paint, then lightly sand and used 2 coats of miniwax polycrylic…..and the results are awesome!….I did my kitchen in 4 sections, and each section took me 5 days. I allowed 24 hours between each coat of paint/varnish. I did it in the summer ( summer in Richmond, VA are hot and humid) and there was no oder or any fumes at all. I have lived with my white cabinets 6 months now and they are beautiful, clean up with just a little soap and water, and not a chip or ding. I did dresses, them a little, but just the edges cause I like the antique look, and could not handle pure paintd white. I have built in bookselves in my family room flanking the stone fireplace and did them also, SCORE!…so updated and so easy! Annie Sloan all the way!…

  14. Allison Lopez says

    I just finished painting my bathroom vanity and I am about to tackle my kitchen. On my bathroom vanity, the paint from the drawers want to stick to the base. Did you have to use felt or rubber buffers to ensure the paint from the cabinet doors didn’t stick to the cabinet frame? If so, could you please recommend a material and brand or size you went with?

    • says

      Yes, I did use felt buffers that I purchased at Lowe’s (the pack came with a bunch of different sizes). At first I had the clear plastic ones but they fell off too frequently and made a weird noise when the cabinets closed. Hope that helps!

  15. Rosaleen says

    I have been all over the web looking for how tos and tips on painting oak cabinets and I could shout for joy in finding your instructions. One clarification please. You said degrease sand, prime sand, prime sand, paint sand, paint. Now one of the commentators asked if sanding was last step and you said yes but instructions show paint as last step.beautiful job, your mom must be proud of you.

    • says

      THanks Rosaleen! I would lightly sand when you finished painting the last coat ONLY if you have some little rough patches from your foam roller. I personally did not need to sand any spots. Hope that helps!

  16. Becca says

    Thank you so much for posting this!!! One quick question, did you use a brush AND a foam roller when priming with oil base? Cleaning them is always such a pain but I
    don’t want brush marks. Thanks again!!!

  17. Tami says

    So, my cabinets were painted years ago with a lacquer, then I touched them up with a primer and paint in one a few years later. Now they need an overhaul. Any experience or recommendations for me? Don’t tell me to strip anything…it won’t happen. ;-)

    • says

      Haha! I know, the idea of stripping cabinets gives me hives. I would sanding them down a bit, then use a good primer like Zinnser. Then try the Ace Hardware cabinet and door paint (or called something along those lines). I’ve heard it’s the absolute best paint for coverup. I would suggest trying this on one cabinet door first!

  18. Cheli says

    I just painted the backs of my first set of doors and after the using the roller they got a tacky, not smooth finish. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. However can I sand it? I used latex

    • says

      The roller will cause it to have a bit of a textured finish, but as the paint dries it should settle and dry evenly. Then when you sand you will get the super smooth finish! You also need to make sure you are working quickly between the brush and the roller. You dont want the paint to start drying otherwise you will start “pulling” the paint. I hope that helps a little. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  19. Ash says

    You’ve just saved me about $5,000! Thanks so much for the detailed instructions. I’m going to attempt this over Christmas break. Did you consider sealing the cabinets with a top coat? How have your (and your mom’s) cabinets held up without it?

    It looks like your cabinets are the same as mine in terms of the design on the front–I’ve read humidity levels can cause the door frame to contract and expand to reveal unpainted bits, but that caulking the inside edges will prevent this from happening. What’s been your experience? Would you say this is an unnecessary step? I don’t know if I’d be able to get the caulking exactly right all the way around.

    • says

      YAY! Both of our cabinets have held up beautifully. My mom was actually talking about that over Thanksgiving! I honestly don’t think a top coat was necessary… IF you use a good brand of paint. Also I haven’t noticed contracting or expanding, especially to the point where unpainted parts would be revealed. I don’t think you need to caulk at all!

  20. Diana says

    I painted my kitchen cabinets following your steps, and they look awesome! So glad I tackled them. However, I am now getting chips around the hardware. I have tried touching them up by lightly sanding and repainting, but they continue to appear. Any suggestions? Thanks! I am new to Pinterest and loving it…I know, where have I been?!

    • says

      Oh no! Did you wait a couple days for the paint to cure before adding the hardware back on? Depending on what paint you use and if you primed, that could be the issue. I had that happen to me on a dresser once when I added the knobs back on… no fun! I would sand that area down, prime and paint again. Then wait a few days before adding the hardware back on. Hope that helps! And have fun with Pinterest! You’re going to lose some hours out of your day now ;)

  21. Cat says

    Hi Erin! I’m about to tackle my kitchen cabinets and was wondering which finish you used for the Proclassic paint (satin vs semi gloss vs high gloss etc). I went to our Sherwin Williams the other day and left totally confused because they cannot mixup darker colors in ProClassic! I’m hoping to do darker on bottom cabinets and white upper. Anyway the “deep base” that must be used with darker colors only comes in low-luster satin OR high gloss so I left the store without buying anything! Any thoughts? The associates weren’t much help. Thank you for the awesome tutorial!

    • says

      Oh bummer on the mixup with darker colors! I used the semi-gloss for my cabinets. Much easier to wipe down! But for the darker I would use the low-luster satin. You can always add an extra wax or poly coat afterwards if needed (but I highly doubt you’ll need it). Good luck with your cabinets. I would love to see a pick when you’re done!

  22. Cristina says

    I painted my oak kitchen cabinets with Rustoleum Cabinet transformations in pure white about a year and a half ago. At first they looked beautiful. After about 6 months I started noticing some yellowing. After a year the it was very noticeable. I contacted Rustoleum and they told me the yellowing is caused by tannins that for some reason start to surface after the top poly coat is applied. Their suggestion is to de gloss and apply 1-2 coats of their bond coat. I’m wondering if I should reprimer and follow your instructions. I used a purdy brush the first time around and I do dee brush marks. I love te results you got. What do you recommend? Have you ever used or know anyone who used the rustoleum Cabinet Transformations?

    • says

      Yeah, I’ve heard bad things about Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations. Ange from The Blooming Hydrangea had the same issue. She ended up painting them with Ace Hardware’s cabinet and trim paint. It’s self-leveling and really opaque. I might suggest you try that!

  23. Guy Gardener says

    Number three is a great tip! So many forget to clean and it just ruins the entire kitchen. At that point, depending on what you used and what you used it on, you will probably have to replace the cabinets. Won’t you feel silly when that happens to you.

  24. Ms.Toni says

    I absolutely love how detailed you are. Thank you. I have been doing home renovations for a few months by myself and I am a bit OCD about directions. Yours were perfect. Thank you! Looking forward to this project now. Did you have any problem with the cabinets sticking after? People keep warning me about sticking after you paint them. I would like to avoid that, if possible!

    • says

      Thank you so much! And nope, I didn’t have any trouble with sticking! I would recommend not painting during really humid weather. It can affect the dry time and tackiness on your cabinets.

  25. Sara O'Dell says

    Hi. I just came across this post, hopefully you’ll still get the comment! I live in Houston, TX… it is about to be summer we are already sitting at 80% humidity most days, that is probably too much to paint outside or in the garage with, yeah? This is my first time painting cabinets and I want to get the best area to paint the doors in that I can.
    Is Killz primer okay to use as the primer for stained oak cabinets being painted with high gloss latex paint?

    Thank you

    • says

      Kilz primer is OK but I definitely prefer Zinsser. It sticks to almost anything even if you miss properly sanding a spot. And when I painted my old kitchen cabinets, I used my dining room! Just put down plenty of drop cloths :)

  26. Painting in PA says

    My husband and I just finished painting the boxes of the cabinets about three weeks ago. We let them dry while we tackled painting the doors and drawers in the garage. Now three weeks later I just so happen to run my hands over the cabinet boxes and some finish coats are incredibly smooth and some are very rough! We did follow the instructions of sanding between every coat. I’m wondering if the textures are different because some of the cabinet walls we needed to roll over with a foam brush after we sprayed them with a gun, and others we sprayed just fine so we left them alone. I saw you mention we can sand the final coat of it still feels rough. Will that not dull the paint surface and make it look different from the cabinets that turned out smooth? It’s driving me crazy that the surfaces are all different textures! But I’m nervous of messing up the look if I sand some and don’t sand others! Thanks for your help and great post!!

    • says

      I honestly didn’t notice any different from the areas I sanded and the ones I didn’t. It all looked smooth and consistent in the end. Good luck to you. I know it will turn out great!!!

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