Painting Kitchen Cabinets - Complete Guide with Photos

How to paint kitchen cabinets

Remodeling your kitchen can be one of the biggest expenses a homeowner has. On average it cost between $10,000 & $15,000 to replace your kitchen cabinets.  Did you know that you can simply paint your cabinets for a fraction of the price?


With a few quick DIY tips you can be painting your kitchen cabinets in no time. I will walk you step-by-step droopy entire process of painting your kitchen cabinets.

Kitchen Cabinets

Should I just replace my cabinets?

Before we get started painting our kitchen cabinets  let’s start by taking a look at our cabinets. Is there any damage or excess wear & tear to the cabinets?  If there is excess wear-and-tear or damage can it be repaired?

Minor  scrapes and bruises can easily be repaired by a  weekend warrior! If you’re cabinets are falling apart at the seams it may be time to compare repair vs replacement costs.  

The average cost of a standard base can run anywhere from $200 – $500 plus installation costs.  You can see how these costs can quickly add up.  

If you’re unsure whether your cabinets are worth fixing you can always find a local Handy man.  If you’re in the St Johns FL area this is something that I specialize in and save folks money all the time over replacement costs.  Contact me HERE

Picking the right color for your kitchen cabinets

Now that you have determined your cabinets are in good shape to paint let’s get started.   First you’ll need to choose the color of the paint that best fits your needs.

Farmhouse kitchen

Do you have a Small Space?

Consider the size of your kitchen!  If you have a small or confined kitchen space you will want to stick with lighter colors.  This will make your space feel much larger & more open than it may be.

Selling your home soon?

Are you selling your home anytime soon?  If so you will want to stick with neutral colors so that you don’t scare away any potential buyers.  Some homeowners may not have an eye for design or DIY skills that you do.

Surrounding decor, walls & backsplash colors

Also consider the design & color of your backsplash or surrounding walls.  Many homeowners decide to go with a more neutral cabinet color and add accent colors to the walls or backsplash.  It is much easier to add accent colors with temporary decor. Home Decor can change the entire feel of a room with little effort

What is the current finish on your cabinet?

First you will need to determine whether it’s oil-based or water-based finish that is currently on your kitchen cabinets. This will make a huge difference in deciding what  prep work is needed to paint your kitchen cabinets.


To determine whether the finish is oil-based or water-based you simply need to raid your wife’s bathroom cabinet for some nail polish remover. The nail polish remover must contain acetone. Acetone will remove some color from a water-based finish but not an oil-based finish.


Most kitchen doors are constructed of solid wood but the shells of a cabinet are often particle board covered in a vinyl or melamine material.

Pro Classic

Best paints for kitchen cabinets

Picking the right paint  can make or break a painting project.  If you only paint here and there it can be difficult to understand the differences between a quality paint and your basic paint.  


When painting Kitchen Cabinets my goto paint is Sherman Williams Pro Classic with Alkyd.  This is a water-based paint that also contains an oil additive. This has been the best paint by far that levels great, hiding most of your brush marks with ease.  The last thing you want to look at are brush marks on your freshly painted kitchen cabinets.


I typically us a Satin sheen for all my kitchen cabinet projects.  It is a step up from a flat sheen with minimal shine while adding the scrubbability factor.  Being able to wipe down your kitchen cabinets is vital in my house!

Kitchen Cabinets with doors off

Getting started - Stay Organized!

If this is your first  time taking on a bigger project it is key to stay organized. It is best to remove all your cabinet doors, drawer fronts  and hardware and paint elsewhere.

Label your cabinet doors

Go through & label every cabinet door starting at the top left and working your way around.  I use painters tape numbering your cabinets as you go. Taking the time to do this will save you any headache when trying to match the completed doors back to the right cabinet.

Removing the hardware

Starting with the first door you will need to remove the door from the cabinet.  Most cabinets have a standard hidden hinge. The newer style of hidden hinges typically have a release button that will separate the door from the cabinet side of the hinge.

Hidden hinges

Remove the Hinges

If there is no button on your hinge don’t worry.  There are 4 screws that hold the hinge in place. I find it easier to remove the screws from the cabinet side of the hinge starting with the bottom.  This makes it much easier to support the door while removing them.  


Regardless how the door is removed that is your first step.  After the hinges are removed from the door it is best practice to place the hinge in a ziplock back and label it for each door.  Most hidden hinges are adjustable and set to that specific door. This will save you time rather than adjusting all the doors at the end.

Cabinet door Knob

Remove the knobs or handles

Now remove the knob or handle from the door.  I like to place the screw/s into the knob after removed from the door so that they don’t get misplaced.  Place the know in the ziplock bag with the hinges.

Cabinet Door bumper

Remove the rubber bumpers

On most cabinets there is a tiny little rubber bumper attached to the doors.  They help to cut down on the door slamming into the face frame of the cabinet.  They are attached with double sided tape. Use a putty knife to pop those little guys off. 


I typically replace the bumpers.  The adhesive on the old bumpers typically doesn’t stick as well the second go around.  You can pick up enough for all your doors for a few dollars. They are sold at most big box stores like Home Depot or Lowes.

Starting the prepwork - Clean & Sanding

This is by far the most important step in painting your kitchen cabinets. The first thing you must do is wipe down all the surfaces you intend to paint with a degreaser.  I typically use mineral spirits or denatured alcohol to clean the surfaces that are being painted.

Take your time to remove all the dirt and grease that can build up on cabinets over the years.  Even if your cabinets appear clean never skip this step.

Sanded Cabinet Door

Sanding the surfaces

The second step in preparing your kitchen cabinets for paint is to sand the surfaces.  The wood surfaces such as doors and cabinet face frames are fairly easy. You don’t have to sand down surfaces to a bare wood, you just need to remove the clear coat.


The sides of a cabinet tend to be covered in a different material such as a vinyl or melamine.  These surfaces can be a bit difficult to paint. You MUST sand these surfaces pretty darn good to create a rough surface that paint actually wants to stick to.


When pre-sanding I like to start with an 80-120 grit sandpaper.  Orbital sanders sanders make easy work for sanding flat surfaces.  You may also want to consider picking up a pointed vibrating sander.  This will make sanding in corners a breeze.


When it comes down to the detailed trim or door profiles there is no simple solution.  There are foam sanding blocks that will make it more bearable but you make find its just as easy to use an 80 piece of sandpaper.


Just take your time with all the prepwork!  These although not that fun will make sure that the paint lasts.  There is nothing more disappointing than putting in all the work only to have it peel off later.

Let’s get to painting these kitchen cabinets

Get a nice Paint Brush

Now that you’ve done all the prep work, it’s time to get painting. If you don’t have a paint sprayer that’s ok.  Start purchasing a quality bristle paint brush. I prefer an angled Purdy brush which runs around $15. A fine bristle brush will help to minimize the amount of brush strokes.

Grab a small paint roller

Also grab a 4” – 6” paint roller.  This is key to covering up any brush marks left behind.  I prefer a smooth foam roller but you can get away with a fine nap roller as well.

Do you really need Primer?

The life long question, do you really need primer before painting your kitchen cabinets?  {Primer is definitely best practice to ensure that paints hold up over time. Spray paint primers such as Zinsser Bulls Eye work great for applying a quick coat or primer to your doors.  

Bulls Eye also sells paint by the gallon as well.  The difference between the Aerosol cans & gallon cans are the types of paint.  I find that oil based primers work best adding the most bang for your buck (and your time). 

What paint should you use on kitchen cabinets?

Sherman Williams ProClassic Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd is where it’s at.  Prior to using this product I had a difficult time covering up brush marks.  


ProClassic is tough, durable, has excellent adhesion, flow and leveling. The leveling factor this paint has to offer makes your brush strokes less visible for sure.

So how do you paint kitchen cabinets without a sprayer?

Start with the cabinet face frame in your kitchen.  The frames are the easiest part of the cabinets to paint.  Start by cutting the edges in with your paint brush. Use your 4”-6” paint roller for all areas possibly similar to painting a wall in your home.


When painting the doors start with your paint brush covering all areas that the paint roller can’t reach.  Then move to the paint roller covering all other areas. Where possible lightly roll over any brushed areas to work out brush strokes. 


Make sure to watch for paint drips or paint sagging.  If you notice and drips or sags that have started to dry it is best to let them dry and sand down after they have completely set up.

So how do you avoid brush strokes?

There are 2 key tips to reducing brush strokes.  First, using a quality paint such as Sherman Williams Proclassic.  Second, using a smooth foam roller to roll out brushed areas.

Graco Paint Sprayer

Do you want to try Spraying your cabinet doors?

If time is money and you have a space to set up for spraying go for it.  Spraying cabinet doors can be a great option for speeding up the entire process.  You will want to have a dedicated space that you can leave the doors to dry. I prefer to have the dry laying flat so that I avoid paint sag.


Laying out a few 2x4s in your garage would work best.  If you need to lay the doors outside to dry just make sure that they are away from trees or areas that potential debris can fall onto your newly painted doors.


I made a drying rack for our shop.  This allows use to stack the doors instead of taking up valuable floor space.  The drying rack is also on wheels which makes life much easier.

Do you need to sand between coats?

Between each coat of paint, after the surfaces are dry make sure to inspect all areas for drips.  If there are any drips, sags brush marks this is the time to same them out. Typically sanding that you do at this stage will be all done by hand.


Since the sanding done at this stage is purely for appearance, it is not necessary to over sand.  For major drips you can use a 120 – 150 grit sandpaper to remove the drips followed by a 220-320 grit to remove any sanding marks.  A 320 grit will help to make a smooth finish during the final stages

Do you need a clear coat?

Although a clear coat is not required it may help with normal wear & tear.  Test spots on your newly painted kitchen cabinets by scratching them with your finger nail.  They will help you decide whether you want a clear coat.

Clear coat beware...

Proceed with caution!  Allow paint to dry completely before applying clear coat.  I prefer using water-based products which is no different for a clear coat.  Minwax Polycrylic Water Based Protective Finish is my go to for clear coats.


Some clear coats will discolor the final paint color.  Polycrylic has been one product that has minimal color change.  The biggest challenge is dealing with yellowing after a clear coat is applied.  If this happens you will need to seal the surface with a Shellac and complete the painting process again.


I personally don’t use a clear coat over most of the quality paints.  A high end paint tends to hold up just fine on its own.

Painted kitchen cabinets

Final Steps - Put your kitchen back together

After everything has been painted and has had enough time to dry it’s time to put it all back together.  Reinstall all the hinges on the doors and attach doors to their cabinets. Attach your knobs, handles and new rubber bumpers.


Make sure that all doors open and close properly.  Also check to make sure that the tops of the doors are all inline.  If we are using the original hinge labeled for a particular door all should line up well.  If there was any mix up don’t worry.

Most hidden hinges are adjustable.  There are typically 2 adjustment screws.  Adjust these screws until the doors look and function correctly.

Final notes

Although taking on a large job such as painting your kitchen cabinets seem out of reach you can do it!  Make sure to do all the prep work, use quality paints & brushes and take your time!


If all else fails, check out our refinishing costs for some of the more common jobs. If your in the St Johns, FL area we can help!  Contact me for a quote HERE!