Painting kitchen cabinets is a cost-effective way to completely transform a kitchen. It can take a dark kitchen and make it bright and cheery. It can take an outdated kitchen and give it a modern look. With the right prep, tools, and paint, you can paint so it looks professional and lasts.
When I started realizing how much new cabinetry was going to cost, I began to look for ways to update our kitchen. I was very intrigued by the idea of painting our cabinets but wanted to ensure it would look good.
Before even painting my own kitchen cabinets, I practiced on old cabinet doors to perfect my method. After trying out many different techniques (spray cans, brush, foam roller, and sprayer), I went with a foam roller and brush and was able to get that smooth sleek professional finish.
Here I will share with you how to paint kitchen cabinets, the cost of painting cabinets, why you want to grain fill, do you have to sand, how to prevent chips, and pictures of the process as well as of our kitchen before and after. Lastly, I will share crucial tips I learned by going through it myself.
Our Painted Kitchen Cabinets: Before and After
When we bought our house, I knew I wanted to change out the kitchen cabinetry. I didn’t like the style or the color. Additionally, the hinges were rusted, not soft close and the cabinetry had no hardware.
The backsplash, granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances were all in great shape. While they might not have been what I would have picked, they had a lot of potential.
Now that you can see where we started, here is our finished kitchen!
In addition to painting the cabinets, my husband made new cabinet doors so we could update the style. We painted the cabinet boxes, the new cabinet doors, and the drawer fronts.
We also removed one cabinet and replaced it with open shelves to allow more light to come in through the kitchen window. We added soft close hinges and hardware. We updated the lights and added a pendant that I just absolutely love. Lastly, my husband built a fridge cabinet enclosure that really helped make the fridge not stick out so much.
What color should you paint kitchen cabinets?
To start, you need to decide on a color. The most popular kitchen cabinet colors in no particular order are:
The color you eventually decide on should be based on what you are already working with. The colors that are already in your kitchen should be the deciding factor on what color you pick. These include colors in your appliances, backsplash, floor, and countertop.
One great way to get color inspiration is to google cabinet colors with a specific kitchen feature such as
- Kitchen cabinet colors for busy granite
- Kitchen cabinet colors for white (or stainless steel) appliances
- Kitchen cabinet colors with tile floors
- Warm (or cool) kitchen color schemes
These searches will help you picture how the cabinet color would look in your kitchen, which was something that I struggled with.
If you plan on also updating the rest of your kitchen, then pick what you like or pick a color that goes with the long-term plan of your kitchen.
Once you do pick a color, make sure you look at the color’s LRV (light reflectance value). This is a number that says how light or dark a color is. So white is 100 and black is 0, meaning that white reflects all of the light that touches it and black absorbs all of the light that touches it.
You want to be aware of this especially if your kitchen doesn’t get a lot of natural light or is on the small side. A dark color will make it feel more dark and smaller.
Painting kitchen cabinets white
A word of advice on picking a white. I love white kitchens and that is eventually what we went with. However, remember that when you go looking for a white paint color, the white might not look white next to other whites.
For instance, here is a white swatch (Swiss coffee) that looks white against my cream wall.
Now if I take that same paint swatch and compare it to another white, the undertones really show.
Therefore, if you have white trim, appliances, or white doors, then the cabinets, trim or appliances could look yellow or grey depending on what shades of white you have. You want to make sure you bring the paint swatch home and compare it to all the other whites in the area.
To avoid this, we went with the same shade of white for the kitchen cabinetry as the trim and doors in our house.
What sheen is best?
The decision on what sheen to use is part personal choice and part functionality. The sheen doesn’t just say how shiny your paint is but also how durable it is. Some sheens are easier to clean than others. Anything below satin, such as eggshell or matte, will not clean easily.
For that reason, I would go with satin or semi-gloss. We picked semi-gloss because I like the glossy finish. As you increase the gloss, the imperfections in the painting will show more, therefore I would avoid high gloss.
Why use a primer and what type of primer to use?
I don’t care what paint you decide on but you absolutely must use a primer even if your paint has a primer in it. In the long run, it will save you time and money.
Primer will make paint adhere better to your cabinets and prevent peeling and chipping. Additionally, it will hide the original color, prevent yellowing of your paint from tannins in wood, and give you a smoother finish because paint grabs so much better to primer than to anything else.
Lastly, you will be able to get away with a lot fewer coats. For instance, after two coats of primer, two coats of paint was more than plenty. However, when I only did one coat of primer, I still felt like the cabinets needed another coat of paint, even after three coats of paint.
I LOVE Zinsser 123. I have used it when we painted our oak trim white, when we painted our doors and when we painted our stairwell. It goes on great and works well. The number one reason I love it is that it sticks to glossy surfaces meaning you don’t need to sand your cabinets before painting.
A good rule of thumb is to use a water-based primer if you are using a water-based paint like acrylic or latex and to use an oil-based primer if you are going to paint with an oil base.
Pro Tip: You can have the paint shop tint your primer based on the paint color you are painting your cabinets.
What type of paint to use?
I would recommend either using an acrylic paint or an alkyd paint. These both offer durable finishes.
I ended up using my favorite paint from Home Depot: Marquee semi-gloss in Ultra Pure White. It is 100% acrylic. We picked this paint because I had already worked with it as we used in on painting our trim white and our doors white. We went with the Ultra Pure White color so our cabinetry could match the rest of the trim in the house.
Other popular paints are the Benjamin Moore Advance Alkyd paint and the Pro Classic Acrylic-Alkyd. In my opinion, you can use any of these paints and achieve a fantastic durable finish.
Warning: Do NOT use chalk paint. My friend used chalk paint and ended up having to repaint her kitchen a year later. While there are plenty of blogs that recommend chalk painted kitchens, I must warn you that this could be disastrous. First, the purpose of chalk paint is to gain a distressed look. Therefore, it chips so easily. Additionally, the sheen is flat meaning it is impossible to clean unless you add a protective finish. The protective finish isn’t needed for other types of paint and adds time and cost. If you go this route, then you must use a polyacrylic clear spray after painting. Polyurethane coats will turn yellow so avoid that at all costs.
Should I use a cabinet paint kit?
There are a lot of kits that you can get specific for painting cabinets. While at the local paint store, I asked if these were necessary and got told they were more of a sales pitch than anything else. I think if you want to you could use a kit, but do not believe it is at all necessary. Additionally, these kits are more expensive than just buying the supplies and paint.
The Cost to Paint Kitchen Cabinets
Here is what you can expect cost wise when you paint kitchen cabinets depending on what you use to paint and what you decide to replace. If you want to update your kitchen on a budget, then you will want to know where you can save money and what are realistic costs depending on what you want to do.
If you paint existing cabinets with a roller and brush
Good paint will cost you about $50 a can and a good primer will cost you around $20. We needed 2 cans of primer and 2 cans of paint. We have 30 cabinet doors. The other supplies will run you about ~$100 such as cleaning products and paint brushes. In total, I would budget $300-400 for this project depending on how big your kitchen is.
If you paint existing cabinets with a sprayer
If you decide to spray paint your cabinets, then you need to add on about $200 to your project for the sprayer. Any sprayer that costs less won’t be able to give you that really nice finish you are looking for. This is the sprayer we own.
Additionally, there is a big learning curve with sprayers. We spray painted all of the doors in our house and you can definitely tell which was our first door and which was our last door. Another thing is that you really do NOT want to spray inside so you will still need to paint the cabinet boxes with a brush and roller.
If you paint kitchen cabinets with spray cans
Spray cans are much easier to work with than a sprayer. However, they are going to be a more expensive project. If you want the spray look and don’t feel confident about using a brush and roller, then this is a decent option. It will also be faster than painting with a brush and roller.
If you go this route, then be sure to buy the large spray cans. Here is my favorite primer in a large spray can.
I think this also limits your color choices. If you are going with white, then you can use the big spray can. Most other colors only come in the small cans, which will add up quickly.
I tried out this option but, in the end, decided I wanted to go with the brush and foam roller mainly because it was winter here and I did not have a good place to spray paint. Here are some cabinet doors I did via spray cans in our basement.
You will need a place to spray like a garage that has good ventilation. Outside is fine but then you risk getting bugs, dirt, and grass in your paint. You will still have to paint the boxes as you don’t want to spray paint in the house.
If you also reface the doors but keep the cabinet boxes
If you want to update the look in addition to the color of your cabinets, then you can reface. This basically means you buy new doors but keep the cabinet boxes. Refacing will save you up to 50% of the cost of all new cabinetry. We did this in our kitchen. Our cabinet doors were not only ugly, but also not functional.
You can buy unpainted doors here and then paint everything (cabinet boxes and new cabinet doors).
You could also buy white cabinet doors and then paint the cabinet boxes to match. If you want less painting and a much faster project, then buying painted doors and only painting the boxes is a good option.
DIY cabinet doors
If you are very handy, then you could take a stab of making your own cabinet doors. My husband did this and just watched a lot of YouTube videos to make shaker cabinet doors. He also replaced the fronts of our drawers. This added about $500 to our costs. However, compared to the price of replacing the cabinets, not to mention the amount of work it would be, I would stay this is a fantastic price.
If you also replace hinges and hardware
Our kitchen had no hardware so buying hardware was a must for our kitchen project. Additionally, using hardware will help keep your painted cabinets clean and protect against chipping.
We also really wanted to switch our hinges to soft close. At first when we priced this project out, we thought soft close hinges would be too expensive. After more research, we found out that you can save a lot of money buying these types of things in bulk on amazon. On Amazon, you can get a set of two soft close hinges for $4 compared to Home Depot where a set is $10. The savings really added up here allowing us to save $6 on each set of hinges!
We did the same thing with our hardware. We spent ~$150 on hinges and ~$75 on hardware.
Some home websites will say you can spray paint hardware to update them. From my personal experience, I have never been able to do this without chipping. They get too much wear and tear.
Important Note: If you add soft close hinges onto old cabinet doors or build your own cabinet doors, you will need to make the circular hole to hold them. This is easy to do. You just need a power drill and Concealed Hinge Jig ($30). We watched a bunch of youtube videos before doing this.
How to Paint kitchen cabinets
Now that we have covered how to pick your paint, what type of paint to use, as well as how much will painting cabinets cost, here I will tell you how I painted our cabinets step by step.
Paint Section by Section
I could not afford to have a non-working kitchen for a week. Additionally, I just can’t paint all day for multiple days. I tend to get sloppy if I do too much.
Knowing this, I tackled painting my kitchen in stages. Each week, I would paint 2-3 cabinet boxes and the corresponding cabinet doors. This also allowed me to not lose track of which doors went on which cabinet boxes.
Additionally, it allowed me to take a break when I needed it. After finishing all the tops cabinets, I took two weeks off before I began painting again. This really helped me do a good job.
Quick Painting Tips
Before we get into the painting process, here are a few tips that are paramount to getting good results.
- Never paint from a can. Paint dries so if you leave a can open to dip your brush into for an hour, the paint that is in the can will become stickier and increasingly harder to work with. Always use a little tray even for brushing.
- Never shake a paint can as this will create air bubbles in the paint. Instead, always stir with a stir stick.
- You can recoat paint in usually a few hours. Every can will have a recoat time on the back.
- You can Ziplock foam rollers and trays between coats instead of washing them out. Just make sure you label the bags (primer roller, paint roller). Leave them in the fridge and take them out 15 minutes before using them.
- Wash your brushes out every time. Always use a dry brush because a wet one will make your paint drip off your brush. I bought three 2” angled brushes so I could rotate. I love Purdy and Wooster brushes.
- If your paint is not labeled on the lid but only on the front, then always pour off the back side so the drips won’t cover the name of your paint.
- After you finish painting protect surfaces from chipping by adding clear bumpers on the inside corners of every cabinet. I also put them on the back side of all drawer fronts. They are cheap and really will protect your paint job. Soft close hinges and hardware will also lead to less wear and tear on the paint.
Cleaning Kitchen Cabinets
The very first step is to clean the cabinet boxes, cabinet doors and cabinet drawer fronts. After emptying the 2 or 3 cabinet boxes that I was going to paint next, I would clean them with TSP substitute. To do this, you need the following:
- TSP substitute
- Rubber Gloves
- Lint Free Rags
After you gather these supplies, all you do is mix 1 part TSP substitute with 1 part water. I just eyeballed it. You also don’t need much, one bottle of TSP substitute lasted me the whole kitchen. I used TSP substitute because TSP is a very harsh chemical. No matter which you pick, remember to wear gloves as it is a skin irritant.
Once mixed, grab your sponge and wipe down the cabinets. There is no wrong way to do this. Just remember to wipe the spot with a rag while it is still wet so you can get all of the gunk off the cabinet.
Here is a spot before TSP substitute.
And here is after wiping it clean with TSP substitute.
Once you wipe all of the surfaces you want to paint, you are ready for the next step. You don’t need to wash the surfaces with water after. TSP substitute or TSP is loved by painters because it leaves behind no residue or film.
Do I need to sand before painting?
If you decide on sanding your cabinetry before painting, then you would do this now. You absolutely need to sand if you use a primer that does not stick to glossy surfaces. However, if you use a primer like the Zinnser 123, then you don’t need to sand.
You might read about how the paint will peel if you don’t sand. This should not happen if you use a primer for glossy surfaces. Additionally, when you tape edges with painters’ tape, never pull the tape until you have used a blade to cut the paint. This will ensure you don’t get any peeling from ripping the tape off.
The point of sanding is to give the surface some roughness for the paint to grab at. To sand, I would use a 120 grit sandpaper. You can get sand sponges that are a lot easier to work with than just sandpaper.
Grain fill wood kitchen cabinets before painting
If you are painting wood cabinets especially oak, then you absolutely need to grainfill. Here are the differences between painting jobs when you grain fill and when you don’t.
I tested out 3 different grain filling products.
- DAP wood filler
- Aqua Coat
While other bloggers have had success with DryDex, I did not and found it very difficult to work with since you need to apply it with a putty knife.
Aqua Coat and DAP wood filler can both be applied with a foam brush. They were much easier to work with having no experience in grain filling before. I decided on DAP since I was able to get really good coverage with one (at max two) coats. I felt I needed many more coats with AquaCoat.
How to grain fill with DAP
Since in the end I used DAP, I will tell you how to grain fill with this product. What you need is
- DAP wood filler
- a foam brush
- a bowlhow to paint kitchen cabinets featured
- warm water
- something to stir with like a spoon or fork.
There is no precise measurements here. All you want to do is to take a spoonful of the DAP and slowly add a bit of warm water to it. You want to get a thick paste. If it is still a little lumpy that is okay. Once you have your paste, dip your foam brush in and apply it to the surface. To ensure it gets into the grain, I would apply pressure with my thumb.
Once you are done, let it dry. It should look opaque in color. The surface will be rough.
After it is dry, go over the surface with a 220-grit sand sponge.
At this point, you can apply another layer of the Dap wood filler or you can start painting. I only grain filled the fronts of the cabinets because I didn’t see much of a point to doing the backs.
Fill Gaps with Paintable Caulk:
Any gap between cabinet boxes or where a cabinet box meets a wall, you will want to apply a thin layer of paintable caulk. The paintable part is really IMPORTANT. For these gaps, paint will usually partially fill the crack leaving you with gaps.
Here I painted the trim around a window, and you can see what I mean when the paint fills the gap. To correct this, I will caulk the gap and then paint another coat.
Caulk will give you that nice smooth finish.
To do this, use a knife to cut the tiniest opening at the tip. Next load the caulk into a caulk gun and run a line of caulk along the crack. Next take a wet paper towel and smooth it out by wiping the paper towel over the line of caulk.
How to paint kitchen cabinets with a brush and foam roller
Now you are finally ready to paint the cabinets.
What you will need are the following:
- Zinsser primer
- Small Paint Trays
- Foam Rollers and Handle
- Painters Tape
- Drop Cloth or something to set paint on
- 220 grit sand sponge
- 800 grit sand paper
Start by taping any surfaces you want to protect. We used old paper grocery bags to keep paint buckets and trays on.
How many coats of paint?
For cabinet boxes, cabinet doors and drawer fronts, you will need 2 coats of primer and at least 2 or 3 coats of paint. I will show you pictures from a cabinet door, but the process is the same for everything you paint in the kitchen.
How to prime kitchen cabinets
Step 1: Brush the edges and detail work with primer and then let it dry
Step 2: Foam roll the rest of the surfaces with primer and let it dry.
Step 3: Lighty sand with a 220 grit sponge to remove roughness. To dry sand, always use a circular motion.
Step 4: Now repeat the above process again to get a total of two coats of primer.
How to paint kitchen cabinets
Step 1: Brush the edges and detail work with paint and let it dry.
Step 2: Foam roll the surfaces with paint and let it dry.
Step 3: Light sand with 220 grit sponge
Step 4: Now repeat the above process to get 2 or 3 coats of paint
Step 5: Once you are completely done, buff with a 800 grit sand paper. To buff, use a circular motion. Here is the smooth surface I got by the end. It was hard to get a picture and not get weird lighting, sorry about that.
Important note! You need to let your brush work dry completely before rolling. If you don’t, then you will roll sticky paint and that will give you a horrible mess. The same goes for after rolling. Wait until it is completely dry before you move on to the next coat. On each can of paint, you should be able to find a recoat time and a dry time.
As they say practice makes perfect. Here are the best tips I learned from the process.
Tip 1: Sand between coats of primer and paint. I used a sanding sponge of 220 grit. I did a light sand to remove the roughness each time. This meant the bumps did not build up, giving me a beautiful end result. At the very end, I used an 800 grit paper to buff the surfaces so they looked and felt smooth. I cannot recommend this step enough!
Tip 2: Foam rolling the inner frame of cabinet doors will be so much faster than trying to brush.
Tip 3: Do the backs and sides of cabinet doors first before doing the front. This will give you more practice and allow you to sand off any drip on the front from painting the edges.
Tip 4: To make the process faster, you can do fewer coats of paint on the backs of cabinet doors. You can also skip grain filling the backs.
Tip 5: I used the foam roller and not the paint brush to do the sides. This was quicker and also meant less paint got on the fronts of the cabinet doors. I also used cans so I could elevate the cabinets.
Tip 6: Keep rolling. Foam roller will give you that smooth surface. Just keep rolling until it is smooth. In this first picture at the beginning of rolling, you can see the bumpy pattern from the paint tray.
In this picture you can see that as you keep rolling, it will eventually become a very smooth surface. I know this might sound intuitive but it took me a few cabinets before I realized I didn’t roll enough.
This was the back of a cabinet so I didn’t grain fill and you can see the grain, which also shows you why it is so important to grain fill the front of the cabinet doors.
Tip 7: Paint sometimes accumulates on the edges of the roller. To get rid of this, I would angle the roller and run it over the bumpy part of the try. This would get rid of excess paint.
Tip 8: I didn’t want to deal with taping the floor. Additionally, getting paint off tile is hard. So to “paint” the bottom part of the bottom cabinets, we bought new siding for it and painted that instead.
After I painted it, my husband used a nail gun to attach it. It looks perfect and best part is no laying on the floor to paint that part.
Tip 9: Err on the side of thin coats. If you try to make your coats give you good solid coverage, then you are doing it wrong. They should not look good until you get to your last coat. Honestly, the most important thing is to do thin coats. The color and thickness will come from building up the coats. Trust the process.
Tip 10: To get rid of a dried drip, you can wet sand the spot before continuing to the next paint layer. To wet sand, you soak the sand paper in water overnight and then sand the spot until it is smooth. I would use 120 grit, just make sure the paper says wet sand paper. Some sand paper is only for dry sanding. Lastly, to wet sand use a forward and backward motion. When you dry sand, always use a circular motion.
Tip 11: When you are finished, don’t forget the clear bumpers to protect your newly painted surfaces.
Painting Kitchen Cabinets
Painting your kitchen cabinets can seem like a daunting task. However, all it requires are the right tools, patience, and some elbow grease.
There are many different painting routes you can take such as using a sprayer, spray cans, or brush and roller. Overall, my favorite and most cost-effective technique was to use a foam roller with a brush to get that smooth finish.
By picking a durable paint, using hardware to minimize wear, and protecting your surfaces with clear bumpers, you can make your painting project last as this will prevent peeling and chips.
While you contemplate what color, sheen and type of paint is right for you, also think about other kitchen updates you might want to do at the same time. These might include refacing in addition to painting, switching out hinges for soft close and adding or updating kitchen hardware.
Overall, our kitchen makeover costed us a fraction of what a full kitchen remodel would be. We absolutely love the results. The white painted cabinets gives the space a modern look while also adding much needed light to the room.
I hope by sharing my process and showing you pictures, you gained some inspiration for your own kitchen makeover.