We outline how to paint kitchen cabinets step by step, both with or without sanding. Maybe you took over an old kitchen from the previous owner. Maybe you bought a kitchen a few years ago that you no longer like?
In any case, you feel the need to revamp the kitchen, and the biggest impact will always come from upgrading the kitchen cabinets with some new paint and handles.
- How to paint kitchen cabinets: step by step guide
- How to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding
- Quick guide step by step
How to paint kitchen cabinets: step by step guide
In our opinion, the kitchen should be a place where everyone feels comfortable – the heart of the home. So sometimes you will want to revamp it with some paint, and maybe new handles. This is where you need the following steps for how to paint kitchen cabinets.
Please check the condition of the surfaces first. If there are cracks in the veneer or the coating, caution is required. In this case, we would first touch it up a little (e.g. with a filler) so that neither water nor paint runs between the layers and the furniture swells up.
The alpha and omega of how to paint kitchen cabinets is a thorough cleaning of the surfaces. You should really take your time for this. Dust and dirt, but especially grease residues, must be completely removed.
Coated furniture can be tackled with a conventional household cleaner with high fat dissolving power. For solid wood furniture, we recommend specialist wood cleaning products.
Cleaning kitchen cabinets in 3 steps – inside and out
- Clearing out
First, empty the kitchen cabinets completely and get the items down on the cabinets. Anything that is visibly dirty can be put straight into the dishwasher or sink. The rest is best stored on the kitchen table.
- Clean the top of the kitchen cupboards: remove the grease
Now you should take a look at the grease residues on the surfaces of the kitchen cabinets. These two methods will help.
- Put a dishwasher tab in an empty spray bottle and let it dissolve. Spray the cupboards with it, leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes and then wipe it off with clean water.
- Mix vinegar and detergent in equal parts together and apply the mixture to the fat residues on. Let it work for a moment and then scrub the kitchen cabinets with clean water.
Insider tip : If you want to protect your muscles and have a cordless drill, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort with a brush attachment.
- Clean the outside and inside of the kitchen cupboards
First remove dust and leftover food with a vacuum cleaner or a cloth. Don’t forget the fronts either. Then mix cleaning water with a little all-purpose cleaner and wipe the inside and outside thoroughly clean.
On treated wooden surfaces or other coated surfaces, you can try to remove the grease stains with a little cooking oil (sunflower oil, olive oil). Simply put a blob on a kitchen towel and rub it over the fingerprints. Wipe with a little cleaning water and then dry the surfaces.
Oil soap, damp eraser sponges and enzyme cleaners can also help. In case of doubt, however, you should always test the effect of the agent on an inconspicuous place in order to avoid damage or changes to the surface. Particular care is required with untreated wood.
Here we mean sanding with fine sandpaper (e.g. 180 grit). Especially with sensitive surfaces, such as laminated and veneers, you should only sand very carefully. The edges of coated kitchen fronts are particularly sensitive. Please rub very carefully along the edge (towards the edge – not the other way around) so that it does not lift off the surface.
You are now wondering: why should I sand then? Quite simply, even after thorough cleaning, there are sometimes residues of dirt that cannot be seen. Rubbing them with sandpaper will remove them. You also improve the adhesion of the paint. After sanding, remove the sanding dust with a microfiber or slightly damp cloth.
Roller or brush?
Some people find one easier to use, and some people the other. There are advantages and disadavantages for both sides of the debate.
- Pro: the structure is very even and it works very quickly
- Cons: a delicate dot structure remains on the surface. This is due to the foam roller (but not much different with felt rollers either). In my opinion, the ink consumption is a bit higher with the role, since it is soaked up first.
- Tip: roll over the area again without any pressure before taking up the paint again, so that the lanes disappear. You can also roll across and vertically.
- Pro: the color consumption is slightly lower, even if it is not available, a structure / grain can be imitated
- Cons: takes a little longer than with the roller, but this can be minimized with sensible brushes (Autentico brushes flat No. 1 or flat No. 2 are the perfect size for quick work), looks more irregular
- Tip: either work back and forth, as I usually do, or evenly paint in one direction, as here in the project. This creates the impression of a wood grain that is actually not there.
A third possibility would be to apply the paint diluted with a paint spray system . Here you should get advice from a specialist store .
TIP: It is best as an early step in how to paint kitchen cabinets that you consider beforehand whether part of the doors should also be painted on the inside. If this is the case, first paint the inside completely before you turn to the front.
A primer will really prove itself in the following cases:
- for a light finish on wooden surfaces to prevent bleeding (yellow stains pressing through on the surface)
- on smooth surfaces such as glass, tiles, veneer, coated panels, plastic to improve adhesion.
We usually dilute the primer a little so that it is more spreadable. The best thing to do is to test it out briefly with the brush on the surface. In the case of smooth surfaces that do not suck strongly, you can sometimes even do without it. If the brush stalls a lot, carefully add some tap water.
When painting, we always have a water glass within reach and only put very little water into the paint pot. It is better to dilute in stages than too much in one fell swoop (the water can also be used in between if the paint thickens).
Important: stir very well! We always stir the paint pots, primer but also the varnish vigorously for a few seconds (approx. 1 minute). This is very easy with a chopstick or a wooden or plastic school ruler, and you can also scrape a little harder on the bottom of the can to loosen the color pigments from the bottom.
Also read how to mix tinted paints correctly.
Apply the primer with a brush (you can also use a foam roller). Spread the primer well so that no dribbles form. Please let it dry for approx. 4 hours.
It’s ideal if you can take the doors off the cabinets and work on them somewhere out of the way of the rest of the household, and even better if you can lie them down to work on them. If you plan to do this at home, it is best to work in stages. Basically, it doesn’t take up a lot of space (a couple of large cardboard boxes as a base).
Some people want to wait until the weather is better and you can paint outside. Caution is advised here, because leaves and dust often fly into the fresh paint – especially sad when you have a mandala pattern of bugs and flies in the freshly painted cabinet door. So at least it should be covered outside.
After the primer has dried for about 4 hours, you can start applying the paint.
Apply the paint with the roller or with a flat brush No. 1 or slightly larger brush No. 2. Please spread it well so that no dribbles or runs form on the edge. The first coat of paint is ready and now dries for about 6 hours to let it ‘cure’ before the next coat goes on.
Please don’t be discouraged if the first coat of paint looks awful. This is almost always the case with veneer or coated material. That is why it takes 2-3 coats (sometimes even 4 for tiles) until the result is beautiful. But wait and see, the second coat looks completely different. Please allow at least 6 hours for the first coat to dry.
Remember to spread the paint well – paint runs are just not pretty. The second coat is ready and dries for 4 hours. When the surfaces have dried for a good 4 hours, you can apply the third coat. In many a case, this is also the last coat of paint, which should also dry for 4 hours. But with some paints, you may prefer to do a fourth coat.
Sealing with clear lacquer or floor lacquer if required
In the case of very light colors, we would advise you to apply a water-based clear varnish or floor varnish . This makes it easier to keep light furniture clean.
After a careful return to the kitchen area, the fronts should be carefully assembled. The cabinet handles can also be replaced with new, elegant handles. You can find a lot of nice handles on the internet.
Tip for changing the handle: before painting, test whether the holes fit. Otherwise, fill in the holes before applying the primer, allow to harden and sand smooth. Only then paint.
How to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding
Many shy away from the laborious work of sanding. But you don’t have to, because there are different ways to paint a cabinet without sanding. With special paints such as chalk paint or lime paint, surfaces no longer have to be sanded.
But even if you no longer have to sand down the sirface, other preparation steps, such as cleaning or removing other substances such as wax or polish, are often essential. These preparations can take a long time, but sanding down a cabinet creates a lot of dust and that doesn’t apply in this case. Painting a cabinet without sanding is especially a good option if the cabinet is very large and heavy, because you can then beautify it on site and do not have to completely dismantle it to sand it in a suitable place.
However, if you want a really covering coat, you will not be able to do without sanding. Especially with lime or chalk paint, something of the original background of the old paint will always be visible in some places.
When do you really have to sand?
- with very rough surfaces, e.g. weathered wood (otherwise the paint would splinter off too easily)
- very smooth surface (otherwise the paint has no chance to adhere)
- for very resinous wood (the paint cannot adhere to the resin)
- for very noticeable spots
- if you want to paint 100% opaque
Determine the existing surface of the cabinet
In the rarest of cases, one would like to paint a cabinet made of raw wood, because most of the time the furniture is already painted or treated. In order to make the work of painting easier and for the best result, it makes sense to find out what surface you are dealing with, but it is often not that easy to find out. Here are a few tips:
With a lacquered cabinet, the surface is usually glossy and smooth to the touch. A distinction is made between water-based and turpentine-based paints. Both types of paint can be painted over with chalk paint without much pretreatment. If the paint is water-based, it reacts with alcohol, making it sticky and soft. This is not the case with turpentine-based paint, it is insensitive to alcohol.
If the cabinet has a layer of wax, this can be found out relatively easily by scratching the surface with a fingernail. This is how the wax dissolves and remains under the nails. If you use sandpaper , the pores clog quickly. It is difficult to paint on wax, here it makes sense to remove the wax layer with a cleaner (for example with a strong fat solvent).
If the surface of the cabinet is oiled, it is usually very shiny. If you have already ruled out that it is wax, you can spray the surface with water, which will roll off if it is oil. The situation is similar to that of waxed cabinets with oiled cabinets. Again, the surface should be cleaned before painting.
If the cabinet is polished, the surface is shiny, as if painted. Again, the polish should be removed before painting. This works best with alcohol.
Paint that needs no sanding: Chalk paint
One of the advantages of chalk paint is that it can be applied directly to wood and other materials without sanding. No primer is needed either. Chalk paint is closely related to lime paint. Similar to lime paint, which in principle only consists of slaked lime and water, the components of chalk paint are only mud chalk and water. However, modern paints contain many other additives that make the paints more durable, more spreadable, more opaque and more productive. This also resulted in a greater variety of colors.
Chalk paint is particularly popular for giving furniture a shabby-chic look. Shabby Chic describes a modern furnishing style in which objects and furniture deliberately look “shabby” and old, with all kinds of signs of use. Faded colors, often in pastel shades, are very popular with this style and chalk paint produces corresponding results. With this style it is also quite intentional that one can recognize the strokes of the brush. So if you apply chalk paint with a brush, you will not get a smooth surface.
Chalk paint is very opaque, but after drying it creates a matt, open-pored surface that is quite sensitive to dirt. If you prefer a less sensitive surface, you should seal the cabinet with a transparent varnish or a layer of wax after painting it with chalk paint.
When the chalk paint is still damp, it often looks much darker. After drying, it then takes on the (lighter) chosen shade.
You don’t have to sand in this method for how to paint kitchen cabinets, but you still need to make some preparations. To make the work easier and to get the best possible result, drawers should be removed and, if necessary, doors and handles dismantled. It is of course very important that the surfaces of the cabinet are clean, dry and dust-free before you start applying the paint. A vinegar cleaner is well suited for this.
Before you start, you should also consider whether you want to replace the handles on the drawers and doors. It is very likely that the new handles will have different bores than the old ones. Then it is also part of the preparations that the old holes are filled up before painting . It is often helpful to create a template for the new holes.
The back of a cupboard can be used very well to do a “test paint” so that you can get a good idea of the result.
If you have now cleaned and pretreated the corresponding surface of the cabinet, the actual painting can begin. It is best to paint from top to bottom, or with the grain. In principle, the paint should not be applied too thickly, otherwise it will not adhere well. It is better to apply the paint only thinly with a brush and, if necessary, to paint it several times. After the first coat of paint, you have to let the paint dry well, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
It usually takes about 12 hours for the chalk paint to really dry and cure properly. Chalk paint, in particular, looks much darker when painted when the paint is still really damp. But this can also happen with other paints and varnishes. Only when the paint is completely dry do you have the real result. If you want the color to be very opaque, two or more coats are necessary. It is important that the drying times are observed after each painting, otherwise the lower layer could be damaged.
In order to get a really covering coat, it will be necessary to coat it several times. Also read how to easily remove paint from skin — it might come in very handy!
Quick guide step by step
- Thorough cleaning: Before painting, the kitchen surface must be cleaned thoroughly. After rough cleaning with a household cleaner that is as harsh as possible, each surface should be treated again with mineral spirits.
- Paint in a lying position: Handles and hinges should be removed and the individual front elements should be placed in a lying position. This means that the risk of paint bleeding when painting is minimal.
- Prepare: Dismantle individual parts of the front such as doors and panels as far as possible and store them flat. Remove handles and hinges as far as possible.
- Sand if necessary: If you are sanding, then sand surfaces thoroughly with sanding pads or sandpaper until a visibly matt surface is created.
- Clean off: Vacuum off the sanding dust and then remove any left over with a soft cloth. If you use a slightly damp cloth, let the surface dry thoroughly.
- Prime: Apply primer with the paint roller and allow to dry thoroughly and cure.If you are sanding, then sand the dried primer again and thoroughly remove sanding dust.
- Paint: Apply the first coat of paint. If necessary, apply another layer or more, possibly mixed with hardener according to the manufacturer’s instructions if you are using an epoxy paint.
Tip: High-gloss lacquer surfaces are created through repeated sanding with increasingly fine sandpaper up to 600 or 1200 grit and lacquering.
Gerhardt Richter is a writer and a trainer at trade technical colleges, specializing in carpentry, plumbing, mechanics and construction.