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How To Paint Cabinets Without Going Insane

The Products, our easiest method and cabinet painting FAQ

From bathroom cabinets to kitchen cabinets and any place in between, we have painted our fair share of cabinetry. As we have shown for many of DIY projects, paint is honestly one of the most inexpensive ways to update your home (and even cabinets).

We know professional painters may have some different opinions about paints, etc. However, we tend to stick towards more latex-based products due to being a DIY painter’s best friend and these methods are what have worked for us over the years.

Behr charcoal blue painted bathroom vanity cabinets with sliver mirro

Here are a few frequently asked questions we get about how we have painted oak cabinets and more.

*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read our full privacy policy here. 

What are the best paints for painting cabinets?

Choose the right primer, then we recommend using latex-enamel paint on cabinets. If your cabinets are already painted, you can most likely skip the priming step. We talk all about how to repaint cabinets in our kitchen island repaint post.

Picking the right paint is probably one of the most important things. I would also argue that picking the right primer may be more important when considering painting any cabinets in your home. I have read post after post from others that say you do not have to prime your cabinets. I honestly feel ours have held up over the test of time due to primer. Don’t skip this step!!

Emerald Urethane Trim Paint and Pro Classic Paint From Sherwin Williams

Don’t let the price scare you. Just make sure you buy these paints when they are 30% off which Sherwin Williams regularly has as a sale. They also normally have a 40% off at some point during the year.

What is the best Sherwin Williams paint for cabinets?

In the past, we have always use a latex enamel paint when painting cabinets. I am a big fan of Sherwin Williams ProClassic line. However, after using Sherwin newer Emerald Urtherane Latex Enamel paint, I will never use any other paint for cabinet painting.

We talked about the pros and cons of this paint when we painted our kitchen island cabinets. The finish is harder and more durable than the Proclassic line. It also is self-leveling so it really gave such a smooth and professional-looking finish. The only con was that the cabinets were tacky to the touch for a few days. But if we could survive with young children and not ruin the cabinets, then you can too!

What primer is best for painting cabinets?

If you are going to paint your kitchen cabinets while not being there or like a stinky smell, then Kilz primer, Bin Shellac, or other oil-based primers are a great option. It will completely help cover imperfections but is not one we use all time. Professional painters will state you need an oil-based primer to stop the tannins or natural bleeds that happen from wood. You need to be able to handle the smell and mess though of using an oil-based primer.

small foam roller apply primer on oak cabinet door

Our favorite primer is a multi-purpose latex-based primer from Sherwin Williams. It is easy to just grab this product and prime furniture, cabinets, or trim. Since it is water-based, you may have some color bleed through over time. We painted our oak kitchen cabinets over 7 years ago and only have one stubborn door where you can see a slight discoloration. We just simply added another coat of paint.

Another primer that is probably comparable to Sw is Benjamin Moore ADVANCE Interior Paint-Primer.

Read More: DIY Budget Kitchen Remodel Ideas For Under $200

Why use latex enamel paint to paint cabinets?

Latex enamel paint gives you the benefit of enamel paint such as a harder finish without the harmful environmental issues as oil-based enamel paint. Latex enamel paint can also be cleaned with soap and water. The latex is rubber mixed with the oil paints to create the hybrid of latex enamel paint that will also dry quicker than traditional oil-based enamels. 

Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Green Paint on brush before going on cabinets

We love how our repainted kitchen cabinet island turned out using Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Enamel Paint (don’t worry it is mixed with latex for an easy clean-up). According to the SW site, “It is an Interior/exterior water-based urethane modified alkyd with the look and feel of an alkyd/oil finish.” To translate, it will look like oil-based paint, but has the benefits of being latex-based.

Check out this post and video if you need help with step-by-step instructions on exactly how to paint cabinet doors with a small foam roller and brush.

Cheaper Brands of Latex Enamel Paint

The Sherwin Williams Emerald Paint is expensive (especially if you aren’t buying on sale). I also didn’t mind the Behr Latex Enamel in Charcoal Blue that we used in painting our bathroom cabinets and railing. However, for some reason on the high touch area of our railing seemed to be getting a weird texture that we have not had on any trim using Sherwin Williams paint. 

Therefore, I will most likely be sticking to SW latex enamel or the Benjamin Moore equivalent, but I am glad that I tried out a cheaper brand as it was a little thinner and dripped easier as well. 

Pros and Cons of Behr Latex Enamel

Our painted bathroom cabinets are in our children’s bathroom and still look amazing (even with the beating kids can give cabinets). However, our railing gets a little more wear and tear and has a few spot that seemed to have chipped off like from the cord of the vacuum rubbing on the edge repeatedly.

painted oak bathroom cabinets in small bathroom

In the near future, I am sure I will repaint the colored portion of our railing with a higher-end latex enamel paint. The Behr paint was also thinner than Sherwin Williams counterparts, so the 3rd coat of paint was definitely needed. I would not recommend this paint for a large project, but it has been perfect for our smaller projects (you can see all the ways we used this Charcoal Blue color).

What other paints can you use to paint cabinets?

We have seen other DIY bloggers use Deco Satin Paint and/or oil-based enamel. And if you don’t want to paint, but still want an easier way to restain your cabinets, check out our gel-stained bathroom cabinets.

Need help figuring out a paint color for your cabinets?

Samplize peel and stick paint sample on cabinets

Here you can see we used a peel and stick paint sample from Samplize to test different island colors. The nice thing is that they are large and come in a variety of paint brands like Sherwin Williams. You can read our full review on Samplize here.

What paints not to use to paint a cabinet?

I would not recommend using chalk paint on cabinets that get a lot of wear and tear. I love DIY chalk paint for furniture makeovers but feel that you may regret your decision after you a year or two.

Regular latex paint. Please really do yourself a favor and do not use a gallon of regular paint on cabinets. You will see scraps and scratches immediately. You need the latex enamel to adhere properly and give you the proper finish.

All-in-one paint and primers will also not do the trick to last. 

What finish should the paint have when painting cabinets?

We always use semi-gloss. For the same reason you wouldn’t want to use chalk paint, you wouldn’t want to use matte or even eggshell paint. Semi-gloss is the perfect solution to help hide some imperfections while giving an easily cleanable surface. However, recently I was in Sherwin Williams and apparently satin is the most common finish for cabinets, especially kitchen cabinets.

old oak cabinets painted white

A lot of people like to use semi-gloss for trim and satin for cabinets. However, we have always used semi-gloss latex enamel paint on our kitchen cabinets and bathroom cabinets. And let me tell you that the cabinets easily clean-up.

Guess what??? We have totally repainted parts of our kitchen. From the painted backsplash and all lower cabinets being a bold color. You have to see what this looks like now!

Tip about picking cabinet paint finish

Go to a local paint store (not a big box store) and ask to see the samples of the different finishes. While they are small, you will be able to see different colors or woods with different finishes.

Need some cabinet color inspiration?

Check out 11 awesome painted bathroom vanity cabinets from our DIY friends or what we think the next kitchen cabinet trend will be.

Can you spray cabinets?

If you have the proper set-up and are confident in your paint sprayer (we recently purchased this one to try), then spraying your cabinets can be a great way to get the smoothest finish. We see the cons of spraying to be that it may be hard to control the overspray. 

If you are setting a putting station and can spray doors & drawers that may be something to consider. I have always had great luck with a good brush and small roller.

What paintbrush do you recommend for cabinet painting?

A synthetic 2.5” angled brush is a great option to use for cabinet painting with latex enamel paint. Some people also love this shorter handled angled brush for cabinet painting.

What roller is best for cabinet painting?

Small foam rollers allow you the ability to control the amount of paint applied easily and leave a smooth finish when painting your cabinets. 

Our favorite cabinet painting supplies


Painter’s Tape (this brand)

Purdy 2.5” angled brush (You won’t regret buying a nice brush. It is worth the extra money than working with cheap brushes)

Small Foam Rollers

Caulk and Caulk gun

Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel

If needed primer (Zinsser or SW Multi-purpose Latex Primer)

krud kutter used to prep cabinets before painting

How to paint cabinets without sanding (too much)

Here are our basic cabinet painting steps.

If you want more details and images feel free to check out a few cabinet & paint projects.

  1. Prep the area. Take hinges off.
taking off cabinet hardware before painting

2.Place hinges in a labeled back and use painter’s tape to mark doors. and drawers. Making a map for a larger area is always a great idea so you can get everything back in the right spot.

hinges in baggie before painting cabinets

Lightly roughen up wood with fine 220 sandpaper. We like using a sanding block and simply going with the grain. No need to do too much here. You are just trying to give the primer a little “texture” to stick to.

3. Wipe with a deglosser on cabinets with a rag or sponge.

4. Let all wood dry. 

5. Use a brush to get into the creases of your cabinets and then a small foam roller to apply primer. Make sure you do not have drips.

cabinet doors being primed before painting

6. Follow the same procedure with latex enamel paint.

small foam roller apply cabinet paint

7. Allow proper dry time in between coats. 

cabinet box drying after painting

8. Put hinges back on and add hardware if you want. Make sure to wait as long as possible before doing this. You want your painted cabinets to fully dry. We even waited a full week for our kitchen island. You can even spray paint hinges to give you are fresh new look.

Finished painted oak cabinets

We absolutely love painting all surfaces, walls with our favorite color or even accent walls to create a new feel in our home. 

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diy cabinet painting tips

Painting cabinets if done correctly is one of the most economical ways to give your kitchen or bathroom a makeover.

green paint on roller painting kitchen cabinets
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